Ontario’s Inn-famous Crossroads: The Valley Inn and its Many Bridges
By Dr. David Galbraith, Head of Science; Tys Theijsmeijer, Head of Natural Lands, Royal Botanical Gardens.
An exciting change is coming to a very picturesque site amid the surroundings of Royal Botanical Gardens. The City of Hamilton is in the final stages of the process to replace the “old Bailey Bridge” at Valley Inn. Today the name “Valley Inn” seems confusing. The area at the mouth of the Grindstone Creek certainly is in a valley, but where’s the inn? The area is a quiet nature sanctuary where the creek flows through RBG’s organic Christmas tree barriers that prevent invasive carp from heading upstream to spawn. It once was far more notorious, and part of a network of connections that brought travellers from far and wide through the area.
The Valley Inn itself was a hotel that stood at the confluence of the waterways and also the highways. Highway 2, the King’s Highway, once ran along the Burlington Heights from Hamilton and then dipped down the side of the sandy peninsula, crossing the wetland where today the Bailey Bridge stands. In the early years of the 19th century there was a swing bridge on the site that traversed a joint waterway — it was both the mouth of the Grindstone Creek and the entrance to the steep-sided ravine that led into Cootes Paradise Marsh from the harbour. Local people were involved in the enterprise. At one time a member of the Rasberry family, who owned the farm where RBG’s Arboretum now stands, operated the swing bridge.
For a while this boat entrance into Cootes Paradise was vital for businesses in Dundas. In 1836 the Desjardins Canal was completed, which allowed regular boat and ship traffic to run from the harbour west to the town. Once across the swing bridge, traffic continued up the highway to the east along what became Snake Road and is now an RBG nature trail through the lower Grindstone Creek ravine.
The hotel was far enough away from Hamilton that it operated for years outside of the reach of the local constables. In the 19th century alcohol had been sold there without proper excise taxes. The inexpensive alcohol led to fights and even a case where the local toll keeper on the highway killed a farmer in an altercation caused by the farmer not wanting to pay the toll to move his wagons.
The Inn operated for over a century, a welcome place for travellers to find a bed or a bit of refreshment at the bar. It was a large wooden structure complete with a barn and stables, necessities in the era of horse-powered transportation. It closed in 1928. Business declined significantly when new roads and bridges were built connecting Aldershot and the Burlington Heights at grade. Some months after it closed, sparks from a passing train ignited the hotel and it was seriously damaged by a fire. What remained of hotel structure was demolished. About 30 years later, a second fire erased the other buildings associated with the hotel.
Change came again a few years later when, in 1964, a heavy truck broke through the old wooden bridge. Following a political debate as to who owned it, was decided it was actually within the City of Hamilton. The present Bailey Bridge on the site was the replacement, and intended to be temporary. It was installed by the 47th Field Squadron of the Royal Canadian Engineers at the direction of the Ontario Department of Highways. The Bailey Bridge was something of a favourite for motorists, as it made a very distinctive rattling sound when crossed by cars. The temporary bridge did well but was finally closed in 2009 because of safety concerns. For over a decade it has only been usable by pedestrians as part of the local trail network.
The present bridge was closed to all uses in December 2019 because of degradation of its supporting structure. Replacement is about to take place, a collaboration headed by the City of Hamilton, with partners City of Burlington, Royal Botanical Gardens, and the Patrick J. McNally Charitable Foundation. The new bridge is expected to open for pedestrian use in Spring 2022, restoring local routes for the Around the Bay Race, the Great Trail, and the Lake Ontario Waterfront Trail.
To learn more about the background to the current request for bids to replace the bridge, see:
To find out how the bridge replacement project is going visit the City of Hamilton’s web site at: hamilton.ca/city-planning/master-plans-class-eas/valley-inn-bridge
Header illustration: Post card circa 1910, provided by Brian Henley.