Paul Wilson Recalls Our City Our Future

By RTH Staff
Published May 29, 2012

In a poignant and bittersweet column for CBC Hamilton, Paul Wilson takes us back to the turbulent summer of 2010 and the passionate Our City, Our Future citizen campaign to build the Pan Am Stadium at the West Harbour instead of a suburban field next to a highway.

Transported by an old OCOF poster still up in the window of a Big Bear convenience store at Wilson (the street) and Wellington, Wilson (the writer) recalls the campaign and the disappointment that followed it:

Yes, that old sign scratched a memory still sore. But, if anything good came out of that hard summer, it was the Our City, Our Future movement. It began with the bloggers at Raise the Hammer and evolved into a site of its own.

Citizens signed on to say why they believed a stadium on the waterfront would be good for Hamilton. They wanted it in the core, so they could walk or take transit. A toxic piece of the beautiful bay would be given back to us all.

I just checked. It turns out is still there. Untouched, perfectly preserved. There are 3,495 named supporters, and nearly half have left comments. Not one liners. They are pouring their hearts out.

It's a digital time capsule of dashed dreams.

OCOF was a watershed moment for civic engagement in Hamilton.


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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted May 29, 2012 at 08:59:38

OCOFII - livable streets?

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted May 29, 2012 at 09:38:33


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By Mithril Grill (anonymous) | Posted May 29, 2012 at 10:08:55

A time to remember. I doubt it will ever be equalled... the tentacles of that debate played on some very fundamental and longstanding psychological anxieties. I can't imagine another debate that could have the kind of legs and visibility that PAG2015/OCOF/WH/EM/IWS2.0 did. (School closures should have a lot of mojo but haven't come close.) You'd have to compress the half-century Red Hill saga into a two-or three-year span to begin to approximate the roil and roar. The mainstream adoption of social media has aided this cause immensely, but it can also have the less salutary side effects of creating a lot of white noise, vicarious activism and issue fatigue.

Meanwhile, the system just plods along, oblivious. For example, here's a Hamilton Chamber of Commerce presentation regarding provincial transit amendments from April 2009 and which manages to talk exclusively about trucking routes:

True walkability proponents or just deft PR flacks? Time will tell.

"There's a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious—makes you so sick at heart—that you can't take part. You can't even passively take part. And you've got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon the levers, upon all the apparatus, and you've got to make it stop." - Mario Savio

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted May 29, 2012 at 12:28:27 in reply to Comment 77452

(School closures should have a lot of mojo but haven't come close.)

Depends on the person. People who were born in Hamilton, realizing what the closures will do to their childhood neighborhoods? I know a lot of generally apolitical and somewhat conservative folks who are seething about the closures.

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By Mithril Grill (anonymous) | Posted May 29, 2012 at 13:15:30 in reply to Comment 77470

I'll grant you that. I'm just thinking of an issue capable of reaching tsunami force city-wide over a sustained period, and perhaps garnering provincial/national media attention in the process.

People relate to individual school closures but the issue is hard to concretize in the same way that the stadium fiasco was. However deep the nostalgia runs, it's not a matter of civic identity/mythology of equivalent scale to the Ticats melodrama. And (half-baked theory alert) I imagine that's why they're able to shut these schools with relative ease.

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By Mithril Grill (anonymous) | Posted May 29, 2012 at 13:24:08 in reply to Comment 77479

Even aside from the Cats, the stadium debate also animated dreams about a rejuvenated waterfront, exacerbated upper/lower, east/west, urban/suburban tensions and sparked debate about the limits and purpose of public investment as an economic developemnt tool. The story/issue had visibility and staying power because of this layered meaning that arose from being sited at the crossroads of so many robust narratives. That and the constantly telescoping deadlines as well as the operatic events around the municipal election pushed the watchability meter into the red again and again. It's hard for me to think of another issue that would offer so much to work with. But then this is a surprising place with a legendary capacity for folly and outrage, so I'm prepared to eat my shoe.

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By banned user (anonymous) | Posted May 29, 2012 at 10:33:28

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

You can change or disable this comment score threshold by registering an RTH user account.

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By jason (registered) | Posted May 29, 2012 at 13:46:10 in reply to Comment 77456

Wow. Revisionist history or what? Hamilton voted for a mayor who proudly wore a 'West Harbour' t-shirt and called the East Mountain site "crap".

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By z jones (registered) | Posted May 29, 2012 at 10:45:08 in reply to Comment 77456

Yes Allan Taylor, you would.

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By Serendipity (registered) | Posted May 29, 2012 at 12:52:40

Paul Wilson's words are very emotional and one can feel that he still considers the stadium not being located at west harbour a great loss. My stance is the same it has always been - the stadium did not belong at the west harbour. This is not only my personal opinion, it was the opinion of the City, Hamiltonians, and local residents in the North End, Beasley, Barton-Tiffany neighbourhoods way back in the early 2000's when the City came up with Setting Sail, a city-wide planning initiative for the west harbour and an Environmental Assessment was carried out. The whole city was invited to the planning processes.

Staff, council, citizens and local residents voted overwhelmingly to scrap the idea of a stadium (which came suddenly into Setting Sail when we were gunning for a shot at the Commonwealth Games). The reasons why the west harbour and a stadium were not a good fit were many; reading reports from that time explain more fully than I can here.

I think it was unconscionable of someone at City Hall to open pandora's box without mention of the official plan which did not include a stadium at WH. Personally, I found many pro-west harbourites very aggressive and was confused as to why they seemed uninterested in the fact that all Hamiltonians were invited to participate in the planning that resulted in Setting Sail. Actually, Setting Sail was just one of many plans going on in the area prior, during and after the 'no stadium' in west harbour decisions and no one, absolutely no one in the City raised a stink about it. Why? Because the right decision made by citizens and city staff and council determined the stadium a bad fit in 04 or 05. The City engaged the public and they spoke loud and clear against a stadium.

Yup, guess I'm still a little emotional about it too; a lot of effort was put forth by both sides of the last, literally, WH stadium debate and the inevitable happened: the Feds (main funders) understood the validity of the no-stadium decision in the first EA process, culminating into the this day, I believe that's the only thing that brought the stadium debate to a grinding halt, no money, no stadium. However, it was a shame that the Mayor and councillors and David Adames had no regard for the EA and OP from the outset and pressed their desires on a public that had little , if any, knowledge of the years long Setting Sail and West Harbour planning that engaged/involved citizens from all parts of the city.

In the end all that came of the west harbour (apart from recent demolitions) was too many people were forced to leave their homes because less than 4,000 (mentioned in article) supported a stadium in the barton-tiffany neighbourhood.

The whole sad saga of a combined ignorance of past official plans; needless, painful and cruel expropriation (which today sounds almost illegal considering no stadium will go there); and, utter contempt of Environmental Assessments could have been avoided if the pro-stadium in the harbour folks had respected, no matter how much they didn't care for them, but had really respected the very excellent planning and EA processes that the public and city had carried out, completed and declared a stadium in WH a complete dud.

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By brendansimons (registered) | Posted May 29, 2012 at 15:51:48 in reply to Comment 77474

What happened to the Barton Tiffany block in the years before and since the stadium decision? Absolutely butkiss! I don't care how wonderful the Setting Sail plan is, it's useless without money (c.f. our cycling and transit master plans). The harbour stadium would have brought investment to a neighbourhood that desparately needs it.

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By Zephyr (registered) | Posted May 29, 2012 at 14:56:30

@Serendipity - you do not speak for all the residents of the North End. I doubt you even speak for a majority of them. I am a North End resident who supported the West Harbour location for the stadium, and I personally know many of my neighbours who share my sentiment. I personally do not believe sports stadiums are a huge economic catalyst (witness the current Ti-Cat stadium locale). There are only 10 home games a season, after all. However, if huge sums of public money were to be spent on building a stadium, then the money should have been spent where it would open up a new, highly-desirable location to new investment.

So where is the money for remediating the WH to come from now? And how is the vaunted Setting Sail plan to be implemented? I think we just blew the city's entire Future Fund on replacing Ivor Wynne.

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By Vod Kann (anonymous) | Posted May 29, 2012 at 16:07:20 in reply to Comment 77510

"So where is the money for remediating the WH to come from now?"

Where was the remediation money coming from when the stadium was going there?

I'm not trying to be a smart-aleck I legitamitely don't know if that was formally established before

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By Serendipity (registered) | Posted May 29, 2012 at 16:44:00

Zephyr, I think you missed my point. The "majority" of not only North Enders, but all Hamiltonians, including the City, involved in the years-long planning processes voted not to have a stadium. Not sure what your views were during that time but a yea to the stadium vote, just 4 years or so before the pan am debate, back then would have put you in the very slim minority. In fact, I can't think of one person who wanted a stadium during the commonwealth stadium time; rather, people were relieved the stadium saga was over back then.

As well, if you are not aware, an EA does pack some punch for the City, Prov and Feds and, for citizens, is a protection of sorts. Some loud, and late, voices to the party cannot simply overturn an EA. The WH stadium locale was doomed from the start of the pan am process; unfortunately, no one told the pro-west harbour folks the truth and ultimately they were strung along for some time before the whole picture came out. I can understand your, and others, frustration for I would be fuming too if I had been taken for a ride; however, I was part of the city-wide planning process, including the EA, and knew all along the WH stadium wasn't going to fly during a second round of "games" talk."

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