Mr. Griffin’s toll road

For the early residents of Waterdown and East Flamborough Township, travel to Hamilton via Waterdown Road or through Dundas was a long and difficult journey. A direct route became an ever-increasing need as the village and township prospered, largely through the entrepreneurial interests of Ebenezer and Absalom Griffin.

As the 1850s dawned, James Kent Griffin, eldest of Ebenezer Griffin’s talented sons, initiated a number of radical changes along the five mile stretch of a winding First Nation’s trail that originated at the southern end of the village and descended down the escarpment to the western end of Burlington Bay. Known to the villagers but rarely used due to its precarious sections that were only suitable for foot travel, Griffin came to view it as the answer to connecting Waterdown with Hamilton. Built entirely at his own expense, the road was extremely difficult to construct and equally difficult to maintain, owing to the numerous ‘wash-outs’ and slides that frequently occurred after heavy rainfalls.

Griffin brothers (left to right) James Kent (1823-1910), George Douglas (1824-1911), and Rev. William Smith (1826-1917).

Unlike other roads constructed at the time, Griffin used gravel for the surface, almost certainly obtained from his deceased father’s Waterdown quarries. Although the more refined plank road was popular with road builders and turn-pike companies of the time, the use of such material in the re-construction of the steep and twisting Snake Road was both impractical and unsuitable. While Griffin initially paid for the road project, he certainly came to benefit from it, for following the official opening in 1853, it became a toll road, ensuring that its construction and all future costs involved with its upkeep were paid by the users.

And pay they did. Now the stretch of road allowed all forms of traffic, especially the farm wagons from as far away as Kilbride, Freelton and Carlisle, to transport their produce to the Hamilton Market.

To collect the tariffs, Griffin established a tollgate at the Valley Inn and various fees were charged for use of the road. Sheep, pigs, ducks and goats cost 1 cent each, a saddle horse and its rider paid 4 cents and a loaded vehicle drawn by two horses or “other beasts of draught” was charged 10 cents. Possibly Griffin’s strict Methodist upbringing prompted the ruling that no tolls were charged for people accompanying a funeral, going to church or attending a prayer meeting.

Sylvia Wray is the former archivist with the Flamborough Archives. She can be reached through the Archives at

This article was originally published in the Flamborough Review, 12 January 2007.


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