You may have heard the comparison that Hamilton’s booming arts and foodie scene has made it the ‘Brooklyn of Toronto.’ It’s an analogy that often makes Hamiltonians cringe, resenting the implication that their existence is dependent upon that of their Toronto neighbours.
But it’s not the misguided idea that Hamilton and Brooklyn are where people end up when they can no longer afford a ‘big city’ like Toronto or New York that has sparked this connection; rather, it’s Hamilton’s rapid growth journey.
Years ago, Hamilton may have been the place where a distant relative lived growing up, and like Brooklyn, it may have once been the butt of a joke – one of those “you live where?” locations.
But much like Brooklyn, a determined group of young urbanites have worked to transform the city before our eyes. While respecting the blue-collar labourers of the steel industry that made the city what it is, Hamilton has accepted and invested in new employment sectors that allow residents to live and work within its borders. Institutions like McMaster University and the Hamilton Health Sciences Corp., as well as a growing tech sector, have given the economy legs in a way that a single-industry town couldn’t have achieved.
As the city has grown, so has its infrastructure. A second GO station opened in 2015, and the once-neglected Gore Park is now a lavish public square. And as growth continues, an emerging arts and culture scene has attracted young talent. These are real, relatable artists eager to share their talents with locals and newcomers alike and prove that Hamilton has always had the sturdy bones of a vibrant metropolis.
And don’t be fooled – Hamilton is not looking to become Toronto. Instead, it stands for the everyman, the go-getter with no desire to wait in line on Thursday night just to grab a drink after work. It has a strong sense of identity rooting it down. As Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce president and CEO, Carlo Scissura, advised on his 2015 visit, “Don’t lose your grittiness in the fight for all that gleams, Hamilton… Be who you are… Be gritty, be cool.”
Hamilton pride has even become its own industry, sparking the sales of neighbourhood wall art and t-shirts that feature the popular #HamOnt hashtag. Even Torontonians who make the move out of necessity find themselves gradually moving their lives over to Hamilton and warming up to their surroundings faster than expected.
The areas surrounding Hamilton’s downtown core are also profiting from the city’s renaissance. No longer just small-town suburbs, places like Stoney Creek and Binbrook have welcomed the vibrancy of new growth. With restaurants, cafés, breweries and more peppering Hamilton’s downtown core and surrounding communities, the old west-end of big-box chains and dilapidated industrial stretches are dissipating into an artisan scene worthy of exploration. And while there’s still a long way to go, a new era has already struck, and the surrounding communities of Hamilton’s suburbs are reaping the benefits.