News

Hamilton's Only Backpacker Hostel Shut Down

By RTH Staff
Published May 11, 2011

The city's only backpacker's hostel has been shut down by municipal bylaw enforcement. The hostel was opened last September without a license because Hamilton lacks a definition of "hostel" in its bylaws. From Open File's City shuts down Hamilton's only backpackers hostel:

After a slow start, [hostel owners Tanya and Tim Ritchie's] first guest (a solo traveler from Japan) arrived last autumn to explore the city on his way from Niagara Falls to Toronto. In January, the Ritchies were shocked to see their business break even. In March, it turned a profit. By April, word of mouth had travelled fast and spring bookings stretched into June, foreshadowing a successful season. They planned to move to a larger location in the fall, with the money generated by summer stays.

That’s when they got the call from By-law Services.

Mark Spelic, a Municipal Law Enforcement (MLE) officer, told the Ritchies the inquiry had come directly from Bernie Morelli’s office.

“Bernie Morelli called me on Sunday to say it had nothing to do with him,” Tanya says. “He had a very brisk manner. Just passed it off.”

Morelli has since stated that neither he nor his office can interfere with the enforcement process of Municipal Law Enforcement officers, regardless of the fact that the question was put forth by a Ward 3 constituent.

Full story is on Open File.

43 Comments

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By jason (registered) | Posted May 11, 2011 at 22:42:02

Crazy. It's not like there's nothing else to focus on in Ward 3.... http://goo.gl/6fVBD Yet we oppose people trying to invest - Pearl Company, Main St condos and now this.

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By drb (registered) - website | Posted May 11, 2011 at 23:27:18

The City of Hamilton claims to be promoting the city as a tourist destination. We are located on the escarpment, the Bruce trail runs right through our city. It's a hiker's dream. It links Niagara Falls to Tobermory. Eco-tourism has been a hot trend world-wide for the last decade, and Hamilton can't figure out how to license and regulate hostels? What about Bed and Breakfasts? Hotels? Hostels operate all over the world supporting tourist economies, yet we can't do that here.

Officials and staff at City Hall need to give their heads a shake and make some changes. The status quo isn't working anymore.

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By Cityjoe (anonymous) | Posted May 14, 2011 at 15:25:14 in reply to Comment 63413

Agreed! It's just more of the same silliness from City Hassle.
I wonder how much money they really make from all those by law infraction fines?
I guess there is no point in asking them Nicely to joint the 12st. Century?

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By TnT (registered) | Posted May 15, 2011 at 09:47:04 in reply to Comment 63518

I'm sure it was a typo, but a good Freudian slip: 12th century indeed!

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By Cityjoe (anonymous) | Posted May 16, 2011 at 02:26:18 in reply to Comment 63546

I'm standing by the 12th century, but if City Hall was to offer the 15th., I wouldn't say "No.".

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By Freedom seeker (anonymous) | Posted May 11, 2011 at 23:47:02

I'm sure their failure to donate to Morelli's election campaign fund had nothing to do with what happened....

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By TnT (registered) | Posted May 11, 2011 at 23:57:03

The irony is I've always seen Morelli as a tireless advocate for the ward.

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By drb (registered) - website | Posted May 12, 2011 at 00:16:06 in reply to Comment 63417

Read: A Case for Multi-Unit House Conversion, starting at comment 62710. A coincidence?

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By Undustrial (registered) - website | Posted May 12, 2011 at 00:30:07

I've been backpacking and stayed in hostels. Often the fact that some smaller, less known city has a hostel is enough to entice visitors to a city. If it has favourable reviews, word will spread fast online and in other hostels, which will entice others. All of this is some of the best publicity a city can buy.

So basically, it's cool to leave massive and thoroughly illegal amounts of toxic barrels on your property, but not help Hamilton's tourist industry. Gotta love Ward 3.

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By RyanB (anonymous) | Posted May 12, 2011 at 08:13:36

Oh and they require a parking spot for every backpacker too. lolol

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By Cityjoe (anonymous) | Posted May 14, 2011 at 15:26:12 in reply to Comment 63422

ROTFLMAO!!!

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By BeulahAve (registered) | Posted May 12, 2011 at 14:20:13 in reply to Comment 63422

I thought you were joking RyanB, but no that is what the Open File article states. How many backpackers have cars?!

What can be done? To whom should one direct letters of complaint?

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By Steve (registered) | Posted May 12, 2011 at 17:00:21 in reply to Comment 63451

Start with the Councillor, he's supposed to be the voice for his constituents. Bernie Morelli; bernie.morelli@hamilton.ca

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By Timothy Dalton McGuinty (anonymous) | Posted May 12, 2011 at 22:12:18 in reply to Comment 63454

Also contact your own councillor (if you don't live in ward 3), since bumbling by-laws are a city-wide concern.

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By Moral-less (anonymous) | Posted May 12, 2011 at 08:36:15

Bernie not interfering with bylaw is like saying that a tsunami doesn't interfere with a coastline. Bernie has bylaw at his beck and call. And if the hostel wasn't 'blessed' by Bernie, "it don't desoive to be dere, see!"

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By Desmond (anonymous) | Posted May 12, 2011 at 10:38:13

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

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By Steve (registered) | Posted May 12, 2011 at 12:53:04 in reply to Comment 63434

You are correct, it's not Morelli's fault they were operating outside of zoning. But it's his fault for not working with them to overcome obstacles in the way of their business. After all, isn't that one of the reasons our tax dollars pay his salary?

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By Freedom Seeker (anonymous) | Posted May 13, 2011 at 08:14:33 in reply to Comment 63448

Steve said: "But it's his fault for not working with them to overcome obstacles in the way of their business. After all, isn't that one of the reasons our tax dollars pay his salary?"

Well, if my office catches fire and burns down that's certainly going to be an obstacle in the way of my business, which is why folks pay "protection" money to the Mafia.

If you or I decide that we are no longer going to contribute towards Morelli's salary its only a matter of time until some people in black costumes with guns come around, steal our house, and throw us out on the street.

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By Undustrial (registered) - website | Posted May 12, 2011 at 11:07:45 in reply to Comment 63434

Well, since Council makes the by-laws, Morelli's on Council, and the by-laws don't account for backpackers hostels...yes Morelli does indeed bear a share of the fault in this issue. The fact that he seems to have tipped off enforcement doesn't help either, nor does the inordinate number of these issues from his ward lately.

I wouldn't say it's only Morelli's fault, but this sure ain't improving my opinion of the guy.

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By Mr. Meister (anonymous) | Posted May 12, 2011 at 12:10:27

I was very surprised by your statement that Hamilton only had the one hostel and it was shut down. A quick google search showed a total of 4 including the Y. Assuming whichever one was just shut down that leaves 3. How do they get away with running a hostel if the city is so obviously biased against them?

Just what were the by-law infractions that led to the hostel being shut down?

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By Mr. Meister (anonymous) | Posted May 12, 2011 at 12:13:04 in reply to Comment 63443

Ignore all that. The ones that came up are all in Hamilton, New Zealand which leaves just the Y.

I would still like to know what the by law infractions were.

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By Freedom Seeker (anonymous) | Posted May 12, 2011 at 12:47:06 in reply to Comment 63444

Mr. Meister said: "I would still like to know what the by law infractions were."

This is just a guess since I have not seen the notice of infraction but I suspect that it was simply that they were operating a hostel and the zoning bylaw does not mention hostels.

Under the criminal law you are allowed to do anything you want, as long as it is not prohibited by some statute; But under the zoning bylaw you are not allowed to do anything productive with your land unless it is explicitly permitted.

From the zoning bylaw available here:
http://www.hamilton.ca/NR/rdonlyres/656E3E0A-16D0-4AED-B09D-51543D091D5E/0/Section4GeneralProvisionsMay2810.pdf

"4.1
PROHIBITED USES
With respect to any lands to which this By-law applies, all uses are prohibited unless specifically permitted in this By-law."

Isn't central planning a wonderful thing....

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By BACKPACKER (anonymous) | Posted May 12, 2011 at 21:40:53 in reply to Comment 63447

This can't be true!

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted May 12, 2011 at 17:56:33

We tried opening a hostel a few years ago and while waiting for the city to get its act together we abandoned the idea.

There is no bylaw on the books that mentions hostels at all. The closest one is "rooming house" but unfortunately we all know that a "rooming house" is not the same thing as a hostel.

Most hostels have rules that require everyone staying there to have a permanent address outside of the city, and there are length of stay restrictions. This ensures that the facility is used by tourists and not as a flop house for locals.

It quickly became clear that "rooming house" was not going to fly in the area we were considering opening - due to the negative stigma associated with them, neighbours would likely reject any applications on the grounds of not wanting a flop house next door. This is completely understandable.

To overcome that road block, we decided to register as a bed and breakfast and simply not provide breakfast. We'd advertise as a bed and breakfast but do so on hostel websites - basically running a hostel-like bed and breakfast marketed explicitly to hostel travellers. This would mean a smaller guest capacity and a more difficult business plan, but we were willing to give it a go because we believed that was a huge pent up need for quality, inexpensive accommodations downtown for international backpackers and young regional travellers.

When we approached the city for an application for B&B, we were told that "the B&B bylaws are being rewritten and we are not taking new applications at this time". Over the phone, I spoke with at least two city staffers who outright told me to "just open without a license, it's really your only option". Of course no one in city hall would ever put their job security on the line by stating that publicly, nor have their name attached to that piece of advice.

All of that was four years ago. After two years of waiting we gave up on the idea permanently as they were STILL not accepting B&B applications. For all I know, they're not accepting applications to this very day.

Everyone who takes a high and mighty attitude that people "should have followed the proper process" and are "lying in the beds they make" (pun intended), please wake up to the fact that the proper process is simply NOT POSSIBLE TO FOLLOW for most would-be entrepreneurs.

Unless you are willing to pay a lobbyist big bucks to use their connections -- and your money -- to pay their way through the system, most every-day-citizen's applications and bylaw process get stuck in the mud and go nowhere.

This city needs to wake up to the fact that it will NEVER be rebuilt on the backs of big-bucks developers. City hall seems only to be willing to work with the big guys, but none of the big guys are interested in anything other than tear-downs and speculation.

We need to pave a smooth path for the little guy if we ever want to turn this city around, make it attractive to more residents and businesses, and build our tax base.

Until city hall gets this figured out, each and every one of us will pay higher and higher taxes for an ever crumbling city.

Wake up council and wake up staff - before it's too late.

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By SuperTech2094 (anonymous) | Posted May 14, 2011 at 16:29:57 in reply to Comment 63455

Are you the gentleman who runs the bike shop, seancb? I have been meaning to bring my Dutch Gazelle in for a check up for ages now.

Your above points are right on the money and I wish I had the eloquence to get it out like thar. You should cc those comments to everyone in City Hall. Well said.

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted May 13, 2011 at 13:46:48 in reply to Comment 63455

... I've heard stories about how cheap a lobbyist can be from cynical Americans. How much does DiIanni charge?

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By Robert D (anonymous) | Posted May 12, 2011 at 20:58:41 in reply to Comment 63455

They're too busy wasting staff time re-evaluating Pan Am stadium sites, and fighting tax paying businesses when they should be rewriting outdated bylaws and figuring out that their landlord (Hamilton City Centre for over a year) owes them thousands in back taxes.

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By Backpacker (anonymous) | Posted May 12, 2011 at 18:54:39

I have stayed at Hamilton Guest House on my travel through Hamilton on my way to Niagara Falls and it was an amazing place. Do any of you know the people who run this thing? I learned about it from Kennedy Jones who runs backpackers.ca. Very sad. This place was converted from a derelict rooming house into a progressive establishment for those on a budget *which is most people* and if it wasn't for this place, I never would have discovered the pearl that is Hamilton. The hosts of the place are tireless promoters of the city. In my short stay I was directed to a fabulous Thai restaurant, a Nepalese styled Indian place and *one I wouldn't have normally even noticed because of its exterior* Mexican place. My perception of a dirty Steel Town was changed entirely by the Hamilton Guest House. I hope that there is some sort of grassroots and political will to help turn this tide.

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By say what (anonymous) | Posted May 12, 2011 at 21:48:38

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By banned user (anonymous) | Posted May 17, 2011 at 12:28:33 in reply to Comment 63462

comment from banned user deleted

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By dear idiots: pay attention (anonymous) | Posted May 12, 2011 at 22:27:29 in reply to Comment 63462

That's fine and dandy, but a hostel is NOT A LODGING HOUSE.

If it were possible to register a hostel as a lodging house, these fees would all make sense.

The problem is that you CAN'T EVEN GET THAT FAR.

For one thing, you need an absurd amount of parking in order to even be considered. Anyone who has any clue in their head about what a hostel is would know that the parking restrictions alone are just patently absurd.

Global Village Backpacker's Hostel in Toronto has OVER TWO HUNDRED BEDS and ONE F'N PARKING SPACE!

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By Steve (registered) | Posted May 13, 2011 at 08:58:17 in reply to Comment 63464

And they use it to park their own van!

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By and another thing (anonymous) | Posted May 12, 2011 at 22:32:43

on garbage day, you can't park in their ONE PARKING SPACE, so it's really only 6/7 or a space.

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By JMorse (registered) | Posted May 13, 2011 at 06:59:45

Since making Hamilton my home in 2009, I've been puzzled and annoyed at the parking requirements for new developments and businesses. Now I'm enraged. So this city is made for cars or people? We need to forget about making space for cars. There is so much parking available in the downtown it's sickening. And I'll try not to get started on the perceived traffic problem.

As seancb notes above, focusing solely on big investments is not the answer. Small sparks of life are being smothered by our cumbersome and stubborn bureaucracy.

The hostel is like a messenger trying to bring news to the outside world of our secret paradise. We've done our best to shut it down rather than support it. I'm baffled.

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By jason (registered) | Posted May 13, 2011 at 08:49:35 in reply to Comment 63466

Since making Hamilton my home in 2009, I've been puzzled and annoyed at the parking requirements for new developments and businesses. Now I'm enraged. So this city is made for cars or people?

Did you even need to ask that question? This should be the city's new logo: http://www.stationwagon.com/gallery/pict...

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By Undustrial (registered) - website | Posted May 13, 2011 at 11:54:43 in reply to Comment 63470

They'd never go for it. There's too many trees.

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By Tnt (registered) | Posted May 13, 2011 at 08:54:04

Also for changing it to a different use we have to pay a fee to the COA and also hire an architect. An architect for a building built in the 1840s.

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By BobFallow (anonymous) | Posted May 13, 2011 at 19:32:50

A friend of mine, finishing her doctorate, stayed and recommended Hamilton to me. I have tried contacting them, but they seem to have vanished. Is it that harsh a law that they are shutdown instantly?

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By SuperTech2094 (anonymous) | Posted May 14, 2011 at 15:28:15

The owner of this place and Amy Kenny from the above OpenFile article appeared on The Forum today 820 CHAM. The owner, Tanya, sounds like a New Zealander, and obviously has a great concept of travel and hostels. New Zealand has a fantastic hostel market, as Me.Meister above posts. Who and where are the people with power to amend these draconian bylaws? Shoehorning them into a Lodgin House definition is borderline criminal. It makes me so angry.

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By Reason over chaos (anonymous) | Posted May 15, 2011 at 10:27:47

I too stay at Hamilton Guest House. I came to Hamilton because of the potential of the city. Recently I have purchased a home here and am very happy with all the activity going on here. I attended Art Crawl Friday, very SoHo like. This story makes me very sad. I am almost brought to tears thinking others won't be able to use this wonderful resource to come to the city. When I finish my purchase and find out my councillors they will hear from me on this issue.

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By rednic (registered) | Posted May 16, 2011 at 18:23:48

Well now hamilton has a real tourist attraction ... Morelli world ( i think from the king st east post) .. A great tour of cool places shut down by a city that didn't understand how to save itself.

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By Art Brut (anonymous) | Posted May 17, 2011 at 12:40:14

Hamilton: Backpacker-Hostile

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By TnT (registered) | Posted May 27, 2011 at 15:32:40

I know the post is kind of old and probably still not read, however we have been making progress with our property. I am very thankful for all the words of support given by everyone on this post and by private emails received. We are at a stage where we are weighing our options and hope that a great positive will come out of this. Thanks everyone involved.

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