Walk Leader: Mary Lou Tanner
In Hamilton, you either live “on the Mountain” or “down the Mountain.” Our city is geographically split by this land formation that isn’t so much a mountain as it is the Niagara Escarpment. Getting up or down the Mountain isn’t the easiest trek, but can be done using one of the several city-built, city-maintained staircases that run from the base of the ‘mountain’ to its peak.
In true Jane’s Walk fashion, walk leader Mary Lou Tanner decided to dig a little deeper and explore a mystery of the mountain on the walk “The Secret Steps of Rosedale.” The secret stairs are a whispered Hamilton legend that take you up and down the Mountain in true at-your-own-risk style. They are a set of staircases called Uli’s Stairs named by—and after —the mason who erected them. They are stone, solid, and beautiful, with natural wood handrails and built along the natural curves of the mountain. As if that wasn’t romantic enough, it’s rumoured that Uli built the stairs in memory of his late wife.
We Jane’s Walkers were enthralled with this Hamilton secret and took time to explore and discover the stairs together. Mary Lou told us about the elusive Uli, who refused to give his last name to the newspaper lest he be given credit for his work. She told us that he built these stairs because, for a long time, there were no city built stairs in East Hamilton. So, by building them, Uli connected our community. Today, Hamiltonians use these stairs to cycle to work at the steel mills, to exercise, and to experience the Niagara Escarpment in ways that formal paths and metal stairs just don’t showcase. The Niagara Escarpment is a world biosphere reserve so Uli, as Mary Lou explained, gave East Hamilton access to the beauty of this relic of the last Ice Age.
Mary Lou told us that she’s been hoping to meet Uli for years and on her vacation this year she would make a concerted effort to do so. It was then, much to her surprise and ours, while taking a break by the flower beds built at the base of one of the stairs, an unassuming older gentleman arrived to plant some flowers. We all looked at each other until Mary Lou asked “Are you Uli?” And indeed it was! He wasn’t much of a talker, but didn’t seem upset with the new celebrity status we gave him. After taking photos we said goodbye to Uli and concluded our Jane’s Walk by going down his stairs. This was such a memorable Jane’s Walk and I continue to think of Uli and the secret stairs he built to get us all up and down the mountain.