Guidebook

‘All Roads Lead to Dundas’: New Guide, Exhibit Celebrates ‘Valley City’

There are really two local history museums in Dundas.

One is in a well-maintained building on Park Street West that has been storing and displaying local artifacts since 1956. And the other is in the streets surrounding it.

Much of the architectural heritage from the 1800s in the area has been preserved, that a leisurely stroll can seem like entering a time warp.

Watercolor painting of 125 Melville Street in Dundas, showing St. James’s Church in the background. The image is from the book “My Walks of Art” by Danuta Niton.Danuta Niton

Today, a look at outdoor and indoor museums with a delightful new book titled “My Walks of Art. A Walking Guidebook of Dundas, Ontario” and a nifty exhibit at the Dundas Museum and Archives titled “All Roads Lead to Dundas”.

They were put together separately, but they celebrate the same thing – the story of Dundas. And they chart unique paths to find out.

First, the book.

Danuta Niton is a refined artist and author of the book My Walks of Art?  A hiking guide from Dundas, Ontario.
Danuta Niton is a refined artist and author of the book My Walks of Art? A hiking guide from Dundas, Ontario.Courtesy of Danuta Niton

Beautiful artist Danuta Niton has been drawing and painting buildings in Dundas for over 20 years, but when COVID hit last year she decided to go deeper.

She took daily walks, taking pictures of houses and other buildings that caught her eye. Later, she would sift through the images looking for the ones that had inspired her to pull out her watercolor brushes.

The house at 39 Elgin Street in Dundas once belonged to Thomas Wilson, a former mayor of the town.  Most recently, the home went up for sale with an asking price of $2 million.  The watercolor illustration is by Danuta Niton,
The house at 39 Elgin Street in Dundas once belonged to Thomas Wilson, a former mayor of the town. Most recently, the home went up for sale with an asking price of $2 million. The watercolor illustration is by Danuta Niton,Danuta Niton

The illustrations took two or three hours to complete, then she uploaded them to Facebook, Instagram and other social media sites with a note asking people to share what they knew about the buildings.

Over the months, Niton found herself with a treasure trove of 300 photos and all kinds of information from people who lived in the houses, lived in them, or had other connections. She collected comments on everything from special family moments to unique architectural features such as secret passageways.

To augment the memorabilia, Niton contacted the folks at the Dundas Museum and local historian Stan Nowak.

At some point, she realized that there was enough material for a book. She just needed a way to present it.

Dundas historian Stan Nowak outside his home
Dundas historian Stan Nowak outside his ‘Basil Cottage’ home on Park Street West in Dundas after leading one of the tours featured in Danuta Niton’s book ‘My Walks of Art’. Nowak’s house is one of the historic houses featured in the book.Marc McNeil

Together with her daughter Kasia, a graphic designer, she organized six walking tours with 130 of her illustrations and accompanying stories. (The owners of the buildings have signed waivers to allow their properties to be featured.)

In late November, she launched the book at the Dundas Museum with an event that included a guided tour by Nowak. He used one from the book – “Road No. 2, west of Sydenham, 1.8 miles (approximate walking time 25 minutes)”.

The walk began at the museum featuring the 1848 Gothic Revival “Dr. Bates’ Office” which is located on the property. The compact wooden structure was the first building in Dundas to be designated under the Ontario Heritage Act.

Watercolor painting from 1848
Watercolor painting from 1848 ‘Dr Bates’ Office’ which stands next to the Dundas Museum and Archives building on Park Street West in Dundas. The building was moved from its former location on King Street West near Sydenham in Dundas to the site in 1974.Danuta Niton

In addition to several homes from the mid to late 1800s, the tour included two historic churches on Melville Street, St. James Anglican to the west and St. Augustine’s Roman Catholic to the east. There was a stop outside one of Hamilton’s oldest elementary schools, Central Public School at 73 Melville built in 1857.

At 39 Elgin, the two-storey Gothic Revival house dating from around 1860 with “a gabled porch supported by slight octagonal columns, a steep roof pitch, tall double-chimney chimneys, with eye-catching ornamented tiles at the tops legible” was the home of Thomas Wilson who was a former mayor of Dundas. (The house is listed for sale online for a whopping $2 million.)

The tour ended at Nowak’s home on Park Street West which he and his wife Sally refer to as “Basil Cottage”. It is named after their yellow Labrador, Basil.

The original house, built around 1860, consisted of a living room and two bedrooms. “What is now our dining room was added in 1872-73. The kitchen and bathroom were added around 1935 with a verandah completing the house in 1990…we still have the original pine flooring from the 1860s/70s,” he said in the book.

Standing in front of the house, wearing a black pork pie hat, Nowak said with a big smile, “I love living in Dundas… There’s so much heritage in this town. When I look at photos from the mid 1800s in Dundas, I know exactly where they were taken because the buildings are still standing.

Austin Strutt, the Dundas Museum’s exhibits coordinator, explains that the “All Roads Lead to Dundas” exhibit stems from the “long-standing joke in the community that wherever you go, you’ll meet someone from Dundas “.

The Dundas Museum and Archives on Park Street West in Dundas hosts the exhibition
The Dundas Museum and Archives on Park Street West in Dundas is hosting the “All Roads Lead to Dundas” exhibition until January 15, 2022.Marc McNeil

And he also finds connections between the people of the ancient city and major events in history, including the First and Second World Wars as well as the Crimean and Boer War.

The “Cowper telephone”, named after RF Cowper, owner of the device, is on display. It was one of the world’s first telephones and was installed in Dundas in 1877 by Alexander Graham Bell’s father.

Canada’s first black doctor, Anderson Ruffin Abbott (1837-1913) is celebrated. The doctor – who is credited with providing medical assistance to dying US President Abraham Lincoln in 1865 – lived in Dundas for eight years in the 1880s.

The exhibition also features a snuffbox that once belonged to the iconic Scottish poet Robert Burns. It found its way to the Dundas St. Andrew’s Society and was eventually donated to the museum.

A poem called ‘Dundas’ by RK Kernighan (1854-1926) – who wrote a regular column over a century ago for The Spectator under the pen name ‘The Khan’ – is quoted at the entrance to the show .

“…If all the old Dundasites came back and settled here, the old town would overflow into Hamilton and squeeze it like a lemon. It would reach as far as Copetown, it would stretch to Waterdown, it would fill the whole valley and encumber the heights…”

And former residents would also find that much of Dundas is remarkably unchanged.

End of an era

One of the last survivors of the harsh Stelco strike in 1946 has died.

Lino Trigatti, 94, was featured in a July Flashbacks column on the 75th anniversary of the 81-day labor dispute that led to the recognition of United Steelworkers Local 1005 and helped define the labor movement in post-war Canada.

“Trigger”, as he was known, died on November 27 after suffering a stroke. His funeral took place on December 1.

Book and exhibition

“My Art Walks” by Danuta Niton

80 pages, $45

Available at artofdesign.ca and the Dundas Museum, 139 Park St. W.

“All Roads Lead to Dundas”

Dundas Museum and Archives

dundasmuseum.ca/exhibitions/current

Until January 15, 2022