For a little winter exercise as of late Steve and I have taken to walking the rail trail ending up at the top of the escarpment by the James St. south stairs.  A while back we noticed some remnant parts of Hamilton’s unique and historic past.  Just to the slight east of the escarpment stairs you can see the ruins of what was once an incline mountain train line.

There were two such incline trains in Hamilton, one at Wentworth, and the other at the base of James St. south.  At the time the mountain boasted a population of 6000+ people, and there had been talk of building a third line at Sherman or Ottawa to keep up with the boom town expansion of Hamilton in its hay day.  The lines ran from roughly 1890 to the 1930′s.

james south, stairs, escarpment, hamilton, ontario

hamilton, james st. south, ruin of incline railway, escarpment

incline railway, james st. south, hamilton, ontario, ruins, escarpment

The fare for riding one of these 1-2 minute train trips downtown cost you from 2 cents to a whopping $1.25 by the 30′s.  There were some gorgeous views of the old Victorian city from the trains.  According to a Hamilton promo pamphlet from the 20′s the view could be described as follows:

There is no finer view anywhere on the North American continent than the panorama to be seen from the Hamilton mountain. The city below, the blue waters of Hamilton harbour and Lake Ontario. In the background, flanked on the east by the famous Niagara Fruit District and on the west by the beautiful Dundas Valley and a range of hills, combine to make a picture no artist could paint. There are several roads leading up to the summit and you can drive upon “high”, but if you want to enjoy a unique experience and give the family a thrill, drive your car onto one of the Incline Railways and you will have something to tell the folks about when you go back home.

The particular incline railway at James south was powered entirely by steam.  Just a little further east of the last post of the railway at the base of the escarpment you can see a square, cemented, deep frame.  This was used as a water reservoir as you can see in some of the old postcard photos below.  I’m not sure what exactly the reservoir was used for perhaps needed for steam power? Or maybe for the use of water in homes?


Hamilton, ontario, incline railway, James St. south

James St. south, Incline Railway

Hamilton, ontario, incline railway, James St. south, water reservoir

high level reservoir, & James St. south incline railway, 1908



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