Archives: royal connaught

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.

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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!

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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

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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_

 

 

 

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.

 

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