Hamilton’s past has shaped the dynamic city it is today.
From our many designated National Historic Sites (15 at last check!) to our defining role as an industrial hub, Hamilton's roots tell a fascinating story about how the city has evolved into the destination it is today.
Sure, you can read all about it on your own. But that’s nowhere near as interesting as coming to visit in person to experience it for yourself.
Here are some top picks for the history buff exploring Hamilton.
1. Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum
There's no place quite like it anywhere. Since 1972, the museum has pulled together an impressive collection of more than 40 vintage aircraft dating back to World War II, making it Canada's largest flying museum! You can do a lot more than just marvel at planes here. Climb into a cockpit, try a flight simulator, or even book a flight!
Don't Miss: The museum's biggest star is hands down the Avro Lancaster Bomber, the only surviving Lancaster in the world you can purchase a flight on. (The only other air-worthy Lancaster in the world is with the Royal Air Force in the UK).
2. Dundurn National Historic Site
A visit to Hamilton isn't complete without a stop at one of the city's most iconic sites. The lavish, 40-room Victorian-era home overlooking the bay was the former home of one of Canada's first premiers, Sir Allan MacNab. It's Hamilton's own Downton Abbey!
The site was previously a key trading location for the Mississaugas and later, a fortified military encampment for British and loyalist soldiers during the War of 1812.
Don't Miss: Dundurn's two-acre Kitchen Garden is a destination unto itself where costumed interpreters use 19th Century tools and techniques to cultivate flowers, herbs, and food for use in the castle's kitchen and for the community. Come winter, the castle's Victorian Christmas program is a must-experience.
3. Westfield Heritage Village
Unplug and slow down at this living history museum in Rockton in rural Hamilton. Costumed interpreters help bring early Canadian culture to life as they lead demonstrations on everything from blacksmithing to bread-making across 35 carefully restored historic buildings. The 130-hectare site is bordered by beautiful wooded trails and meadows.
Don’t miss: Favourite annual events like magical holiday programming, the Maple Syrup (winter) and Ice Cream (summer) festivals, make Westfield a year-round destination.
4. Battlefield House Museum & Park
The 19th-century homestead, nestled under the scenic Niagara Escarpment and surrounded by acres of parkland, is a National Historic Site and local treasure. Once home to the prominent Gage Family, it was also the site of the pivotal 1813 Battle of Stoney Creek, a turning point in the War of 1812 where invading American forces were pushed back. The event is marked annually by the Re-enactment of the Battle of Stoney Creek.
Don't Miss: Be sure to visit the 100-foot tall Battlefield Monument erected as a symbol of peace and to commemorate the casualties of the Battle of Stoney Creek. Nearby stands the striking Eagles Among Us (more below).
5. Eagles Among Us
This striking public art piece was commissioned by the City of Hamilton for Battlefield Park in Stoney Creek. The artwork by David M. General, an Oneida/Mohawk Indigenous artist and member of the Six Nations of the Grand River, consists of four, nine-foot-tall granite carved eagles inscribed with symbols and text around the theme of healing and reconciliation, inspired by the cultural traditions of the Haudenosaunee and Anishinabek communities.
Don't Miss: The site has since become an important place of reflection and gathering in Hamilton. In the artist's own words Eagles Among us is "an invitation to people to consider the history, look at how things were, look at how things can be made better by the generations today. It creates a special sacred space and you can stand in the middle of that".
6. Griffin House
This National Historic Site shares the fascinating history of Enerals Griffin and other early Black settlers at this preserved home set on a hilltop overlooking the beautiful Dundas Valley. When closed, the museum can be experienced here virtually.
Don't Miss: For more on the contributions of the African and Caribbean diaspora in Hamilton explore the Black History Audio Tour on the rich history of Little Africa around Concession Street.
7. HMCS HAIDA
The Tribal-class destroyer distinguished itself during a number of historic battles during World War II and beyond. It’s now a Parks Canada Historic Site docked at Hamilton’s West Harbour (Pier 9) that helps visitors discover what life was like for crew members serving on board with the Canadian Navy and develop a deeper appreciation of the role it played on the international battlefront.
Don’t Miss: Throughout the summer season, take a guided tour for a snapshot of life at sea and explore the ship's inner workings, from deck to engine room.
8. Hamilton Museum of Steam & Technology
You’ll love getting a behind-the-scenes look at the early days of Canada’s industrial revolution with two preserved 70-ton powered water pumping engines. Museum curators take guests on a fascinating journey that created these engineering feats housed in this 150-year-old waterworks.
Don’t Miss: Popular events here include model train shows, hands-on workshops and Golden Horseshoe Live Steamer Days throughout the summer complete with miniature train rides and free guided tours.
9. Whitehern Historic House & Garden
Experience one of Canada's most intact historic homes in this fascinating downtown museum. Costumed interpreters help unearth the lives of the three generations of the McQuesten family who lived here from 1852 to 1968. The historic house and all of its contents were given to the City of Hamilton in 1959 to be appreciated by future generations. It’s a rare glimpse into Georgian, Victorian, and Edwardian time periods.
Don't Miss: Wait for summer to experience Whitehern's stunning garden – a secret, walled oasis in the heart of downtown. Look out for special lunchtime concerts.
10. The Rock Garden at Royal Botanical Gardens
Opened to visitors in 1932, the historic Rock Garden is considered the birthplace of Royal Botanical Gardens. Before there was the QEW and Highway 403, the Rock Garden was part of a design to help enhance the beauty of Hamilton as the main entry point into the city from Toronto. Escarpment stone from the Red Hill Valley was transported here, to this former gravel pit, to start the process. The rejuvenated garden features year-round perennial and conifer displays and a tranquil waterfall and stream.
Don't Miss: The Rock Garden's stunning Visitor Centre is a great place for special events and dining. It's also the launching pad for year-round events in the garden.
11. Architecture Tour
Hamilton’s architecture is widely considered unique in the region for the quantity and variety of preserved historic buildings. Early standouts include Griffin House (1827), Dundurn Castle (1835), Hamilton Customs House (1860), Whitehern (1848), and St. Paul’s Presbyterian Church (1857). Later examples include LIUNA Station (1930) and the Lister Block (1923), now beautifully restored and home to the Tourism Hamilton Visitor Experience Centre.
Don’t Miss: Take this self-guided Downtown Hamilton Heritage Walking Tour to discover architectural gems spanning decades of the city’s history.