When we announced that we were moving to Hamilton, and then that we had moved here, a few people asked. “Why Hamilton?” Pure curiosity, and justified to some extent, since we came south from a small Francophone community in the north. The insinuation being, “Why not Toronto?” After all, I lived there for close to 20 years. Many of my friends are in Toronto, and work in arts and culture is possible there. But perhaps because of the Ford years and also because of the cost of living and the more hectic nature of that city, it no longer felt like the right place to call Home. And what we were looking for was home. In Hamilton, we have found that beautiful mix of big-city amenities and small-town friendliness that we craved.
Elle Canada recently referred to Hamilton as “Canada’s Brooklyn” and in a lot of ways, it’s apt. But then Hamilton is also its very own unlike-anyplace-else city, and comparing it would do no good. Might as well call it Ontario’s Winnipeg. The longer we live here, the more answers we have to the question, “Why Hamilton?”
Because newcomers are welcome provided you don’t mistake the city as an outpost of Toronto, which it definitely isn’t. Hamiltonians are friendly, conversant and usually delighted to hear that you have chosen their hometown as your own. There is tremendous civic pride and I expect the upcoming election to be as passionate as the Ti-Cat fans.
Because we can hear the roar of those Ti-Cat fans at Tim Horton’s Field very near our house on game days and it gives me a thrill every time I am out on the front lawn. I will have to see my second-ever CFL game very soon. It sounds like too much fun to miss.
The Hamilton Store, with its fantastic selection of locally-made goods and hometown photography. It’s also a great place to go and introduce yourself as a newbie for a warm welcome from the owner.
The coffee shops: those I have discovered, like Cafe Orange, Mulberry Street and Homegrown, and those I have still to visit. I like living in a city where coffee is a serious business, without the pretense that coffee is a Serious Business. Just a mug of black joe and a great atmosphere is all I ask, and there are many amazing cafes here.
Initiatives like Art Forms, a youth-focused arts organization that I am keen to work with this year.
The fries at Locke Street Bar. Quite possibly in the top five french fries I have ever tasted. They were yummy at the Locke Street Festival, another reason to live in Hamilton.
Because whenever I go for a walk, I feel a peace and inspiration I was looking for in a hometown. The architecture moves from grand to gritty within blocks and I love the grandeur and the honest struggle. Yes, there are a lot of vacant storefronts in our neighbourhood, but for how long?
Because we live on the same street as the once-notorious murderess Evelyn Dick and I have yet to see a single tour bus. Curious people with books in hand, maybe, but no plaques and no buses.
Because of The Green Smoothie Bar, Ben Thanh and La Luna, my three favourite places to eat. Still exploring on that front. The other thing is, the grocery shopping is so awesome (Nations, Farmer’s Market, Starsky’s) I tend to cook and eat at home a lot. The range of cuisines is a relief after life up north, with all due respect to the chip stands of Sturgeon Falls.
James Street Art Crawls. Supercrawl. The amazing festivals in Gage Park.
Gage Park! Quite honestly the most serene park I have ever experienced next to the Villa Borghese gardens in Rome.
Food trucks like Karma Chameleon that serve delicious and audaciously vegan cuisine. (Yes, still obsessed with food.)
Ottawa Street, with its fabric and antique stores and Saturday market.
I could go on. I’m going to give Hamilton full credit for the happy completion of my novel. For stirring me with just the right blend of inspiration and calm that gets the job done when it comes to revisions. There were quite a few of those, and yet when we settled here in The Hammer, as some folks call it, I felt ready to type the words The End, marking the completion of a very long journey. I’m really excited about the Hamilton Arts Council’s panel discussion for writers and checking out Improv Night at The Staircase Theatre. There is so much art and culture here that we want for nothing.
It’s an exciting time to live in this city and we are only just beginning to get to know it…before you judge it from the Burlington Skyway, where the steel mills cast their grim beauty over the harbour, come take a closer look. Why Hamilton? Why NOT?