A Photo Essay by photographer Eileen Reilly

Hamilton is going through a bit of a re-birth, again. However, this isn’t to take anything away from its history. In fact, its history is being looked at closer than ever and Hamilton has plans for its downtown core. Eileen Reilly’s current show at the Hamilton Public Library Central Branch (first floor), on until September 28, displays images of this rebuild. While some may be critical about perceived gentrification or pushing people who need extra help to the outer environs it’s important to encourage the momentum for dealing with crumbling infrastructure and abandoned sites (check out Indwell’s plan for social housing at the old Royal Oak Dairy). Not doing so doesn’t help anyone. Some of these projects have unfortunately been ill-conceived e.g. the Connolly condo project and the project at James and Cannon. Both are now abandoned sites, the latter with public safety concerns. The city may have been too eager to court these developments yet at times they hinder other developments that will add to the city and its prosperity, aesthetics and livability with red-tape.

Some of the projects pictured here are being mindful of the city’s architectural past and building on a vision of its future. We can’t deny that our population will continue to grow and people will need places to work and live. We also shouldn’t forget our past and demolish buildings rich in heritage just because it’s easier and cheaper.

Gore Park (2017)

After sitting for years derelict and then a fight with the city going back and forth whether they would be demolished, 18-28 King Street East’s facades are being preserved. They have been a blot on the landscape while the city has progressed with the revitalization of Gore Park. The city and Hamilton Downtown BIA and others have been at work to offer programming and projects to make Gore Park a vital centre of the city. Yes, the building will be used for residential at an upper-income level but preserving key areas of our heritage and city will only add to the prosperity of Hamilton and the hope is that this trickles down to all income levels of our city.

Kresge’s (2017)

This is a case of a facade being easier to tear down and seen as no historical value. We could debate this, of course (Municipal Heritage Committee declined to designate this building in a close vote so direct your ire there). But again to see this important corner at King and Hughson in use in the downtown core is important in and of itself. Originally this was Kresge’s department store built in 1930. Many generations of Hamiltonians have stories of sitting at the lunch bar (I was more of a Woolworth’s kid). The store went out of business in 1994 and later became the home to Delta bingo (closed in 2014).

This will be a two-tower modern structure on a low-rise podium (at least that’s what the latest drawings look like). LiUNA and Hi-Rise Group are the main developers. LiUNA is responsible for restoring the old train station near the new Upper James Go Station (yay public transit!). And fans of one of the oldest restaurants in the city, Capri (1963) will be glad to know that it won’t be part of the development’s overall plans and will, in fact, benefit from a cash injection after selling part of the back of the restaurant.

Treble Hall (2017) 

Not one but two people with a vision for restoration have stepped in to save Treble Hall built in 1879. Again this building had sat derelict for many years with pigeons taking up the top floor, the location of a 400 seat assembly hall, thanks to the caved-in roof of this Renaissance Revival building. Jeff Feswick of Historia Building Restoration Inc was first to step in to restore this and the adjacent Pagoda building in the1840’s. The project as you can imagine was overwhelming after decades of neglect and exposure to the elements. When Feswick knew he couldn’t do this on his own he looked for a suitable buyer to take on the project. Quattrociocchi of Yoke Group was that buyer and has stepped in to continue the restoration project at this crucial corner of the city.
This isn’t the first time this building has seen two owners on its development. Originally it was built for businessman John Henry Larkin by Renowned local architect James Balfour (of Detroit Museum of Art and demolished Hamilton City Hall fame). The Treble family bought it in 1883 and “finished off” the building by putting their name on it.

William Thomas building (2018)

Part of the same development on Rebecca Street, this is one of those historic developments that would have been easier to replace with a glass and steel building. Instead, the William Thomas Building built in 1855 was demolished in 2010 but this was thankfully part of the Ontario Heritage Act. So the facade has been restored and is back up on James St North. You can see the completed version just a short stroll away.

William Thomas, born in England and apprenticed with Victorian heavyweights Charles Barry and A.W. Pugin, built many well-known structures in Canada including Toronto’s St. Michael’s Cathedral, the Don Jail (both recently restored, the jail being re-purposed), St. Lawrence Market and Hall and St. Paul’s Presbyterian Church here in Hamilton. The original stone facade reflects a period of time when Hamilton was enjoying a financial boom.

Parking lot corner of MacNab and Vine (2018)

It’s like Hamilton was part of Joni Mitchell’s song Big Yellow Taxi “pave over paradise and put up a parking lot.” There are certainly a lot of parking lots in this city. There was a pile in downtown Toronto once-upon-a-time too. But land became worth more than parking fees. When will this occur in Hamilton? And how will these tarmacked stretches of land, usually devoid of greenery (unless you count weeds), be used? Only time will tell. This lot is at the corner of Vine and MacNab behind the old Coppley building. Coppley is redeveloping its business and will be consolidating its three properties in a new build on the corner of MacNab and Cannon. The historic building that they once used on York Boulevard is not owned by the company. The current owners have tried to not have the building designated however it’s subject to the 1979 Notice of Intention to Designate and is in effect protected by the Ontario Heritage Act. This is another historic property in need of restoration. Who will take on that project if the current owners don’t want this responsibility?