Accidental Activist

Only in Hamilton

It didn't take Ben long to realize that Hamilton is a town unlike any other. We tell it like it is.

By Ben Bull
Published November 10, 2005

Did you ever have the strange sensation of standing perfectly still while the rest of the world spins madly around you? Were you walking in the mall, mingling at a party, or maybe just strolling in the park?

As you took a deep breath and wondered what was going on, did you hear a little voice in your head asking, "Where the hell am I?"

I've had a lot of strange sensations in my life, but for some reason, these seem to have increased dramatically since I moved to Hamilton.

But in a good way.

I remember my first visit to Gage Park with my family. Annie was still a baby and, like all my little tikes, she was a bit on the scrawny side. As I played with her on the grass I nodded to a scruffy young bloke blowing smoke rings for his little boy ("Again, Daddy, again!").

"How you doing?" I interrupted, trying to be folksy.

"Pretty good" he replied, flicking ash onto Annie's bottle. "How old is she?"

I had to think for a minute, as I always do, when working out my kids' age. "Six months," I said at last. "Or maybe five..."

"Six months?" barked the bloke, dropping his cigarette in surprise. "Is she..."

"Is she what?" I asked, wondering what had got in to the man.

There was a slight pause, during which Cigarette Bloke fixed a sad, sympathetic gaze on Annie and rounded off his question: "...premature?"


The park started to spin...and then I started to laugh. I tried to stop, but when I caught sight of the strained look of deep concern on Cigarette Bloke's face, I just couldn't help myself.

"What's so funny?"

"Oh, erm, nothing," I said, recovering. "She's just a little small."

It didn't take me long to realize that Hamilton is a town unlike any other. In Yorkshire we have an expression that describes all Yorkshire folk: "We call a spade a spade."

We tell it like it is. Just like Hamiltonians.

This, out of all the things I love about this town, is probably my number one. Having lived in big cities like London and Toronto, where the usual greetings are "Who are you?" and "What do you do?" the down-to-earth 'never mind the bollocks' attitude of Hamiltonians feels very much like home to me.

Over the years I've had many more "Only in Hamilton" moments, like the time I got trapped in a supermarket turnstile by a large lady on a scooter. Or the day I got a quote from a drunken electrician, who told me my house was a "F***ing fire trap" before staggering off up the street.

And every time I've looked back and laughed at these wonderful memories, I've found myself saying, "This could only happen in Hamilton."

Over the next few weeks I plan to share some of these stories. Not to be patronizing or disrespectful - after all, I'm as forthright and unassuming as anyone else in this town. No, to me, these stories are just as much an exercise in laughing at myself - ourselves - as they are an excuse to feel proud about my town.

And there's another thing. While we at RTH tend to focus on the many things we need to change in the Hammer, we are often guilty of forgetting just what it is that makes this such a great place to live: each other.

I hope you will join me then, over the next four issues, as I fondly recall:

See you next week then, for our next installment of... "Only in Hamilton!"

Ben Bull lives in downtown Toronto. He's been working on a book of short stories for about 10 years now and hopes to be finished tomorrow. He also has a movie blog.


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By adrian (registered) | Posted None at

You love Hamilton so much that you moved to Dundas. Well, I guess Dundas counts as the Hammer ever since amalgamation. Technically. In spite of this irony, I enjoyed your article and look forward to more.

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By judgefred (registered) | Posted None at

Dundas downtown is a great place to live. The downtown is fun to walk. You can walk to restaurants, the supermarket, the library, the gallery... You don't really need a car for long stretches of the week. They even close their main roads for festivals. Cars are not king in downtown Dundas.

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By jason (registered) | Posted None at

unless you want to do anything after 6pm....then you need a car to head into Hamilton. other than that, you're right. Dundas is sweet. It probably needs an infusion of young people to create some nightlife, but young folks seem more drawn to downtown Hamilton. I wish transit was better to Dundas. Heck, I'd even hop a bus or streetcar to check out King St (Dundas) once in a while if it didn't take forever and come only twice an hour.

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By Rusty (registered) - website | Posted None at

I agree, Dundas is not really 'Hamilton'. We wanted to stay in the Hammer after we moved from the east end, but there were no neighbourhoods that worked for us. We wanted a cool main street - where we could walk to things. I needed somewhere close to TO transit (GO/VIA). We wanted to be close to some 'action' (lots of things to do and see). And we wanted a nice safe street, where the kids could play. All the Real Estate Agents showed us around Aberdeen Ave and Locke Street but I do not particularly like these areas to live. The houses are overpriced and the landscape is quite dull. Locke Street is cool though. Ditto for Westdale. Very overpriced for what it is. Dundas has turned out to be way too quiet for us, although I love the hiking, the main street and the Olde Dundas neighbourhood. I guess some people are never happy (me). In the end it's all about living where you feel you belong, and not commuting 3 hours a day to your work. Cheers Ben

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