As we seek to establish our place and identity, Hamilton tends to orient itself with relation to Toronto - but if we chose to, we could look east to the Niagara Region instead.
By Adrian Duyzer
Published February 17, 2013
"Hamilton should position itself as the gateway to the experiences of the Niagara Region - the vineyards, food, and agriculture of that area."
That suggestion was made by Ken Greenberg, writer and urban planner, during a renewal-focused event in Hamilton last summer. As we seek to establish our place and identity, Hamilton tends to orient itself with relation to Toronto, he observed - but if we chose to, we could look east to the Niagara Region instead.
His suggestion resonated with me then and still does, because when my wife and I are looking to relax and enjoy the finer things in life, it's the Niagara Region we tend to visit.
Not long after attending the event where I heard Greenberg speak, we stayed in a bed and breakfast in Jordan Village, a lovely place in the heart of Niagara's wine country. My wife and I were enjoying our first full weekend without the kids - and believe me, it is not hard to enjoy this place.
One of many vineyards in the region.
The countryside is picturesque. Rolling hills are covered in a patchwork of vineyards. Rustic fields are punctuated by modern wineries which range in style from traditional to modern. Regardless of appearance, the wineries offer a uniformly welcoming experience, featuring tastings of excellent wines and knowledgeable staff.
Wine-tasting tours in Ontario are a must-try experience.
It doesn't take long to realize that a deep appreciation for life's simpler pleasures has evolved here over decades. Wine, cheese, bread, locally raised livestock and locally grown fruits and vegetables are the pride of this place and make visiting it a true treat for the senses.
Local cheeses are second-to-none.
Then there's the outdoor experiences. In addition to being a rich source of adolescent jokes, Ball's Falls has gorgeous natural landscapes and forested trails, as well as interesting preserved buildings and historical artifacts.
Cyclists are common here and cycling feels safe, fast, and utterly enjoyable. If zooming down a sunny lane bordered by vineyards with a loaf of fresh bread, some fine cheese and a bottle of local wine in your backpack doesn't awaken profound joy, chances are you're dead or in need of medication.
Nor is the experience limited to the summer months. One of our favourite getaways is Niagara-on-the-Lake, where recently we happened to chance on the Icewine Festival, a superb event featuring top-notch food and the special type of wine that Canada leads the world in producing.
The experience is not unlike the experiences I've had in the wine regions of France and Italy. What's especially remarkable about this is that these experiences are just 30 minutes from Hamilton!
One of the big differences between this region, however, and the famous wine regions of Europe is that traveling in Europe is also a rich cultural experience. As picturesque as Niagara is, it does not have the history or culture that one finds in Bordeaux or Tuscany.
This is where Hamilton has an important role to play. As the largest nearby city, Hamilton has many cultural and historical experiences to offer, as well as many great restaurants that are more affordable and varied than the best wine country has to offer.
My sense that many people in the GTHA are clueless about this region, which feels like it's on a different continent than the one that's home to the gridlock on the 400-series highways, was confirmed by a winery owner who said that he hears comments to that effect by visitors from Toronto on a daily basis.
"Part of the problem," he said, "is that Ontarians have very limited access to wines from this area because of the LCBO monopoly." As a small producer, he is unable to produce the quantities needed to be permanently stocked on LCBO shelves.
Whereas small producers of other items (say, cheese or honey) have many alternatives to Walmart when it comes to finding outlets for their wares, wine producers have just one.
The bureaucratic system he described, where a board of tasters at the LCBO can reject a wine you've worked all year to produce, is the ultimate nightmare for any believer in free enterprise. Add to this several years of unpredictable weather and some producers are really struggling.
This makes a partnership between Hamilton and Niagara a win-win situation. Hamilton gets the benefit of additional tourists and a revamped image, while local producers get more visitors, more exposure, and more direct sales of their products.
Simple initiatives, such as producing maps that combine Hamilton cultural attractions with Vineland vineyards (with a few discounts thrown in), could start articulating a complete experience for visitors. Creating events in Hamilton based on this regional partnership could solidify the connection in the minds of GTA-based tourists.
As discussions about Hamilton's future, tourism potential, image and role continue to dominate much of the local conversation in our city, it's worth remembering that there are many possible directions and many untapped possibilities open to us. Turning Hamilton into the gateway to the Niagara Region is one worth considering.
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