Archives: buildings

spring time in durand

It’s around this time in spring, where lawns are greening in fluffy tufts of yet-to-be cut grass, starlings start their chirping at ungodly early morning hours and blossoms –oh the blossoms start to appear!

One of my favourite neighbourhoods to have a wander about is the Durand neighbourhood. Especially when I’m into daydreaming about how my life might be like if I was rich and lived in one of those insanely gorgeous old manors.

I consider Durand to be a downtown neighbourhood. It’s tucked behind city hall and pushed up back against the escarpment. The houses are not all castle-like mansions like on Ravenscliffe. Durand has an amazing mix of turn of the century apartments: 1960′s highrises, manors, and stone terrace row houses like Sandyford place on Duke (Hamilton’s limsestone version of Brooklyn Brownstones).

In spring I like to take an intentional trip to walk these streets and soak up all that is spring. The magnolia trees are especially breathtaking. Some of these trees are so old; their branches reaching wide and weighted heavily with blossoming magnolia pinks, white, yellow and purple.


Hamilton Durand Magnolias 2 Hamilton Durand House

I also love the ornate details on so many of the houses (especially on Bay) conical roofs, rounded windows, and slate or cedar shingles. Fine features that you just don’t see in every neighbourhood. I wonder about the houses that were levelled to build the highrises and city hall. And I think about Whitehern and how it’s just an island of historic refuge in the midst of redevelopment that must’ve hit the Durand neighbourhood all in one fatal swoop in the 60′s. If you’ve never checked out Whitehern’s secret little garden, then you should. It’s got beautiful ferns, and magnolias that would do for the perfect urban spring picnic. Hamilton Durand House 4 Hamilton Durand house 3 Hamilton Durand House 1 Hamilton Durand house 5 Hamilton Durand Magnolias 1 Hamilton Durand House 6

day tripping in the hammer

I often get emails from people who want to check out Hamilton for a day. They want to know where to go for coffee, to eat, drink, check out some art, vintage, shops and generally get the scoop of all that is abuzz.

A few years ago a task like that wouldn’t have taken long. I could’ve quickly listed off my favourite spots, both old and new. However, now a job like that would take some serious thought, which don’t get me wrong is a good thing! I’d have to take inventory of all that has recently opened (for which there is a ton of) and is soon to open (something new on the daily).

So when approached me a little while back and asked that I do a write up about the Hammer, I took it as an opportunity to give (all those wanting to get in on Hamilton) a quick and dirty one-day-tour of our city. It is by no means comprehensive and there is much room to expand.

For the purpose of this entry I will keep this trek a walking one with the potential start and end points being the train stations; for which Hamilton now has two of (conveniently located at the Southern and Northern tips of James Street).

So you’ve decided to check out Hamilton

Starting from James South at the Hamilton GO Centre, my first stop would be at Pinecone Coffee (a short jaunt east to John South) for a morning coffee and a little treat to eat. Sit for a bit and get your bearings on the city. Contrary to what you might geographically be inclined to feel, toward the mountain/escarpment is South, and the lake is North.

John South exp1

After your first taste of Hamilton’s growing coffee/cafe scene head north down John Street. Make note, if you’re still in the city for the evening, you might make your way back up this way for buck a shuck oysters, cocktails, and charcuterie (of the meat/cheese or chocolate variety) at Two Black Sheep, tacos and tequila (over 30 kinds listed on their menu) at Mezcal, or pints and pub fare on Augusta Street at local watering holes: The Ship (one of my favourite places for burgers in the city) or The Winking Judge; both of which have extensive lists of craft beer on tap.

Keep your eyes up around John and King to admire some of the architecture and the restoration of a Hamilton classic: The Royal Connaught Hotel.

If the time is right (past noon and not on a Sunday or Monday, when most shops downtown are closed) then head right from John onto King St. East to pop into any or all of these boutiques: Girl On The Wing, MODify Your Closet, Studio 205, The GiftedTundra Leather, and JH Gordon Books.

By now you may be in need for a little rest and refuelling for which your next stop should be Cafe Oranje.


If you’ve got a hankering for German eats then make a stop at either Denninger’s Foods of the World or The Black Forest Inn (both have been in their locations for over 50 years). It should be noted that at the Black Forest Inn (a total Hamilton institution) your goulash and schnitzel will be delivered to you by servers dressed in traditional German dirndl and lederhosen. But of course, if you’re not into that, then there’s always Staxx’s Waffle House for burgers, fried chicken and waffles or Sparkle (a total hidden gem) for Northern Chinese: cumin lamb skewers and dumplings.

Before leaving King East or what some call the International Village, check off your list Out of the Past and Vintage Soul Geek‘s shops (if vintage is what you’re after).

Go west on King and hang a right going North on John; passing by my favourite building in the city -Treble Hall.

John North exp2

Just before you hit King William check out the latest art exhibit at Nathaniel Hughson Gallery.

Working your way west down King William you’ll find the recently opened HAM BRGR boasting some crazy mouth watering burgers, over the top caesars garnished with a mini-slider, and a good selection of craft beer. There’s also the Mule for gourmet tacos, tequila, bourbon, and weekend brunch, Made for you by Madeleine bakery (they mill their flour on-site), and Homegrown Hamilton Cafe and coffee roasters amidst many other notable restaurants and establishments.

As you approach James North you’ll see another beauty of a building -The Lister Block, which was restored and brought back to life just a few years back. It already seems strange to imagine that when I first moved to Hamilton and laid eyes on Lady Lister, she was all boarded up. There is undoubtedly an architectural renaissance that is starting to take hold in the downtown core.

Tourism Hamilton is on the main floor of the Lister, which is a good stop if looking for additional information on Hamilton. In case you didn’t know, Hamilton is known for its nature: waterfalls (over 100 of them), beautiful escarpment trails, waterfront, and Canada’s largest botanical garden.

James North exp2

Continuing up James Street North there is no shortage of cool shops, cafes and restaurants.

The Design Annex: Satellite branch of the Art Gallery of Hamilton. Half design furniture store gift shop half gallery event space.

Hawk and Sparrow: A vintage store favourite of mine. One of the first vintage stores to open on James nearly five years ago.

James North exp3

Pretty Gritt: Mix of vintage and new design housewares and gift shop.

Hand Knit Yarn: For all your knitting needs.

White Elephant: Boutique of beautiful and quality designed women’s clothing, jewelery and accessories.


O’s Clothes: Men and women’s clothing and lifestyle store. Everything from the iconic #HAMont t-shirts to lux Pendleton shawls, Fjalraven bags and jackets, and Chemex coffee paraphernalia.

Chaise Musicale: Great collection of mid century modern furnishings, and the best selection of books, vinyl and art cult movies for rental or purchase.


Mixed Media: For every and any Hamilton visit Mixed Media should be a mandatory stop. They’re an art supply, stationary, gift shop and they just celebrated their 10th year of business.

James North exp7

Tucked just east of James on Cannon you can pick up a coffee to go at Smalls. It has become my fail safe spot for a guaranteed ah-mazing coffee. Next to Smalls is The Burnt Tongue, soup joint, which is another one of my favourite places for burgers (plain and simple no fuss classic burger). Or if in the mood for something else, across the way is Pho Dao Bo, which delivers on good broth, bun, and my indulgent summer-time favourite a coconut milkshake.

Two art galleries at this corner worth mentioning are:

Hundred Dollar Gallery: Curated selection of works all priced at $100!

Hamilton Artist Inc: Home to some of my favourite art exhibits in recent years.

New to James North is Hamilton’s latest cafe; Saint James. It has a menu that changes up daily with Italian sandwiches, pasta, and cereal bars that rotate through childhood classic cereal flavours like Cap’n Crunch, Lucky Charms, and Fruit Loops. I recommend The Drive-Thru: a piping hot breakfast sandwich (English muffin with egg, sausage, hash-brown, and a spicy mayo). I could eat one every day!

James North exp6

Next to Saint James for great fabrics and creative classes is the lovely Needlework.


If you’ve got friends to meet up with or are in need of a place to relax, then hit up Mulberry Coffee shop. In addition to usual cafe spreads, they’ve also have a good selection of vegan and vegetarian menu options. On sunny days you can sit out on their corner patio soaking up the afternoon sun and the goings on of James Street.

James North exp13

Moving on just a couple doors north is a Hamilton bar I love -The Brain. It has an extensive craft beer selection, great cheeses, hot and cold sandwiches, coffee, pies, and fancy cocktails. It’s a perfect hang-out.

James North exp9a

For further bites to eat at this end of James:

Venturas: Portuguese steak and seafood house. Massive seafood platters like the Mariscada: jumbo shrimp, mussels, jumbo clams, white snow crab legs sauted in a garlic and white wine sauce

Ola Bakery: Super delicious classic portuguese sweets and treats.

Knead Pizza: Gourmet pizzas like The Smoked Brisket, or Mango Tango: crispy pork belly, pickled jalapenos and mango. Eat in, take out, full pies or by the slice. Veggie options also available.

Saltlick Smokehouse: Southern cuisine with a menu organized by meat: hog, bovine, poultry, with sides like mac’n cheese, slaw, beans and croquettes. They’ve recently added weekend brunch: smokehouse style eggs benny.


Lakeroad: Fancy, delicious and gorgeous presentation. They run the gambit of dishes from pizza, pasta, to Moroccan hen, flank steak, ribs and pork belly.

Green Smoothie Bar: A dose of healthy that looks and tastes delicious. Green smoothies, vegan lunch bowls, meal-worthy salads, wraps and desserts.

Jack and Lois: An all day and night kind of place. Breakfast, sandwiches, soups, and burgers and I might add a surprisingly large and amazing back patio for hangover caesars and summer time evening beers. My fav The Peter Rowe Breaded Parm Sandwich: Portobello Cap, Eggplant Cutlet, Roasted Red Pepper Caramalized Onions, Asiago with House Marinara on a Baguette.

Butcher and the Vegan: Their mission – serve delicious, local, sustainable and ethical food for every palate and persuasion. Their menu changes according to season but ranges from beet ravioli to duck pizza. They’ve also got you covered for weekend brunch.

Golden Brown: Located just east of James on Barton is the cutest little Korean sweet and spicy fried chicken take-out and delivery restaurant. Cash only.

Work: Rivals The Brain as my favourite bar hang out. In addition to great hangs, beers, and laid back vibes they also have a really fabulous and unique menu. My favs: banh mi fries and kimchi nachos. They’ve also got their foot in the ramen door too. Did I mention they also have a comedy night?

More shops and Galleries:

Record Stores: The three in the area are Cheapies, Dr. Disc and Hammer City Records (specializing in Punk, Hard Core, and Metal).

The Hamilton Store: For all your Hamilton heart-throb gift and good needs.

NewOlds: Men, women and kids vintage clothing and accessories.

b Contemporary: A must-see gallery for me on art crawls.

HAVN (Hamilton Audio Visual Node): A place to listen, view, and experience. Always an interesting place for live music and visual art.

You Me Gallery: The oldest art gallery on the block. Owner and artist Bryce Kanbara is a long time veteran of Hamilton’s art scene (like since the 70′s).

Workers Arts and Heritage Centre: Hamilton’s old Custom House (one of the oldest remaining ‘federal’ public buildings in Canada) is a museum with curated art exhibitions and programming about the culture and history of the working people.

At this end of James Street North the new West Harbour Go Station is a short two minute walk (west of James). But if you’re still looking for a few more notable destinations not necessarily on James Street (but worth checking out) read on!

Going out at Night:

The Baltimore House: Coffee house and pub by day, live venue for bands or club DJ and dancing by night. They also have Karaoke, trivia, open mic nights.

Homegrown Hamilton: Cafe by day, open mic and live music venue at night.

This Ain’t Hollywood: Some might call it a dive. It’s definitely no frills and it’s my favourite band venue in the city.

The Casbah: Bands play here and they’ve got lots of craft beer.

Yuk Yuks: Comedy club. Cause everybody needs a good laugh.

Serve Ping Pong: In addition to crap loads of ping pong they also have a supremely amazing menu and weekend brunch.

Gameopolis: Walls of games for unlimited board game fun. They’ve got you covered for snacks, beer, wine and coffee, tea, hot chocolate, and floats!

James North exp8

Worth Mentioning:

Hamilton Farmer’s Market: Meats, cheeses, local farm produce. Plus, the market has recently upped its game with the opening of Eat Industries Inc‘s tacos, Pokeh Bar (sashimi grade tuna salmon bowls), Henry Brown’s (small batch ice-cream) and Eat Industrie’s latest venture a ramen shop. Open Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

Art Gallery of Hamilton: A visit to Hamilton should not forgo a trip to the AGH. This gallery and art institution is probably one of the things I’m most proud of in our city.

Collective Art’s Brewery: Hamilton’s first large-scale craft brewery has recently made its debut in the city. Expect larger scale events and concerts to be held here in the future.

Art Crawl: During the second Friday of every month galleries, shops, vendors, food trucks and musicians pop up or stay open late along James North from 7-11pm. A great way to get a snapshot view of the city. It can bring a fabulous energy to the core, but can get very busy in good weather.

Supercrawl: An annual festival that promotes the art and indie music scene. Several street blocks close (to cars) for three days as numerous stages, food trucks, stalls/vendors and attractions line the streets. Named Ontario’s Tourism Event of the Year.

So Bi: Hamilton’s bike share. Great way for getting around the city.

For Further Hamilton Reading:

I Heart Hamilton: Kristin Archer, Hamilton’s sweetheart, has been living her motto of “being a tourist in her own city” for the past four years; blogging about restaurants, shops, music and events. If it’s about Hamilton, she’s blogged about it.

The Hungry Gnome: For all your food related Hamilton blogging. @TheRealChanry gets the scoop on all things new, old and good to eat in the city.

Cut From Steel: BIljana Njegovan’s music blog that covers concerts, reviews bands, promotes and showcases the amazing musical talent that comes out of Hamilton.

Rebuild Hamilton: Thomas Allan is a walking historical architectural encyclopedia about all things related to buildings in Hamilton. Super passionate about the city and everything that comes with it.



hamilton flea

One of my favourite Hamiltonians, Whitney McMeekin aka Girl On The Wing, plus her sister and organizer of all things super fun in Hamilton (namely founder of The Academy of All Things Awesome & Sous Bas), Erika McMeekin put on their first Hamilton Flea back in July.

Hamilton Flea3

It was housed in Treble Hall (a building I’m constantly gushing over) with a slew of amazing vendors from gourmet donuts from Donut Monster, vintage finds via Roly Poly Records, The Eye of Faith, and other vendors like Rare Specimens jewellery, White Elephant, Stay Home Club and the Jelly Brothers.

It was summer-time hot, the venue packed, and an all ’round success and super fun afternoon shopping around, seeing friends, and hanging out inside a very unique and underused Hamilton space.

It felt like we all got in on a little Hamilton secret for an afternoon.

Hamilton Flea1 Hamilton Flea4 Hamilton Flea2 rare specimens Hamilton Flea5 Hamilton Flea6

Well… this weekend Whitney and Erika are putting on the second edition of Hamilton Flea in yet another gem of a secret Hamilton building.

This Saturday, November 14 from 11-6 at 45 Wellington Street North and King William, come check out over 30 vendors like the ladies from Hoot Furnishings, Girl Can Create, Vintage Soul Geek, Newold’s, and… Donut Monster will be back serving up delish donuts, plus my fav coffee to-go -Smalls will be there while you chomp down on some Phat N’ Phull eats and shop around bopping to the tunes Dj’d by Young Lions Music Club.

For a sneak peak into this Flea’s building check out Whitney’s post on Girl On The Wing here.

*Hamilton Flea (No. 2), 45 Wellington Street North, Saturday November 14, 11am-6pm, Facebook, Twitter, Insta

541 eatery & exchange

The chalk board sign at the front counter of 541 Eatery and Exchange reads:

Eat drink and stay a while. Our delicious food is freshly made and affordably priced for all to enjoy. The proceeds from our eatery fund community programs for kids and our neighbourhood. Thanks for helping make Hamilton a better place!

This past June at 541 Barton Street a new cafe, eatery and exchange opened. It was a long time in the making. And I had been excitedly watching the progress of this project from about a year back when I first saw a video by Bottled Media about the inspirational concept and idea of the whole community operation.

541 Eatery and Exchange is a unique type of cafe that is invested in making a positive impact on its community. Located in the heart of Barton Village it is undoubtedly breathing some fresh air back into the neighbourhood.

Barton is often considered a strip of Hamilton where some of the city’s largest pockets of poverty exist. If you took a quick jaunt down Barton you might notice some abandoned buildings fitted in among the spattering of notable Hamilton fixtures such as the Trocadero Restaurant -open for 70 years, Karolina’s Polish Restaurant -just like the way your Polish grandma used to cook, Duartes Portuguese Supermarket and Deli, the Vagueira Bakery and Pastry Cafe, and Starpolskie’s Deli. Now when you’re down on Barton you’ll also see the fresh-faced, hip, and contemporary cafe at 541.

541 Barton interior

It has a glossy polished feel that is open, airy, and welcoming. I loved that they maintained many aspects of the original features of the building like the exposed brick walls, lofty high ceilings and numerous sunny large wooden framed windows.

When we walked in a family was sitting having some treats and playing one of the many board games housed on the shelves at 541. I spotted a small children’s play area at the front of the cafe and thought that it’d would be a great walking destination where I could feasibly bring Omi to stop in for a treat, and to escape from the summer heat. A place with a family friendly vibe is definitely something I pay attention to when on the hunt for new hangouts these days especially now that I have an active little toddler to contend with.

541 Barton drink menu

Besides good coffee, great food, and breezy atmosphere, one of the best things about 541 is how accessible it is to everyone (especially in their pricing). We ordered a lemonade, latte, coffee, banana bread and a scone all for under $10!

With those kind of prices I didn’t have a problem buying a handful of buttons from the button bank, which is just about the simplest and smartest charitable idea I’ve seen. The way it works is you can buy a button at a dollar a piece, which then in turn can be used to help out customers that may need a little extra coinage to buy a hearty and healthy meal or small bite to eat. 1 button=$1 and can be used as cash at 541. The button jar that customers could take from to pay for food was nearly full to the brim, which means everyone has the ability to afford and enjoy 541! So even if a $3 latte seems out of reach, you can use a button or two to get a coffee and a healthy home-cooked lunch or dinner.

541 Barton button bank 541 Barton cafe 541 Barton vision 541 Barton tables 541 barton

It makes me feel happy to see that you can have a place that is beautiful, stylish, and whole heartily committed to giving back and empowering its community. It is a place that believes that everyone deserves a nice place to hang out and good food to eat.

Congrats to 541 for breaking down many of the barriers that can come with elite cafes and coffee shops -so great to have a place like this in Hamilton!

*541 Eatery & Exchange, 541 Barton St. East, @541Barton, M-Sat 7-7, Sun 3-7

the connaught

The Royal Connaught had its Gala (re-opening) Launch a few weeks back to showcase the extensive overhaul renovation and makeover of its beautiful polished shiny and new front lobby and to give a sneak peek into one of their completed model condo suite units.

It was a fancy affair; suits, dresses, and champagne at the door upon arrival. There were even oysters! Everything about the event was luxurious and glamorous. From the old fashioned Rolls Royce parked out front of the refurbished exterior of the Connaught, to the 1940′s styled and fashioned socialite ‘models’ that fancifully posed, mingled and wandered amidst the who’s who of Hamilton evening crowd.

Processed with VSCOcam with b5 preset

The scene was set with sparkly chandeliers that hung from the massive cathedral ceilings down to the ground floor lobby, overlooking an old time piano player that provided the soundtrack to accompany the evening of photo snapping, cocktail drinking and the consuming of many delicious edible bits and bites. The night exuded an atmosphere of classy elegance. Although for the most part a lifestyle typically out of my reach, I was happy to indulge in these special treats and I was equally impressed that for this launch they truly supported many local Hamilton businesses. They had catered hors d’oeuvres by Chef Matt Kershaw from one of my favourite restaurants in the city -Rapscallion, gourmet coffees from Red Hill Coffee Trade, Oyster Shucking by Two Black Sheep, and beers from new local brew house Nickel Brook. I even saw an old student of mine working at the door serving champagne, who I was pleased as punch to see being gainfully and locally employed!

Processed with VSCOcam with b5 preset

A revamp of an old building can sometimes go so wrong, but developers Spallacci and Valery got it all right mixing contemporary design with classic Art Deco influence. The design keeps in time with the historic nature of the building. Preserving a feel or connection to the Connaught’s past and history was something that could have been potentially lost with a renovation verses a restoration. But I was relieved and all round pretty impressed with how old and new fit together quite seamlessly.

Royal Connaught 2014 Windows copy

Processed with VSCOcam with b1 presetProcessed with VSCOcam with b1 preset

The opening of the Connaught to the general public was two weekends ago. People lined up for two to three blocks to get a chance to take a look at the new Connaught and to get dibs on the first 120 units to go on sale. And really, I can’t blame them, I’d want a peek too. The place was boarded up and left to rot for the better part of a decade (see a previous post about it here). There’s a lot of history and memories in the Connaught, along with a new sense of optimism for the future and life this development will potentially breath into the downtown core.

Royal Connaught 2014 suite

With prices of condos suites starting in the mid two hundred thousands and the potential for nearly one thousand luxury units to be sold, it will definitely bring a pretty substantial new population to King Street and downtown. Not to mention the 13 000 square feet street level storefront retail potential that will open as part of the new Connaught along King and Catharine.

For more information about the Royal Connaught development see their website here.

*The Royal Connaught, 112 King St. East, @royalconnaught_




pittsburgh pittstop + on to DC

In mid-March, when winter was still kicking it big, we decided to go on a family road trip to Washington DC!

We had little to no expectations about the success of our travels (it being an 8 hour car drive to DC and having an active toddler that doesn’t normally like to sit still). We went for it anyway, opting for a overnight midway-stop in Pittsburgh.

I love Pittsburgh! But unfortunately for this particular visit, the exploring and wanderings were kept to a minimum. We were really only there to break our journey and to give Omi some romping time. Despite the short visit we did manage to fit in a quick early morning breakfast meet-up with some old friends before getting back into the car for the rest of the journey to DC.


We’ve most definitely got a runner on our hands! This trip mostly consisted of chasing after Omi.

pittsburgh doors

Pittsburgh has some great doors, buildings, bars, diners, dives and just all round an amazing vibe. Wish we could’ve stayed longer.

We made it to DC unscathed and were rewarded with budding tulips, crocuses and warm spring weather. All the while we’d heard that Southern Ontario was being hit by a crazy mid-March blizzard!

The visit was a mix of relaxing and visiting with family, sharing good meals together and the occasional day trip out for some sightseeing.

Happy to be somewhere without snow, we stripped ourselves of winter coats and picked a warm grey spring day to check out DC proper.


With coffees in hand we wandered the museum arcade making our way in and out of the various Smithsonians and stopping for an extended session of merry-go-round admiring and pebble throwing.


All the museums in DC are free! So it was perfect for our noncommittal walk-throughs that were just long enough to keep a toddler entertained. Since it wasn’t tourist season the museums weren’t too busy, which allowed for quick entrance and hassle-free easy manoeuvring around on the inside. Just a week or two later and it would’ve been packed for DC’s infamous cherry blossom viewing.

To coincide with an escape from a spring rainfall we spent a longer time checking out the contemporary art collection at the Hirshhorn. Once the rain cleared I spent an even longer time outside with Omi admiring the circular architecture of the museum.

Midcentury modern architect Gordon Bunshaft, who designed one of my favourite art galleries -The Albright-Knox Gallery in Buffalo, also designed the Hershhorn.

Hirshorn Museum

Travelling with a little one does have its challenges but overall I’m happy that we keep trying it out. So long as our expectations of what we do when travelling continue to adjust and evolve with Omi then I hope to continue to squeeze in as much exploring and as many mini-trips as we can!



Last week I saw the signage and insignia for Copps Coliseum being taken down. Its vintage orange lettering, which matched the stadium’s exterior underbelly, was faded and properly representative of its era of origin from the 80′s.

Some might say good riddance to the namesake Copps. Especially for those that argue that Victor Copps, (former Hamilton mayor, who had been known to some as an advocate for “urban renewal”) did nothing for the city but level the core of Hamilton’s downtown to make way for the giant modernist cement conglomerate we now know as Jackson Square.

Check out this great historic video done by the Hamilton Public Library to get a good perspective and history of the area that was torn down to make room for Jackson Square.

All things said, I am kinda saddened by the passing of that giant capital orange “C”. Burton Kramer, graphic designer and artist designed the logo (as well as the CBC logo that I grew up with in the 70′s and 80′s). In my mind Copps Coliseum will remain Copps with an orange “C” I mean, I still call The Skydome, “The Skydome” and besides what are we going to call the new Copps? FOCs?

Copps Coliseum Bay St. Copps ColiseumYork blvd

doors open

I know I’ve posted about Treble Hall about a million times already but I finally got to see it on the inside -yay Doors Open!

I’d love to see more spaces like this in other similar downtown buildings (especially the ones that line Gore park). I’m sure there are a lot with gorgeous city views and even some with untouched attics with all sorts of Victorian treasures.

We ambitiously thought that we’d make it out to about three or four stops for this year’s Door’s Open but really only made it out to just this one. I figured there’s plenty more time to explore throughout the years.

The weather was so beautiful we spent it mostly walking around and enjoying the spring blossoms and parks.


Last year we made it out to a few more Doors Open destinations. One of my favourites, which didn’t make it onto my post from last year, was the most amazing cottage house. First off, I love cottage houses, and second, any house with nooks that look like these you just gotta love.

Not to mention it had a fabulous garden. If we had more yard and sun I’d aspire to live like this cottage set-up (solar panels on the roof, a wall of rain barrels, compostable toilet and giant backyard garden).

Just a 10 minute walk away from downtown it felt like a little country getaway.


When I used to work in the North End I would sometimes bike between the Bennetto and Keith neighbourhoods crossing over the tracks at Victoria Avenue. Taking a few neighbourhood side streets, to avoid the industrial highway of Burlington Street East, I would always pass by a huge old abandoned factory. You would’ve seen it too if you’d ever driven down that way.

On Victoria Avenue North past the General Hospital and just before Burlington Street East you would’ve seen the old Studebaker factory. It’d be hard to miss. It was a 4 block monstrosity of a factory, where in all honesty at least 3 football fields could’ve fit inside its 7.5 acre lot. I used to marvel at it every time I passed by.

photo taken from


Like many of the older factory and industrial spaces tucked into Hamilton’s landscape this one too had been empty for some time. The last Studebaker to be rolled off the production line at this factory was in 1966.

Studebaker 1946 -image from


image from


Recently there was some talk of the space being repurposed as a film studio (would’ve been awesome). But as per the fate of many of these industrial relics, it is currently in the process of being torn down. A new industrial complex will be built in its spot. (for more info see an article from The Spec here).

Just last week I paid my respects to that old factory. It is currently being torn down to the ground into a rubble of red Hamilton bricks. I was able to snap some photos of whatever reminants of it that remained.

In its former industrial incarnations it housed production for everything from Otis elevators to the classic Studebaker -it was even used a weapons factory during World War I and II!

the studebaker factory getting plowed down to the ground

I was happy to note that the corner portion of the building will remain intact to be a repurposed as part of the new industrial development.

Not to mention, I was pleased to see that it wouldn’t end up as just another brown field like the one directly across the street from the Studebaker lot.


Hamilton, the times they are a changing.




john street

Since moving to Hamilton, I have been keeping a close eye on a short stretch of John Street, South and North.

At first glance, the two-and-something blocks between Main East and King William may seem a semi-abandoned and derelict portion of a “typical” downtown Hamilton street. But if you look a little more closely you might notice signs of life, both old and new, and, dare I say it, rejuvenation.

I spend most of my walks downtown wandering with my eyes up, taking in the old architectural beauty of the Victorian cityscape and observing the history of the buildings that line the path of the daily meanderings.

There’s some great character and history to the buildings on John Street. Take, for example, the John Sopinka Courthouse (formerly the Dominion Public Building built in 1934). It’s a beauty of a building, the depth of an entire block, enveloped by Main, John and King streets. With its ornate Art Deco stonework and lettering on the exterior it’s not a surprise that on the inside, fitting with its architectural era, you’ll find glossy marble floors, and polished metal work decorating the elevators, tills and counters. Everything has a certain sparkle and sheen to it that you just can’t find in many buildings these days.

Across John Street, next to the abandoned Crazy Horse Saloon, you’ll find the old Royal Connaught. It’s hard to miss, as it too occupies nearly a full city corner (not to mention it’s been boarded up for the past 10 years).

When I walk by the old Connaught I sometimes get a waft of the musty dankness seeping from the cracks of its boarded-up windows, and with that I usually feel a little pang of despair as I wonder about its fate. Wrecking ball or refurbish? Word on the street as of late is that the Connaught will indeed see new life again. I can’t wait. What a difference it will make to the core and surrounding areas. Is it too early to say aloud the silent chanting I’ve secretly been saying in my head: “Ren-nai-sance! Ren-nai-sance!”?

Just past the courthouse and the Connaught, over the tail end of Gore Park and past the old 1940s Pagoda Chinese restaurant sign at King and John, you’ll find a scene that is typically Hamilton. It’s no frills. Hamilton is what it is and that’s what I like about it.

You’ll see folks going in and out of the John Street Clinic (one of the city’s methadone dispensaries), or waiting for the bus, leaning against the backdrop of yet another stretch of seemingly abandoned buildings such as the Golden Fortune Restaurant or Treble Hall.

However, despite the description, things here are not quite as they seem. This little stretch is teeming with life both old and new. There’s change happening here on John, slowly but surely.

Take Treble Hall, for example, one of my favourite buildings in the city. Built 134 years ago (that’s 1879), Treble Hall has been undergoing a full-haul restoration by owner Jeff Feswick of Historia Restoration. Moulin Rouge, a French-inspired café and clothing store, occupies two of Treble’s street-level retail spaces. A bit of Paris in Hamilton? Why not?

Just across the street from Treble Hall you’ll see Downtown Bike Hounds, which a few years back made the move to John (relocating from Cannon and James streets). Maybe owner Sean Burak had the same inklings of optimism about John that I do. Regardless, every downtown needs an urban bicycle shop and bike rental place in its core. Next to Bike Hounds is the tasty and always busy My Thai restaurant that has been going strong for a decade already.

If you are old enough to remember taking a dinner “vacation” to the Grotta Azzurra at the Capri Ristorante Italiano — a destination-themed restaurant from the ’60s — then you’ll know the Capri is a Hamilton fixture. Although the second floor “grotto” is no longer open, Capri is still serving up classic pizza and pasta on its main floor.

Recent to the block is my new favourite art gallery, the Nathaniel Hughson Gallery. The gallery features some fabulous established Ontario artists. It’s named after one of Hamilton’s city founders, who at one time owned much of the prime downtown real estate from James to Mary streets and from Main to the bay.

At King William and John is Lulu’s, serving one of the best shawarmas in the city. If you haven’t tried their chicken shawarma, you’ve been missing out.

There are many new and old businesses on John, ranging from shoe repair, hair weave and beauty supply to the London Tap House, a Greek restaurant, Korean BBQ and Chinese hotpot. They’re all — a pretty amazing and eclectic mix — on just these two downtown Hamilton blocks.

Let’s be honest: John, like much of downtown Hamilton, still has a long way to go. But I’m optimistic and excited to see these changing downtown streets start to take shape. I hope one day to see streets like James North, King William, John and King — all of them coming back to life — start to connect together. Imagine that, a full chunk of our city core hustling and bustling like it did back in the day.

Some may say my optimism, and my daydreams of the Hamilton I want to see, show me to be naïve. Perhaps I am. But how will Hamilton ever change if we don’t start to see the potential for all that we’ve already got?

Hamilton, you’ve got a soft spot in my heart. I’m here for the long haul.


This article was originally published in The Hamilton Spectator on Saturday, March 16th 2013. You can see the article from The Spec website here.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...