Residents angered by Hamilton eatery's Confederate flag

The owner of a downtown restaurant displaying the Confederate flag says he's not racist. But others say the flag sends the wrong message for Hamilton.

Caution: This story contains offensive language

Cameron Bailey says people are overreacting to his use of the Confederate flag to advertise his Hillbilly Heaven eatery. Opponents say it's an unwelcome sight in Hamilton's downtown. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

The owner of a downtown restaurant displaying the Confederate flag says he's not racist. He was just looking for an iconic Southern image to advertise his new eatery.

Cameron Bailey owns Hillbilly Heaven at the corner of King Street East and Walnut Street North, which opens this month. This is his second location in the city.

Bailey said he knew the flag and its connection to slavery would cause problems, but he was looking for a "southern icon."

"Did I know the shit would hit the fan? I'll be honest with you. Of course I did," he said. "But I'm not going to not do it because some people might make a big deal out of it."

Bailey's restaurant has a three-sided sign that takes up a corner lot in Hamilton's International Village. One section has the eatery's name. Another declares it "Hamilton's infamous southern BBQ." The centre part is the Confederate flag.

The flag's presence has angered some, including Melanie Amato, owner of Modify Your Closet across the street. The flag is offensive to her and many of her customers, she said.

"To me, if you're branding your company, if that's the silent message you're giving, there's nothing positive to that," she said. "To feel that that's necessary to gain business, I just find that really off the wall, really."

Confederate flag 'symbolic of preserving slavery'

The flag is an offensive image, and using it as a marketing tool is "absurd," said Gerald Horne, a professor of history at the University of Houston. Canada has been historically ardently anti-slavery and nearly became the target of U.S. attacks for it.

"What kind of so-called Canadian patriot will fly the flag of a now-forgotten nation that intended an attack on his homeland?" Horne said. "This, to me, is outrageous."

Horne talks about the history of the Confederate flag.

Listen to the full interview below. Here are some highlights:

  • 'Canada was a citadel of resistance against slavery'
  • 'John Brown, when he led his raid against Harpers Ferry, Virginia in 1859 planned that raid in Canada probably not too far from Hamilton.'
  • 'The Confederate States of America were so outraged about Canada's role that they we're plotting attacks on Canada'
  • 'The confederate flag stands for slavery. It stands for backwardness. It stands for reactionary politics. It stands for going backwards.'  


The Confederate flag was flown in 1861 when southern states were trying to secede from America because they thought incoming president Abraham Lincoln would abolish slavery, Horne said. This clash was one of several factors leading to the U.S. Civil War, and the southern states flew the Confederate flag.

The flag was symbolic of preserving slavery, and it still means that today, Horne said.

"I'm sure, because I know Canada well, that that flag will receive a rebuff from Canadians," he said.

Coun. Jason Farr, who represents Ward 2 and sits on the International Village Business Improvement Area, said he's looking into the issue. Until he investigates further, "[I] really wish not to comment until I get a better handle on the matter."

This isn't the first time Bailey's business has attracted negative attention. He posted a sign at his west Mountain location saying "Things we don't have and never will," followed by a partial list of ethnic foods such as halal, rice, kabob and shawarma.

He also had a sign saying he proudly serves customers in English.

Bailey says the attention just helps him get more business.

"I have guys from the TigerCats come in here and some of them are southern black guys. As soon as there's some TiCat players that say 'hey, take that down,' then I'll think about it."