#savethegore – There is Great Opportunity Here!

Today, the Hamilton Spectator (September 25, 2013)  reported that the City was willing to offer financial incentives to developers to protect the heritage of their properties.  Unfortunately, the developer does not appear to be that interested.

Building With Great Potential
Building With Great Potential

Someone said that the development of this city block will be the biggest project since Jackson Square. There is a real opportunity for everyone involved to create something really great.

This city block is at the heart of Hamilton and connects several communities (Corktown, Durand, and Beasley) and business districts (Civic Block, James Street South, James Street North, Jackson Square etc). It is at the crossroads of three major streets (Main, King, and James).

To develop this area will need a lot of money, why not protect the investment for the long-term by ensuring the citizens and visitors come to your doorstep? There is the opportunity to change the site from a place you pass through to a place you play, shop and work. The potential is there, we just need to grab it.

#builtheritage – Our Priorities Reflect Our Values

I believe we must step up our game if we are to make any progress in saving our built heritage.

#SavetheGore - We must step up our Game!
#SavetheGore – We must step up our Game!

Yesterday, the Globe and Mail reported that a committee of Toronto City Council had approved Ryerson’s request to not install the “Sam the Record Man” neon sign.

In the original agreement between the City and the School, Ryerson was required to restore the sign to its former location. Now they are being allowed to back out of this agreement.

The neon sign now sits in storage waiting to be displayed once again.

So, we keep fighting the same battles – over and over again.

It is my belief that heritage can only be protected if developers and city councils appreciate not only its aesthetic worth but its economic value as well.

Clearly we are not there yet!

In Hamilton, you just have to look at the following points (as reported by Raise the Hammer and other media sources):

  • There has not been a single historical designation in the past 5 years.
  • The City’s Heritage Planning Department lacks the staff to quickly process the required paperwork for designation.
  • The media keeps promoting the view that we “can’t save everything.”
  • There continues to be a lost of heritage worthy buildings to intentional demolition or neglect.

Yes, more heritage designations are part of the solution, but the real answer is a change of attitude by developers and city hall.

There must develop a consensus that heritage means jobs and economic growth.

As heritage advocates, we must make a strong and clear case to the community that heritage matters.

We can do this through organization and education.

Here are some simply actions we can take as first steps towards this goal:

1.)    Use those chain emails that are circulating among some of us to alert people to positive and negative reports in the media.

2.)    Take a few moments and a few words to comment on those articles in the media.  How many articles in the press have not received a single comment?  The larger community needs to know your views – it really does matter! Otherwise, you allow the anti-heritage to dominate the public discussion.

3.)    If you belong to a heritage group then you should be at the forefront of the fight by writing to the media editors and politicians at the local and provincial levels. We are all in this fight together.

4.)    If you love history, attend lectures, and read books about the past, then use that knowledge to save the history that still stands today. Why imagine how those early settlers steamed into Port Hamilton and pass the lighthouse (our version of the stature of liberty) to start a new life when you can actually visit it.  Why imagine the store where they purchased all the things need for a new life when you see it today – The Kerr Buildings.

5.)    Finally, use social media to spread the word about the value of heritage.  By using our networks of friends, we can reach out to others and start to build a case.  People who know you will value your opinion much more than anyone else.

We can save our heritage but we have to step up our game.

#SavetheGore – A good Mayor can make the difference!

#SavetheGore is possible with the support of the Mayor.

On August 15, 2013 – the blog, Raise the Hammer, noted the inaction of Hamilton City Council to the heritage concerns surrounding the Gore Park buildings.  Several readers commented on the success that Oakville was having with their heritage properties.

Hamilton City Hall
Hamilton City Hall

In response, I wrote the following on August 18th:

My impression is that the current and past Mayors of Oakville have played a vital role in promoting the adaptive re-use of heritage buildings.

As a result, Oakville is becoming a real success story, combining the best of the past with the best of the present.

People often get frustrated with individual councillors for not adopting a wider vision.

This lack of vision shouldn’t be so surprising.

It is natural for councillors to be most concern about their own wards, unless they have a special interest in heritage.

This is why the Mayor’s position is so important.

While the Mayor has only one vote, he or she has the power to promote a vision to council and to the voters in each of the wards.

So, having a pro-heritage Mayor is key.

Unfortunately, pro-heritage voters are spread across the city.

Within each ward, they are unlikely to have the numbers to make a difference at election time (unless it is a close race).

This is why councillors may feel free to ignore their concerns.

The Mayor’s position is different.

All pro-heritage voters can participate in the election of the next Mayor.

Furthermore, the current Mayor does not have a lock on re-election.

Anyone who is proud of Hamilton and wants this City to be great should have no problems with the kinds of visions being discussed on this blog (Raise the Hammer).

It is time for the Mayor to do the right thing.

Saving historical buildings is more than about saving history, it is about a city that actively promotes good transit, strong neighbourhoods and creative industries.

It is time for creative city advocates to remind the Mayor to do the right thing.


Hamilton Sketches – The Kerr Building – 1840s

Hamilton Sketches – The Kerr Building -1840s

The Original Kerr Building - 1840s
The Original Kerr Building – 1840s

By today’s standards, the modest structure on King Street East seems like nothing special, in the 1840s however, it was one of the most powerful money machines in Hamilton.

The pen and ink drawing above depicts the original building we now call “the Kerr Building,” likely constructed around 1846.  Kerr would then buy and extend his business to the building to his left sometime before the end the 1840’s (not shown in this drawing).

Archibald Kerr knew he was building something special: he chose a location that was at the heart of the newly minted city (1846); and he chose to construct his building with stone.  At the time, most buildings were still constructed of wood.

Hamilton suffered from many fires and as a result, there is not much left of our early history.  Really, there is only a handful of pre-1850s buildings left.

After the 1840s, fire codes came into existence and builders were eventually required to use stone or brick.

To my mind, Kerr was trying to make a statement with the Kerr Building.  It showed that he had arrived and was joining Hamilton’s elite society.

The source of Kerr’s wealth was the hundreds of people arriving from England and Europe who wanted to  take advantage of new farm lands opening up to the west of Hamilton.  Arriving with almost nothing, Kerr would exchange their few financial resources for goods they needed to set up a home and farm.  This activity made him rich very quickly.

In 1836, he and his brother, Thomas Cockburn Kerr, formed “A. & T.C. Kerr and Company.”  Ten years later, they constructed the Kerr building on King Street East and then expanded the operations to include the building next door.

In 1850, with new partner John Brown, they opened a branch in London, Ontario. During this same period, he founded the Burlington Bay Dock and Shipbuilding Company to help with his importing of goods.  He also founded the Canada Life Assurance Company with Hugh Cossart Baker Senior in 1847.

So, how wealthy did Archibald Kerr become?

1.)    By the early 1850s, Kerr was living at the former estate of Robert J. Hamilton.

2.)    By 1853, he had built a beautiful home called “Inglewood” on a large piece of land just west of James Street South and below the mountain. The house still exists but the surrounding property has been sold and developed.

3.)    Two years later (1855), Kerr is able to leave the day-to-day operations of the business to his brother and retires to Scotland – leasing a manor house near Edinburgh.

So, after only 10 years, Kerr establishes himself as part of Hamilton’s elite.

Within 20 years, Kerr is wealthy enough to retire to a manor house in Scotland.

To give some perspective to Kerr’s success, this is at a time when most people in Hamilton worked 12 hour days and could only afford to rent a small room or building.

No wonder people called Hamilton the Ambitious City.

Source notes: Some of the above information was drawn from the Dictionary of Hamilton Biography (1981) by Thomas Melville Bailey.

Gore Park – Demolition on Hold

Demolition on Hold
Demolition on Hold

Press Release – Councillor Brian McHattie’s Office.

July 9, 2013 – Hamilton, ON – Early this afternoon, Councillor Jason Farr, Mr. David Blanchard and his representatives, city staff from Planning & Economic Development including Heritage Planning, as well as staff from the City Manager’s Office met. At that meeting Councillor Farr requested and it was agreed that any demolition would be stopped on the 24, 28 King St. Gore Park buildings as a solution is sought to maintain the architectural and heritage character of the Gore properties. This interim step allows time for continued community input, as well as dialogue between Mr. Blanchard and city staff.

 Furthermore, staff has also requested that an independent peer review be done of the engineering report undertaken by the owner of these properties as an immediate next step.

“I want to thank Mr. Blanchard for his willingness to seek a solution”, said Councillor Jason Farr.  “There has been a significant focus on citizen input and engagement the last little while and it is important that it be considered in our decision making process.”

“Gore Park is important to this entire community. I remain committed to finding a solution that allows us to maintain the architectural and heritage character of Gore Park while also trying to move forward with this exciting project,” added Councillor Farr.



Dale Brown
Executive Assistant to
Councillor Brian McHattie
Ward 1, Chedoke – Cootes
City of Hamilton
phone:  905-546-2226

Howarth Writes Minister Chan

Horwath writes Minister
Horwath writes Minister

Two weeks ago, I emailed Andrea Horwath’s Constituency Office and asked for her help with saving the historical buildings in Gore Park.

I wrote that “several historical buildings overlooking Gore Park are in danger of being demolished in the very near future (likely in July). Community activists have been trying to get City Council to save these building but with no luck. The Architecture Conservancy of Ontario (ACO) has written to Tourism and Culture Minister Michael Chan to intervene by using the powers granted to him by the 2005 Ontario Heritage Act but he refuses to take action. Since Gore Park and these buildings are within Andrea Horwath riding, I would like to ask if she could speak with Minister Michael Chan and see if she can encourage him to use his powers to save these important historical buildings.“

I just got a reply saying that MPP Horwath has sent Minister Chan a letter asking that he intervene in the proposed demolition.