The long and winding road

Long known as one of the most scenic roads in the Hamilton area, Snake Road today climbs the Niagara Escarpment between Plains Road and Waterdown in a series of twists and turns over a length of road that is one of the oldest in the province. So called, not because of the presence of snakes which were frequently the dread of early settlers, but because of the winding route the road is forced to take to make the ascent of the escarpment’s steep face.

Long before European settlers arrived at the Head-of-the-Lake, this route way was a well-worn trail used by First Nations people in the journey between their established camps in the northern part of the township, including the Lake Medad area, and their hunting and summer fishing grounds below the escarpment and along the shoreline of Burlington Bay.

During the last decade of the 18th century, as Provincial Land Surveyors completed their work and Loyalists and European settlers finally began to spread out from Niagara and move along the shoreline of the lake to take up their land grants, few ventured as far as the Township of East Flamborough. Not only was the distance from Niagara a great hardship, the problem of ascending the escarpment was even greater. Entry via Valley Road and later along Dundas Street, when the eastern branch of the road through Nelson Township was opened in 1805, eventually assisted settlers in reaching their assigned property.

While the old Indian route was still in existence, it was nothing more than a trail and completely unsuited to horse and wagon transportation.

As the village of Waterdown began to develop during the 1830s and 1840s along Dundas Street and along the banks of the Grindstone Creek, products shipped from the mills and out through Alexander Brown’s small wharf on Burlington Bay were transported by teamsters using the gentler grade of the Waterdown Road.

In fact, the Snake Road trail remained virtually unused by early Waterdown residents until 1853, when James Kent Griffin, son of Waterdown entrepreneur, Ebenezer Culver Griffin, funded and constructed a toll road to provide a link between Hamilton, Waterdown and eventually Carlisle and Milton.

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, 17 November 2006.


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