From North End to South Mountain: Hamiltonians talk about their changing neighbourhoods

On the Mountain, you can wake up to a changed neighbourhood overnight. In the lower city, an old brick building near a former crack den is now a goldmine. Meanwhile, an 1874 church in Hannon is a bit of refuge in a land of construction.

Change is happening to neighbourhoods across the city; residents are meeting it with varied reactions

"In elementary school, I had a friend who lived in Binbrook, and whenever we’d go to visit him, it’d be the middle of nowhere," says Marko Maric. "Now Binbrook is eight minutes down the road, and there are all these big box stores." (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

Hamilton is multiple cities in one.

There's the downtown, with its high-demand brick-and-beam buildings, growing real estate prices and gentrification. There's rural Flamborough, with its vast farmer fields, and marijuana producers and solar farms knocking at the door.

There's Waterdown, with its swelling subdivisions and small town traffic woes. Winona and Binbrook are turning from farmland to commuter housing. And there's the ever changing, multifaceted life on the Mountain.

They all have one thing in common. They're changing.

We talked to three long-time residents about what they're experiencing in their neighbourhoods, and how life is changing.

South Mountain: A life of constant construction 

Standing in front of Marko Maric's home in upper Stoney Creek, there's no such thing as silence.

It's car or nothing out here.- Marko   Maric

The whirr of traffic on nearby Rymal Road is constant. In the distance, backhoes and other construction equipment rumble and beep as they dig into dry earth.

Every week, new buildings spring up. Strip malls and big box stores and houses appear out of nowwhere, blanketing old farmland. And Maric is a little disillusioned.

Growing up near Upper James Street and Stone Church Road, Maric says, he rode his bike everywhere. As traffic worsened over the years, he took smaller side streets, taking more creative routes to avoid speeding cars.

Now in this new place in Highgate Heights, near the intesection of Rymal Road and Upper Centennial Parkway, he doesn't ride his bike at all.

"This street right here is 60 but everyone drives 90," he said of Rymal Road.

If you buy a house here, in five years, it can be a completely different area.- Marko Maric

"I can walk to the Fortino's, so it's nice that I have that, at least. But it's car or nothing out here."

While lower city residents are experiencing different problems — gentrification combined with headline-grabbing renaissance — suburban areas of Hamilton are dealing with rampant, daunting sprawl.

In one subdivision alone near Maric's house, about 2,000 new homes are planned, said Doug Conley, Ward 9 councillor. He worries whether infrastructure can keep up. "I've been asking that for a long time."

At 23, Maric wants walkable and bikeable streets. He wants green space and good transit.

Builders appeal to commuters and young families by "cashing in on the allure of a changing Hamilton," he said. But the more they build, the more disconnected it gets, culturally and geographically, from "Hamilton proper."

"It may as well be a completely separate city," said Maric, who works in engineering at National Steel Car. 

"Most of my friends from school live downtown, so when they want to go out, they just walk down to wherever they're going. For me, it's where am I sleeping? Which bus? When does it stop running?"

Maric would like to move to the lower city so he can be less car dependent. Right now, he lives with his parents, but he's saving.

The Mountain has always been busy, he said. But it's getting harder and harder to recognize.

"If you buy a house here, in five years, it can be a completely different area." 

Hannon: A church once at the edge of the city adapts to suburbia 

Construction crews work across from the Trinity United Church cemetery. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

Sitting on a corner on Rymal Road in Hannon, the little brick church looks dropped in from another era.

It sits next to a rare field of green space. A sign advertises a Tuesday night turkey dinner. The quaint cemetery, with graves dating back to 1848, is a bit of quiet refuge.

Across from Trinity United Church, there's construction. A lot of it.

In hot temperatures, dust hangs in the air, and sun pounds the asphalt. Once, during a funeral, a construction worker approached Rev. Janet Kennedy and asked when the funeral would end. Kennedy told him, and they quieted their equipment until then.

Trinity United Church has been at its location on Rymal and Trinity Church Roads since 1848. The congregation used to describe itself as the church on the edge of the city. Now it's surrounded by subdivisions. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

"We used to be known as the church at the edge of the city," Kennedy said. "Now we're part of the city."

The church takes it in stride. This Sunday, it celebrates its 169th year of ministry. The landscape around it changes, Kennedy said, but the congregation remains.

The population growth hasn't led to an increase in congregants. These are families with different priorities, Kennedy said, and "it's just a sign of the times."

The church likes being a little green refuge among all the construction, Kennedy said. She also hopes people in the surrounding subdivisions will come to the annual turkey supper Tuesday.

"We do take out," she said. 

North End: Building near a former crack den is now prime real estate

"Suddenly, and I don’t know at what point, James North seemed to have a critical mass," says David Dawson, with Marlaise Dawson, at their Gallery on the Bay. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

When David and Marlaise Dawson first moved into an old brick building Bay and Barton, they didn't need TV. Watching the activity on the street was entertainment enough.

We had people from places like Oakville, Burlington and Ancaster who said, 'We don't come to downtown Hamilton.'- David Dawson

The couple purchased 231 Bay St. N. "against all advice" in 1995, long before downtown's renaissance. On one corner, people sold drugs. On the other, there was a crack house.

"You'd see people falling out of windows," he said, "and going in at all hours of the night."

Potential customers for their Gallery on the Bay, he said, didn't want to come there. "We had people from places like Oakville, Burlington and Ancaster who said, 'We don't come to downtown Hamilton.'"

Now the Dawsons — who purchased an old brick four-storey, 20,000 square foot building for less than $300,000 — are near the thick of hipster Hamilton.

Demand for brick and beam buildings is growing. The new West Harbour GO station is a stone's throw from their building. The city is about to embark on a new west harbour waterfront development plan. Housing prices in Hamilton Centre have increased 129.5 per cent between 2006 and 2016, according to year-end price and sales numbers released by the Realtors Association of Hamilton-Burlington. 

The couple, who at one point owned the only downtown gallery, now have numerous peers. During their events, they pack the place musicians, artists and culture aficionados. They have four tenants, and some moved to Hamilton from Toronto.

Dawson said it hasn't changed their lives much. He does lament the loss of some of his old favourite places, like a butcher on King William, that "didn't survive long enough to make the wave."

"Certainly, more people are willing to come here and down to the park," he said. 

We'd like to hear about your changing neighbourhood. Comment below; email us at hamilton@cbc.ca; tweet to us @CBCHamilton or use the hashtag #hamontidentity; or post on our facebook page facebook.com/cbchamilton.


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