Heritage buildings protect 'character of Hamilton'

Hamilton city councillor Brian McHattie wants ordinary people to take more responsibility for protecting the city's past.
A gargoyle stands guard over McMaster University's Hamilton Hall, built in 1930. (Supplied.)

Hamilton city councillor Brian McHattie wants ordinary people to take more responsibility for protecting the city's past.

He said he's creating a "citizen's forum on cultural heritage protection" to ensure Hamilton's architectural history remains intact.

McHattie said there are up to 7,000 "significant" buildings in Hamilton, but few are officially recognized.

"Many of us will never know a heritage building needs protection until the wrecking ball shows up," McHattie said, adding he wants to "build awareness so it's more difficult to ignore" the destruction of heritage buildings.

"It's up to citizens," he said. "Do they care if heritage buildings vanish?"

The Lister Block and the Tivoli Theatre are among McHattie's favourite old buildings in the city. While the Lister Block has been recognized and restored, the Tivoli "is not in great shape and there's no clear path forward" to protect it, he said.

Buildings serve purpose

Something is lost when significant buildings can't be saved, according to Margaret Houghton from Hamilton Public Library's local history and archives department.

"You lose a sense of your own past," Houghton said. "You'll remember it, but only through pictures."

She said many downtown buildings date back to the 1840s and '50s and are ripe for photo documentation as well as some old farm houses and wind mills outside of the city.

"Buildings serve practical functions and they are symbolic," McMaster University's Walter Peace said.

The associate professor in the school of geography and earth sciences has two favourite buildings on campus: Hamilton Hall and University Hall.

They date back to the 1930s when McMaster came to Hamilton from Toronto.

"They symbolize a new period in Hamilton's growth, moving from an industry city to a city of institutions," Peace said.

The buildings, in the neo-Gothic tradition, are full of symbols. Peace is especially fond of the "true gargoyles" at Hamilton Hall, true because they act as water spouts.

The design features on the building's archway that some people call gargoyles are actually "grotesques," Peace said. They mark the transition of students from "monkeys to angels" through the "fine tuning of education, they become illumnated," he said. "That's the intended symbolism."

Share your photos

CBC Hamilton is collecting photos from Twitter through the #HamOnt and #HamOntCBCpics hashtags and geolocating them to help build a virtual photo tour of the city's architectural history. Here's how to get your pics on the grid:

  1. Take photos of your favourite old buildings. We want to feature your photo skills!
  2. Send us a tweet including the location of your photo. You can use the #HamOnt hashtag or the hashtag #HamOntPics. You can also email us at hamilton@cbc.ca
  3. We'll geolocate your photo (if you haven't already) and all the additional information to our map.
  4. Only send us pictures that you have taken or own the rights to. The CBC retains no rights to these images (ie. you still own them).