Proud to Celebrate 50 Years of the DNA
From the Nest, Issue 12
by Janice Brown
Born and raised in Hamilton, I grew up in the North End until I left to attend the University of Toronto, but returned to my hometown after the completion of my education.
During my early teaching years, I lived in Durand and Corktown and then moved to the suburbs only to discover that, at heart, I was a city girl. I returned to Durand in 1992 and have been here ever since.
Shortly after moving to Duke Street, and on one of my many walks to discover my neighbourhood, I came across a Durand Neighbourhood Association (DNA) Annual General Meeting (AGM) announcement. I had no idea that the Association even existed or, more importantly, what it did!
Little did I realize that once I attended the AGM that fall, I would be hooked and the DNA would become a huge part of my volunteer experiences.
Volunteering was not new to me. I was a Department Head of Physical and Health Education for 32 years. My volunteer extracurricular experiences included coaching, hosting athletic tournaments, banquets, mentoring, fund-raising, chairing Department meetings, and picking up any loose ends.
Shortly after my introduction to the Durand, at the AGM, I volunteered to help host a book fair in Durand Park and then, in 1996, I attended a DNA Board Meeting. At that time, all meetings were held in Board members’ homes and I was fascinated with the discussion around the table.
The major issues included the St. Mark’s Anglican Church site, the Thistle Club Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) settlement, Residential Care Facilities (RCF) and James Mountain Road. A few meetings later, I was asked to join the Association and assigned my first two files, St. Mark’s and RCFs.
These were significant issues and I had much to learn. I was fortunate to have knowledgeable mentors who helped me along the way like Russell Elman, a long time DNA Board Member who wrote Durand: A Neighbourhood Reclaimed and Nina Chapple, a former heritage planner with the City of Hamilton.
In 1999, Russell and I gathered the DNA archives, which were scattered across the Durand; some had even found their way to Belleville. We pored over the documents and organized the material so that Russell could begin work on his book. His book was the DNA millennium gift in 2000.
As part of the millennium celebrations, the DNA hosted a province-wide symposium bringing inner city neighbourhoods in Ontario together. We discussed urban issues and the possibility of creating a province-wide neighbourhood organization. I was proud to be an integral part of both of these exciting volunteer activities.
Nina Chapple was extremely helpful. She introduced me to the resources of the City’s Heritage Department and I was pleased to discover that most of Durand heritage buildings had been inventoried and documented in 1977. I called Nina often for updates on St. Mark’s.
In 1994 the City purchased St. Mark’s and in 1995 it was given heritage designation (including the open space). This ultimately provided an excellent argument that the Durand was deficient in green space and lacked community amenities.
Over the last 27 years the Association has battled and staved off private high-rise proposals, attempts at sourcing private / public relationships to develop the St. Mark’s site, the potential sale of heritage properties, and requests for proposals that never came to fruition.
In 2011, Council removed St. Mark’s from the market and requested a Staff Feasibility Study for cultural and community use. Phase 1 is now complete but the COVID-19 pandemic, unforeseen overruns in costs for sewers and drainage, and procurement issues, have slowed down the completion of the project.
We have however been assured that Phases 2 & 3 will commence in March or April 2022 with the opening scheduled for 2023. I can hardly wait to celebrate!
I am also proud of my efforts in the revitalization of Durand Park. The DNA engaged the community, our members, seniors and students to determine what they wanted. Along the way, we realized that we needed to raise funds for our park activities.
To that end, Graham Crawford and I hosted the first ever Grand Durand Garden Tour in 2007. It was so successful, raising over $3,000 for the DNA, that I have continued to organize it every 3 years. With the funds raised, our community has enjoyed Annual Movie Nights, Easter Egg Hunts, Pumpkin Patch Parties, Picnics in the Park and DNA milestone anniversaries.
I am proud to be part of the Association’s legacy that started in the early 70s when concerned citizens felt that the neighbourhood’s enviable quality of life was in trouble; its architectural and historical heritage was disappearing as wreckers demolished scores of homes and erected high-rise buildings in their place. They wanted their neighbourhood planned and they wanted a park.
Co-founders Diane Dent and Grant Head organized and succeeded in bringing the community together to help save the neighbourhood and preserve its cultural heritage. This activism and leadership to protect, preserve and conserve their built heritage, and address community priorities has remained steadfast for the last 50 years (1972-2022).
In celebration of 50 years of uninterrupted community service, the DNA will be hosting celebrations in June and September 2022. On behalf of the DNA, I am extending an invitation for the community to join us to celebrate in Durand Park in September 2022.
Janice Brown feels very fortunate to have been able to call Durand home and to contribute to her community; for all of her community involvement, Janice was the recipient of the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal Award; she is currently the Secretary for the Durand Neighbourhood Association and serves on both the Hamilton Municipal Heritage Committee and the Architectural Conservancy of Ontario, Hamilton Region Branch