For Hamiltonians, and for visitors to the Ambitious City in the mid-1880s, a day at Dundurn Park was a welcome option.
Dundurn Castle was still a private residence in July, 1885, and the immense grounds of Dundurn were surrounded by a high wooden fence. When there was a major event happening at Dundurn, admission was charged.
Many times in a summer season, the grounds as a whole were leased for the day by an organization or a company for the use of its members or employees.
Such was the case on July 19, 1885 when the employees of the Great Western division of the Grand Trunk Railway held their annual picnic at Dundurn.
It was only one of many such events at Dundurn that summer but it was a particular success in part because of the perfect weather that day. It was also a day at Dundurn that was documented in rich detail by a reporter with the Hamilton Spectator who was invited to the picnic held at what he called “the beautiful and shady grounds of that magnificent park.”1
1 “A Day at Dundurn : Big Success of the G.W.R. Picnic”
Hamilton Spectator July 20, 1885.
It had been a stretch of unfavourable weather in the days leading up to July 19, 1885 but the day arrived with sunshine and balmy temperatures:
“To Hamiltonians, the change was pleasant. There was no long ride on the crowded cars; no return late at night, footsore, dusty and weary, though with many bright recollections of an enjoyable day.”1
The man from the Spec sharply observed and recorded how the managers of Dundurn had recently combined the beauty of the grounds with amenities to make it highly functional for major events :
“Art has helped nature, and made the grounds more suitable for holding such a monster picnic.”
For the G.W.R. picnic, which attracted employees of the railway from long distances, and who arrived in Hamilton at the Stuart Street station, there was a newly built convenience:
“A landing stage had been erected east of the depot, with stairs running up to the park. This proved a blessing to the excursionists, saving a long a dusty tramp around to reach the grounds.”1
Upon arrival, many of those coming to Hamilton from afar took the opportunity to visit parts of Hamilton in the vicinity of Dundurn:
“The city was an object of interest to many of the visitors. Large numbers left the park and spread themselves over the streets, returning in time to unpack baskets and witness or participate in the games.”1
Accommodations had been made to satisfy the hunger pangs of those in attendance at the picnic:
“Lunch was served to the guests in the magnificent dining room of Dundurn Castle. Messrs. Crooks and Stroud were the caterers, and they provided an excellent spread, which was done full justice to.”1
The attendance was estimated at over 8,000.
While one of the bigger picnics of the season, it was remarkable in that the talented wordsmith with the Spectator left the following vivid observation of the sights and sounds at Dundurn on July 19, 1885:
“The Thirteenth band had come up and in a shady spot was going though an excellent programme in its usual excellent style. Mingled with the exquisite strains from the instruments were the monotonous tones of a hurdy-gurdy grinding out the same old tunes in an unvarying rotation. Nearby a ventriloquist jumped his wooden images on his knees to the delight of a horde of children. From afar came the lively music of a quadrille band. Through it all broke the shouts and cries of innumerable fakirs; the shrill yells of proprietor of an Aunt Sally establishment; the laughter from thousands of happy human beings; the buzz of constant conversation; the clinking of beer glasses.
“Little groups of two and three were scattered here and there. Thousands of people wandered about the grounds. The air was redolent of cigar smoke, the scent of flowers, the odor of ice cream and other things.
“There was a gayety among all that was infectious. Bright dresses and bright faces glanced among the green of sward and trees.
“Dundurn never looked prettier. It was never filled with a happier, jollier crowd.”1