A short history of Princess Point

July 2023
Ron Berenbaum

Just down the road from Shalom Village is the entrance to Princess Point, one of the most scenic locations in the Hamilton area and a nature recreation hub with spectacular views of the RBG and Cootes Paradise. 

Archaeologists claim humans have inhabited Princess Point for at least the last 8,000 years. Approximately a thousand years ago, Indigenous Peoples were using Princess Point as fishing and hunting camps. Their ceramics and artifacts are still being found by university-based archaelogical teams. They were probably ancestors of several language groups collectively called the “Eastern Woodlands Indigenous Peoples.” 

In addition to being hunters, fishermen, shellfish collectors, and horticulturalists, the Woodlands Peoples were also weavers, basket makers, carvers, and stoneworkers. Women generally did household chores, prepared meals and reared the children, while men tended the fields, made stone tools and canoes and hunted. The Woodlands Peoples worshipped the “Spirits of Nature” and practiced shamanism.

Tasha Beeds, a Cree and Métis Ph.D graduate in Indigenous Studies at Trent University,  is a “Water Walker.” Beeds, who hails from the Mississauga Territory of the Anishinaabe Nation (also known as Peterborough, Ontario), and other moccasin-clad Indigenous women carry vessels of water great distances, relay-style, as a way to bring awareness of the need to protect endangered bodies of water.

Beeds has been a Water Walker for more than 10 years and has covered nearly 4,000 miles walking alongside each of the Great Lakes in addition to the Kawartha Lakes.

The act of Water Walking is something Indigenous Peoples have done for thousands of years. The tradition is based on the belief that women are responsible for caring for the water. (Men are responsible for fire.)

Princess Point is part of the Royal Botanical Gardens (RBG), a 2,700-acre nature sanctuary situated on the Hamilton-Burlington border. The RBG is a world-class horticultural conservation, educational and scientific resource and contains an abundance of unique wildlife and nature trails.  The system includes the world-renowned Rock Garden and is a major tourist attraction.  In 1930, permission was received from King George V to use “Royal” as part of the title.

Development of the RBG began in the 1920s, spurred by visionary Hamilton politician Thomas B. McQuesten, who sought to provide green areas for the industrialized cities and to create jobs during the Depression. Among his many accomplishments, McQuesten was responsible for the RGB, Gage Park, Churchill Park, Chedoke and King’s Forest golf courses, the purchase of the Red Hill Creek Valley and the creation of the panoramic western entrance to Hamilton. McQuesten also built the QEW, the Niagara Parkway System and helped re-locate McMaster University from Toronto to Hamilton in 1932. Whitehern was the McQuesten’s family home for more than 100 years (circa 1868-1968). In 1988, HRH Princess Margaret renamed the city’s York Boulevard bridge The Thomas B. McQuesten High Level Bridge. There is a small plaque to honor him located about 200 yards east of the bridge.

In 2018, the City of Hamilton confirmed that 24 billion litres of toxic sewage had leaked into the Chedoke Creek (empties into waters abutting Princess Point) over several years as a result of a sewage gate that had inadverently been left open. The city formulated a remedial plan that involved dredging the affected waters. Indigenous groups, claiming they were custodians of the impacted land and water, demanded participation in the plans for the clean-up. Negotiations have been on-going and the clean-up is scheduled to begin this summer.