6 places where old and new Hamilton are converging

Here are six places where Hamilton's history is forging together with new ideas.

The city is changing, while pieces of history are repurposed

Hamilton's face and identity is undoubtedly changing. (Samantha Craggs/Liunastation.com/Forrec Ltd/City Motor Hotel)

Hamilton is a city in transition — seemingly on the edge of a new identity.

Look around, and you'll see development almost everywhere, with new buildings, condos, and projects dotting its landscape, and plans for more coming.

But Hamilton's rich history is also undeniable, as the soul of the city was forged in local steel for decades.

That history isn't going anywhere — but it is evolving, as old mixes with new.

Here are six places where Hamilton's history is coming together with new ideas, new uses or new realities.

The train stations and the bar next door

Liuna station was built during the years of 1929-31. (Liunastation.com)

The area around James and Murray Streets has been a gateway for decades.

Liuna station is its centerpiece. That monolithic building once housed The CN Railway Station, which was built during the years of 1929 to 1931.

Close to 60 years ago, Queen Elizabeth II was just one of thousands of people who made their way into the city through those massive stone pillars. Back then, the station was the first stop for many immigrants on the way into the city, and a new home.

In 1999, Liuna bought the property, and it's now used as a glitzy space for weddings and events, like the 2015 Juno Awards afterparty. The station even appeared in 2000s superhero smash X-Men.

While Liuna Station has new life, trains are still shuttling people back and forth across the street. Years ago, the CN station was shepherding people into the city. Now, Metrolinx is shuttling commuters out.

GO Transit opened its West Harbour station in 2015 — though with only two trains a day, it's far from the bustling station CN would have been in its heyday.

Metrolinx has promised all day service, though the organization has said it might not actually come to Hamilton until 2026. 

Hamilton's West Harbour GO Station officially opened in 2015. (Adam Carter/CBC)

Alongside the trains, there's another constant — a bar just steps away that has undergone its own transformation.

This Ain't Hollywood is one of the city's premiere music venues, and its building actually predates the railway station itself as Mackenzie House, opening in 1893.

Now it's a Hamilton counterculture icon, named after a Forgotten Rebels song of the same name.

The Royal Connaught

The Royal Connaught stood as a glitzy downtown icon for many years. (Royalconnaught.com)

Few buildings embody Hamilton's rise, fall, and then rise again like the Royal Connaught.

First opened as a hotel in 1916, the Connaught was then seen as the city's first skyscraper, and the embodiment of opulence and class.

But through the years, things changed. The hotel was sold multiple times, and fell into disrepair. The Connaught closed in 2008 after going into receivership, and stood for years as a shell of its former self, casting a long shadow over Gore Park.

Multiple plans to restore the building to its former glory fell through — until 2014, when Spallacci Group and Valery Homes teamed up to buy and renovate the crumbling hotel.

The lobby of the old hotel features original limestone tiles and restored columns. (Cory Ruf/CBC)

Now, the Connaught is one of the frontrunners of Hamilton's condo boom. Cranes are in the sky at levels not seen in years, and the Connaught has been largely restored, with an art deco flair that serves as a nod to the past.

Aberdeen Avenue's dystopian future

Aberdeen Avenue is one of Hamilton's most picturesque streets. (NHL4Hamilton/Wikimedia commons)

Aberdeen Avenue is home to some of Hamilton's most picturesque and historic homes.

Named after Lord Aberdeen (who was appointed Governor General of Canada in 1893), the lower city street boasts some bonafide mansions, standing with intricate brick facades along the tree-lined, picturesque street.

But Aberdeen has a darker secret: It's also home to Waterford House, the home of the tyrannical Commander Waterford in the Republic of Gilead.

Aberdeen Avenue is shown prominently in the TV adaptation of Margaret Atwood's "The Handmaid's Tale." This home was built in 1893. (MGM Television Entertainment Inc./Relentless Productions)

At least, it is on the multiple Emmy Award-winning series The Handmaid's Tale.

There's the old and new — Hamilton's picturesque housing stock, interspersed with its burgeoning film industry.

The city's credits are becoming too numerous to count, but two of this year's biggest TV shows were filmed at least in part here, with the aforementioned Margaret Atwood adaption and Neil Gaiman's fantasy epic American Gods.

Big time director Guillermo del Toro even called Hamilton a "powerhouse" of creativity at TIFF this year, saying he'd like to open his own studio in the city.

The Waterfront

For many decades Hamilton's waterfront was known mostly known for two things: heavy industry and intense pollution.

It was a centre of trade and commercial growth in the mid-1900s, but expansion on the waterfront nearly destroyed area's ecosystem. From the 1950s to the 1980s, the harbour was deemed totally unfit for any recreation because of the abysmal water quality.

But starting in the 90s, a transformation of the West Harbour began. In the last 30 years, major efforts have been made to change the area, with Bayfront Park, Pier 4 Park and the Waterfront Trail becoming legitimate jewels of the city (though the water quality still leaves a lot to be desired).

This rendering shows the plan for development at Pier 8. (Forrec Ltd)

Now, the area is set to undergo another massive transformation, with a just-announced plan for the promenade at Pier 8 set to start construction in 2018.

The plan, from Toronto-based Forrec Ltd, includes a beach, a games terrace, a cafe, and playground space. That's a far cry from the polluted industrial wasteland that once defined the harbour.

The City Motor Hotel

The City Motor Hotel's sign was one of the most recognizable in all of Hamilton. (City Motor Hotel)

It's difficult to find a place that epitomizes Hamilton's seedy side like the City Motor Hotel did.

Hookers, cons and cops were frequent visitors to the east-end institution, where Main Street meets the Queenston traffic circle.

To quote beloved Hamilton columnist Paul Wilson:

"This was the place where a guest smuggled in a hundred pigeons. Where two guys carried a stolen safe into their room. Where a would-be Ticat who got cut paid his bill at checkout time with a credit card stolen from the general manager of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers."

Years after it was torn down, the area where the City Motor Hotel once stood will become a stop on Hamilton's LRT system. (Metrolinx)

The hotel was built in the early 1960s, and though its earlier brochures feel emblematic of the charm of that era, the city bought and tore down the City Motor in 2013.

Now, the area will be part one of Hamilton's most ambitious (or, depending on who you talk to, misguided) transit projects: light rail transit.

The city's LRT line was originally slated to stop at the hotel's former doorstep, before an extension to Eastgate Square was finalized.

The city's social housing agency is also proposing almost 100 affordable apartments and townhouses for the property.

Even 10 years ago — if you told someone that the City Motor Hotel would become a stop on the line for a brand new LRT system, they'd likely look at you like you were nuts.

Century Manor

Century Manor is one of Hamilton's oldest buildings. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

It was Hamilton's first Insane Asylum — and now Century Manor is on the road from ghost story fodder to being eyed for rejuvenation.

Once known as a cautionary tale "house on the hill" from the 1800s where electroshock therapy and lobotomies were practiced, the city is now eyeing the West 5th lands where one of the city's oldest buildings is perched.

The city has long been interested in the 12 hectares (28.77 acres) of scenic Mountain brow land.

Prospective plans have included student housing for Mohawk College and even the anchor for a gondola going to the lower city. There's a precedent for new student housing in the city (with a new tower going up on James Street North), and developers have talked about preserving the building's heritage.

Infrastructure Ontario still owns the land, but there's lots of interest in that much prime space beside a hospital, across the street from a college campus and overlooking Hamilton's escarpment.