Royal Botanical Gardens

Canada's largest botanical gardens
and urban nature sanctuaries



rock garden The Royal Botanical Gardens (RBG) is an 1100-hectare (2,700 acre), natural paradise situated at the head of Lake Ontario straddling the boundary between the cities of Burlington and Hamilton.

While headquartered in Burlington a large portion of its lands do fall within Hamilton and its original design and establishment was implemented as a means of beautifying one of the cities main entrances.

The gardens today are one of the city's main draws and are a popular destination for hiking, wildlife and nature viewing and photographic opportunities (they are very popular with couples for wedding/engagement photos). Each year the RBG also hosts The Ontario Garden Show, Canada's second largest garden show.

In the early 20th century the area where the original section of the gardens is located was along the main route between Toronto and Hamilton and subsequently the entire Niagara Peninsula. As you approached the City of Hamilton you encountered a mix of little used industrial lands and ramshackle dwellings. In the late 1920's construction of a new bridge over the derelict Desjardins Canal was begun as a make work project intended to ease some of the local burden from the Great Depression.

A local Hamilton politician named Thomas McQuesten, secured an old unused gravel pit on its western heights and developed it as a rock garden and received permission from King George V to call it a "Royal Botanical Gardens". The original 162 hectare (400 acre) site has continually grown and been added to and today is Canada's largest botanical gardens and is one of the largest of its kind in North America and consists not only of manicured gardens but also of natural areas, hiking trails, and protected wetlands and habitats.

In 1993 the Royal Botanical Gardens werte designated a National Historic Site of Canada as it contains a large percentage of the various wild plant species to be found in the country including the only known location of the Bashful Bulrush. It is also part of the Niagara Escarpment World Biosphere Reserve and over 90% of the lands under its control are designated nature sanctuaries. There are over 27 kilometres (18.5 miles) of nature trails scattered throughout the various properties with some leading to the more extensive Bruce Trail system.

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Location of the Royal Botanical Gardens




View Larger Map


How to get to the Royal Botanical Gardens:


By Car:

From Downtown Toronto:
  • Take the Queen Elizabeth Way (QEW) West to Hamilton
  • In Burlington take Highway 403 West to Hamilton
  • Exit at Highway #6 North
  • Exit at York Road
  • Turn right and then left onto Plains Road to cross over Highway 403
  • Turn left at the lights to enter Plains Road West
  • After about 1 kilometre (0.6 miles) turn right into the RBG parking lot

From Eastern Ontario:
  • Navigate to Highway 401 West toward Toronto
  • Exit at Highway 427 South
  • Exit at the Queen Elizabeth Way (QEW) West to Hamilton
  • In Burlington take Highway 403 West to Hamilton
  • Exit at Highway #6 North
  • Exit at York Road
  • Turn right and then left onto Plains Road to cross over Highway 403
  • Turn left at the lights to enter Plains Road West
  • After about 1 kilometre (0.6 miles) turn right into the RBG parking lot

From Northern Ontario:

  • Navigate to Highway 400 South
  • Highway 400 ends at Highway 401, take Highway 401 West towards London
  • Exit at Highway 427 South
  • Exit at the Queen Elizabeth Way (QEW) West to Hamilton
  • In Burlington take Highway 403 West to Hamilton
  • Exit at Highway #6 North
  • Exit at York Road
  • Turn right and then left onto Plains Road to cross over Highway 403
  • Turn left at the lights to enter Plains Road West
  • After about 1 kilometre (0.6 miles) turn right into the RBG parking lot

From Western Ontario:

  • Navigate to Highway 401 East toward Toronto
  • Exit at Highway #6 South
  • Exit at York Road
  • Turn right and then left onto Plains Road to cross over Highway 403
  • Turn left at the lights to enter Plains Road West
  • After about 1 kilometre (0.6 miles) turn right into the RBG parking lot

From Niagara Region:

  • Navigate to the Queen Elizabeth Way (QEW) East toward Toronto
  • Exit at Highway 403 West towards Hamilton
  • Exit at Highway #6 North
  • Exit at York Road
  • Turn right and then left onto Plains Road to cross over Highway 403
  • Turn left at the lights to enter Plains Road West
  • After about 1 kilometre (0.6 miles) turn right into the RBG parking lot



By Public Transit:

By Rail:

The RBG is easily accessible by train then public bus as the Aldershot train station (part of Burlington) is located only 3 kilometres (1.6 miles) away.

Take either the public commuter Go Train or Via Rail to the station. For more information visit:

www.gotransit.com
www.viarail.ca

Then take the local Burlington Transit Route #1 (Plains/Fairview west) bus right to the RBG. For more information visit: Burlington Transit

By Bus:

The Royal Botanical Gardens are well served by bus as you can get to the Aldershot Go Station by utilizing the public commuter Go Transit bus service then take the local Burlington Transit Route # 1 as listed above.

Hamilton's public transit service the Hamilton Street Railway (HSR) also has regular service to the RBG. For more information visit: Hamilton Streeet Railway

By Air:

Visitors to the Royal Botanical Gardens can arrive by air from two locations.

1) Toronto's Pearson International Airport is located less than 1 hour away. Once you arrive simply rent a car and follow the driving directions listed above from Highway 427 South.

2) There are limited international and domestic travelers arriving into Hamilton's John C. Munro Hamilton International Airport. For those that do it is just a short 20-minute drive by rental car to the Royal Botanical Gardens.

From the airport:
  • Follow Highway#6 North
  • Exit at Highway 403 East towards Toronto
  • Exit at Waterdown Road and turn right onto Waterdown Road
  • Turn Right onto Plains Road West
  • Travel approx. 2.7 kilometres (1.7 miles) to the RBG


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Royal Botanical Gardens Map

royal botanical gardens map
Click to Enlarge



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What to see at the RBG:


Wrapped around Lake Ontario's western tip in many separate and distinct properties there is much to see and do for any visitor.

Cootes Paradise

cootes paradise As a lifelong Hamilton resident I have always considered this beautiful wetlands area one of the premier natural destinations in the city. Located at the extreme western tip of Lake Ontario at the western end of Hamilton Harbour it was named after an English Captain: John Coote, who was very fond of hunting and fishing in its bountiful waters. At one time one of the premier fishing spots in the country pollution in the 19th and 20th centuries seriously impacted the area.

The 600-hectare (1631 acre) nature sanctuary contains 320 hectares (790 acres) of coastal wetlands and since being put under the care of the Royal Botanical Gardens it has started to make a remarkable comeback. The huge wetlands (sometimes also called: "Dundas Marsh"), is a huge catchment basin for 16 local creeks and streams including:
  • Spencer Creek
  • Chedoke Creek
  • Borer's Creek
  • Long Valley Brook
  • Westdale Creek
  • Hickory Brook
  • Highland Creek
A restoration project dubbed: "Project Paradise" was begun to preserve this remarkable area and it has grown into the largest of its kind in North America. Sewage catchment basins have been constructed to prevent the overflow of sewage into the ecosystem and a huge carp barrier was erected in the channel that links Cootes Paradise to Hamilton Harbour to prevent this devastating species from entering into this sensitive spawning area for native fish species. The area is also one of the best bird-watching locations in the province and many species can be found along its 27 kilometres (17 miles) of shoreline including:
  • Bald Eagles
  • Herons
  • Hawks
A pedestrian walkway has been constructed linking Cootes Paradise to Pier 4 Park in Hamilton but one of the best places to access this incredible natural area is at Princess Point Park at the walkways southern end. From here you are at the heart of Cootes Paradise and within easy walking distance of most major points of interest.

Insider Tip: For a great photo opportunity and one of the best views in the whole city visit the McQuesten Bridge over the Desjardins Canal for a magnificent view of both Cootes Paradise on one side and Carroll's Bay and Hamilton Harbour on the other.


Hendrie Valley/Carroll's Bay

One of my favourite fishing spots when I was a child I would go to the rickety old one lane bridge over Grindstone Creek with my father and throw in a line and would almost always be immediately rewarded with a bite. The Hendrie Valley area was transferred over to the Royal Botanical Gardens in 1947 and set aside as a natural preserve as the area is one of the most crucial spawning grounds for native fish species in the province.

Grindstone Creek originates in the Town of Flamborough at the top of the Niagara Escarpment, flows through the Town of Waterdown and empties into the western tip of Hamilton Harbour at Carroll's Bay. Three other creeks also empty into the bay at this spot and a 60-hecatre (148 acre) floodplain wetlands has developed along virtually the last parcel of undeveloped land along the Hamilton Harbour shoreline.

The Royal Botanical Gardens Parks Management Board received the Hendrie Valley Farm, 49 hectares (122 acres) of sloping woodland and broad valley running north from Burlington Bay, as a gift from George M. Hendrie. By 1932 the original RBG lands were combined with the northwest entrance, including the Rock Gardens and the Hendrie Valley Farm, and together became known as Royal Botanical Gardens.

The steep slopes of the Hendrie Valley along the banks of the bay are comprised of old growth Carolinian forest that shelters and limits its exposure and provides a unique, warm microclimate that houses many locally rare species of plants and animals including:
  • The Longnose Gar
  • Mink
  • Beaver
  • Muskrat
  • Black-crowned Night-Herons
  • Bald Eagles
  • Green-winged Teal Ducks
  • Bufflehead Ducks
  • Ospreys
  • Hawks
Caroll's Bay also houses a large population of turtles including some rare and endangered species such as:
  • Northern Map Turtle
  • Spiny Softshell Turtle
  • Stinkpot Turtle
Road access to my old fishing spot is now closed but you can still park your vehicle and hike down to the bottom of the Hendrie Valley and enjoy some great wildlife viewing and/or fishing.


Escarpment Properties

This 110 hectares (272 acres) part of the RBG is divided into two separate parcels of land that runs for three kilometres (1.8 miles) along the UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve Niagara Escarpment.

1) The Rock Chapel section is accessed via Rock Chapel Road and is a 72-hectare (178 acre) nature sanctuary that features Borer's Falls. A heavily wooded area with rare plants it has a number of hiking trails running through it including sections of the Bruce Trail.

2) The smaller Berry Tract consists of a rolling, grassy landscape with small shrubs and trees with many trails crisscrossing this environmentally sensitive area.

In addition to the above nature sanctuaries the Royal Botanical Gardens has a number of other attractions and activities worth visiting including:


The RBG Centre

The Headquarters of the Royal Botanical Gardens it features both indoor and outdoor displays. Some of its highlights include:
  • The Mediterranean Garden was opened in 1986 and is located within a greenhouse and has many plants that grow in the world's Mediterranean climate zones. A favorite spot amongst local photographers for wedding and engagement pictures it is open year round and definitely is a highlight of any visit to the RBG.
  • An indoor Bulb Room that features both spring and fall bulb displays as well as a cactus display.
  • An Orchid collection
  • A Geranium collection
  • Two courtyards with various flowering displays

The Arboretum

Developed in the 1960's it consists of avenues of trees and shrubs radiating from the RGB's central parking lot. It also includes a Nature Interpretive Centre but its highlight is undoubtedly the Katie Osborne Lilac Garden which contains the largest living collection of lilacs on the planet. The best time for visiting is from late May to early June when the shrubs are blooming and their sweet smell permeates the air.

Other highlights include a Magnolia collection, a maze made up of almost 300 White Cedars and Rasberry House, the Bruce Trail Conservancy headquarters.


Hendrie Park

A beautiful collection of manicured gardens, some highlights of this section include:
  • A rose walk through rose arbors
  • Centennial Rose Garden
  • A Tea House
  • A fountain
  • Turner Pavilion

Laking Garden

A beautiful collection of various manicured formal gardens featuring many perennials is has something to offer all year round. Named after Dr. Leslie Laking, a former RGB director some of its many sights include:
  • A Peony collection
  • An Iris collection
  • A Hosta collection
  • A Daylily collection
  • Many perennials and ornamental grasses
  • The Barbara Laking Memorial Heritage Garden

Rock Garden

Centered around the original conceptual gardens of the Royal Botanical Gardens the Rock Garden is located near the Tea House and is comprised of many magnificent walkways and water features set amongst the gardens. Some of its highlights include:
  • A spring bulb display featuring thousands of tulips
  • A summer annuals display
  • A Flowering cherry collection
  • An Azalea display

Hiking Trails

With over 27 kilometres (16.5 miles) of hiking trails it is easy to spend a whole day at this marvelous attraction. The trails lead you through various habitats and ecosystems from manicured gardens to natural wild sanctuaries. In all there are 30 trails with 7 boardwalks, 20 lookouts and 21 stream crossings. Expect to see a variety of wildlife while walking these trails and spend a little more time at the boardwalks and lookouts as they are located at special points of interest.


Train Watching

The Royal Botanical Gardens are also a draw for railfanning enthusiasts as it also sits astride the location of Bayview Junction, a railway junction where three of the province's busiest railway lines intersect with upwards of 75 trains passing through daily.

Popular locations for viewing trains at the RBG include:
  • A pedestrian bridge in Laking Garden
  • A walkway in the Rock Garden
  • A staircase leading down from the McQuesten High Level Bridge to the Desjardins Canal

Fishway

The small channel that connects Hamilton Harbour to Cootes Paradise was once part of the ill-fated Desjardins Canal. Its construction led to the introduction of the destructive Carp species into the environmentally sensitive Cootes Paradise. In the late 1990's Project Paradise was undertaken in an attempt to restore the marshland sanctuary to its former glory. One of the first steps was the construction of a preventative barrier at the mouth of Desjardins Canal to stop the Carp from entering.

To date the project has been very successful and the number of Carp in the watershed has been drastically reduced. This has allowed for a resurgence of other fish species, the restoration of their spawning grounds and also the continued growth and restoration of the wetlands.

You can view the Fishway up close by following the waterfront trail that links Pier 4 Park to Cootes Paradise or by descending the stairs at the McQuesten High Level Bridge. It is particularly interesting when they operate the barrier and sort through the fish trying to enter Cootes Paradise and throw the Carp back into the Hamilton Harbour side of the channel. For barrier operating times visit: Fishway


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hendrie park gardens The Royal Botanical Gardens is definitely one of the highlights of any visit to the City of Hamilton.

While not for everyone it nonetheless has much to offer and is located very close to Dundurn Castle, another of Hamilton's major tourist attractions. The view from the McQuesten High Level Bridge is one of the finest in the lower city and most visitors to the city marvel at the sheer beauty of Cootes Paradise and can't believe this is located in Hamilton so close to its downtown core.

For more information as to opening times, entrance fees and features happening at the moment visit the Royal Botanical Gardens official site at: http://www.rbg.ca .


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