Sweet suites: Hamilton’s B&Bs offer charming hospitality (802 words)
In a city that prefers recognition for hospitality than heavy industry, B&Bs provide a comforting – and often luxurious – way to discover the softer side of Steel City
BY JULIE OVENELL-CARTER
Blame it on the down-filled bed, or the great breakfast companions, or the second helping of maple-cranberry sausages, but there I was, late for a meeting in downtown Hamilton. With 10 minutes to make the dash from my bed-and-breakfast in the historic Durand neighborhood to the nearby conference centre, I had just cut across the parking lot behind city hall when I was stopped in my tracks by the startling sound of birdsong echoing through the concrete plaza.
It took a minute to locate the source of the jubilant cacophony, but then I had it: in the decorative rings sunk into the face of several supporting pillars roosted dozens of tiny house sparrows. The air shimmered with their chatter as they flitted about feathering their borrowed homes.
The thought came to me then that if the hosts of Hamilton’s multiple B&Bs ever went hunting for the perfect mascot, they’d need look no further than these industrious sparrows who clearly understood the transformative value of domestic comfort and conversation – especially when you’re surrounded by steel and cement.
In a city that would rather be known for hospitality than heavy industry, B&Bs are unquestionably the best way for a visitor to discover the softer side of Steel City. There are over two dozen of these homey retreats operating between Stoney Creek to the east and Ancaster to the west. Several, including the Rutherford House where I stayed, are located right in the heart of Hamilton. And though they share common features – private rooms with luxurious beds, for example, and a hearty breakfast served at a communal dining table – they are as individual as the men and women who run them.
Consider Rutherford House, a stately 19th-century brick home that was meticulously renovated by David and Janis Topp as a retirement project in 1999. A refined and romantic B&B, Rutherford has only two guest rooms – large and lushly decorated suites with private bathrooms, feather beds and mini-fridges. Every luscious morning meal is served on fine china, in a serene dining room artfully dressed with period antiques.
But just a few miles down the road, near the village of Dundas’s old-fashioned main street, is another sort of B&B – a more casual kind that feels like bunking in with a long-lost and much-favored relative. Perched on the edge of a picturesque ravine, Peter and Nancy Mascarin’s Glenwood B&B is a comfortable and cozy family home. In fact, some guests, such as 85-year-old Mary Margaret from Ireland, have almost become family, returning year after year like clockwork.
When the fit is right between guest and host – when there’s just the right balance between coddling and quiet – the B&B experience beats anything a chain hotel can deliver, a fortunate fact given Hamilton’s shortage of hotel rooms. Room rates are frequently lower priced, there’s more personal attention, and the hosts are like 24-hour concierges – enthusiastic civic boosters who want nothing more than to share with guests the best their town can offer.
“People come to Hamilton for a specific purpose, like a medical conference or a family wedding, and they don’t always realize how much there is to do here,” says Rutherford’s David Topp, who makes it a mission to educate his guests about the natural wonders surrounding the city. Likewise, Glenwood’s Peter Mascarin, a former Stelco millwright, enjoys serving an informal travel consultant: “People just don’t know what’s in Hamilton, but once they find out there’s more to it than what you can see from the Skyway Bridge they’re always pleasantly surprised.”
Hamilton’s B&B’s are perfectly positioned for easy day-trips to neighboring regions (with considerably pricier accommodations), including Toronto and Niagara, both to the east. But Hamilton itself is worthy of exploration, and the attractions vary depending on which B&B serves as home base.
From downtown B&Bs such as Rutherford House and Ivy Manor, for example, it’s an easy walk to trendy Hess Village and the stylish shops of Locke and James streets. It’s also a short hop to the vibrant Hamilton farmer’s market, the newly refurbished Art Gallery of Hamilton, and the steep staircases leading up what locals refer to as “the mountain”- the scenic Niagara escarpment that rings the city. Glenwood is closer to the Royal Botanical Gardens and the arty heart of downtown Dundas, while the Ancaster on the Bruce and Duck Tail Inn B&Bs are more rurally situated, close to the Bruce Trail – Canada’s oldest and longest public footpath – and the historic village of Ancaster, home of the popular Spa at Ancaster.
There are dozens more B&Bs in and around Hamilton, each with its own resident tour guide who would be only too pleased to suggest a unique itinerary. Just remember: after rousing yourself from the feather bed to enjoy a good meal and good conversation, you may find it hard to leave the nest.
By air: Air Canada (1-888-247-2262 or www.aircanada.ca) and WestJet (1-800-538-5696 or www.westjet.com), offer direct flights to the John C. Munro Hamilton International Airport.
By land: Hamilton is easily accessible by car from any direction (Toronto, the Niagara region and Buffalo, as well as the London, Windsor and Detroit areas) via Highway 403 and the Queen Elizabeth Way. Go Transit (1-888-438-6646 or www.gotransit.ca), Greyhound (1-800-661-8747 or www.greyhound.ca) and Via Rail (1-888-842-7245 or www.viarail.ca) also serve Hamilton.
An award-winning writer, Julie Ovenell-Carter launches her travels from beautiful Bowen Island, B.C. She fell in love with Canada at a very young age while travelling in the back seat of a ’64 Ford Falcon.