Doors Open Hamilton – Reduce, Reuse, Reopen
From the Nest, Issue 15
by Sarah Sheehan
After two years of the pandemic, Doors Open Hamilton is back with a celebration of the history, transformation, and potential of our city’s built heritage. It’s dynamic and uniquely Hamilton.
This Mother’s Day weekend will mark the return of the 21st annual Doors Open Hamilton. Hosted by the local branch of Architectural Conservancy Ontario, 2022’s reopening edition features over 30 sites and tours, all with free admission.
Some celebrate milestones, like Dundas’ 175th or Stewart & Witton’s 150th, while others anticipate future renewal, like the upcoming relocation of the Beach Canal Lighthouse. It’s a chance to venture behind the scenes at freshly renovated heritage buildings and other unique spaces in your community.
Doors Open HQ is the Lister Block – a downtown success story. Once in such poor condition that it served as a horror film set, Bernard Prack’s 1923 commercial building is now the beautifully restored home of Tourism and Culture, with the Visitors’ Centre open all Doors Open weekend. Take an architect’s tour of Lady Lister and meet members of ACO Hamilton and the Hamilton Municipal Heritage Committee, the dedicated volunteers who advise City Council on architectural conservation and administer the annual Heritage Awards.
“You need an old building for new ideas.” Mazyar Mortazavi, president and CEO of B Corp TAS, paraphrases Jane Jacobs when he talks about one of the year’s biggest heritage adaptive reuse stories. Across from Central Library, TAS and the Hamilton Community Foundation are restoring the historic Coppley building, which is set to reopen next year as a community hub. First tapped for designation in 1979, the Coppley, Noyes & Randall complex includes the original 1856 stone garment factory by Frederick Rastrick and a 1906 brick warehouse by Alfred Peene. Sustainability-minded renos are now underway; visitors for Doors Open can access the courtyard – envisioned as future event space – behind the arched horses’ entryway on MacNab.
Renewal can also be a quieter thing. On the Durand end of MacNab is one of Hamilton’s oldest churches. Designated as part of the MacNab-Charles Heritage Conservation District, MacNab Presbyterian has been fundraising for repairs to its 1857 gothic revival building, which was designed by William Thomas. The 1930s brought renovations including a new chancel and stained glass windows by artist William Wilson of James Ballantine & Son, Edinburgh, said to be the finest example of Scottish stained glass in Canada.
As existing social infrastructure, churches present exciting opportunities for adaptive reuse. Repurposing churches for residential use is still a novelty in Hamilton, but Ward 3 is leading the way with the St. Thomas apartments in Stinson, and Gibson-Landsdale’s Stonehouse Apartments. Last spring, Indwell announced a new partnership with the congregation of Wentworth Baptist to restore their 1924 church – designed by Hutton & Souter around an 1870s stone residence – and build 40 affordable-housing units as infill. View Indwell’s plans and take a pre-construction tour of the Cannon Street landmark.
In the Central neighbourhood, more adaptive reuse projects nod to the city’s industrial history.
Beside the West Harbour GO, Rastrick & Rubidge’s 1860 Custom House served trade for just 27 years before being turned to other uses. Now a National Historic Site, the Renaissance Revival building was purchased and renovated in the 1990s by Workers Arts & Heritage Centre. Since heritage conservation is climate action, it’s apt that the Custom House is also home to Environment Hamilton.
North of Cannon, two new cultural spaces in converted industrial buildings highlight the exciting potential of reuse.
The brightly coloured mural from the artists of Clear Eyes Collective means you’ve found Bridgeworks, a new arts centre and community hub operated by Supercrawl Productions. The venue’s warehouse space once housed the Hamilton Bridge Works Company, makers of the steel components used in the High Level Bridge, the Burlington Canal Lift Bridge, and the Burlington Skyway.
Built for a Victorian power utility, The Gasworks was where the Hamilton Gas Light Company converted coal to gas. Working with Thier + Curran Architects, the John and Ellie Voortman Charitable Foundation has expanded and transformed the 1850s building into a cultural hub for the Hamilton Music Collective and other arts organizations. Join the architect tour, catch a rehearsal, or just take in the art show.
Up on the Mountain, two seldom open, city-managed Escarpment estates promise to be big draws on Doors Open weekend. Claremont and Chedoke are both pre-Confederation estates, better known today by the city’s names for their manor houses – Auchmar and Balfour House.
Auchmar is legendary as the picturesque estate of Isaac Buchanan. It hosted Black Hamiltonians’ Emancipation Day celebrations as early as 1859. The city acquired Auchmar decades ago, via a land swap with a developer who was proposing to demolish the storied manor house. But only in 2019 did it decide to retain management of the site. Claremont Lodge and Arcade Crescent – once a driveway leading from the gatehouse on Claremont Drive – testify to the original extent of Buchanan’s estate.
West of Auchmar is the last great Escarpment estate – the stunning 1830s manor house and grounds of Chedoke, generously donated to Ontarians by the Southam-Balfour family (the city renews its lease from the Ontario Heritage Trust every 30 years).
Once the site of an Iroquois settlement, this spectacular property was the childhood home of Southam chair St. Clair Balfour III – philanthropist, Hamilton Spectator alum, and grandson of news baron William Southam, who gave Chedoke to his only daughter, Ethel May, as a wedding gift.
Balfour’s sister was the tenant until her death in 2013. Much like Auchmar, Chedoke has since paid its way with film shoots and visiting Willowbank students. But in the months before COVID, it became the subject of ongoing controversy – since 2019, the city has been in talks to sublease the property to Cardus, an evangelical Christian think tank and lobby group.
Sole-sourcing Chedoke would mean privatization of this beautiful mansion and green space, which currently belongs to all Ontarians – effectively giving away the Southams’ gift and seriously limiting public access until 2039.
It’s unclear why the city views gems like Auchmar and Chedoke as a burden, and not an opportunity. But on May 7 and 8, the gates of Chedoke and elsewhere will be open – making this an event not to be missed.
Doors Open Hamilton is on Saturday, May 7 and Sunday, May 8, 2022 from 10am to 4pm. The Doors Open Signature Event, Spring Up! Night Market & Block Party, is at the Cotton Factory on Saturday, May 7 from 4pm to 11pm.