Paul Wilson: Knock down Hortons, light up Lister

Demolish the country's first Tim Hortons, pray for Harry Stinson and his oh-so-slow condos, put a flashy movie marquee out on King, let Old Lady Lister's beauty shine at night – ten random thoughts for the new year.
The Hortons that stands at Ottawa North and Dunsmure is on the site of the chain's first location, but the history pretty much ends there. (Paul Wilson/ CBC)

I’ve been off for a couple of weeks. My time was not spent just stuffing down Christmas cake. I was busy thinking about this old city of ours, about what might come to pass in 2013.

Ten thoughts for the year ahead:

Tim Hortons

Faye Gower, left, and Florence Kasoian, first-store veterans both, are on view in the display case on Ottawa North. Let's see lots more Hortons history like that. (Tim Hortons)

1. You learned right here that the Hortons corporation recently took over the first store, Ottawa North and Dunsmure, because 2014 is the chain’s 50th anniversary.

Headquarters isn’t sharing its plans, but there’s just one way to go – knock that place down. It’s not original anyway.

Build something that looks like 1964, with sit-down counter, old-time jukebox, staff in original uniforms, walls laden with memorabilia.

Stinson school

Harry Stinson has set yet another target date for getting his condo project done at Stinson School. (Paul Wilson/ CBC)

2. Dear Lord, let 2013 be the year that Harry Stinson finally puts people into his endlessly-delayed condo project at the old Stinson school.

One deadline after another gets missed, but Harry tells me now that all 66 suites will be ready to go this May.

Why all the holdups?

"Weather, surprises, this, that and the other thing," he said. "This place is a Rubik’s cube."

Hunter Street GO station

The GO looks good in the heart of downtown Hamilton. Here's hoping they don't move all the trains to a new platform on James North. (Paul Wilson/ CBC)

3. The planning for all-day GO continues this year. Most new trains will stop at James North, but please don’t leave the beautiful Hunter Street station out of the picture.

There was long and vigorous debate years ago over whether our GO Centre should be at the James North station or right downtown.

That narrow tunnel under Hunter is a bottleneck to be sure, but the TH&B is one of Hamilton’s finest public spaces.

The Westdale

The marquee at the Westdale has lost its ALE – and it could be a long time coming back. (Paul Wilson/ CBC)

4. All this year I will continue to worry about the Westdale, the last single-screen theatre in Hamilton.

There’s no budget right now to fix the A, the L and the E on the old marquee, the roof needs work, and there’s the matter of that dinosaur projector that needs jumbo spools of film to put magic on the screen. Meanwhile, the world’s gone digital, and film copies of movies are just about extinct.

The Empire

The theatre at Jackson Square needs a little marquee boost. (Paul Wilson/ CBC)

5. While we’re at the pictures, save some worry for the Empire six-screen at Jackson Square.

Burlington just lost its downtown movie complex. It could be my imagination, but I sense Empire is not investing in a future in Jackson Square. I hope I’m wrong.

In the meantime, it would be great if the mall found a way to erect a Hollywood-style sign out on King to tell passersby what’s playing inside.

Gore Park

Gore Park can't lose that backdrop, in place since the 1800s. (Paul Wilson/ CBC)

6. There’s great concern about the south side of Gore Park this year, where developer David Blanchard and partners want to knock down a row of 1800s buildings.

At very least, we must save the facades of these structures, as important to the feel of the core as the fountain that stands directly before them. Blanchard must be convinced it’s a mistake to blemish his good track record on heritage in the core.

Royal Connaught

This year is do or die for the Royal Connaught. (Paul Wilson/ CBC)

7. If 2013 expires without something happening at the decaying Royal Connaught, I do believe we’re well and truly sunk.

I never did hear back from the owners after trying my best for a little dialogue. However, from those in the know, I’m still told to look for a Connaught Condos sales trailer in the coming months.

Meanwhile, city staff are wrapping up work on the hotel’s designation under the Ontario Heritage Act.

Nations Fresh

The mural at Jackson Square promises that great groceries are coming. (Paul Wilson/ CBC)

8. I’m really looking forward to walking through the doors of the new Nations Fresh, opening this spring at the Bay Street end of Jackson Square.

I’m lucky enough to live a 10-minute walk from that location and the thought of being able to stroll home with a bag or two of groceries makes me nearly giddy. It’s been 11 years since downtown had a full-size grocery store. That would be The Barn, Hess at York.

Development around Main

The stretch of Main between Hess and Caroline has been waiting for a new life a long time. (Paul Wilson/ CBC)

9. The construction cranes are going gangbusters on Main between Bay and Caroline. Suddenly, a 16-storey hotel appeared, and condos are underway at the old Federal building beside it. So surely 2013 will finally be a year of activity one block due west, a barren and bumpy expanse.

Dozens of affordable housing units vanished here 25 years ago for a condo that never got built. The Toronto owners have sat on it ever since.

Lister Block

Look up, way up – and you'll see that the Lister needs more light. (Paul Wilson/ CBC)

10. Let’s light up the Lister. We spent nearly $30 million on that six-storey landmark. Now we need to showcase it better at night.

You get a nice image of the first two levels, but the rest falls to darkness. The Lister needs uplighting, spotlights aimed skyward to show the texture of that old brick and the shiny beauty of that terra cotta trim. I heard uplighting was in the original budget, but got cut. Put it back, make us proud. |   @PaulWilsonCBC

You can read more CBC Hamilton stories by Paul Wilson here.