Where Does The Devil Go When He’s Thirsty?

What’s life in the Niagara Region without mention of a waterfall, right? Right. So without further ado, let’s head west out of the Niagara Region and visit Hamilton! Huh?! Yeah, that’s right, Niagara isn’t the only place to dig on a waterfall. In fact, the City of Hamilton has over 120 known waterfalls; giving it the distinction of being the Waterfall Capitol of the World. One hundred-plus waterfalls sounds impressive, but there was only one that grabbed our attention and wouldn’t let go, and with a name like "The Devil’s Punchbowl" how could we not check it out?

Driving there was pretty easy, really. From the QEW, we took the Centennial Parkway exit in Stoney Creek and headed south. Staying on Centennial as we made our way up the Escarpment, we took the first left after cresting the ridge onto (what else?) Ridge Road.

After a few twists and turns, we knew we were on the right track when we spotted the Punchbowl Market. I thought it was interesting that there was no mention of said Punchbowl belonging to the Devil, but then not everyone is so quick align themselves with the Great Adversary.

We parked across the street from the market at the lot provided (bring a few dollars, the Hamilton Conservation Authority's posted daily rate at the self serve parking fee station is $2.00 per person to a maximum of $5.00 per car), and from there a short path leads to a concrete platform offering a spectacular panoramic view of Hamilton, the Skyway bridge and both the southern and northern shores of Lake Ontario, as well as a dizzying view of the drop to the rushing river below.

Curiously, the platform is also home to a giant light-bulb studded metal cross soaring at least 50 feet high and overlooking Stoney Creek. There is a commemorative plaque honoring the cross’ construction, but besides that, there’s no explanation as to why a giant Lite-Brite crucifix beams out from the Escarpment.

Following the trail along the top of the ravine we got closer to the sound of crashing water and there it was, a slim ribbon of “devil’s punch” jetting out and down into a deep concavity in the earth, looking exactly like the name suggests: a bowl made out of layers and layers of rock.

Anyone familiar with Dante Alighieri’s The Divine Comedy, I think, would immediately understand how this waterfall came to be named. It’s impossible to look at the formation of stone and not be reminded of the concentric circles of each level of Hell leading down to the bottom of the pit.

Looking over the edge, I recalled one scene where Dante and Virgil encounter - and eventually take a descending ride from - Geryon, the demonic personification of fraud, at the top of a cliff, next to a waterfall cascading down from the seventh circle to the eighth:

Our beast goes swimming slowly, and describing
Wide circles in descent: I’m only conscious
Of wind brushing my face and wind arising.

Already I could hear upon our right
The torrent roaring horribly below,
And craned my neck as I looked out for it.

Then, being terrified that I might drop,
Seeing such fires and hearing such laments,
I shuddered, and held on, and huddled up.

- Inferno, Canto XVII, lines 115-123

Of course, once the connection to Dante was made, that old rugged cross covered in light-bulbs brought to mind another scene from The Divine Comedy, one that almost seemed to explain it’s presence there:

From horn to horn, from top to base their station
Changing, went moving light, which as they met
And passed threw out a dazzling coruscation;

Thus we on earth, swift, slow, zig-zag or straight,
Little or large, in this or that direction,
See particles of bodies disparate

Dance in the shaft of light that carves a section
Sheer sometimes through the shuttered darkness which
By art and skill men make for their protection.

- Paradiso, Canto XIV, lines 109-117

For more information on The Devil’s Punchbowl and all of Hamilton’s waterfalls, be sure to visit Hamilton: The City of Waterfalls.

For more information on the Devil’s Punchbowl Cross, you can check out Historical Hamilton.


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