The city in context

Hamilton's community profile

Hamilton is a city of 520,000 [107] at the head of Lake Ontario, (see locator map, below).

Hamilton developed due to the good fortune this location brought it, with a sheltered harbour, rail and road network. Inexpensive hydro electric power from the Niagara area [33], earned Hamilton the moniker "The Electric City" [40]. Heavy industry eagerly located here, most notably steel manufacturing, employing 23,000 people in 1967 [33]. By 1981, over a third of the city's total employment was in this sector, and Hamilton's steel mills produced 70% Canada's steel production [64].

In Pardon My Lunch Bucket [97], a commemorative book published to celebrate the City's 125th trumpeting Canada's industrial powerhouse, saw no end in sight to the success for the "Ambitious City".

Then, the 1981 recession and a prolonged strike at Stelco (photo below), then the city's largest steel manufacturer, followed in the 1990s by North American Free Trade (NAFTA) and increasing globalization, sent the city on a long, slow industrial decline. The result was a significant reduction in the industrial tax base and the loss of over 44,000 manufacturing jobs between 1981 and 2006 [64].

The city's downtown and central residential neighbourhoods also reflected this economic decline. The city's deteriorating financial situation is often cited as the impetus for the provincially legislated amalgamation of the city with the five surrounding municipalities of the former Regional Municipality of Hamilton-Wentworth in 2001, to bolster the local tax base [1]. Nevertheless, Hamilton continues to produce most of Canada's domestic steel, albeit with a much smaller workforce, and has rebounded from economic downturns by continually expanding and diversifying employment within the region that now forms the amalgamated city. Figure 3 shows how employment across sectors have changed over the 20 year period between 1992 and 2012. In 1992, the manufacturing sector accounted for 10% of all local employment and now represents just 5% after a 25% decline over the period.

The decline is offset by continuous expansion in service sector, which has not only picked up the slack left behind by lost manufacturing jobs, but added nearly 90,000 jobs to the local economy. Arts, culture and recreation show the most dramatic increase, particularly since the turn of the century. A closer look at the annual numbers reveals this sector is volatile and was hard hit by the 1991 and 2008 economic recessions.

Hamilton's once booming commercial core, featured large multi-storey department stores Eaton's, Robinson's, Kresge, Woolworth, Zellers and the Right House, along with all the major banks, jewelers and merchants of all manner, which succumbed to an unfortunate 1970's thrust of urban renewal "superblock" projects, and simultaneous exodus to the suburbs. Nearby neighbourhoods, such as Beasley, now house some of the city's most challenged low income families, as is highlighted in a Hamilton Spectator series, "Code Red" [10].

However, recovery is taking place in the city's older neighbourhoods as a new generation of residents and small business entrepreneurs, attracted by low real estate prices, begin moving in and begin fixing up houses and storefronts. The Toronto Star even noticed the trend in an article about the Friday night Art Crawls on James Street North [15]. James is the north-south spine of the downtown's historic crossroads, King & James Streets. Galleries and studios open their doors to the public on the second Friday of each month, taking over a street that is on the road to recovery, and making it a place for people as it was years ago.

Citizens, artists, and small business start up such events through word of mouth and social media, which gain the recognition of the city administration and formal arts organizations as they become more popular, building vibrant neighbourhoods and commercial districts in the process. The map in Figure 4 shows Hamilton's former municipal composition, and the current political ward boundaries. To illustrate the dichotomy between the downtown and suburban/rural residents, a series of comparisons from the 2011 census are provided in Figure 5. Ward 2, downtown Hamilton, is comprised of the Beasley, Central, Durand, Corktown and North End neighbourhoods. Ward 15 is comprised of Waterdown B, a rapidly growing suburban area, the eastern portion of rural Flamborough and hamlets like Carlisle and Millgrove.

Each Ward elects one member to city council. Although the downtown ward has a much higher population, Ward 15 covers an area over twenty times larger. The age cohort diagram illustrates the prevalence of the "baby boomer" generation and their families in Ward 15, while the downtown Ward 2 is home to a far greater proportion of the next generation of young adults. The pie charts in Figure 6, highlight the differences in personal relationships, family status, and common languages between these two areas. Ward 2 also has the highest population density in the city, with most residents living in high-rise apartment buildings, as compared to the prevalence of single-family dwellings in Ward 15.

The perception of high property taxes in the suburban and rural areas of Hamilton, where property values are highest, also keeps municipal amalgamation a hot topic for many residents of these areas, with groups like the Committee to Free Flamborough determined to break the former town away from the central city. Likewise, many residents within the core areas of old Hamilton consider the amalgamated city's political ward system is not fair representation by population. "Us and them" attitudes between different parts the Hamilton have become prevalent over these and other issues, and are now often played out in social media. Different circumstance and ideologies bring about suspicion of motives for economic development and shortsighted goals, alongside conflicting opinions of what is best for the city. This conflict, which may be brought about by the differences in demographic and living circumstances highlighted above, underscore one of the challenges in building a cohesive sense of place to its citizenry.

Tolerance is one of the 3T's necessary to attract the Creative Class, the others being Talent and Technology [36]. Low-density suburbs, by their very nature, discourage tolerance because "we spend no time whatsoever in communion with our fellow citizens." [9].

Tolerance starts with an understanding that there are different points of view, and we should not feel threatened by the expression of them. It works both ways; the creative class downtown must also be tolerant of middle class suburban opinion. Both need each other to make a successful city. Where once the suburbs were dependent on the central city for the region's vitality, the relationship is now one of "uneasy parity" [103].

The geographical, political and economic circumstances that have brought Hamilton to where it is today, for better or worse, are continuing to forge its identity and have certainly instilled passion in its residents.

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Economic Development in the Post-Industrial City

Community Resilience

Concepts for Hamilton

Look inside the Book

The preceding is adapted from introduction to the book, Hamilton: Brutal Beauty | Hidden Heritage

© Copyright Ian Dunlop, University of Waterloo, 2013
Published by Strategic Interchange (Div. of Dun-Map Inc.)