Vanished Hamilton


This past fall Adam and I moved into a beautiful home built in 1915. With Victorian and Edwardian design elements, it's become our little piece of history in the city. And I feel an obligation to preserve it. When a friend suggested knocking out a wall to make it more 'open concept' I almost cried. While I've learned a lot about the neighbouring houses it's been really challenging to find information about our own. So if you have any tips on tracing the history of a house, I'm all ears! We live in the Durand neighbourhood, on Caroline Street South. Across the street is the James Jobson Brick Rowhouse, built in 1887 and under heritage designation. Beside the rowhouse stands three homes built in the following years by his family with the last completed in 1913. Just yesterday, I learned from my neighbour that our house was originally part of a three unit rowhouse similar to those across the street. At some point the house was detached and the remaining property sold. It certainly explains the fairly new house that stands next door, but it led me to question, if it weren't for my neighbour, how would I have known? 


When I walk around around our neighbourhood I smile when I see homeowners proudly displaying plaques on their homes that state circa 1885. And I shudder at the highrise apartments that have filled in the properties of former century homes. Why do I care so much? I was born and raised in this wonderful city. I love to hear my family talk about the days when the city was thriving and to listen to their memories of the Birks building, Robinson's, Canadian Westinghouse (where some of my family members worked), the Tivoli Theatre and the Beach Amusement Park. I'm saddened by the fact that I never got to see these places in their full glory. I'm nostalgic for the landscape that once was. So much of Hamilton's history is a distant memory to even its longtime residents. I purchased the Vanished Hamilton book series from North Shore Publishing, a family owned company that specializes in publishing local heritage books for the Southern Ontario area. I'm grateful to Marni Evans for publishing the works of authors like Gary Evans, Margaret Houghton, Norma Bidwell, Brian Henley and Bill Manson. Through their books, I've learned much about our local culture, history and heritage. I keep these books near and dear, as a reminder of the history of the city we call home. These books are also a reflection of how past decisions have impacted the present state our city and will continue to influence its future. 


With the hot issue of the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board considering moving its headquarters to a new location and McMaster's plans to demolish the current centre to make way for a new campus, I'm glad that our community has joined together to ask the question why. Why does this have to happen? We need to consider the future of our downtown, and the role of public buildings within this space. It's the unique heritage buildings that make Hamilton a fascinating place to live. With so much of what made our city's history long gone, why take more away from its historical landscape? Wouldn't you rather visit a historic site than remember it through a photograph? Join the Save the Board of Education Building facebook page to learn about the state of this civic landmark.


There's so many wonderful books published by North Shore Publishing that capture the essence of Hamilton back in the day. I'll definitely be adding more to my collection. Stop by the Shop at AGH to check them out or find them online on Canadian Heritage Books.


I also encourage you to check out  Doors Open Hamilton which happens May 5th and 6th this year, when the city offers free access to residents and visitors alike to explore landmark buildings, cultural and historical sites in Hamilton that are either not usually open to the public or generally charge an admission fee. Part of Doors Open Ontario, a larger intiative by the Ontario Heritage Trust, the Hamilton edition is truly one of the best experiences and provides guided tours, educational information and activities. I went last year and was fascinated by so many historical sites, including Auchmar Estate House, Whitehern, Mohawk Trail School and the Shaver Homestead, a 153 year old piece of Ancaster history. This is the 10th year of this annual event and its a great way to rediscover the city. Stay tuned to Doors Open Hamilton's facebook page and twitter for updates on featured sites this year!