Community apathetic over new Cootes Drive
Controversial road was result of now fading car culture
Craig Campbell, News Staff
Published on May 01, 2009
Dundasians of the mid-1930s were apathetic towards construction of Cootes Drive –as long they weren’t paying for it.
But according to research by former Valley Town resident and transportation activist Randy Kay, the Dundas Diversion project was not without controversy. Local merchants, property owners and town councillors worried about the new road’s route, connections and possible impact on local business.
As Mr. Kay explained to those in attendance at the season-ending Dundas Valley Historical Society meeting, one thing nobody questioned in 1936 or 1937 was destruction of valuable wetland as pavement carved through the Cootes Paradise ecosystem.
Mr. Kay dug into microfiche copies of the Dundas Star and Hamilton Spectator to trace the tale of the road that has raised problems its entire 63-year lifespan. A few months before the road began carrying traffic, town councillors refused to widen King Street West to accommodate a possible connection to the new road.
“From the standpoint of Dundas, the new highway was not a necessity,” Mr. Kay quoted from a 1937 edition of the Dundas Star.
Mr. Kay said Hamilton’s own Thomas McQuesten, who brought McMaster University to west Hamilton and supported the Royal Botanical Gardens, used the Dundas marsh as a site to demonstrate his plan for a new divided highway.
Minister of Highways from 1934 to 1943, McQuesten spearheaded later construction of the Queen Elizabeth Way linking Toronto to Fort Erie, the 401 through Oshawa, the Niagara Parkway and Highway 20 in Stoney Creek.
Mr. Kay said there was no noticeable cry from the community for the road link.
But the natural area between Dundas and Hamilton was not valued. Some considered it useless, or a back-up landfill site.
“In the 1930s, no one was putting up a fight for the marsh.”
Just about anything available was apparently used to fill in the wetland and provide a base for the road. By 1938, there had already been two deaths on Cootes Drive. And speeding was recognized as a problem, as it continues to be today. The Dundas Star of 1938 described Cootes Drive as a “veritable racetrack.”
McMaster University recently placed a radar sign on its bridge over Cootes showing drivers how fast they are travelling. A few years ago, a student crossing the road was struck and killed.
Over the years, Cootes Drive roadkill has contributed to the destruction of several endangered turtle species. Mr. Kay suggested several years ago Cootes Drive should be shut down, torn out and the area returned to a natural space. That wasn’t the focus of the recent presentation, which explained the history of the road’s development when the prestige of a paved road surpassed knowledge of the ecosystem.
Even within that culture, Mr. Kay noted, Cootes Drive wasn’t something the community wanted. And as people move away from cars towards conservation and restoration, perhaps the Cootes Drive of tomorrow will be different.
“I think times are changing. I think we have to change,” Mr. Kay said. “We have to get out of single occupancy cars. We have a habit that we just have to drive everywhere.”
“We’re not going to get rid of cars. It’s about how we use them.”