Hamilton's top news stories of 2013
Tim Bosma, wild weather and the Ticats all made the list
1. Bosma murder
The murder of Ancaster’s Tim Bosma was one of the biggest news stories nationwide in 2013. Hordes of readers and viewers watched with shock and horror as details of how the young father and husband died starting emerging in May.
Half a year later, the story endures — partially because of its tragic nature, but also because the circumstances hit home for so many people. Bosma died doing something many undertake without a second thought — buying and selling online and going for a test drive in his truck.
Two men, Dellen Millard and Mark Smich, stand accused in the killing. They have appeared in court several times over the last few months in pre-trial proceedings. The court case resumes in 2014.
It's one of the most polarizing debates in the city of Hamilton: Casino or CasiNO!
About a year ago, the idea of another gaming facility, aside from Flamboro Downs, surfaced.
There was a clear divide between the Yes and No camps. But, it brought citizens together as passionate crowds gathered at city hall public meetings to voice concerns and displeasure, or support. Crowds held signs screaming "NO!" in bold red letters. Other signs read "Yes to Investment" and "Yes to Jobs."
The CasiNO! group formed, looking to torpedo any plan for a casino in the downtown core. They actively protested with signs in shop windows and rallies around the city. Members spoke to media about the depression and mental health issues that downtown, accessible casinos might aggravate. Spending paychecks at the slots down the street from work would drive Hamilton’s poverty levels into the ground, they argued.
On the flip-side, the OLG estimated an additional $7 million would be funneled into municipal coffers if council were to approve a casino that had at least 400 slots. P.J. Mercanti, of Carmen’s fame, spearheaded RockHammer, announced a partnership with the Hard Rock chain to build eight-figure hotel-casino complex in the city's downtown core.
The OLG recently opened up the process for potential bidders to express interest in operating Flamboro Downs, as well as three other facilities in the gaming zone. A spokesperson said they’re not looking for an operator for a new casino in Hamilton just yet.
3. Line 9
The proposed reversal of Enbridge Inc.’s Line 9 pipeline dominated environmental headlines this year.
The Calgary-based company wants to reverse the flow in the pipeline that runs from Sarnia to Montreal — it crosses through rural Hamilton — and increase its capacity to move oil sands crude from the Alberta oil patch to eastern Canada.
The changes received the green light from the National Energy Board for the segment of Line 9 the pipeline that runs from Sarnia to North Westover, a hamlet in Flamborough, but they have not been approved for the rest of the pipeline.
Environmental activists are convinced the full reversal could prove perilous for the delicate ecosystems surrounding the pipeline, considering Enbridge’s past spill track record.
There were plenty of Line 9 protests in the Hamilton area this year, capped off by a group of protesters taking over and occupying the North Westover pumping station in Flamborough.
4. U.S. Steel
On the last day of 2013, U.S. Steel will put an end to their iron and steel-making operation in Hamilton, putting a 113-year-old tradition to bed.
“It means we’re not going to make steel in Hamilton,” said Rolf Gerstenberger, union head for United Steelworkers Local 1005. “We’re just going to roll it.”
U.S. Steel put the steel making operation on hiatus in 2007, but now that it will close for good, 47 non-unionized employees will be out of a job at the end of the year. The big question as this news hit was: Is the steel industry in Hamilton dead?
The answer is no – in fact, it could be a career choice for generations to come, if youth start seeking out the right education. Steel industry expert Peter Warrain suggests Canada will need 20,000 new workers in the industry in the next five to 10 years to replace retiring staff and fill new jobs.
In Hamilton, ArcelorMittal Dofasco is preparing to hire 1,500 employees in the next three to five years.
5. Dialogue Partners
It started innocuously enough. The city hired an Ottawa firm, Dialogue Partners, to get input from residents on which city services matter most to them.
The firm launched Our Voice, Our Hamilton, which boasted a website and a Twitter account. The campaign went off the rails when the firm tweeted "what is HSR?" in response to a tweet about the city's Hamilton Street Railway transit system. The Pinterest page also included a photo of the courthouse in Hamilton, Ohio.
Online critics piled onto the company for the blunder, charging that Dialogue Partners was a group of tone-deaf outsiders. Public outcry grew on social media, extending to city councillors, who wanted the firm gone. The city terminated the $376,000 contract, which included training city staff to engage the public. The city is using what remains of the contract money to do the consultation work itself.
Heritage was a hot topic for good and bad reasons in 2013 as Hamilton continued its struggles balancing preservation on one hand, and development on the other.
On the plus side, work began on the long dormant Royal Connaught Hotel.
Other bright spots included an announcement of the redevelopment of the old William Thomas Building, a part of the Lister complex, along with a 16-storey condo tower. Also on the preservation side: the designation of Delta High School, and the long awaited opening of condos at the Stinson Lofts.
The school board plans to knock down King George, and the city is thinking about preserving it.
Two downtown sites were perhaps the most controversial on the demolition side in 2013:
There remains heated debate about the future of historic buildings on the south leg of King Street in the Gore that developer Dave Blanchard wants to take down. Preservationists want to keep the streetscape and the historic facades, and city hall is prepared to kick in $1 million. When the developer said that’s not enough, the city pulled the plug on his demolition permit. Stayed tuned.
James Street Baptist Church is slated to be demolished with the façade preserved. A determined effort there failed to overcome the developers' assertions that the building was in danger of falling down.
7. Cop Budget
Tensions grew between city hall and the police when Chief Glenn De Caire proposed a budget for 2013 that was a 5.25-per cent increase over the previous year.
De Caire said Hamilton Police Service needed to hire 20 more officers and one new civilian staff member to keep up with the demand of policing the city. Councillors wanted a lower budget, and asked the chief's staff to trim it three times before they approved a 3.52-per cent increase.
There was collateral damage. Councillors talked of resistance and mistrust between the two sides. City council voted to ask the province for more control over the police service.
By the end of the year, Mayor Bob Bratina became chair of the police services board, only to step down later. De Caire also announced that he wouldn't seek a contract renewal beyond 2014. Coun. Terry Whitehead was suspended from the board and investigated by the Ontario Civilian Police Commission over comments made in part during the budget debates. Not all of these things had direct links to the budget, but they all contributed to an active year for the board.
Next year's budget discussions will likely be less controversial. The budget request for 2014 is a 2.98-per cent increase over 2013, the lowest in 14 years.
It was the season of Guelph, of star Chris Williams walking away, of head coach Kent Austin's slow and steady hand rebuilding the franchise into a credible team — a playoff contender. And then, the Hamilton Tiger-Cats made a wholly unexpected trip to the Grey Cup.
The Tabbies turned the tiny and stormy confines of the University of Guelph into their home away from home, won over a good number of the locals and were followed there by a loyal band of fans.
New head coach and CFL icon Kent Austin put his stamp on the team, building its talent and character. By mid-September, Ticat nation was still hopeful the team could finish above .500. By November, a late-season surge, some improbable wins, followed by two playoff victories, and suddenly the team was on a plane for a trip to the national championship in chilly Regina. Okay, so that didn't go so well, but no one was counting on a Grey Cup win for the Ticats in 2013. Their team fresh from a thrilling championship drive and their new stadium just months from completion, Ticat fans have plenty of reasons to be optimistic for 2014.
9. School openings/closures
It was a year of significant upheaval for the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board, as 2013 was dominated by discussion over closing schools and rebuilding new ones. And it seems the board generated controversy with every decision.
The most contentious was the debate over the location of a new high school for the lower city to replace Delta, Sir John A. Macdonald and Parkview. An attempt was made to partner with the city at the site of the closed Scott Park on a combined school and recreation centre.
That failed when the city backed out of the partnership, with some councillors citing a lack of trust with the board. That left the board squeezing the new school into the site of Parkview and King George Elementary and using the nearby Scott Park as a parking lot for the school.
The optics there were less than optimal as the board will have to buy back at an inflated price, perhaps as much as $2 million, a property it sold only nine years ago for $650,000.
Plans also proceeded to close Parkside in Dundas and rebuild Highland.
The King George decision also problems, since the city is looking at designating the school as a heritage site.
Construction also began on the new downtown McMaster health complex on the site of the former Education Centre as the board began its move to new HQ on the Mountain.
10. Weather woes
Hot weather or cold, it didn’t matter — Mother Nature didn’t play favourites in terms of when she chose to wallop Hamilton with wild weather in 2013. The year saw downed trees and widespread, days-long power outages in both the summer heat and the winter sleet.
Booming with thunder and beaming with lightning, a July 19 storm barreled through Hamilton, drenching the city in 53.6 mm of precipitation. High winds toppled hundreds, if not thousands, of once-soaring trees, tearing down power lines in the process.
The morning after, tens of thousands of Hamiltonians woke up without power. Crews scrambled to pluck tree trunks from the roadways and restore power to affected neighbourhoods. Electricity didn’t return for some residents until after the weekend, and many charged that the city didn’t do enough to inform residents about the cleanup effort that was underway.
The rage over the summer blackouts had become but a memory by Dec. 21, when a weather system creeping up from the U.S. doused southern Ontario in freezing rain. Branches shattered under the weight of the ice, bringing down power lines as they fell to the ground. The next morning, at the height of the power outages, 30,000 homes and businesses were in the dark.
Thousands remained without power into the week, as temperatures plunged into the negative double digits. For many in Hamilton, the situation rendered Christmas 2013 one they’ll always remember but would prefer to forget.