Special Report: Walkable Streets

Ottawa Street Textile and Shopping District

The Great Places in Canada competition has taught us locally that we embrace and are proud of the type of experience provided by community-friendly neighbourhood streets.

By Larry Pattison
Published March 22, 2011

Although I grew up on Hamilton's east mountain, much of my childhood was spent in the city's north end in the vicinity of the old Centre Mall.

Centre Mall photos
Centre Mall photos

My earlier memories of Ottawa Street in particular were not generally happy ones, as my family played a significant role in assisting with the renovations to Wallace Funeral Home. Of course that isn't totally true, but it is something our family can now make light of all these years later.

Nonetheless, family 'gatherings' and celebrations of life were embedded into my earliest recollections of Ottawa Street.

My fraternal grandparents lived on Bayfield Avenue just south of Dofasco until they died when I was nine years old. When I look back to my childhood, it seems most of my youth was either spent among the four walls of Lawfield Arena on the east mountain, or in various spaces in the vicinity of where I now live today.

To many, the smell of steel or the billowing smoke from the factories that line our shore are a deterrent, an eyesore. To me, taking a deep breath of the early morning Dofasco air brings me back to my childhood.

I spent countless hours with my grandmother, her dog and budgie, on their front porch playing dinky cars, or on the sidewalk tossing parachute men and cap rockets into the air, with the crashes, banging, and hum of manufactured steel as the backdrop at the end of the mature tree-lined Bayfield Avenue.

Those steel factories represent a lifeline for (at least) four generations of my family. They symbolize hard-working, dedicated men and women who worked (and still work) around the clock to provide for their families.

Connections to the Past

I used to drive by my grandparent's old home (now I can simply go on Google Street View) to see how the neighborhood had changed from how it looked when I was nine. The old tree that once shaded the front of my grandparent's and neighboring houses is gone, but otherwise little seems to have been altered.

I remember walking 50 yards to the Dofasco gates with my grandmother to pass my uncle his lunch over the fence, stopping for a bite to eat at the Sears restaurant in Centre Mall, or driving throughout Wards 3 and 4 with my grandmother in her old blue, five-speed Peugeot.

Although my maternal grandmother died when I was only six months old, she and my grandfather - now in his 96th year - also lived across from Centre Mall on Harrison Avenue, just behind East Hamilton Radio, another east end staple. My grandmother purchased that home with money my grandfather had sent overseas while serving in World War II.

It's no coincidence that I live where I do. There is hidden meaning behind the fact that the same green turf-like material that covered the whole of my grandparents front porch is spread across mine, or that the house across the street from ours bears a peculiar resemblance to my grandparent's old home.

Regardless of why I live where I do or the connections to my past that garnered the affection I have for this area of our city, walking up and down Ottawa Street sells itself as a great street in Canada.

Rapid Change

I first felt disappointment with the direction wards 3 and 4 were taking when Centre Mall started to be removed piece by piece to make way for big box developments.

I took a hundred or so photos over a few months span, trying for the most part to avoid the destruction from making its way into my photos, so I could retain some personal account of the history we were parting with.

It was a landmark within our city that I was sad to see go.

At the same time, watching Ottawa Street re-brand itself helped shift my focus to dreams once again alive between Barton and Main.

Things were suddenly happening at a rapid pace in the city's east end, and now Ivor Wynne Stadium's fate seemed all but sealed. As well, talks were heating up that one of Canada's largest outdoor festivals was threatening to leave our Ward.

Change is one thing, but allowing this much of our city's history to withdraw from one area in such a short time in the 'spirit' of progress was not my idea of positive change.

Ivor Wynne was eventually saved and the hope is that the creation of a stadium district will transform the area surrounding the stadium and Barton Street into places to which people will once again want to stop their cars or get off the bus and peruse.

It seems likely that people will also be able to get off the GO or a light rail car to enjoy a strip of shops and restaurants along Barton where people will occupy its benches and patios over a coffee, a beer, and good conversation.

I have become passionate in my adult life about seeing this area flourish and once again become the shopping and entertainment district it once was.

I find it fitting that it was Ivor Wynne, another one of my childhood playgrounds, that finally enlivened the advocate in me to fight for these two wards.

I love this area. I love the people. I love the history and architecture. I will continue to do my part to help save and preserve what I feel makes this area of our city a great place to raise a child, and a fun and safe place to play and be entertained.

Neighbour-to-Neighbour

I have now lived in the general area of Centre Mall (Centre on Barton) for 10 years. I will always have a soft spot for the east mountain, but there is so much I love about living downtown in general: the closeness of the houses, the front porch versus backyard experience, and how both of these traits seem to generate a completely different neighbor-to-neighbor dynamic, including being able to walk to shops, restaurants and entertainment.

I even lived on Herkimer Street just off of Locke for three years and in many ways, Locke is to that west-end neighborhood as Ottawa Street is to the community in which I now reside.

Both lifestyles I have enjoyed in the first 38 years of my life have been great. It just so happens that for more than a decade, downtown has attracted me with a completely different way of life than the one I grew up with.

I have come to realize that neither experience is better. They are just different.

I may not always live in Ward 3 or downtown for that matter, as my young family grows and we all discuss what our next move may be in the next five or so years. Wherever we decide to hang our hats, this area will always be near and dear to my heart.

So although I could go on selling what I love about this area of our city, Ottawa Street is what brings it all together.

If there is one thing that this Great Places in Canada competition has taught us locally, we embrace and are proud of the type of experience provided by the Locke Streets, James Street Norths, and Ottawa Streets of our city.

One cannot forget Concession Street on the escarpment, King Street in Dundas, or Hess Village, to name a few others. Is there room for Kenilworth Avenue to follow suit with James and Ottawa, with Barton Street tying it all together from the bell tower at James, to East Hamilton Radio at Kenilworth?

Now more than ever, I think that is something worth exploring and striving to achieve.

Great Places in Canada: Ottawa Street
Great Places in Canada: Ottawa Street

Larry Pattison is a local blogger, life-long resident of Hamilton, and father to two amazing girls. Larry is also an elected member of the HWDSB Board of Trustees for Ward 3.

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By TnT (registered) | Posted March 22, 2011 at 08:54:16

What a beautiful piece. It is a shame ward 3 doesn't get the same coverage of say other places in the city.

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By lawrence (registered) - website | Posted March 22, 2011 at 11:27:50 in reply to Comment 61314

Thanks TnT.

I would almost say that Ward 3 has been hogging the press as of late, from Ivor Wynne Stadium, the Festival of Friends, Code Red, and now the Great Places competition. Parkview has gotten a lot of press as well as Delta. Two more things that need to be saved - a new school for Parkview though instead of a reno, but I digress.

Ottawa Street in general has been in the spotlight a fair bit the past little while as it continues to grow once again.

Of course, much was reported about the $100M being spent amongst the old Centre Mall grounds as well, so it's been a busy (not so) little ward the past while.

The press has been great and I think you are quickly seeing things change for the better in this area of our city. Another $150M is about to be spent along Balsam too so I think you'll see Ward 3 gradually step away from the 'little engine that could' label.

One can only hope that the talks amongst artists of creating something new in the way of a Festival at Gage Park, also sees the light of day. So many people love the experience a festival amongst the Gage Park grounds creates, so I personally don't think the FoF move is going to go over all that well. leaving room for a scaled down version of that weekend festival.

I don't wish anything bad for Loren, but it will be interesting to see how supported he is in this move, by the attendance. The Ancaster Fairgrounds are great for fairs. I go to them and love them, but this new venue completely changes the whole dynamic of the event.

I am sure many more local bands, artists, and vendors would love an opportunity to play, present, or sell their goods at a newly created event. However small or large a scale the event is.

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By pipe72 (anonymous) | Posted March 22, 2011 at 09:26:04

Nice job Larry! I grew up in Westdale. Live in the North End. What a difference front porches make to a neighborhood. Faces actually belong to houses and families, and neighbors interact daily. Great piece!

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By lawrence (registered) - website | Posted March 22, 2011 at 11:09:12 in reply to Comment 61316

Thanks, Zoe! Until I met you guys, and until the Art Crawl came to town, I had not previously spent much time in the north/west end of our city. I can see why you guys love it so much.

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By lawrence (registered) - website | Posted March 23, 2011 at 12:16:11 in reply to Comment 61329

Ummmm....thanks Brad. Ha, ha...

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By banned user (anonymous) | Posted March 22, 2011 at 09:32:36

comment from banned user deleted

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By lawrence (registered) - website | Posted March 22, 2011 at 11:08:09 in reply to Comment 61318

Thanks. All things our family loves to do as well. The kids love the Childrens Museum and of course the splash pad at Gage Park.

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By Michelle Martin (registered) - website | Posted March 24, 2011 at 07:46:39 in reply to Comment 61328

..and don't forget the Gage Park greenhouse. That's a regular stop for us. They have some birds from the Aviary there, hanging out, I suppose, until the Aviary moves to Gage Park permanently.

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By lawrence (registered) - website | Posted March 24, 2011 at 13:10:57 in reply to Comment 61438

Being a big bird fan (the cars too), I have to admit I have not checked the birds out yet at Gage Park. Something to add to our list.

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By Michelle Martin (registered) - website | Posted March 22, 2011 at 09:51:35

Larry-- yes, have to say we love it here, just east of Gage Park, and love Ottawa St. Proudly voted for it. Like you, we are looking forward to the Ivor Wynne reno.

Comment edited by Michelle Martin on 2011-03-22 09:56:02

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By Stechkin (anonymous) | Posted March 22, 2011 at 10:41:00

Nice man... Ottawa street is wicked. Though I miss Kwiatkowski's and Logan's.

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By Malex (anonymous) | Posted March 22, 2011 at 11:00:31 in reply to Comment 61324

We tried to like Logans too, but each and every time we went in there (three times in total) the service was terrible and the food pretty mediocre. Haven't tried Buckeyes yet, but I've heard it's pretty good...

I'm hoping Ottawa Street gets itself a decent coffee shop and another funky eatery or two (a la Poco Loco)...we love taking our daughter for walks down Ottawa Street, esp. during the summer...

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By lawrence (registered) - website | Posted March 22, 2011 at 11:06:15 in reply to Comment 61326

I am told there is a new vegan restaurant/coffee shop of sorts moving into the shop beside Button Pushers within the month.

I haven't tried Buckeyes yet either, but it looks appealing walking/driving by.

By the way, Button Pushers sells Skydragon roasted coffee.

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By Undustrial (registered) - website | Posted March 22, 2011 at 11:33:20 in reply to Comment 61327

Vegan restaurant!?!

I love Ottawa St. Every time I go, even if it's just for a zipper, the afternoon turns into one of wandering and perusing. And no matter what I'm working on, there's always friendly people in the shops willing to hlep In so many ways it feels like a step back in time, but in others a walk into a (hopeful) future.

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By lawrence (registered) - website | Posted March 22, 2011 at 11:45:09 in reply to Comment 61337

Sorry Undustrial. I meant to say vegan pastry shop. Not restaurant.

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By Skully2001 (registered) | Posted March 22, 2011 at 11:27:31 in reply to Comment 61327

But isn't the "For Lease" sign still up in that space? Can't see how'd they'd get it all sorted that quickly? Still, I hope I'm wrong - I'd love a funky corner coffee shop at that location!

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By lawrence (registered) - website | Posted March 22, 2011 at 11:43:53 in reply to Comment 61334

I didn't actually notice if the 'For Lease' sign is still up?

"New Coffee/Vegan Pastry shop opening in the Spring"

Sorry, it didn't say restaurant. The text was 'pastry' shop.

I have to say simply the word 'vegan' used to turn me off for some srange reason, until I tried some of chef Marg-ann's creations at the Skydragon. Man alive I never thought vegan+healthy could equal yum. They also have the best vegan burger I have ever tasted.

If this new place on Ottawa Street can make vegan taste this good, I have a new place to meander over to on a Saturday morning.

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By Malex (anonymous) | Posted March 22, 2011 at 11:16:51 in reply to Comment 61327

Larry;
Yes, I heard that too! That'd be great - we love the Button Pushers, and pop in most Saturday mornings for some of their coffee - I love it!

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By Ottawa Street BIA (anonymous) | Posted March 22, 2011 at 11:22:36

Larry: Thanks for the lovely article. I'm the Executive Director of the Ottawa Street BIA and I too delight in the changes to Ottawa Street. We're working hard - keep watching-more great stuff to come! Don't forget about the Ottawa Street Farmers' Market - the only year round opne air market in the area! Support like this means a great deal! Keep writing!

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By lawrence (registered) - website | Posted March 22, 2011 at 11:37:41 in reply to Comment 61332

I love how the Farmer's Market has tied into Ottawa Street. One of the best things that came out of the Centre Mall closure.

Where else can you find a YWCA, places of worship, the celebration of life, record shops and coffee shops and restaurants, art galleries and textile outlets. A beautiful historic school in Memorial to welcome you from Main Street, antique shops, and many other great little stops along the way.

There is so much history along Ottawa Street from it's place as a textile district in southern Ontario, to of course the first ever Tim Horton's.

Mix into all that a handful of residential homes, and you have yourself quite a diverse stretch of street where Wards 3 and 4 meet.

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By bob lee (anonymous) | Posted March 22, 2011 at 11:58:10 in reply to Comment 61338

Plus the best burrito joint in the city!

You should send this article to Tim Horton's management. It's weird that Tim's is this celebration of Canadian life and yet all they do for the street is a plaque. Maybe they downplay the retro chic because of the stark difference between their old street friendly stores and the new ones.

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By lawrence (registered) - website | Posted March 22, 2011 at 12:34:41 in reply to Comment 61344

I would like to talk to the owners for sure. It would have been nice if that store had remained more true to form. Namely the swivle chairs along the front counter. That is what I miss most about Tim Horton's. My dad and I frequented the one at Gage and Mohawk on Saturday and Sunday mornings at 6 am before hockey practice, sitting on those old stools. It's nice to interact with the counter staff - especially when the palce is otherwise empty late at night. Maybe even bring back the old uniforms and other things that would have been a part of those times.

There is certainly more they could do with the historical aspect of that location.

As for the burrito joint, I have to admit I haven't tried it yet and I love Mexican cuisine. I like how the place 'steps' up from the street inside. I will check that out now that you bring it up and sell it Bob. They even have a corner-side patio.

Comment edited by lawrence on 2011-03-22 12:35:32

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By jason (registered) | Posted March 22, 2011 at 11:48:05 in reply to Comment 61338

my only minor complaint is the location of the farmers market. I'd rather see it on the street and have the street closed to traffic. people of course, could park in the parking lot. But that's quite minor, and being in the Hammer I realize closing streets is like splitting the atom. lol

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By jason (registered) | Posted March 22, 2011 at 11:46:35

a coffeehouse on Ottawa would be stellar. Late night too. Great street!

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By lawrence (registered) - website | Posted March 22, 2011 at 12:28:59 in reply to Comment 61342

I agree with the late night comment. Even Horton's is closed at 11 I believe? I would personally love a West Town type establishment as well with live bands.

It would be great to have a few places open 7 days a week and much later into the evening as it's pretty desolate walking down there late at night. The West Towns of this world add a bit of life to an otherwise guiet after 5 or 6 street.

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By jason (registered) | Posted March 22, 2011 at 13:09:40 in reply to Comment 61346

hang in there. Other than the West Town, Locke was a ghost town after 5 until a few years ago. Things can change quickly if the business climate is right.

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By isayrrr (registered) | Posted March 22, 2011 at 13:58:38

Vegan pastry shop?!?! That's even better!!!

I still haven't checked out the farmer's market, but will make sure to do so once the whether gets warmer.

Going to Ottawa street is like visiting another city all together. It's great!

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By lawrence (registered) - website | Posted March 22, 2011 at 14:02:05 in reply to Comment 61354

Going to Ottawa street is like visiting another city all together. It's great!

Love this.

I think between this thread and this one, folks have done a nice job selling Ottawa Street!

Comment edited by lawrence on 2011-03-22 14:05:56

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By truffle (anonymous) | Posted March 22, 2011 at 14:39:15

Comments with a score below -5 are hidden by default.

You can change or disable this comment score threshold by registering an RTH user account.

Comment edited by administrator Ryan on 2011-03-22 17:30:50

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By highwater (registered) | Posted March 22, 2011 at 15:17:58 in reply to Comment 61363

I think this comment violates the spirit of the new comment policy.

It may not be vulgar or abusive, but there have been a disturbing number of harassing and bullying comments singling out Undustrial lately. While I'm sure Undustrial doesn't need me to stand up for him/her, I think it's time to send the message that singling out individuals for ongoing harassment is not welcome on this site.

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By Rudy Tuesday (anonymous) | Posted March 22, 2011 at 14:46:31

Have always loved Ottawa North but have always been perplexed at why every Sunday is the unofficial Tumbleweed Festival. For a district whose identity is inexorably tied to home goods, it strikes me as odd – compared to say, the maxed-out parking lots in front of most Home Depots, Bouclairs or Benix & Cos you might choose to name. In almost every other regard, Ottawa Street is the equal of Locke South or James North, if not a more complete and sustainable mixed-use community.

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By lawrence (registered) - website | Posted March 22, 2011 at 15:13:03 in reply to Comment 61365

I think you can say that for all these walkable streets. When I used to live on off of Locke, Sunday's were pretty quiet except the West Town's and Locke Street Bagel's of the street.

I'd welcome Sunday shopping to these districts as well. Might be that these shops are owned and runned by the same people and they need a day off too. I am sure it's not always easy to run a specialty shop and hire staff? Not sure if that's it?

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By Michelle Martin (registered) - website | Posted March 22, 2011 at 17:20:15 in reply to Comment 61369

I always take it for granted that small businesses are closed Sundays and Mondays-- makes sense. That way owners, operators and small bands of employees (therefore not a lot of chances to swap shifts) can count on a weekend, of sorts.

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By MattM (registered) | Posted March 22, 2011 at 14:51:51 in reply to Comment 61365

As great as places like Ottawa Street are, I think their main shortcoming is that they aren't really advertised enough, especially to those in the suburbs who you'd otherwise find jamming their cars into the seas of parking at Limeridge and other big box installments throughout the area.

It's not as much that these people don't want to come to Ottawa/James/Locke, they just don't know it exists. You're a lot more likely to see an ad on the side of a bus for Mapleview mall than any of these places.

I should add however that Ottawa Street does recently have a bus ad. I guess thats a step.

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By jason (registered) | Posted March 22, 2011 at 19:56:39 in reply to Comment 61366

I used to think this was a problem, but to be honest I think the city simply needs to be more proactive at encouraging modern, urban infill projects to these neighbourhoods and make them desirable places to live. As more people move into the area, more shops follow and so on. There are new condo proposals for the Locke South area right now in a few spots. I won't give details here due to the crazy NIMBY's who are surely reading and looking to hold Hamilton back, but more lofts, condos and high quality housing options in these areas will sell the area to potential suburban visitors just fine. Almost everyday on the sidewalks of Locke I hear conversations taking place with people who are clearly there for the first time. We don't need to advertise. A good thing spreads. Does the Distillery District need to advertise to get me to visit? Queen East (Beaches)? etc.... successful, vibrant neighbourhoods become their own advertising and then sure some billboards and bus ads can help promote the brand or neighbourhood identity, but more people choosing to live and therefore shop in these areas is the recipe for success, not begging suburbanites to come down. I'd love to see some modern loft/condo projects on Ottawa with streetfront retail. I suspect there is much less NIMBYism along Ottawa than Locke due to the different demographics. And there are several sites on Ottawa that are underused, empty or decaying properties that would look great reborn like this:

http://www.waterleaf-ai.com/beaumont_lg....

Or this:

http://www.mississippiavenuelofts.com/

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By banned user (anonymous) | Posted March 22, 2011 at 20:39:39 in reply to Comment 61375

Comments with a score below -5 are hidden by default.

You can change or disable this comment score threshold by registering an RTH user account.

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By banned user (anonymous) | Posted March 23, 2011 at 08:28:15 in reply to Comment 61377

comment from banned user deleted

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By lawrence (registered) - website | Posted March 22, 2011 at 15:11:13 in reply to Comment 61366

I was going to reply and ad that Ottawa Street has run a bus add lately, until you added that to your post. :)

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By WRCU2 (registered) - website | Posted March 23, 2011 at 08:52:10

This and a couple other recent RTH threads are perfect examples of how we can grow tourism and spread some small business momentum. Thanks for the attention and while we're at IT I should mention, Sinnicks is at Buckeye's again this Thursday but you should only come by if you're thirsty and bring-in your pour intention.

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By mrjanitor (registered) | Posted March 23, 2011 at 14:30:14

Love the South Sea Chinese restaurant. Best Chinese food in town IMO. Some people I've sent there liked the food but had a hard time with the old school interior, not me though. Everytime I see a property for sale on Ottawa I always hope an independent coffee shop will open up.

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By jason (registered) | Posted March 23, 2011 at 17:36:57 in reply to Comment 61420

I can't relate to that thinking. The food is amazing, but the interior was lacking. As the fine folks on James North have reminded us, 'this aint hollywood'. Nowhere else is. Give me an old school B&T, Pagoda or Forbidden City any day of the week over some Asian fusion joint that looks like a SoCal wine bar.

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By lawrence (registered) - website | Posted March 24, 2011 at 13:38:52 in reply to Comment 61427

:) I am not sure it's a way of thinking. I just don't mind the atmosphere. Nothing wrong with SoCal wine bars. Just need a acid jazz musician and we're all set.

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By lawrence (registered) - website | Posted March 23, 2011 at 15:22:44 in reply to Comment 61420

My favorite as well. I think it's looked like that my entire life inside? No reason to change it. Foods always good and service is great.

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By JM (registered) | Posted March 24, 2011 at 10:31:10

Great piece, Larry.

I have fond memories of Centre Mall and Ottawa Street too... being down there in my childhood each weekend for Karate. I just recently bought myself a house near Concession Street - and look forward to what this great urban strip will have to offer :). My house even has a front porch... which i am very excited to use. I'm also hoping someone will bring the movie theatre back to life again!

JM

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By TnT (registered) | Posted March 25, 2011 at 17:07:47 in reply to Comment 61447

The closing of that Movie Palace is a sad tone. I always found it packed when I went, but it seems the movies they ran were just mainstream trype. How about some foreign/classics that kind of movie house is in short supply.

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By lawrence (registered) - website | Posted March 24, 2011 at 13:13:53 in reply to Comment 61447

Thanks JM. I always liked Concession. I grew up on Upper Sherman so I used to play at the park off of Gage. The ice they build in the winter and played box ball under the little covered area there. I hope that movie theatre comes back. I would absolutely love if someone would bring back the one on Ottawa Street. I can't believe with all the developments at the Centre on Barton, that a movie theatre wasn't brought back to the mix. We either have to go all the way up to Stoney Creek or Ancaster. Or of course, just hop a bus downtown to Jackson Sq.

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By TnT (registered) | Posted March 25, 2011 at 17:14:49 in reply to Comment 61468

A movie theatre on Ottawa street! And just where do you suppose we would get all our Big Big wallpaper needs then?

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By Capitalist (anonymous) | Posted March 25, 2011 at 14:57:13

I took a walk along Ottawa street about a year and 1/2 ago just before I attended the Ticats-BC lions playoff game. I was really impressed. A great area.

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By Michelle Martin (registered) - website | Posted March 27, 2011 at 22:15:09

Has anyone here noted yet that Ottawa St is number one in the voting, by a wide margin?

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By MattM (registered) | Posted March 28, 2011 at 08:47:55

Way to go Ottawa Street :)

Great to see all the votes for it.

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By Marz Paint Warehouse (anonymous) | Posted March 31, 2011 at 15:56:59

I just want to note that I live and worked in Hamilton's east end for years... have a paint business at the corner of Barton and Ottawa.
My husband and I bought the house around the corner from where we grew up. He was my neighbour growing up moved away and met him 10 years later....LOL We joke now about how we were the group of kids from the other side of the tracks...because we lived behind the Centre Mall
- people didn't know there were houses back there.
Love my hammer town,the people and how the community sticks together at times of need..
The power outage - one big barbeque - what else can you do..
The seven sewer back ups, get mad, fight back, clean up - carry on.
When one of my friends got burnt at Dofasco... The people that came together to raise money for him and his family...I am so proud to say that I went to Delta and the benefit for him. Im not to pleased with the Centre mall Reno's.
Trying to be something it's not... We wanted our mall left alone...

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