I don’t know Uli. I’ve never met him, though I wish I could. I have walked his stairs down the Niagara Escarpment in Hamilton, and his story fascinates me. There are plenty of stories surrounding Uli’s stairs.
His name, Ulrich shortened, is sometimes not remembered, just the way he likes it. The lady I met at the top of the stairs at Mountain Brow Road and Fennel said she couldn’t remember his name, “Enu or Elo or something like that,” she said. “He is a German man who built the steps with his own hands.” Thanks to this chance encounter my adventure began.
Uli’s hand painted sign is attached to a lamppost just above the entrance to this staircase made with loving hands.
A small bit of Google research revealed that Uli is an Austrian man who built a stone staircase on the side of the Niagara Escarpment in honour of his wife and to connect the Hamilton community that has been separated into the upper and lower city due to this natural geologic wonder. It was the first set of stairs in this part of the city and much needed at a time when there was no alternative.
What the facts are about Uli is as evasive as the man himself. No last name. No images to speak of, and people say he enjoys his anonymity.
What hit me with Uli’s stairs is the concept that one man persevered to complete his dream, no matter the odds. What propelled him to come up with that vision, and what were the hurdles he faced, piques my curiosity.
I stood at the top of the stairs reading Uli’s hand painted sign warning me of the risk, and the City of Hamilton’s sign also warning me of the risk and further, not recommending it.
But being who I am, buoyed by curiosity, a sense of adventure and the story behind Uli, I ventured down in my flip flops. Uli has provided railings made from fallen tree limbs and they are solid. I used them.
There are landing areas to sit and while away the time. Surrounded by nature you feel lost in the beauty of this wonder of the Niagara Escarpment in the busy City of Hamilton.
The City did try to put to a stop to the usage of Uli Stairs, but Hamilton is a people’s city, full of compassion and authenticity. So of course, Uli’s dream prevailed and the stairs exist.
There is a half million dollar city built metal staircase just a block away, but my choice was clear. I needed to know Uli’s story and feel his passion in every hand laid stone and planted hosta.
Legend has it that Uli used to come here and plant flowers along the staircase that took somewhere between 2 and 5 years to build, at his own cost, by himself. All 305 steps up the escarpment from Greenhill Ave. to Mountain Brow Rd. The project was apparently completed in 2007 from what I’ve read, but reports are mixed. The real story is Uli’s.
The golf balls that occasionally punctuate the structure tells me that perhaps Uli enjoys golf.
Just a few yards away across the street I saw a lovely house with a little library and a bench draped in a Canadian flag. Someone was inviting you to come sit and read a book. Spend some time, enjoy the journey, in the same way Uli’s Stairs invited you in.
Your Dream is your purpose.
The one thought I was left with as I walked West on Mountain Brow is that people need to be left to be themselves. To express themselves as they see fit. That creativity brings joy and must flourish unjudged. That the approval seekers miss out on the real essence of life, that is to just live as authentically as you can, without fear, while constantly moving towards your dream. And you don’t have to explain that dream. It’s yours to cherish. It’s your purpose. Eventually when it comes to fruition it will undoubtedly bring joy. Thank you Uli!
I have so many questions for Uli. Uli if you’re out there, will you please meet me for coffee? Maybe we can sit on one of your hand-built benches and while away the time together listening to our dreams.
Here’s a short video from CHCH TV News on Uli Stairs