City Life

A Love song for Strathcona

Strathcona was the first place I have lived in which I immediately felt part of the community.

By Jason Allen
Published April 18, 2011

So it's official. We have sold our home in Strathcona and bought a new one, exactly 8 blocks south in Kirkendall. I have to admit as we pack, and visit lawyers and mortgage brokers, and make preparation for the big day, I'm a little wistful for what I'll be leaving behind.

Strathcona was the first place I have lived since I moved away from Alberta, possibly the first place I have lived since I moved out of my parents' house, in which I immediately felt part of the community.

It may have helped that we moved in Halloween night and were at our door handing out candy surrounded by boxes, but people on our street were instantly warm and welcoming.

I soon joined the Strathcona Community Association, and voila! Instant rabble rousing, community activist peer group. I met Jen and Dawn, who largely between the two of them standing out at the corner of King and Dundurn every morning for days, managed to unseat the chamber of commerce and the trucking industry, and have our stretch of Dundurn taken off the truck route.

I barbequed hot dogs for the SCC's annual park day (and still have random kids approaching me years later to say, 'Hey, you're the hot dog guy!), and helped with park cleanups, which helped teach my oldest son the importance of giving back to your community.

We're moving, though, because our son's school is in Kirkendall and we want to ensure our younger son will be in the English catchment area.

To be fair, our new house will be near the Hill Street Garden, most of the tenants of which we already know well, so we will be stepping into an instant community and peer group when we move.

But we will be leaving behind some precious things.

I'll miss the most amazing park in all of Hamilton (Victoria Park) with its newly minted butterfly gardens and ever-present Supies in the summer.

I'll miss the incredible socioeconomic (if not actually ethnic) diversity of Strathcona. For all the wonderful things you can say about Kirkendall, you have to admit, it's fairly homogeneous. But in Strathcona when I had the privilege of MCing the Movie in the Park night, when I looked out, there were people there from an enormous variety of backgrounds, occupations, and economic strata.

It was a wonderful feeling, and I hope I don't ever lose sight of the value of that diversity.

I'll miss Cathy and her seeing-eye dog Gordon burning up the shoe leather all around the neighbourhood helping others, and making the community stronger.

I'll miss Rolly Rockets, which I never thought I'd hear myself say. I had quite a few reservations when they moved in, but they are friendly, offer great food, and are amazing corporate citizens. As long as I keep my back to the ubiquitous MMA matches on the screens, I'm good to stay for hours.

I'll miss the 'shrieking harpy' disciplining her children at the opposite end of the park at the top of her voice from her unshakable perch on the picnic table.

OK, I won't miss her that much, but that's part of being in community, you know? You take the good with the bad, and the 'people like you' and the 'people not-so-much like you', and you accept them anyway, cause it's what community is all about.

I'll miss walking seven doors to pick up my weekly CSA share from Backyard Harvest. I'll still be a member, but I'll have further to go.

At that point, it would probably be best to leave the last word to Russ from Backyard Harvest.

He was over at our annual New Year's Day Open House - which tends to be a bit of a collision course of all of our volunteer/work roles coming together at once - and I was struggling to introduce Russ in a way that would provide context.

I said something to the effect of: "This is Russ, and he has an amazing business just down the street, and he grows these insanely local organic veggies and has a CSA which we were part of last year..."

Russ kind of looked at me funny and said, "And we're also neighbours."

So yes, Russ, it's the neighbours I'll miss the most.

Jason Allen is a chronic hive whacker in the Kirkendall Neighbourhood.

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By just a thought (anonymous) | Posted April 19, 2011 at 08:02:11

Just wondering why your first son went to a school in Kinkendall and not Strathcona in the first place. Then you would not have to be moving.

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By JasonAAllen (registered) - website | Posted April 20, 2011 at 20:38:50 in reply to Comment 62439

We originally chose our home in Strathcona because it's in the catchment area for French Immersion for Earl Kitchener (for our older son), naively thinking that once the younger son was in school, we would put him closer in Strathcona. Fools that we were, we had no idea about how much work that might have been (getting two kids to two different schools at the same time). Also, we did have some plans to see if we could enroll our youngest in Sage, but after much feedback from other parents and teachers who had left the program, we figure the English track at EK would be the best route for the youngest.

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By jason (registered) | Posted April 19, 2011 at 08:49:14

Great piece Jason. I've lived in Strathcona for 8 years and we've spent the last 4 looking for a slightly bigger home. One condition - it must be in the hood. There's something about this neighbourhood that is remarkable. I tell people it's the best area in Hamilton. So friendly and quiet (notwithstanding the mega-freeways forced upon us), yet so close to everything. I share your appreciation for the social mix in the neighbourhood. It's great to see the mix of housing and demographics in the area. One of the best examples is probably the Strathcona/Lamoreaux corner. $300,000-$400,000 homes next to a collection of small, affordable apartments. You're right about Victoria Park. Last week I saw some people practicing tight-rope walking in the park (I always wondered how they practice that).
The Victoria Park Community Gardens are in the process of being turned over to a volunteer collective from the neighbourhood instead of being run by the city. And of course, we have one of the most pro-active councillors in the city who has worked hard for a lot of the 'quality of life' improvements we now enjoy in Vic Park, Dundurn etc....

It's kinda funny. One of the perks about Strathcona is being a 5-10 minute walk from Locke South (in Kirkendall).

I'm sure you'll enjoy your new hood and congrats on the new home.

Comment edited by jason on 2011-04-19 09:24:26

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By Rebecca Doll (anonymous) | Posted April 19, 2011 at 09:08:44

How lovely that so many of our neighbourhoods are the best! Enjoy your new best neighbourhood!

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By Robert D (anonymous) | Posted April 19, 2011 at 16:11:44

Congratulations on your new home.

It sounds like both your future and past neighbourhoods are great places to live, and are the kind of neighbourhoods where I'd want my children to grow up.

I'm especially glad you touched on both "taking the good with the bad", and the diversity of socioeconomic strata in your piece - and I agree with you 100%. I think many of the people who object to downtown Hamilton (or Hamilton in general) feel that some "bad" elements "ruin" it for everyone, or that upper-middle class children being exposed to "poor people" will somehow damage their precious innocence (i.e. I've had a well-off woman tell me she doesn't take her daughter to the downtown YWCA because she feels uncomfortable talking to the other mothers - most of whom are poorer). Personally, I find the truth is closer to what you've described, you have to understand that communities are made up of many different people, and acceptance and tolerance and understanding of their situations are much more valuable lessons than living in a sheltered "bubble".

I suppose what I"m trying to say is, beauty truly is in the eye of the beholder, and hopefully upon reading your piece, some people might try and expand their view.

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By lawrence (registered) - website | Posted April 21, 2011 at 15:06:33 in reply to Comment 62468

Very well said Robert, and great piece, Jason. I felt much the same way when I left Kirkendall. I only lived there for three years and rented on Herkimer, but I left with both sadness and a fondness for that area of our city. I met some amazing people and so much happened to me as personal during my time there.

I believe we were both inspired by the engagedness of one of the same people if the name you mentioend above refers to the woman I am thinking of. She would have been a Durand resident back then, but very active in life in general. I found a lot of that in the communities that make up Kirkendall, Durand, and Strathcona. I am sure you can say that about so many communities in our city, but it was my first real taste of what being involved in your community could bring to your life.

Thanks again for sharing this.

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By WRCU2 (registered) - website | Posted April 19, 2011 at 21:04:58

This is a refreshing story Jason, thanks for sharing.

I'll miss walking seven doors to pick up my weekly CSA share from Backyard Harvest. I'll still be a member, but I'll have further to go.

I miss working with Russ in the Keith neighborhood community gardens, but I hope to see more of my old friend this season; I am purchasing a share in his CSA even though I live two wards away.

Russ has just informed me that he will be contacting Brian McHattie and Darko Vranic very soon regarding unused land near the Scottish Rite at the former orphanage site. He is interested in working that soil into arable productivity. I wish him good luck and Godspeed. I also pray for the Ohrt family's new baby girl in her time of need and for much warmer weather as Russ plants his seed.

A love song indeed.

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By TnT (registered) | Posted April 19, 2011 at 22:51:55

It sounds like you have a pretty wonderful time living in what I think encompasses Ward 1. I know I sound jealous wailing over in my Ward 3 mire, but so be it. It seems that what you want is not city living, but suburban life from the 50s'. Nothing wrong with that, but it trends toward isolating people. I've noticed a bit of a backlash against Good Shepard Square going up there. It may not be up a mountain, but it is indeed isolated from Ward 2, 3 and 4 as though a physical barrier exists.

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By JasonAAllen (registered) - website | Posted April 20, 2011 at 20:35:53 in reply to Comment 62482

If 'suburban life in the '50s' means knowing your neighbors, and celebrating community, and looking out for one another, then yes, I am longing for that. You may note from my article that I was celebrating the socio-economic diversity in Strathcona, and I have no problem with the Good Sheppard construction, and think it will be a great addition to the neighborhood. I was sitting on the SCC during the tail end of much of it's opposition to the Good Sheppard build, and from what I gathered, much of the dispute was how the Good Sheppard organization had totally failed to engage the community in any meaningful way. They had their plan, and by God they were going to fulfill it. I like to think that if they had bothered to engage in any kind of meaningful dialogue at the beginning, then they could have gotten what they wanted, and not put so many noses out of joint in the process.

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By Frankenrogers (registered) | Posted April 20, 2011 at 09:13:56

My wife and I decided to move to Hamilton from Toronto last summer, and after a quick survey of the neighbourhoods downtown our focus was exclusively on Kirkendall. We loved the Locke Street commercial district and the fact that I could still walk to the GO station if needed. The schools seemed great and I really wanted to ensure that I was in the Westdale cachement. We love the area and I'm 100% glad of the choice.

However, had I the luxury of deeper investigation before, I probably would have considered Strathcona more. I walked down Locke Street North one night on my way to Stonewalls and was thinking how the homes on the park reminded me of Riverdale or Trinity Bellwoods in Toronto. I could see it as a more affordable option (commercial and residential) to Kirkendall and definitely growing within the next 5 years. Are there any safety concerns in the park?

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By jason (registered) | Posted April 20, 2011 at 09:35:34

I'm in the park at all hours (well, not 2am) and have never seen anything unsafe. Just this week I went out for a quick 11pm stroll and encountered some seniors walking their dogs and other folks headed home etc..... I think Strathcona will always be more affordable than Kirkendall simply due to the fewer number of larger homes. Strathcona's most 'affluent' streets are probably Lamoreaux and Inchbury. Otherwise, you get a lot of cottages, 2 storey semis and singles and historic Victorians. Same is true in Kirkendall in the northern part of the hood, but as you go south you encounter huge homes from basically Herkimer and points south. It's one of the reasons my family hasn't been able to move after 4 years of looking. No homes come up for sale in Strathcona that are a step up from ours. We actually just put an offer in on one last week but didn't get it. It was 1,700 sq feet and would have been perfect for our family of 5. (we currently live in about 1,000 sq. ft.) In Kirkendall there are many homes this size and bigger...and of course, they're all out of my price range. lol. Good to hear of a Kirkendall resident headed up here to Stonewalls. The Thurs night jazz is great. Congrats on your move to the Hammer! It sounds like it's working out well.

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By Frankenrogers (registered) | Posted April 20, 2011 at 11:03:25 in reply to Comment 62495

It really is working out well thank you. My wife and I are so happy to have made the move. I'm taking a presentation skills workshop through my office here in Toronto, and last week my speech was all about what makes Hamilton so great and not the decaying rust belt city you may think of when you see on your way to the US. The feedback on the topic was very positive as people didn't have an idea that it was happening. We had some friends over on the weekend too and they were pretty impressed with the neighbourhood.

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By JasonAAllen (registered) - website | Posted April 20, 2011 at 20:31:34 in reply to Comment 62504

When we first moved here from Toronto, a friend commented that "it's like you picked your street up in the Beaches (at Woodbine and Gerrard) and moved it 100 km west. This place is beautiful! And not what I expected!" 'nuff said.

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By HamiltonBrian (registered) | Posted April 20, 2011 at 21:02:11

My wife and I moved into the area last year. She is an East Mountain-ite, born and raised. I'm just the bohemian army brat that moved to Hamilton 10 years ago and moved right on to Locke. We love this area...and are content to live here for years to come. I wonder if the shrieking banshee's children were ever my students. I get the Beaches comparison.

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By TnT (registered) | Posted April 21, 2011 at 00:12:53

It does sound like a Bonny place, but I do challenge the diversity claim. It is one thing to engage and improve, but there are real NIMBY attitudes out there. I sat in on a committee meeting where a friend of mine was trying to add a patio to his business on Locke and received some very ignorant attacks from the neighbors.

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By Mr. Meister (anonymous) | Posted April 21, 2011 at 09:20:20

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 Squelch (anonymous) | Posted April 21, 2011 at 11:56:21 in reply to Comment 62545

Squelch, squelch, squelch, eh?

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By JenAni (anonymous) | Posted May 03, 2011 at 10:00:20

hi jason,

i am currently typing this from your former dining room where our computer is set up while we settle ourselves in to the rest of the house. as i'm sure you can relate, it has been a very busy past couple of weeks moving ourselves from toronto so i haven't had a chance to comment on this ode to our new neighbourhood. while we have been excited to move to hamilton for months, reading this really did help reinforce that we made the right decision chosing your place in particular. it sounds like you carved out a deep niche in the neighbourhood and made many great friends; mike & i are hoping to make some roots here as well.

wishing you and your family all the best in your new home - maybe we'll run in to you in the park sometime soon during less soggy times!

Jen

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By big red (anonymous) | Posted October 24, 2012 at 16:16:06

Hi Jason,

We're considering a move to the Strathcona hood. One reason was the the local school, in particular the SAGE program. I'm interested in hearing your reason for choosing the school in Kirkendal vs. the SAGE program at Strathcona Elementary.

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By jason (registered) | Posted October 24, 2012 at 16:30:11

I'm just noticing these comments now...great to see my new neighbour, Jen, post above in Jasons old home. Big red, I won't speak on behalf of Jason re: the school, but anyone we know in the hood with kids in Strathcona loves it. We've lived in the neighbourhood for 9 years now and just moved a year ago into a different home within the neighbourhood. We didn't want to leave it, so we waited for a few years for a home to open up here.

Where are you moving from?? Cheers

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