Hamilton – A City Divided
Hamilton is a city located at the western end of Lake Ontario. Everyone knows where it is, but it’s not high on their ‘Places to Visit’ lists. For many years it was the brunt of jokes until the jokes became stale, but with the steelworks dominating the east end skyline, it is still the focus of grumbles on smoggy days.
Hamilton is a city divided. The older part of the city – Lower Hamilton – is trapped under the Niagara Escarpment and hidden from view by the Burlington Skyway. The newer part – upper Hamilton – is on top of the “mountain”, the name affectionately given to the escarpment, but it is also the name used to distinguish the two Hamiltons.
It’s true – some parts of Lower Hamilton have been neglected and are run down. It became the place to live when no other place was affordable. That and the industrial east end contributed to the culmination of stigmas that have sadly haunted Lower Hamilton over the past few decades.
First time in Downtown Hamilton
I had driven through Lower Hamilton several times in the past and have to admit, I was more concerned about navigating the infernal maze of one-way streets than I was about site-seeing. It seemed like I was always driving in the wrong direction to get to where I was going. All I could ever think about was how to get out of there. But one not so fine day – December 12 2004 to be exact – I decided to go to Lower Hamilton on purpose, park my car and wander around the downtown core – an area I later discovered was Hamilton City Centre. Despite the rain, the experience was somewhat enlightening. There were what appeared to be partially occupied, but otherwise wonderful buildings interspersed with little stores and ‘less than prime’ properties surrounding Gore Park. I started to wonder why I had made the trip, especially considering the inclement weather, but since I was there, I decided to look further – delve deeper – explore. I’m glad I stayed. The more I wandered those, and surrounding streets, the more I saw the hidden beauty in the majestic old buildings and the less I noticed the ruin and neglect. I wondered how all this had been allowed to happen and I became dismayed. I started to think about what it would take to rejuvenate this city, give it the pride it obviously once had – how I could make a difference?
It was some years later – I can’t recall the circumstances – but I literally found myself on James Street North. I was immediately drawn into the juxtaposition that this street had to offer – the run down properties, the newly restored buildings, the thriving small businesses, the variety of restaurants, the art and music stores. It was a fascinating enigma, one that drew me in. This street seemed to be a place where like-minded people wanted to be found, but it wasn’t until I was talking to a store owner that I felt an excitement. She told me about an annual event, “Supercrawl”, a weekend when the street would be shut down to traffic, when vendors would set up curb-side stalls and entertainment would go on non-stop all day and into the night. Her enthusiasm about the event was so compelling, the dates were marked in my calendar and I was hooked.
A Past Era
Since that event, I have visited the area many times, each time finding and photographing wonderful examples of a forgotten architecture.