#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.

Wanted #Heritage and Condos – Examples

Gore Park Buildings
Soon to be gone!


Wanted – examples of adaptive reuse of heritage downtown buildings with condo developments. 

Does anyone have examples from around the world that I could show how historical buildings in downtown Hamilton can be saved? 

Need 19th century examples of wholesale  goods merchant buildings.  I have lots of examples of warehouses and churches that have been adaptively reused.

At the moment, there is a local developer who plans to save two of 4 face fronts of 1840s.  Two other 1870s buildings are to be demolished. 

This is time sensitive request. 

I am hoping to write an article for a local blog (Raise the Hammer) making the economic case for saving these buildings.  Would like to publish the article by weeks end (of June 24th).  Developer may start work before the end of June 2013. 

Thanks in advance for all replies.

Heritage group asks the Ontario Government to stop demolition of Gore Park Buildings.

According to an article by Ryan McGreal in the online publication, Raise the Hammer, the Architectural Conservancy of Ontario (ACO) asked the Minister of Tourism, Culture and Sport to stop the planned demolition of the two 1870s buildings overlooking Gore Park at 24 and 28 King Street East and designate the buildings under the Ontario Heritage Act.  The ACO argues that the saving of these buildings and the landscape is no longer a local matter but is now a provincial responsibility.

Gore Park Buildings – I want to believe but I want to act!

To be demolished! To be saved?

I am willing to believe but I want to act!

I am willing to believe that the developer is a good guy with the best intentions for the downtown.  He appears to have saved and restored several buildings in the downtown area.  He is willing to be flexible and change some of his plans for two of the four historical buildings on King Street East.  He is willing to invest millions of dollars in development when many properties generate almost no income or stand vacate until they decay or burn down.

I am willing to believe that the City’s Economic Planning Council and City Council as a whole wants the very best for the people of Hamilton.  They want to bring people back to the core and raise their families and enjoy the many great things that this ambitious city has to offer.  They want both small and large businesses to thrive.  They want people to find good paying jobs that allow them to generate more jobs and more taxes and more services.

I want to believe and I do believe.

So, why are we surprised when the Planning Council or City Council want to say yes to developers who are willing to invest millions of dollars in our City?

Are we really so surprised that developers, who have grand visions and act with the best intentions, run into problems caused by unexpected costs, hidden structural problems, and hiccups with financial backing?

Anyone who buys an old house or has renovated a bathroom knows that nothing turns out as originally planned.

Crap happens!

Does this mean losing two 1870s buildings is acceptable?

My answer is no!

The buildings of Gore Park are the physical and spiritual heart of this City.  Any changes to this area must be given careful consideration, particularly when it affects buildings with history.

Buildings matters, architecture matters, landscape matters, and history matters!

Even trees matter, and if you doubt this just go to the library and look at the reaction of folks in the Hamilton Spectator to the cutting down of century old trees in 1983.

Urban landscapes matters because it affects our experience of that space and as a result, we are all stakeholders and we have a right to say how that space is used.

If you believe that we should leave it to the developers or the politician, you simply don’t know your history of the city, particularly when it comes to Gore Park.

Ask yourself, what happens if the condo market goes bust and we are left with a bunch of empty glass boxes?  Was that worth the destroying of our history?

My family has lived or worked in this city more than 100 years and I want to know that before you destroy something that it will be replaced by something of greater value.

Turning our backs on the past is not the solution.  It actually robs the character that many urban dwellers are seeking.  We used to live on Bold Street for a number of years in a 1850s stone and brick building with twelve foot ceilings, two great fireplaces and thick, thick walls.  We had a nice little coffee shop around the corner and the YMCA five minutes away.

When we sat on the porch we were surrounded by beautiful 1860s to 1910s buildings that had been modernized into apartments units that are now attracting top rents.  The developer of these buildings knew their value and knew that his investment in saving these buildings would pay off.

This is one vision for the City; another is the countless 1970s apartment buildings just up the street.

It is our city, the kind of development we get is our choice – all we need to do is act!