Like two halves of a vibrant dichotomy, opposites attract in Hamilton.
Towering, green trees mingle with office towers while sixth-generation Canadians share a coffee and some laughs with newly arrived residents from far-off lands. The new gives nod to the old as art-deco buildings stand watch while GPS-guided busses stop just outside their doors. Tranquil, hillside retreats look down on a bustling city in transformation that continually seems to challenge the status quo. Defying expectations is what Hamilton does best.
Affectionately referred to as “The Hammer” by its residents and nicknamed “Steeltown” by outsiders for its legacy of steel and manufacturing industries, the city of Hamilton is a micro-metropolis offering the fixings of a bigger city with the setting and laid-back attitude befitting a more peaceful refuge.
Split right through its middle by the majestic Niagara Escarpment, the city benefits from two completely different personalities melded together — one, a relaxing community of hillside mansions and cosy houses far more comfortable and charming than one should be able to afford for the money; the other, a fast-paced metropolitan core comprising Canada’s ninth-largest city.
“We really have a unique geography with the escarpment that divides the city. Some days in winter it snows at the top of the escarpment while it rains down below,” said Neil Everson, Hamilton’s director of economic development and real estate.
In day-to-day matters, Hamilton is like a microcosm of much larger, louder cities.
“A lot of people refer to us as a ‘big, small city’,” Everson said.
A plentiful variety of restaurants offering world, exotic fare provides the same gastronomic opportunities as gourmand-friendly metropolises like Toronto and Montreal. The hopping bars and nightclubs of Hess Village heat up Lower Hamilton with plenty of possibilities for good-natured mayhem. The hockey-loving city may soon even get its own NHL franchise if legal wrangles get resolved to transplant the ailing Phoenix Coyotes team to the city.
According to Everson, two-thirds of new homes sold in Hamilton are being snatched up by Torontonians looking for more comfort and quiet than they could afford for the same price in Toronto. Offering affordable housing with less than an hour of commuting time to Toronto proper with a full schedule of GO Train service to Toronto starting in 2012, it’s no surprise life in Hamilton has been enticing residents from across the GTA.
For resident Katelyn Brown, 21, who has lived her whole life in the city, Hamilton is a hub where disparate things converge.
“There’s different cultures here, different everything. It’s a midpoint for a lot of things,” Brown said.
Hamilton’s cultural diversity often surprises people accustomed to thinking of the city as a homogenous, blue-collar town. According to the 2006 Canadian Census, more than one-fifth of the city’s current population was born outside of Canada, making Hamilton the third-most diverse city in Canada behind Toronto and Vancouver.
Fred Eisenberger, mayor of Hamilton, says the city’s multi-cultural population shows people recognize the myriad of possibilities life in Hamilton offers.
“I think people see Hamilton as a place of great opportunity and a place that has really embraced diversity,” Eisenberger said.
If the current multi-culturalism of Steeltown is any surprise, the plentiful parks and green spaces around the city might come as an outright shock to uninitiated observers expecting a utilitarian landscape of sprawling asphalt and looming metal spires in what was once Canada’s manufacturing capital.
“We have a vast array of green spaces and open areas — it’s all towards enhancing the beauty of the city. For me, the green setting is what I love most about Hamilton,” Hamilton mayor Fred Eisenberger, said.
Best of The Hammer
Where to go, what to do
• Best place to feed the birds: Gore Park, at the heart of the city’s downtown core;
• Best make-out spot: Sam Lawrence Park, overlooking a breathtaking view of the city. Park your car and enjoy the view before locking lips;
• Best place for a walk: Bruce Trail, a long network of walking trails that snake through some of Hamilton’s greenest areas;
• Best coffee joint: The Bad Dog Cafe — cosy and friendly, with coffee that has bite;
• Best sports bar: Frisco’s Eatery and Sports Bar — dip into their first-class wings;
• Best street: Lower James Street, with its bushy, healthy trees flanking motorists and pedestrians alike as it spears its way across the city, from the waterfront to the escarpment. Great shopping, too.
– Be sure to check back next week when Metro Homes takes you on a tour of life in Burlington