Hamilton won't look into a Commonwealth Games bid after all

The games started here in 1930, but council says it doesn't need to relive that memory. Hamilton, they said, has more important things to worry about.

The games started here in 1930, but council says it doesn't need to relive that memory

A champion rower named Bob Pearce heads out for practice at Leander Boat Club during the 1930 British Empire Games, with coach Bob Hunter. Hamilton hosted the first games, but council voted against looking at hosting the 2030 ones. (British Empire Games commemorative book)

It included talk of potholes, tiki bars and whether the 2015 Pan Am Games was a success or a disaster. But in the end, Hamilton city council narrowly voted Wednesday not to pursue the 2030 Commonwealth Games.

It's a basket of lunacy to even think about talking about this.- Sam Merulla, Ward 4 councillor

Councillors were voting on whether to look into hosting the games in 13 years.

It would be fitting, supporters said, given that Hamilton hosted the first version of the games, then known as the British Empire Games, in 1930.

But in the end, those who voted 10-5 not to pursue it said Hamilton has more important issues to worry about — and more important ways to spend the minimum $100 million required to host the games.

"It's a basket of lunacy to even think about talking about this," said Sam Merulla, Ward 4 councillor. He likened it to a homeowner buying a hot tub with a tiki bar when the basement is flooded.

You can't discover new oceans if you never lose sight of the shore.- Terry Whitehead, Ward 8 councillor

Hamilton got very little when it hosted the soccer portion of the 2015 Pan Am Games, Merulla argued. And the city has a large backlog of infrastructure issues and no money to fix them.

Those in favour said it wouldn't hurt to look into it.

"You can't discover new oceans if you never lose sight of the shore," said Terry Whitehead, Ward 8 councillor, who urged other councillors to be forward thinking.

The winners of the hammer throw in 1930 appear on a tiered podium - the first time that was a feature of international games. (British Empire Games commemorative book)

For those opposed, the estimated cost didn't help. Arlene VanderBeek, Ward 13 councillor from Dundas, cited costs in the billions when New Delhi, India hosted the games. A group vying for the games in Victoria, B.C. estimates it will cost $955 million there.

"I would love to stand here and say, 'Great vision, let's go find it,'" she said. "But I just can't do that."

MM "Bobby" Robinson, founder and organizer of the British Empire Games, now known as the Commonwealth Games. (1930 British Empire Games commemorative book)

Others disagreed with Merulla's analysis that Hamilton didn't benefit from Pan Am.

While Hamilton only had to contribute about $40 million to the $150 million Tim Hortons Field stadium, Merulla said the lawsuits that still drag on have been a headache for the city.

Hamilton sports editor dreamed up the games

Maria Pearson, Ward 10 councillor, said it's all been worth it.

"The games were excellent," she said. "I think it put Hamilton on the road map… and we need to continue that momentum of keeping us on the road map."

It was M. M. "Bobby" Robinson, a Hamilton Spectator sports editor, who dreamed up the Commonwealth Games in the first place.

Robinson got the idea after returning from the 1928 Olympics in Amsterdam. The city pitched in $30,000 (about $425,000 in 2017 dollars) to cover the travel costs for athletes coming from 11 countries.

The city bid on the games in 2010 and 2014 but lost out to New Delhi and Halifax. The latter withdrew its 2014 bid, and the games went to Glasgow.

Who voted in favour of looking into hosting the games

Terry Whitehead (Ward 8), Doug Conley (9), Maria Pearson (10), Robert Pasuta (14), Mayor Fred Eisenberger

Who was opposed

Aidan Johnson (1), Jason Farr (2), Matthew Green (3), Sam Merulla (4), Chad Collins (5), Tom Jackson (6), Donna Skelly (7), Brenda Johnson (11), Arlene VanderBeek (13), Judi Partridge (15)

About the Author

Samantha Craggs


Samantha Craggs is a CBC News reporter based in Hamilton, Ont. She has a particular interest in politics and social justice stories, and tweets live from Hamilton city hall. Follow her on Twitter at @SamCraggsCBC, or email her at samantha.craggs@cbc.ca