Almost any time you walk around Bayfront Park or Pier 8, you see people fishing, and you notice that quite a few North End convenience stores sell bait. It’s obvious that fishing is a popular activity around here. How long has this being going on and why? Is it just North Enders or do others come here for the fish?
Indigenous communities have fished lakes and streams in this region for thousands of years. Then, in the mid 19th century, the workers who settled the North End, supplemented their diet with catch from Hamilton Harbour. This happened all year round, with ice fishing in the winter. Until the mid 20th century, the bay was the North Enders’ playground, with fishing, swimming, skating and ice hockey. After that, development of the area by industry and the military encroached on this community space. You can still angle from the shore in warmer weather, but ice fishing is now only in Bayfront Park. Only a few old North Enders remember it in the harbour.
All sorts fish in the north end: parents with children, married couples, large families, solitary fishers and groups of friends, women and men, young and old. A lot of people come from elsewhere. Sometimes it’s word of mouth. Felix, from Brantford, was recommended the harbour by his brother, but Jasmine, who moved to Hamilton Mountain from St. Catherines, where she enjoyed fishing, discovered Bayfront Park online. A relaxing, pleasant environment also draws people, like Olivia, who also lives on the mountain, but has been coming to Bayfront Park for 5 or 6 years.
There is also a strong North End connection. Joseph, who was born on Ferguson Street, but moved away, has been coming back here to fish for 50 years. Fishing is a family activity. Erin and his son James like to fish at Pier 8. James, aged 7, has been fishing since he was 4; Erin is descended from a long line of fishermen, originating in Newfoundland in the 1700s. Seth, also 7, who lives right next to the harbour, has been fishing since he was 3. I found him reconnoitering his catch outside William’s Coffee Pub, assisted by his grandfather.
What kind of fish can you catch in the North End? Seth boasted that he and his friends had caught 18 inch (45.72 cm) carp as well as perch and bass. Along with catfish, these are the most common catch. I didn’t see many fish being caught except by one fisherman. Tage, originally from Thornbury, had never been to Pier 8 before, although he has “always fished”. In a few minutes he caught an 18 inch carp and three catfish! Was this beginner’s luck?
Nobody eats fish caught in Hamilton Harbour anymore, because the water is too polluted. The fish are all returned to the water, as they are supposed to be. So, why do people fish? Of course there is the thrill of catching the fish and an element of competition with others, but most agree it is a contemplative, restful activity. Joseph enjoys the quiet companionship of his “fishing buddies, ” as Olivia does the shady shoreline of Bayfront Park. But fishing in the North End is more than enjoying quiet companionship or communing with nature — it’s part of a long tradition.