Roadside-attraction showdown: Hamilton’s gas globe

Most attractions don’t help turn methane into electricity. But most attractions aren’t this giant, Earth-like methane sphere
By Justin Chandler - Published on Aug 12, 2021
The globe is about 30 metres tall and 24 metres in diameter. (Courtesy of the City of Hamilton)

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Maybe you’ve already been to Niagara Falls or up to the top of the CN Tower. But have you made a pit stop near a giant goose? Or snapped a selfie next to a giant wheel of cheese?

Those are just a couple of the roadside attractions on offer in towns and cities across Ontario, which have devised unusual and eye-catching ways of setting their communities apart.

If you’re looking for summertime fun close to home, you can hit the road and check out these local legends. If you’re looking for summertime fun even closer to home, you can check in with TVO.org over the next two months — each week, we’ll be bringing you profiles of the weirdest, wackiest, and largest objects gracing Ontario’s roadways.

At the end of August, you’ll get the chance to pick your favourites when we open up the voting brackets. So travel Ontario with us, and get ready for a showdown.

Check out the other contestants here.



HAMILTON — Okay, maybe it’s not what you’d think of as a roadside attraction. You can’t easily park a car and take a cute family photo in front of it, and, no, it wasn’t built to draw tourists. But don’t count out Hamilton’s globe just yet.

man in hat with fingers above and below tiny globe
Author with globe. (Justin Chandler)

The blue and yellow orb, which is about 30 metres tall and 24 metres in diameter, is painted to look like the Earth. Located on the grounds of the Woodward Avenue Wastewater Treatment Plant, it’s visible to anyone walking along the Waterfront Trail and to the 130,000 drivers who pass it on the QEW each day. Thanks to a marker showing Hamilton’s location on the planet (plus big block letters spelling out the city name), those onlookers always know exactly where they are.

Really, Hamilton’s globe is a steel tank with a capacity of more than 7,200 cubic metres. The tank has 19-milimetre-thick steel plates and can withstand operating pressures of 50 pounds per square inch. That’s because, in addition to being a landmark, the globe is also part of a 1.6-megawatt generator.

The tank, originally built in 1970 for Horton Steel Works, is designed to store methane, a byproduct released by the anerobic digestion of wastewater sludge. But since 2006, it’s done more than that. As TVO.org has previously reported, the tank is now hooked up to a cogeneration unit that turns methane into electricity, which is then sold to Ontario Power.

map of waste plant site with coloured arrows
Overhead view of the Woodward Avenue Wastewater Treatment Plant. (City of Hamilton presentation)

Mark Bainbridge, Hamilton’s director of water and wastewater planning and capital, says he and his team don’t know why the tank was painted to look like Earth. “It is a perfect sphere and lends itself to a planetary image,” he suggests. A 1972 Hamilton Spectator article written days before the grand opening of the plant mentions only that it would take at least 25 gallons of yellow paint to fill in the land masses.

diagram of a globe
Original 1970 design drawing for Horton Steel works. (Courtesy of the City of Hamilton)

By 2017, that paint had lost its sheen, and the tank was looking worse for wear — so it got a revamp. “When we were doing the refurbishment, we learned that the community is very well aware of and affectionate towards the globe,” Bainbridge says, adding that any discussions about potentially changing the design were short-lived. “People are used to it, people notice it, and there really wasn't much appetite to change it.”

three photos of a globe before, during, and after painting
The globe before, during, and after refurbishment. (Courtesy of the City of Hamilton)

The undertaking involved product from Tnemec, a protective-coating manufacturer based in Kansas City, Missouri. Bainbridge says that, once the work was done, Tnemec suggested the globe be entered in the company’s 2018 Tank of the Year contest. The company’s marketing manager acknowledged to the Spectator that including a non-water tank was controversial but added, “We thought with that cool design ... we should get it in there.”

Hamilton ultimately lost to a Texan water tank, but, with TVO.org’s contest underway, the globe now has a second chance at a title. Bainbridge has a pitch for why it deserves one: “It's been there for a long period of time. It is a unique kind of shape to see in a major urban centre. It has a definite function that relates to the well-being of our community.”

Ontario Hubs are made possible by the Barry and Laurie Green Family Charitable Trust & Goldie Feldman.

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