Paul Wilson: Love your city more at the new Hamilton Store

Clobbered Cranberry mustard, a fridge magnet with your now-demolished school on it, city maps from a century ago – find everything Hamilton at a new shop on James Street North.
Sometimes, after yet another wisecrack, she wants to wring his neck. But Donna Reid and Graham Crawford generally get along just fine. She's opened The Hamilton Store on James North and he's her genial landlord. (Paul Wilson/CBC)

Think Regis and Kathie Lee. But James North, not Manhattan. And instead of chatter about movie stars, it’s all about the history, people, problems and joys of this old town.

There you have it, Hamilton’s good-humoured dynamic duo – Graham Crawford and Donna Reid. Some people think they’re married. Not even close.

But what a team. And we’re talking to them today about something new – The Hamilton Store. 

From cushions that bear an image of our International Style 1960s City Hall to jars of precious lavender-infused honey produced in our hinterlands, this place sells all things Hamilton. 

The Hamilton Store is on James North near Cannon. (Paul Wilson/CBC)

Reid’s running it, Crawford’s her landlord.

Reid knows an awful lot about the city, but discovered this place late. She was born in the Eastern Townships, but says life did not begin until she became a teenager and the family moved to Quebec City.

For summers and Christmas holidays, all through high school, she worked the gift shop at the Chateau Frontenac.

Century home and involvement

Years later, she ended up back in gifts, selling to stores all over this part of Ontario. One night, tired of the commute back to Toronto, she mentioned to a Hamilton couple in the gift business that her dream would be “a century home in a community where I can get involved.”

Turns out the couple was about to sell an 1879 Victorian rowhouse they’d renovated on MacNab North to move to the country. “They wanted someone who would look after it,”

Reid says. That was 1998.

Hamilton’s Doors Open has everything to do with her. 

Ryerson School fell decades ago, but you can have it on your fridge today.

The city said there was no money or staff to run the program here, but Reid visited other places, London to Port Hope, to see how they did it. Then she launched a drive to make it happen here. It’s now been a rite of spring in Hamilton for a decade.

Then there’s Crawford. He was born here, but left in his 20s for Toronto. He ended up co-founding a management consulting firm that grew to conduct training programs in 18 countries, with clients like IBM, Royal Bank, Imperial Oil.

Fell in love in Durand 

Crawford always planned to retire early and sold the company. Coming back here to settle his mother’s estate, he took a drive through Durand and fell in love with a six-bedroom heritage house.

It had been lovingly cared for by the same family for decades. Crawford had his agent pass a note to the seller that he would “commit to honouring the legacy of care that is so obvious in this house.”

He moved in seven years ago. And a year after that, he opened HIStory + HERitage, in a 12-foot-wide Chinese bakery on James North. He gutted it, put monitors on the wall and mounted shows on Hamilton’s past, its architecture, its people.

He charged no admission and thousands came through the door. Right at the outset, he declared one goal: “I want people to fall in love with this city again.”

A little of this honey behind the ears and you'll smell great all day. (Paul Wilson/CBC)

He’d met Reid by then, at the Farmers’ Market where she was selling vintage Hamilton postcards and notes. 

Like Crawford, she saw that Hamiltonians needed help loving their town. “For some reason, people who’ve lived here all their lives find it acceptable to slam their city.” 

He will drill deep

Crawford wants to move on to a new project now. It doesn’t have a name, but will encourage citizen involvement. He wants to drill deep on “high impact civic opportunities.” An example is the “complete streets” concept, which provide safe access for all – pedestrians, cyclists, transit users, motorists. 

On each topic, there will be text, video, graphs, interactive maps, photo galleries. You’ll be able to access them for free on your iPad. It will be a lot of work, and Crawford plans to produce it all from his upstairs office on James North.

And one month ago, Reid took over the first floor of HIStory + HERitage. There will still be a Hamilton reference-book centre. And the monitors will still be on the wall, as Crawford plans to mount one or two shows a year. 

But the rest of the space is devoted to Hamiltonia. No ashtrays with moose or Mounties here. But you can get a fridge magnet with the beautiful but fallen Ryerson School on it. 

Butt sore waiting for the Barton bus? Tempted to show City Hall your backside? Perch on one of these creative cushions. (Paul Wilson/CBC)

Or a Hamilton pin from 50 or 60 years ago. Or new Love Your City pins – collect all six. Historic maps. Local books. Hamilton harpist Ruth Sutherland’s Christmas CD. The Dan Jelly calendar.

Turns out local comestibles are really big, including Dawson’s Hot Sauce, Mr. Vinegar, Hotti Biscotti, From These Roots jams and preserves. And just in, Kozlik’s Clobbered Cranberry mustard, from seed milled at Hamilton’s G.S. Dunn, founded 1867.

It’s early days, but business is good. When Reid placed her first mustard order, she was relieved to see it had a good long shelf life, just in case. Turns out it was all gone in three weeks.

Love your mustard. Love your city. Hamilton happens here.  |  @PaulWilsonCBC

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