Lost in a Community

By Daniel Rodrigues
Published June 10, 2011

Hamilton, Ontario is full of 'communities'. This is very clear in the former towns and villages which now comprise the Hamilton supercity. Being one of the few bi-level cities in North America, divided by the Niagara Escarpment, the former (and smaller) Hamilton has a 'lower' and 'upper' side to its development.

Placing the name "Upper" before a street name should be taken in its literal sense. Upper James Street runs north/south on the Niagara Escarpment, whereas James Street also runs north/south but below the escarpment.

As a port town in the early beginnings, one can clearly see the development and growth of the local neighbourhood communities within.

In the 70s, suburban development or sprawl spread horizontally south on the Escarpment, versus vertically in the lower city. That sprawl left out one key component, which was "community".

Ask folks who live in Ancaster where they live, and they'll reply "Ancaster". Ask folks who live in the lower City where they live, and they'll tell you "North End", "Keith Neighbourhood", or the "Beasley Neighbourhood". In just about every example, the answer identifies in clear context as to where that individual lived.

Ask folks who live on the escarpment where they live, and the answer varies from "on the Mountain", "East Mountain", or "West Mountain". Very rarely do you hear "Berrisfield Park" or "Lawfield".

While these names exist for Mountain neighbourhoods, there is very little in the way of community markers to indicate to a visitor or resident that they are indeed in a 'community'.

To illustrate my point, I will look at the area from Upper Ottawa to Upper Gage (east/west border) and Limeridge to Mohawk (north/south border). According to the City of Hamilton, this area is called the Berrisfield Neighbourhood.

Absent of scientific research, I would feel more than comfortable to say that less than 20% of residents who live within this area actually know that they live in Berrisfield Neighbourhood.

Conversely, if I took an area bordered by James and Queen Streets (east/west border) and the Escarpment to Main St. (north/south border), which according to the City of Hamilton is called the Durand Neighbourhood, I expect that greater than 75% of the residents would know that they live in Durand Neighbourhood.

What appears to separate these two communities are businesses - or, rather, the lack of them in the case of Berrisfield.

Both communities have a junior public school, and while Berrisfield has a public high school, this location is slated to close in the next 3-5 years. Durand does have a church, Berrisfield does not, and I'm not sure that is relevant today but it may have been in earlier days.

Living and playing in one's neighbourhood seems to hold true in either location; however, it's quite unlikely that the employees of the few businesses which are within the Berrisfield Neighbourhood actually live there.

Therefore, just about every employable person within Berrisfield leaves their house to work somewhere outside of their community. Based on the number of businesses within the Durand Neighbourhood, the situation cannot be the same.

Coming from London, Ontario where folks answered those "Where do you live?" questions with neighbourhood or community identity responses, and now living in Hamilton, I am continually awed by those who live in either the lower City or the former towns and villages who mention where they live without apology.

Residents of the 'Mountain' (as it is referred to) seem lost in responding to the question. "I live on the mountain."

Just once, I would like someone to tell me that they live in "Barnstown Neighbourhood" or "Thorner Neighbourhood" or even "Yoeville Neighbourhood". Better yet, I'd like someone to tell me where they are, without looking at a map.

this essay was first published on Dan's personal website

Dan Rodrigues was born and raised in London, Ontario, where he was an active community member in East London. He moved to Hamilton in late 1996, residing on the East Mountain. He has been married for 27 years, with a son who works with adults with physical and mental disabilities, and a daughter completing her degree in Chemistry at Western University this coming year. He is an active community volunteer, sitting on a number of committees and Boards, as well as coaching soccer. His professional life includes food and beverage industry sales and consulting, building industry sales, human resources consulting, and transportation consulting. Dan's diverse skills inventory allows for fuller discussion and better understanding of individual and community concerns. Currently, Dan is campaigning to be the Ward Six Councillor.


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By RonMiller (registered) - website | Posted June 10, 2011 at 14:53:48

Funny but true post. All my life I have lived on the mountain. West mountain, until recently I tell people I live in the central mountain. But observing the map I actually live in East Hamilton? Fennel and Upper Wentworth, who would have thought that is East Hamilton neighbourhood? But if you ask me where Corktown is I know, where is Durand? I know that as well. I never lived there though. Delta, St. Clair and Westdale easy, and of course we all know where the North End is. From now on I will tell people I am from East Hamilton. I am sure they will ask me if I live near Parkdale Avenue though, lol. Great Post.

Comment edited by RonMiller on 2011-06-10 15:01:22

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted June 10, 2011 at 17:07:12 in reply to Comment 64806

Calling that East Hamilton is going to confuse people. I mean, it seems pretty reasonable to think of Limeridge Mall as the centre of the mountain.

Either way, though, the mountain is such a large and simple grid that it's simple to just refer to the local cross-streets.

For me the harder area to discuss is Stoney Creek - I mean, people just use the term Stoney Creek to refer to the entire eastermost region of the city, both upper and lower.

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By Community (anonymous) | Posted June 10, 2011 at 20:10:45

Great post and this is why I feel Hamilton lost an opportunity to rename itself during amalgamation. Something like Macassa Falls would have been great the people would have used that along with their community names so it would be less of the Hamilton vs the smaller communities amalgamated with.

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By mike_sak (registered) | Posted June 10, 2011 at 22:14:57

You basically point out the qualities of suburban neighborhoods.

Like you said, on the mountain there doesn't seem to be many distinguishing features that could be used to easily label a neighborhood. How does Berrisfield differ from say Rolston (Westmount)? It doesn't really, except maybe for the age of housing stock.

I wouldn't say mountain neighborhoods are lost, I'd say they just aren't as important as in denser urban settings.

Comment edited by mike_sak on 2011-06-10 22:17:35

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By bit3bybyt3sbybit (anonymous) | Posted June 11, 2011 at 01:00:50

I do not think many zoom in on the map and notice.Parkdale runs through alot of neighbourhoods. Not my current one though. Mountain seems to be the one feature people distinguish.There are so many other features though. But the interesting thing i noticed was mcmaster.,Hamilton,+ON&gl=ca&ei=ZfLyTYKLAsqatweU7bj3Bg&sa=X&oi=geocode_result&ct=image&resnum=1&ved=0CDQQ8gEwAA

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By Nord Blanc (anonymous) | Posted June 13, 2011 at 12:33:33

Heritage is no small part of that community identification. Considering that the Mountain essentially stopped at Concession until the late 1920s, then surged out to Rymal over successive decades, the lack of generational identification with their "neighbourhood" is not as strong. This is less true of certain post-war builds -- Ancaster’s Spring Valley, for example, maybe Dundas' Pleasant Valley. To Hamiltonians of a certain age, the Westdale would be seen pretty much the same, I'm sure – it's an interbellum suburb, but still a suburb. Since the 80s, people tend to identify suburban neighbourhoods as developers' subdivisions – Ancaster's High Park, for example – which seems as valid as surveys.

Gets complicated, though. Where would you expect that the Bartonville neighbourhood would be found – Main & Kenilworth or Barton & Sherman?

There's also the urban propensity to self-identify as a neighbourhood resident, something that is generally of less concern to suburbanites. That creates its own spin-off effects, especially as displaced Torontonians venture here.

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By mystoneycreek (registered) - website | Posted June 13, 2011 at 15:25:56 in reply to Comment 64808

For me the harder area to discuss is Stoney Creek - I mean, people just use the term Stoney Creek to refer to the entire eastermost region of the city, both upper and lower.

This is a very intriguing comment in a very intriguing article that for me, comes down to identity.

It's all fine to have an 'It's a small world, after all...' mentality, but for me, identity includes a sense of place. I can't imagine every ridding ourselves of this, nor of clan, either.

'Stoney Creek' does present problems. To me, they should have renamed the part that was on the Mountain. It should not be 'Upper Stoney Creek'. (Even if informally.) There's a reason that people from Fruitland or Winona aren't from Stoney Creek, regardless of those communities having been absorbed pre-Hamilton amalgamation. It's because regardless of what the piece of paper says, they're not Stoney Creek. I think we play around with some pretty sizeable stuff with this blurring...even if it doesn't seem that way. People from Dundas are not 'Hamiltonians'. Neither are people from any of the other municipalities that were affected by Mike Harris's edict. (And while I still regard 'authentic' Stoney Creek to be The Golden Square Mile of Hwy#8 to the Escarpment, Gray Road to Centennial Parkway, I can concede that Stoney Creek stretches to the Lake and to the old boundary with Fruitland. Begrudgingly. But still has nothing to do with anything 'upper'. LOL)

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By Nord Blanc (anonymous) | Posted June 13, 2011 at 16:53:55 in reply to Comment 64855

Your observation regarding absorption is true of other outlying areas of the city as well. Stoney Creek's assimilation of Saltfleet a case in point. You could also look at Flamborough and the dozen or so sub-communities therein, or consider the turbulent history of the constituency of the antiquated Wentworth County.,_Ontario

All of which is part of our community's fractured heritage.

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By Nord Blanc (anonymous) | Posted June 13, 2011 at 20:38:46

This "lost community" idea came into play a bit during the EM Pan Am play – and the snarky quips about the Hannon Tiger-Cats. You'd also find it in Aerotropolis talk, which might touch on Mount Hope. But like Flamborough and Stoney Creek, the amalgamation bug struck in 1974 and again in 2001, so while the history is there (in Flamborough’s case, dating back to French expeditions and English conquests in the mid-17th and mid-18th century), it's not as eagerly compiled, and when it is compiled, it's often regarded as folksy trivia by Hamiltonians. (Perhaps this will be redressed this summer after the Waterdown-East Flamborough Heritage Society & Archives relocates temporarily to the Central Library's 4th Floor.)

And it's not just the historians drawing blanks. A lot of downtown boosters seem to feel lost outside the old, lower city. And the mountain geography doesn't help things, especially if you learned to drive post-amalgamation. East of Centennial Parkway is Stoney Creek/Saltfleet/Winona; West of Centennial Parkway is Hamilton – the east/west divide is marked by James, as it is in the lower city, with Upper Paradise and Upper Ottawa roughly the same distance to Upper James. (Wards 1-8 approximate the Old City.) And the old distinctions still have some heft to them. Despite the common topography, few Ancaster residents would consider themselves "West Mountain" and more than Dundas residents would think to describe themselves as "West Lower City". Admittedly, navigation is complicated, again, by the duplication of certain street names in amalgamater communities.

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By Undustrial (registered) - website | Posted June 14, 2011 at 09:13:26

There's definitely a fairly high degree of local community identification on some parts of "the mountain" - the co-op surveys along Stonechurch, former small towns like Greensville or the north end of the mountain (Concession, Brucedale etc). And even in our downtown communities, I suspect many residents would have trouble naming their 'hoods (though not as many). It's all a matter of degrees, and certainly not an absolute.

That being said, this is the number one reason I'd never live 'on tha mountian'.

The notion of community is very hard to define in practical terms. It's just also very hard to ignore.

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By Nord Blanc (anonymous) | Posted June 14, 2011 at 10:10:28 in reply to Comment 64874

Greensville was one I was thinking of – a place whose residents definitely don't think of themselves as belonging to Dundas or Flamborough. (I suspect Copetown, Lynden and Jerseyville may share a similar POV.) Depending on how long you've been living in the area, and how far you've travelled within the area, you'll be more or less aware of these kind of fault lines.

Funny, too, about "the mountain," a phrase which seems to apply to Hamilton alone. I can't say as I've ever heard someone talk about Flamborough Mountain or Burlington Mountain, despite the comparable elevation.

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