The rusty sincere charm we’ve lost


One of the things I like best about Hamilton, just down the lake from Toronto, is that while it is a serious cultural city, with plenty of working artists, galleries, concert venues and events to celebrate it’s active scene (not to mention one of the best recording studios in North America – Grant Avenue Studio), one doesn’t get the feeling that the place is ‘putting on airs’. More and more of Toronto looks physically hypocritical to me, because new-money keeps cutely celebrating the very culture that it inevitably (and quite deliberately) killed-off, right after arriving. A whole lot of the working-class texture that I used to adore about Toronto is yet visible here, though I have no doubt gentrification has its sights set – and my Hamiltonian friends likely see landmark-losses that I cannot, in their home turf.

Chums crossing (top photo)

To have level rail-crossings all over says more about the fundamentally industrial nature of this steel-town, than about budget or planning. Toronto had plenty of industry once – but it was generally managed-into vast waterfront zones and mid-town rail-corridors with elevated crossings and underpasses everyplace – so neither system interfered much with the other. But in Hamilton there are tracks all over the place – the scale of their urban rail penetration was well beyond any such constructions or confinements.

Anyhow, level crossings are in every way prettier and more nostalgic-romantic, though I’m sure getting stuck behind a long slow train when you’re already running late – as driver or pedestrian – could wear-out that novelty pretty fast, for some.

A car? – Why not car A!

Toronto is full of silly exotic Euro sports-cars that you can’t possibly drive to their capacity, anyplace that you can actually drive-to. No doubt much fine work is put into a Maserati – but what sort of an idiot in this day and time actually buys one, instead of a house for a worthy family, or an education for a doctor or two?

Hamilton’s pockets of old-money stonework and wealth reflect very different tastes. Granted, we did see the usual Beemers and Audis in fair number, but when it came to exotica – again and again we saw reverence for the excellent-old, over the showy new. Windsor’s finest classics – bulbous, batwinged and boxy, built with their own Hamilton steel – and going all the way back in automobile history (Ford set-up near Windsor in 1904).

Worth mentioning here for my American friends – the Canadian and American union movements owe each other much. In particular, the hard-fought (incredibly well organized, by determined veterans) Ford strike of 1947, in Windsor, just across the river from (and essentially twinned-with) Detroit, was considered by many to be a breakthrough agreement, paving the way for the post-war boom. Long gone now – but not forgotten by everyone – nor are the well-earned and tested fraternal bonds forged between so many.

Form and power – “The archers”

Of course Toronto still has plenty of hydro right-of-ways and transformer farms – but our downtown industrial lands are now all full of condo-owners, who want such realities hidden away behind hideous area-fencing and stunted planter-trees. Hamilton still produces actively, on a huge scale, which means there is little attempt to hide the infrastructure which supports this sinew.

Painters, photographers or any fans of industrial subjects for any reason, take note – Hamilton yet provides – in-plenty – as one of my favourite currently active painters, Hamiltonian Christina Sealy, proves again and again in her extraordinary work. Reflecting both the sublime urban loneliness of the man-made landscape, and the searching and sometimes aching gulf between humans, even in-relationship – twin obsessions which could not be more sympathetic, relevant, or endlessly fertile for creative discovery, her paintings make me love Hamilton all the more, for feeling as if I already know and share some of it’s quiet soulful questions.

More on her insightful and brilliantly-executed contributions to Hamilton culture, very soon.

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