Belonging

Quebec's Lessons for Hamilton

There is no reason why our fair city cannot be almost as much of a tourist magnet as the oldest city in Canada.

By Michelle Martin
Published September 11, 2008

Imagine a city with generations of history attached to it - a city that grew to be one of the top ten largest cities in Canada . Nestled along the shores of a large body of water, it has an upper city and a lower city, bridges that are interesting and beautiful, and waterfalls.

It has arts and music festivals, and is within an easy drive of wine country and pick-your-own fruit farms. It is home to a beautiful and well-regarded art gallery, and many smaller galleries that feature up and coming artists as well as locally produced pottery and jewelry, among other things. Within city boundaries is a field that is the site of a battle which played a decisive role in Canadian history.

It is awash in beautiful and architecturally interesting churches, a testimony to its religious heritage. One can enjoy the great outdoors easily here, camping within a half-hour's drive of the downtown core, making it an affordable family vacation for those whose budgets don't reach to hotels. It's where we spent this year's summer vacation with eight of our kids - yep, that's right: Quebec City. But the links I've included in my article are all Hamilton links, the better to make my point.

There is no reason why our fair city cannot be almost as much of a tourist magnet as the oldest city in Canada. We may not have 400 hundred years of history, but we've got 200 - and our landscape is easily as beautiful, our arts scene certainly as vibrant.

So what gives? Is it because we have been wantonly neglecting our beautiful old buildings? I strongly suspect that the whole Lister block saga would never have happened in Quebec City, a city that knows the value of its history and the structures that bring this history to life.

Is it because of Hamilton's one-way streets, which in my experience simply encourage rudeness and inattention from drivers? When we drove from our campsite into old Quebec, it took us a little time to find a parking spot because the city was packed with tourists.

But the old city was easy enough to navigate even for two vehicles that had to stay in contact by cell phone (we gave up our twelve-seater van long ago). It may well be that way because there was plenty of two-way driving, even on the old streets.

And I suspect it is this two-way driving that helped make drivers more attentive and considerate when we had found a parking spot and were traveling on foot. To be sure, I spent each day counting the heads of my children continuously, but that is because of their number and not because we felt particularly concerned about being pedestrians in Quebec. The traffic lights and intersections were all very pedestrian friendly and we never once felt worried for our lives when crossing them.

Not only the traffic lights were friendly - the people were, too. Shopkeepers, museum staff, and even worshipers and fellow campers were open and helpful - and very patient with our rusty French.

Since I haven't ever been a foreign language speaking tourist in Hamilton, I'm not sure how that experience would go in our fair city. Are Hamilton citizens patient with visitors who speak a language other than English? Would they be as patient and helpful when giving directions?

Would they be as positive in their approach, downplaying the drawbacks and talking up the beauties and advantages of the area? >From what I read in the paper, there's a lot of naysaying about Hamilton that goes on here (and yes, I've been guilty of a little myself) - I wonder if it gets passed along to visitors.

Let's focus on the positives instead: we have half the history of Quebec City (which is still a considerable amount), and at least as much culture and natural beauty. We even have a francophone community, too! Don't you think we could make as big a deal out of the next anniversary within our reach as Quebec City has rightfully made of her 400th birthday?

2015 is only seven years away, two hundred years after George Hamilton founded the initial site of our city. What have we got in the works for that?

Michelle Martin lives in Hamilton where she and her husband are watching their 10 children fly the nest, one by one. She has been published in both the Hamilton Spectator and Raise the Hammer, as well as in the online edition of the National Post and, more recently, in the Canadian Urban Transit Association's Urban Mobility Forum. Michelle is coordinator of the Community Access to Transportation program. She was formerly on the writing/copy editing team of the original Crown Point hub paper, The Point. However, the opinions she expresses in Raise the Hammer are her own. She sometimes tweets @deltawestmom

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By Frank (registered) | Posted September 12, 2008 at 08:25:24

Great article!

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By jason (registered) | Posted September 12, 2008 at 10:10:00

awesome article Michelle. We are quite often, our own worst enemy in Hamilton. Yet visitors are always impressed and somewhat shocked at what they find here. As I'm sure you know, eco-tourism is huge right now and not just in remote regions. The US has an annual ranking of cities with awesome natural activities and amenities at their doorstep. Regular winners include Pittsburgh and Portland. Vancouver would surely take top spot in Canada in such a ranking, but after them, I'm hard pressed to find another city in Canada with as much nature and outdoor activities to offer as Hamilton. We need to promote this and spread the word, not just from city hall, but each of us. Word of mouth is the best advertising. Cheers

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By A mom (anonymous) | Posted September 24, 2008 at 15:04:01

I moved from a tourist city/state in the US to Hamilton. Hamilton has an attitude to outsiders and visitors. I got the attitude from cops when my car was broken into, twice, signange is bad in Hamilton. It took a visit to the toursim agency to finally figure out for sure that every other street in the downtown core is one way! Hamilton has a lot to see and do but often parking is an issue, it is a crime issue and let's face it, Hamilton is a bit dirty. Work on the signange, the parking issues and the high cost of parking even on the west end and the attitudes, Hamilton could make some big bucks in tourism. I loved Bay Front Park and the beach front but locals told me about them and they are not pushed by the city. The mountain has some great gems but only the lower city is pushed.

I eventually left and I did most of my business in Burlington. I have a child who uses a wheelchair and has autism and most of Hamilton gawked at her and made remarks about her chair. Let me just say I exercised my dollars to Burlington.

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By urbanboy (registered) | Posted October 26, 2008 at 15:22:11

Burlington (the downtown that is) is more polished than Hamilton, that is a fact, however...the "city" simply does not have the heart and soul, character, history and inner beauty that Hamilton possesses...bottom line.

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