There used to be two mountains in Hamilton. Some call the one that’s still there the Escarpment, but we know it’s The Mountain. It’s 30 storeys high, 400 million years old and it cuts this town in two.
Hamilton’s other mountain, sadly, is gone. It vanished a couple of years ago. It never appeared in a Tourism Hamilton brochure, but was a landmark all the same.
That mountain was made of slag, the byproduct in the manufacture of iron. It was delivered – still hot – from the steel-mill blast furnaces to the site of National Slag. The company had been around since the ‘50s, located in a low-slung building hard by the peaks.
They crushed, sized and stockpiled the slag, which is lighter than sand and gravel. It’s used in roadways, insulation and building materials. Toronto’s 69-storey Scotia Plaza contains 40,000 tons of Hamilton slag.
Millions motoring past on the QE saw that mountain of slag. They weren’t sure what it was, but they knew this was Hamilton. Exit at the Burlington Street ramp and you were at the very foothills of this man-made wonder.
More heavenly than Hutch's
I took visitors from England past it in the ‘90s, en route back from lunch at Hutch’s on the Beach Strip. They liked the fish and chips, enjoyed the waterfront. But that mountain, with bulldozers crawling around on top of it, was what really wowed them. They’d never seen anything like it.
But a couple of years ago, the mountain got moved.
At first, it remained a vast empty place, earth scraped bare. Then, signs of life in the form of cars, row on row. From the highway, it looked like a parking lot. What would that be doing out here?
And then there were more cars. And more yet. Time to see what has sprouted on the storied lands of National Slag.
Turns out it’s an orchard, the pick-your-own kind. The crop here is wrecks, growing in four varieties – Ford, Chrysler, GM, plus that hardy breed, the Imports.
T-shirts went fast
This is the home of Kenny U-Pull. It opened a few months ago and they were handing out T-shirts: Real Men Pull It. They went fast. On a Saturday you might see 300 or 400 real men pulling up, tool boxes in hand. Women are invited too. Children are not.
The operation is a division of the Quebec-based giant, American Iron & Metal, which has a yard right next door. The company now has Kenny U-Pulls in Ottawa, Gatineau, Laval, Trois-Rivieres.
The one here on Windermere Road uses that old National Slag office. There’s a price list on the wall. A fender, for instance, is $33. A hood, $39. Outside mirror, $15. Radio with CD, $22. Door, $40. Could be a 1993 Hummer or a 2001 Hyundai, it doesn’t matter – here a part is a part.
Good prices, but first you’ve got to find that part. Then you’ve got to get it off.
Customers check in at the door. First they sign a waiver. You’re entering this yard at your own risk. Then all tool boxes are checked. No grinders, no torches – nothing that causes heat or sparks.
Help yourself to a wheelbarrow or cart and get picking – 1,200 cars to choose from.
You should be handy
Brad Jaggard has been here more than 20 times. His pal Cam Magee is a first-timer. "You’ve got to know how to turn a wrench," Magee says. "That’s why I’ve got Brad here." They leave with a rear window for an ’87 Blazer at $15.
Apparently some guys come in, pull parts, put them on Kijiji. A car stays a while, gets scavenged, gets hauled off to the executioner and a replacement goes on the lot.
There may be a pecking order in the showroom, but here all are equal. In the GM section, a Cadillac, a Cavalier, an El Camino can sit side by side. In Imports, a Jag, a Mercedes, a humble Suzuki all share a row. A lonely Land Rover waits to be useful, its leather-bound owner’s manual still on the dash.
This is all very nice, and recycling is a wonderful thing. But I do miss that mountain of slag. I’ve heard it still exists, in less spectacular fashion, at Pier 22. That’s at the foot of Strathearn and I head over.
Way beyond the gates, near the harbour’s edge, sits a flat-topped ridge of slag. Yes, there’s a certain industrial majesty to it. But far from the public eye, it’s a wonder no more.