A New Hamilton Built on Imagination
From the Nest, Issue 10
by Mary Love
A liveable city must have a downtown and other neighbourhoods that have a lively and accessible cityscape, and also ways of easily escaping town to be with nature on a bigger, wilder scale than the equally valuable city park can give.
No doubt more can be done to make the outdoors accessible for those with mobility issues, but one of Hamilton’s attractive features is how relatively easy it is to go out walking on trails that take you out of the city, at least mentally, and how close the Dundas Valley hiking trails are, where that feeling of freedom intensifies.
Some of the cities that have this crucial feature are small, like ours, and some are big, like London, England, where a friend of mine has been exploring the bike and walking trails along the Thames River for a couple of years. In this, my friend walks in the footsteps of the great visionary poet William Blake.
In his day (1757-1827), the countryside was a half hour walk away, and Blake especially enjoyed walking with friends in the Shoreham Valley, where people still go walking and can visit farms and a vineyard.
As well as loving the pastoral English countryside, Blake, a master engraver, would have honoured the work of stone masons visible on the facades of historic buildings in the various downtown low income neighbourhoods where he, and his wife and business partner Catherine, lived.
I imagine William would also have appreciated the many downtown gargoyles and the faded ads for stores and services painted on the sides of old buildings in our downtown, some of which could be repurposed and rehabilitated for low income Hamiltonians who need services.
If, that is, we could uproot once and for all the business mantra that real estate is too expensive on this or that corner for anyone but a few to have. It’s all stolen land after all, so what’s the big deal and pretense? We should be incorporating landback into any plans for the future of the Hamilton area. Landback is the most important path to reconciliation, given that Indigenous peoples have control of only 0.2% of the landmass of Canada.
Besides theft of Indigenous land, I believe William would also have despised both suburban mansions encroaching on the countryside, that he and so many others needed for its food and beauty, and attempts at gentrification of London neighbourhoods that would have left many in the craftsman class homeless, robbed of an affordable studio, or both.
Yes, as many Hamiltonians do today, Blake would have raised strenuous objection to outsiders profiting from the dislocation of established neighbourhoods, and would have promoted people who love the working class character of Hamilton to plan, design, build, and decorate the urban consolidation brought into the architectural and political arena by Stop Sprawl HamOnt. We certainly have the architects and craftspeople here to do it.
Recently, I spoke with a man living in one of the homeless encampments who told me about his (still ongoing) work as an ornamental iron worker. That handsome sign above the traffic on King Street East at Wellington Street welcoming you to Hamilton’s downtown? He made it! Imagine that – he lives in a tent under constant threat of disruption by the City.
Imagination, says Blake, is the key to rebuilding a fallen world. This must be why Stop Sprawl has excited so many Hamiltonians with their positive new vision of our devalued city core.
Whether downtown or elsewhere, many can now see Hamilton in their mind’s eye brimming with innovative homes for everyone who will need them for the foreseeable future; can also see neighbourhoods that deliver food security, so there’s no more food deserts, that have more tree canopy, and enhance the strong feeling of community in existing neighbourhoods like Beasley, Durand, and the North End.
This isn’t the first time that Hamiltonians have realized the need for a new path. In a September 10, 2019 article by Tom Hogue, I learned that by the late 1800s “where 300-year old pine sentinels once towered over the city, only stumps and dirt remained along the shadeless ridge” of the Niagara Escarpment around Hamilton, because settlers only valued the ancient pines as softwood lumber.
Luckily, Chief George Johnson of Six Nations and a forestry student named Edmund Zavitz, and others, had the imagination to see that steps must be taken to heal that wasteland (this work began in the early 1900s).
Let us now realize our potential for solidarity and build a new Hamilton of the imagination and of the working person!
Mary Love is a Hamilton poet who grew up in downtown Toronto, then lived on the prairies for many years; she volunteers with several climate and social justice groups in town