Hamilton's City Centre mall closes its doors, rings bell for the last time on New Year's Eve

Saturday is Hamilton's last chance to hear the bells of the downtown City Centre, as its doors are closing permanently.

'It's going to be hard not coming here ... [but] it's exciting times for the downtown," says general manager

Skylights line the length of the mall, which is surrounded by balconies looking over a central courtyard.
The City Centre mall was built through a partnership between Eaton’s and Cadillac Fairview, the same team that built the similar-looking Eaton Centre in downtown Toronto. (Michael To/CBC)

The bells at Hamilton's downtown City Centre mall haven't been rung in "at least 10 years," the centre's general manager says.

It used to ring every hour, but due to complaints from residents and workers of the area, the bells eventually stopped.

On Saturday, New Year's Eve, it will be Hamilton's very last chance to hear the bells, as the downtown shopping centre — attached to but separate from Jackson Square Mall — is closing its doors for the last time at 5 p.m. 

The president of IN8, the company that is building condos on the site, previously told CBC Hamilton the centre's final day would be Dec. 26, but in the end, the mall had a few more days to stay open. 

Lisa Barlow, general manager at the Hamilton City Centre, says its closure is "the end of an era."

Barlow has been working at the centre for 17 years and said she "devoted everything" to the building.

The building is the former location of Eaton's department store, built in 1990 through a business partnership between Eaton's and Cadillac Fairview, the same team that built the similar-looking Eaton Centre in downtown Toronto, according to the Hamilton Public Library (HPL). 

Before that, it was home to Hamilton's old City Hall. It still bears the clock from the municipal building, at the corner of York Boulevard and James Street North.

A view from a balcony looking at a white-and-pastel coloured mall with skylights and a glass elevator.
The mall will close Saturday, Dec. 31, at 5 p.m. (Michael To/CBC)

For Barlow, the centre has been career-defining. 

Before starting the job in 2006, Barlow didn't know what to answer when asked what her career was, she says. But the work she did at the mall became her career. 

She said a lot of tenants at the mall have been there for over 10 years, some of them for over 20 years. 

"I've seen their kids grow, get married, have kids of their own," she said Friday.

"This has been my home for 17 years. It's going to be hard not coming here ... In the same token, it's exciting times for the downtown core."

IN8 president Darryl Firsten previously told CBC demolition will start in February and construction of the nearly 2,000-condo project will take close to a decade.

'It's bittersweet'

For Barlow, there are a lot of conflicting feelings about the mall closing. 

"It's sad, it's bittersweet, it's much needed. Because the mall always struggled," she said. "It's exciting, but I'm going to miss my family here."

Hundreds of stories go through Barlow's head when reminiscing about the highlights during her time at the centre.

Lost and found wallets, children and elders, a couple of fires, the hunt for the "perfect" Santa Claus — the Hamilton City Centre has seen it all.

"As much as people can say negative comments about the downtown, there [are] some good people. There are some really good stories that have happened here."

A woman smiling at the camera, sitting at her desk.
General manager of the Hamilton City Centre Lisa Burlow has been working at the mall for nearly 17 years. She said it's like "the end of an era" to see it go. (Aura Carreño Rosas/CBC)

Barlow talked about her long relationship with Solomon Zewge, the mall's site supervisor who's been there for 18 years.

"We went through so much in this building together."

Zewge also had conflicted feelings about the closing of the Hamilton City Centre, but said, "what has to be done, has to be done."

He said it will be hard to see the building, which has so many memories for him, go for good, but he's excited to see Hamilton "look better, more beautiful."

For longtime hairdresser Tina Ferreira, the closing of the mall is a "sad" occurrence. 

"I think it's very sad. [The building is] so new to begin with. It's only like 30-something years old. It's a new building and it's too bad that it never really go any further than this."

A person wearing a security uniform looks at the camera. A store is in the background.
The City Centre mall's site supervisor, Solomon Zewge, has spent 18 years helping people who were lost or sick in the mall, and dealing with other security-related incidents. (Michael To/CBC)

She said, however, that she has sweet memories from working there.

Ferreira came from Alberta to work at the original Eaton's and stayed there until they closed in 1989.

She went back when the current mall was built, and stayed there until 1999, when Eaton's closed and she moved her business to 82 James St. N.

"I still have the furniture from that salon at Eaton's [in my] salon."

Ferreira moved back to what now was the Hamilton City Centre in 2015 for the last time, and left in 2020 when her lease was up. 

"I enjoyed working there. I kept going back." 

Barlow said she's hoping the public will join her in saying goodbye to the mall one last time Saturday.

"I want to hear more stories about what the mall meant for people."

Firsten previously said units in the building will start to go on sale around late 2023. He also said the company will also integrate some elements from the old building, such as the clock that originally came from Hamilton's old City Hall.

Hamilton City Centre
Hamilton City Centre (Bobby Hristova/CBC)


Aura Carreño Rosas

Freelance reporter, CBC Hamilton

Aura Carreño Rosas is a Hamilton-based freelance journalist from Venezuela, with a passion for pop culture and unique people with diverse journeys.

With files from Saira Peesker