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Memories of Hamilton’s Mountain View Inn kept alive in small park

May 2021

Overlooking the City of Hamilton, on the edge of the Niagara Escarpment (known locally as Hamilton Mountain) at Upper James Street and Claremont Drive, is a 3-acre park named Southam Park, named after Major Gordon Southam, a Canadian Field Artillery officer who was killed on 15 October 1916, during the Battle of the Somme. 

With a commanding view of the city below, it was once the site of a popular hotel, the Mountain View Hotel.

The original hotel on the site was a two-storey wooden building, built in 1830. Called the English Tavern, the hotel added an almost 100 foot long addition in 1873.

The English tavern had served as a lookout point for the 13th Battalion Volunteer Militia (Infantry), which later became the Royal Hamilton Light Infantry, during the Fenian threat in 1866.

A devastating fire destroyed the hotel on 14 December 1878, but three years later, a new five storey, limestone structure hotel building was completed, crowned by an elaborate observation tower on its eastern end which provided a magnificent view of the city. This new hotel, named the Mountain View Hotel, featured a dining room and bar on the main floor, and a large rotunda on the top floor, providing a magnificent view of the city below the escarpment.

A roller-skating rink, complete with bar and mechanical music, was added in 1890 and proved to be a popular attraction. The hotel property also hosted picnics, baseball games, pony rides, and a merry-go-round flourished in the area behind the hotel.

The Hamilton and Barton Incline Railway, more commonly called the James Street Incline Railway, was opened on 3 June 1892, across from the hotel. The incline railway carried passengers from the lower city to the top of Hamilton Mountain, and greatly increased access to the hotel.

Another incline railway, the Mount Hamilton Incline Railway (Wentworth Street Incline Railway), opened a little to the east on 26 August 1895.

Unfortunately for the incline railway operators, construction of the Claremont Access roadway up the mountain in the 1920s allowed for better vehicular access up the mountain, and resulted in the James Street Incline Railway company to ceasing operations on 26 December 1931 because of the financial strain. The line was given a brief reprieve with the financial support from the City of Hamilton but the losses continued to mount. The line was shut down for good on 14 May 1932, with the company going bankrupt.

Completion of the Sherman Access roadway similarly resulted in the Mount Hamilton Incline Railway company going bankrupt in 1936.

Despite all their success, the owners of the Mountain View Hotel suffered a serious setback when the establishment’s liquor license was revoked in 1916. The property was sold to the Wentworth Hunt Club and the roller-skating rink was converted into a horse ring.

The end for the aging hotel building came in 1937, when it destroyed in a massive fire. The stone walls stood until 1943, when the shell of the demolished. The property was donated by the Southam family to the City of Hamilton for use as a park in perpetuity, named Southam Park.

A drinking fountain, originally placed near the top of Beckett Drive as a memorial to Major Gordon Southam, who was killed during the Battle of the Somme in World War I, was re-located to Southam Park. Unfortunately, it has fallen into disrepair in recent years.

Read Mountain Memories, by historian Robert Williamson.
Visit the Hamilton Mountain Historical Society’s website (hamiltonheritage.ca) for information on events and publications.

Sources: Vintage Hamilton – Posts | Facebook, mm-03-14.pdf (hamiltonheritage.ca), Hamilton Mountain Homepage, Southam Park (cscomps.on.ca), The Royal Hamilton Light Infantry (Wentworth Regiment) – Wikipedia, William Southam – Wikipedia, https://www.hamiltonheritage.ca/gallery-1.html, Hamilton Incline Railway – Wikipedia, Hamilton and Barton Incline Railway (James Street Incline) (trainweb.org), Mount Hamilton Incline Railway/Wentworth Incline Railway (East-End Incline) (trainweb.org), .

About the author

Bruce Forsyth

Bruce Forsyth served in the Royal Canadian Navy Reserve for 13 years (1987-2000). He served with units in Toronto, Hamilton & Windsor and worked or trained at CFB Esquimalt, CFB Halifax, CFB Petawawa, CFB Kingston, CFB Toronto, Camp Borden, The Burwash Training Area and LFCA Training Centre Meaford.

Permanent link to this article: https://militarybruce.com/memories-of-hamiltons-mountain-view-inn-kept-alive-in-small-park/

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