Comment 53180

By H+H (registered) - website | Posted December 15, 2010 at 20:06:29

MY APOLOGIES FOR THE LENGTH OF THIS POST, BUT I HOPE YOU'LL UNDERSTAND WHY WHEN YOU READ IT.

isayrrr Like you, I have hesitated to add my voice to this dialogue, not because I'm not interested, but because I wanted to wait in order to gain some insights into the feelings and motivations of both sides of this debate. Your commentary has served as a catalyst for my input. My input is very personal in nature. I hope it says as much about me and what I believe in, as it does about the people who have attacked the work I'm doing as a fat cat on James North.

As some know, I operate Hamilton HIStory + HERitage at 165 James Street North. Have done so for 3 years. I own the building. It was empty when I bought it save for some remnants of the previous tenant, a Chinese cake shop that had gone out of business. HIStory + HERItage is a storefront museum that celebrates the lives of the men and women who have helped to shape the City of Hamilton. It's free to anybody who chooses to come in. Since I opened 3 years ago, well over 20,000 people have done so. Some rich. Some poor. Some white collar. Some blue collar. Some young. Some old. Some white. Some visible minorities. Some employed. Some unemployed. Some retired. All of them in love with their city. All of them genuinely interested in sharing and in hearing stories about living in Hamilton.

Why do I give you this background? Because I was one of 4 businesses singled out for direct, detailed and dismissive personal criticism by the Fat Cat haters. There's no denying I'm fat, but in no way am I the kind of "cat" suggested by the anonymous team who stickered my storefront and who wrote untruthful and misinformed text on their now defunct website. At first I chose to ignore the personal attacks. Now, I choose to provide some comments.

On that website, they criticized a poster campaign I featured in my window called "Choose Hamilton - Because there's no place else to go but up." They said the posters were pro-gentrification. That I wanted to clean up dirty buildings and neighbourhoods. What they missed was that all of the buildings featured in the poster series were of empty heritage buildings being torn down or left to fall down. This practice is, in my opinion, a disgrace that is hurting Hamilton and all of its citizens, no matter the adjective that's used to describe them. Apparently, the subtlety of my campaign was missed by those who criticized the work I was doing. Empty buildings are empty of both rich and poor workers and residents alike. They telegraph a complete disregard for our urban spaces, our citizens and our quality of life, no matter in which neighbourhood they are located. Derelict is derelict. Crumbling is crumbling. Lost is lost.

No one from this group ever came in to talk to me. Apparently they are not aware of the completely varied visitors I receive. Many North Enders come in. I know because they tell me proudly where they live. They share their stories. One such person was Ed, an 80-year old gentleman who came in to show me photographs his brother had taken growing up in the north end in the 1930's and 40's. His brother's name was Bill and he died during the war serving his country. Ed said he was his hero. I created a multi-media piece telling Bill's story that has been seen by a few thousand of people, including north-enders who have been forthcoming with sincere praise. So too have navy veterans. The work I do is all done for free. All focused on Hamilton. Copies of that DVD have been given to every member of the family, including grandchildren. All because I love my city and the people in it, no matter how much money they have.

I have done 2 exhibitions of photographs by a retired steelworker who came in to talk one day, providing him for the first time in his life an opportunity to have an exhibition of photographs he had taken on his many kilometer long daily walks he takes in his retirement in downtown Hamilton. He's not rich by any stretch of the imagination, but, like me, he loves his city.

I've done an exhibition with a guy who is on long term disability and who lives in the north end who takes really interesting pictures with his cell phone. He is thrilled. So am I.

I've given free large format photographs to a burn victim who lives in the north end who was featured in a photograph of a Sea Cadet band marching along James North in 1969 that I posted in a window on James North. He gave them to his sisters who still live in the north end and who knew many of the other teenagers in the photograph. I got the photograph from the remarkable old couple who have lived upstairs in the building next to me for 50 years who have supported what I have been doing since the day I opened. They don't have much money, but they have enough class to buy me little Christmas gifts just to show their support for what I'm doing. They talk to me. They ask me what I'm working on next. They bring in their friends to visit. Just like the people who bring out-of-print books about Hamilton in to me and give them to me to add to my Hamilton resource library. They never ask for money for their books, although some look like they could use the money. They only ask that I make the book available for anybody who comes in to see, which I do with gratitude. I pay for all of it myself. How? I guess because I'm a fat cat gentrifier who wants to drive out the poor. At least that's what some people tell me I'm doing.

I have contributed historical photographs of Hamilton to St. Peter's for use in their dementia ward to help stimulate residents' long term memories. Research shows that stimulating long term memory can increase a person's sense of well-being.

OK, enough about some of the things that are being done at HIStory + HERitage. Even I've had enough examples. (But there are many more)

This brings me to an important point. I get singled out in this so-called debate as a fat cat? I'm not hurt by that, but I am pissed off about it. Why? Because those who have attacked me have absolutely no idea what I do every day I'm open. They have no idea what people, rich and poor, have said to me about the work I do. They have not taken the time to find out. But they have taken the time to pay to print up stickers. To put them on my window. To pay for a website. To write ill-informed text about what a cancer I am. About how I have a complete disregard for the poor or disenfranchised. Really? If they use me as one of the poster children who is hurting the neighbourhood, then I hope you will question the very foundation of their argument, or at least their judgment in terms of the examples they provide.

There's an old phrase that this nonsense makes me recall, "What you are speaks so loudly, I cannot hear what you have to say."

I don't stereotype. I try to take the time to understand before I form an opinion. But I'll tell you this, I would rather spend a year listening to the personal life stories from people who others might not view as socially acceptable, or wealthy enough, than to spend another minute trying to figure out and/or debate the position of those who choose to launch uninformed personal attacks on people such as me.

Enough. I think it's time for them to work a little more diligently to become educated before presuming to educate others.

While my remarks may be interpreted by some simply as a personal rant, let me assure you my purpose is not to take the broader dialogue off track by dealing only with a personal example. The dialogue needs to take place. But it needs to take place with those who are open to true and honest dialogue, and not with people who initiate their debate with ill-informed personal attacks.

isayrrr, you said at the end of your post, "I've been really unsure of how to enter into a dialogue in which my own role and voice has been so clearly outlined for me before I even uttered a word." Trust me, I know the feeling. Like you said, I hope this is received well.

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