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  • The People of the Bay: A Social and Environmental History of Hamilton Harbour by Nancy B. Bouchier and Ken Cruikshank
  • M. Ann Hall
Bouchier, Nancy B., and Ken Cruikshank. The People of the Bay: A Social and Environmental History of Hamilton Harbour. Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 2016. Pp. 315. Notes, maps, illustrations, essay on sources. $95.00, hb. $34.95, pb.

Located in southern Ontario on the western end of the Niagara Peninsula, the city of Hamilton wraps around the westernmost part of Lake Ontario. A major Canadian industrial metropolis, known in days past as Steeltown, it remains an important Great Lakes port. The focus of The People of the Bay is the long and complicated history of Hamilton Harbour (formerly Burlington Bay). Coauthored by two historians, one interested in sport, leisure, and recreation, and the other in the intersection of business, state, and society, the book is the product of a long-standing academic partnership between Nancy Bouchier and Ken Cruikshank, who have already published several articles, given public talks, and worked on a documentary film about Hamilton Harbour. The People of the Bay is the culmination of their work together; it is also a fully integrated extension and completely fresh look, sometimes a reassessment, of their past efforts.

Covering a large span of time, almost two hundred years, the book begins with the arrival of European settlers to the region early in the nineteenth century and continues to the present day. It is organized chronologically and thematically using "nature" as the common thread. More specifically, the authors' primary concern is to explain what people did to and in nature within the urban environment, whether it be through civilizing (1823–95), conserving (1864–88), boosting (1892–1932), organizing (1900–30), planning (1917–40), confining (1931–59), unchaining (1958–85), or remediating (1981–2015).

As part of the Nature/History/Society series published by UBC Press, the book is prefaced with a splendid essay by series editor Graeme Wynn, a University of British [End Page 100] Columbia geographer interested in environmental history. He points out that The People of the Bay engages with an impressive scope of topics and literatures. First and foremost, it makes a significant contribution to the sparse literature on the environmental history of Canadian cities, rather than to the more usual focus on northern Canada and the vast Canadian wilderness. The book also enriches the Canadian literature on civic boosterism and town planning, as well as nitty-gritty topics like sewage and sanitation.

Most importantly, there is considerable discussion of sport and recreation and the role they play in thinking about the urban environment. In many ways, The People of the Bay is both an urban and recreational history of Hamilton. The area known as the Beach Strip—a long, thin sandbar separating Hamilton Harbour from Lake Ontario—is a good example. From the beginning, people were attracted to the Beach Strip especially in summer to escape the hot, smelly city. Access was by steamer or ferry and eventually rail to enticing sandy beaches, small hotels, taverns, and a variety of amusements. Some people lived on the Beach Strip but worked in the city; some took refuge in a tent colony; and some simply camped for fun. Beginning in the 1870s until the end of the century, the City of Hamilton took steps to restrict who had access to the strip by removing squatters, allowing the social elite to build grand summer homes, and encouraging development, including a luxurious resort hotel and a new clubhouse for the Royal Hamilton Yacht Club. What was once an accessible public space had become primarily a playground for the rich and powerful. Struggles over the Beach Strip did not end here, and the story is an interesting current that pops up periodically throughout the book.

Finally, the book is amply illustrated with maps and images. Although there is no bibliography, it is extensively sourced through endnotes, and the authors provide an informative essay about their sources. The People of the Bay is an intriguing, well-written story, and certainly worth the read.

M. Ann Hall
University of Alberta


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pp. 100-101
Launched on MUSE
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