(Stair)case Closed

The Staircase was never just a business, but grew into a bona fide community centre, filling an important niche as a home for independent thought and expression.

By Ryan McGreal
Published June 16, 2005

Much as we respect and admire the Sky Dragon Co-Operative for its efforts to develop a community meeting space, the fact is that the Staircase Cafe and Theatre has been serving that function for years. It was never "just" an independent theatre, or cafe, or restaurant, or bar, or music venue.

For seven years, proprietors Kathy Garneau and Hugh McLeod and their dedicated staff have run the Staircase much more like a community centre than a business. It has been host and home to everything from film festivals to comedy festivals to children's drama companies to school fundraising events to political action workshops.

People thought Kathy and Hugh were crazy to open such an ambitious project downtown - north of King Street, no less. Nevertheless, they combined Kathy's passion for theatre with Hugh's passion for improv comedy and wrangled a retired hydroelectric substation into a wonderful theatre.

They rounded out the theatre with a program director with an encyclopaedic knowledge of indy filmmaking and a talented chef with a passion for healthy, fair-trade ingredients. Since then, countless residents, both local and from all over the GTA, have been drawn to the Staircase.

The Staircase was never just a business, but grew into a bona fide community centre, filling an important niche as a home for independent thought and expression. The Staircase has always been anti-corporate and pro-human, in the sense that it celebrates real artistic achievements and real community engagement instead of mere passive entertainment.

Sadly, after seven gruelling years, Kathy and Hugh have decided it's time to move on and focus more on their family. No one should begrudge them their decision - in fact, it may be too much to hope that anyone could step in and carry on with the same passion and dedication to the community.

Still, Raise the Hammer hopes that whomever buys the Staircase does so with the same goal: to provide a rich, diverse home for creative and positive community activies of all kinds. Perhaps it could even turn into a real non-profit; that seems like a logical progression for a business that has always been more a labour of love than a cash cow.

We wish Kathy and Hugh the very best on their future endeavours and congratulate them not only on running Hamilton's finest community theatre but also on taking a well-deserved break to concentrate on their family. Thank you for seven years that made us all prouder to live in Hamilton.

Ryan McGreal, the editor of Raise the Hammer, lives in Hamilton with his family and works as a programmer, writer and consultant. Ryan volunteers with Hamilton Light Rail, a citizen group dedicated to bringing light rail transit to Hamilton. Ryan wrote a city affairs column in Hamilton Magazine, and several of his articles have been published in the Hamilton Spectator. His articles have also been published in The Walrus, HuffPost and Behind the Numbers. He maintains a personal website, has been known to share passing thoughts on Twitter and Facebook, and posts the occasional cat photo on Instagram.


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