Volunteer and Guest Blogger
Welcome to another edition of "Two Sides of Barton." Our resident guest blogger and senior correspondent Linda Kraan-Benson has lived in the Barton Village neighbourhood for twelve years, and she's bringing readers an in-depth account of her experiences of the neighbourhood, from the perspective of both a passionate, engaged community member and a senior citizen navigating issues of accessibility and social connection in a city whose infrastructure can present serious challenges. Read on for the first leg of Linda's walking tour of Barton Village, in which she explores the grounds of the Hamilton General Hospital.
Today, I will discuss the Hamilton General Hospital, one of the cornerstones of the Barton Village neighbourhood. Part of the larger Hamilton Health Sciences Network, the General, as it is loving referred to, is not just about medical care, though it certainly shines in that department. Long known for its burns unit, the General is also now renowned for its stellar cardiology department.
As a pensioner, I am encouraged to have such a hospital in my own backyard. If I need to go to the ER, it is a mere five- minute walk for me. Of course, I am not suggesting you put a visit to the Hamilton General as a patient on your to-do list, but I encourage you to take a walk around the grounds of the hospital, whenever you have the chance.
I encourage you to begin with a walk around the outside of the building. I was extremely impressed with the alleys and walkways, the “hidden” courtyard, and the lovely manicured gardens. When I first moved to the neighbourhood, I would often take a walk to the hospital, grab a coffee from their café, and go sit in their gardens. There are many chairs and benches, surrounded by the solitude and the whispering of their many bushes and trees. Once you are inside the courtyard, the silence is overwhelming; gone is the noise of the emergency vehicles and the hustle and bustle of foot traffic to the hospital.
Beyond the main doors of the hospital, there is a fabulous little gift store. If you have never visited there, I hope you do. They sell everything from books to clothing, and they have some of the most beautiful shawls, pants, and skirts — very trendy, I must say. There have been times when I needed a small gift, in a hurry — you know those moments when you are invited out for dinner, or when you have forgotten someone’s birthday? Well, I have often gone into that little store and found that perfect gift, from kitchen plaques to candles, from dolls to jewelry, faux plants to real living foliage, from watches to earrings. You need baby gifts? They have them in spades, as well as cards, magazines, and so much more.
Of course, you will find a coffee shop on the main floor of the hospital, where you can buy breakfast sandwiches, muffins, soup, and the normal cafe fare. As writing of this blog, the larger cafeteria on the lower level is in the midst of renovations. [Editor's note: renovations have since been completed, and the new downstairs cafeteria features a slew of great lunch options, Starbucks coffee in addition to the house cafe, and a beautiful, well-appointed seating area]
On one of my walkabouts, I spotted a sign that said “Go Tango.” Curiosity got the better of me, as it always does. Upon locating the entrance, on Wellington Street, I found a perfectly sized restaurant. Here, you can find the flavours of the Mediterranean, from snacks with humus, to pita wraps and so much more. A perfect little hidden gem.
One thing the General is known for is its rooftop helicopter pad -- it's the only hospital in Hamilton to have one. Although of course you can only view it from street level, the helipad is a great place to take the kids to; it's really exciting for the little ones to get to see the helicopters landing and taking off. Of course, many living close to the hospital may not agree with me -- after all, hearing the hum and whir of the copter at three o'clock in the morning may not appeal to many -- but isn't it wonderful to know that we have this facility here in our own backyards, saving countless lives over the course of the year? What a wonderful service we have, so close to home!
Over the twelve years that I have lived here in Barton Village, I have watched the hospital expand and grow as new specialized departments have opened. A few years ago, a rehab and wellness department was added on, and more recently the Ron Joyce Children's Health Centre. Parking lots have opened along Barton street, with several more lots lining Victoria avenue.
As the hospital has grown, its staff have seemed to venture more along Barton Street and become part of the community, especially those shops that have opened up along the blocks between Victoria and Emerald Avenues over the past few years. I hope that as the hospital continues to function as an anchor of the Barton Village neighbourhood, more people will be motivated to explore the grounds and realize all that the hospital has to offer, beyond some of the best medical care in the province.
We're so excited to introduce Barton Village resident, volunteer, and guest blogger Linda Kraan-Benson. Linda moved to the Barton Village area around twelve years ago, and swiftly set to work getting to know the neighbourhood, its residents, and business owners. We're delighted to have her as a guest blogger, sharing her unique perspectives on Barton Village. Linda is especially interested in making neighbourhoods accessible for their senior population, and her posts will explore Barton Village from a senior's perspective, covering all sorts of hidden gems along Barton while raising broader issues around how to create safe, liveable, and inclusive neighbourhoods.
Okay...take it away, Linda!
TWO SIDES OF BARTON - from a Senior's point of view
At the time I moved to the area, this piece of Barton street seemed to be in some sort of inertia. I noticed that some once-beautiful buildings had declined into a fragment of their former glory. Yet the essence of these buildings, and the general atmosphere of the street, brought distant memories of a long-ago vibrancy.
I was not born in Canada, having moved from across the pond in 1982. I raised my two boys in the serenity of Waterdown, once a part of the Halton region, now part of Hamilton. Once the boys flew the coop, I had an urge to move to Hamilton, though I can honestly say: I have no idea where that urge came from! Specifically, I had no idea of what Hamilton had to offer, nor had I even visited the city on more than a handful of occasions, yet the urge was there, and so I moved, first to the mountain. (I honestly have to say, being a Brit, I did not understand why it was so called...to me it felt like a mere incline, "up the road', as we would say, but after a while, I too referred to this incline as "the mountain"! Amazing how titles and words take hold and leave an indelible impression in ones mind...)
A few years on, another gut feeling hit me: this time, it was the urge to move down into the lower city. You have to understand, at this point I had never visited the lower city; after all, I was warned never to venture down there. I had visions of all sorts of misdoings, from street crime to the more serious. People would ask me why I thought there was a jail on Barton street, and I had no answer. But, to the chagrin of my mountain-raised neighbours and friends, I decided to take the plunge and move downtown. I probably could not have chosen a "worse" area to move to. At the time, I really didn't know the difference; I was looking only at the value of real estate. I mean, where else could I have bought a beautiful, all-brick house, with a spectacularly sized backyard and double parking space, for the low cost of $99,000? This was 2009, and prices were rising rapidly elsewhere.
Ok, so I bought a house next door to the "infamous" Emerald Street -- hey, what did I know? I was in awe of the beautiful old houses, the wonderful, family-operated stores, and the vibrancy of my neighbours, from all walks of life: Italians, French, Portuguese, and a lovely couple from Jamaica. Just a couple days after moving into this neighbourhood, I decided to take a tour of Barton street, on foot. Each day I would walk, from Wentworth as far as Kenilworth and back -- mind you, i was much younger and much fitter in those days, and wore out many pairs of running shoes. I can no longer walk so far, so these days I typically walk two or three blocks at a time.
I came to know of the many "drug houses" in my new neighbourhood, and other "seedy" operations around me. Slowly, I got to know many of the "street ladies". And I came to know where I should walk during the darker hours, and where not to. As the years passed, I witnessed a "cleansing" of the neighbourhood, as I personally called it. Slowly, some of the "sweat shops" and the drug houses shut down. Houses went up for sale, and outsiders would trickle in. To say I have seen an enormous change, an emergence in the this neighbourhood, does not do justice to it. This has become a vibrant and exciting place to live.
For the sake of this blog, I will break down Barton Street, into two sections: going east from Wentworth to Sherman and going west from Wentworth to Ferguson. As the months go by, I hope you will take this journey with me, along the two sides of Barton.
Wow, what a weekend! We want to say a HUGE thank you to everyone who attended our Books for Barton book sale in September and October and contributed to raising funds for more free community programming in Barton Village. And of course to everyone who donated books, to the wonderful volunteers who gave up their time to help out, to all the businesses who helped make it happen, and to everyone who spread the word. Our hearts are warmed by all the love and support we received from the community from the moment we first had the idea to do a big fundraising book sale. We didn't quite anticipate how much hard work it was going to be -- this former bookseller should have known better! -- but it was so worth it to see the community come together in support.
We're especially grateful to property owners Malleum for letting us use the space at 337 Barton free of charge, to Crumbled for letting us borrow their power to light up the space, to our amazing volunteers, and to all the community members who lugged bags and boxes of books to our office or neighbouring businesses to support the cause! We raised over $700 to go towards free community programming like our outdoor movie nights and the Barton Village Festival, and even more importantly, we got to know so many of our neighbours.
For a while there our office was so crammed full of books that we could barely move around, but it was worth it to have the opportunity to meet and chat with so many members of our community! We got the chance to explain to area residents what the BIA is and what we do in the community, and were delighted that so many people expressed a desire to get involved, whether with neighbourhood beautification initiatives, volunteering for events, or helping us raise funds.
The number one question people asked was "When is this event happening again?" Truth be told, we'd initially planned it as a one-time thing, but in light of the community response, we've reconsidered. So...stay tuned for the next installment of Books for Barton, coming soon!
This past weekend Hamilton played host to Concrete Canvas Festival, an amazing grassroots street art festival that celebrates the role of art and collaboration in creating vibrant communities for all citizens. All over the downtown area and beyond, artists created massive street murals on walls in need of some love. As soon as we heard about the festival, we started a making a mental list of all the blank walls in Barton Village where we'd love to see brand new art pieces, and we're so glad that the organizers reached out so that we could connect them with some of these great locations.
Started in 1995, Concrete Canvas is a multi-day visual arts festival with full support from the City of Hamilton where local and internationally acclaimed artists alike gather in Hamilton over one weekend to paint murals live across the city. Not only is it an opportunity for artists to come together, connect, and collaborate, but it's also an effort elevate the visual landscape of the city while simultaneously inspiring a new generation of artists. Concrete Canvas is a one-of-a-kind self-guided event series that brings the Hamilton community together to celebrate art, music, culture, and diversity, not just over one weekend but also beyond, as all the new art pieces become part of the communities they exist in.
We talked to Leon Robinson, the founder of Concrete Canvas, about what the festival has brought to the city. He and lead curator Scott McDonald both grew up in Hamilton and have seen firsthand the value that art can bring to every community. We spoke about the stigma attached to certain areas of Hamilton, something that Concrete Canvas Festival tries to push back against, elevating street art to show the beauty and vibrancy it can bring to communities of all kinds. "Every community is deserving of art, happiness, and a peaceful place to exist," says Robinson, and this is the message that Concrete Canvas strives to bring to the city at large.
To download a map of the festival and check out all the featured murals, head over to Concrete Canvas's website, or check out the slideshow below to see some of the incredible murals up around Barton Village and elsewhere in the city!
Emily O'Brien is a woman on a mission, and the delicious popcorn recipes she dreams up as owner of Cons & Kernels are just a small part of that mission. When Emily was arrested on a drug-trafficking charge after becoming involved in an unhealthy and predatory relationship, her life took a huge turn. Imprisoned as a first-time offender in a federal facility, she knew that she could choose to make the best of the situation, and so she set out to turn her life around. Having always been interested in health and fitness, Emily was nervous about how to maintain a healthy lifestyle and balanced diet in prison. She soon noticed that women would use the ingredients available to purchase with their allotted food budgets to create popcorn recipes, and an idea was born. When she was released, she would start a popcorn company. Not only would she create delicious, healthy recipes inspired by her time behind bars, but she would also use her business as a platform to educate others about her experience, and about how easily life can take a wrong turn.
Well aware of the stigma that having a criminal record brings, Emily decided that rather than moving forward by trying to forget the past, she would embrace her experience and use her energy to fight stereotypes. With flavours like Jailhouse Cheese, and a fingerprint sticker sealing every bag, Emily isn't afraid to poke fun at herself, and this lighthearted, humorous approach pushes back against the stigma attached to being an ex-con. Her goal as she grows the company is to provide reintegration opportunities for others who've been through the system, and to spark meaningful conversations about the justice system and life after imprisonment. You can read more about Emily's experiences as an inmate and an entrepreneur on her blog, and you can pick up a bag of her so-good-it's-criminal popcorn at Business Out of the Box (414 Barton Street E), Stir it Up Cafe (312 Barton Street E), The Hop Urban Market (24 King Street W, Dundas), or order online. We're so excited to see Cons & Kernels thriving, and we can't wait to see what Emily does next!
We've been so delighted to see all the news coverage the Business Out of the Box pop-up has been getting recently. CHCH News covered the project's launch, the Spectator recently ran an article about the shop and two of its vendors, and this month's Herald (the Gibson-Landsdale neighbourhood community paper) features a piece on Business Out of the Box and other woman entrepreneurs who've recently set up shop in Barton Village. Here at The Barton Villager, we're continuing our series of vendor spotlights, helping you get to know the people behind this great project.
We recently sat down for a chat with Tanya, the creative force behind Lit Candle Co. You've probably come across Lit's amazing scented candles in your local shopping adventures: Tanya has more than 20 stores across Canada carrying her products, including The Barton General, at Barton and James, and The Handmade House in Dundas.
As a Barton Village resident, Tanya says she's so excited that this pilot project is happening here in her own neighbourhood. She's called Barton Village home for about a year now, and like so many of our residents, she points to the strong sense of community she feels here in Barton Village, and the sense of transformation occurring as more locals open businesses and work on creative endeavours here.
Lit Candle Co. began as a personal project for Tanya in September 2017. Dealing with illness, she found herself unable to work a regular job and started brainstorming creative ways to bring in income. She began making candles with organic soy wax, hand-poured and with locally sourced ingredients. She initially thought it would be a hobby, but within a week, she'd made her first sale. Spurred on by this early success, she devoted her energy to the business, and by Christmas of that year, Lit Candle Co. was fully operational.
Like every year, we loved following along on social media and seeing everyone's photos of all the fun they had at Barton Village Festival. This year we were particularly blown away by the incredible pictures that local photographer Dee Kassa posted on Instagram. They so beautifully capture the spirit of Barton Village Festival, so we reached out to ask if we could repost them, and he generously emailed us his original image files. We love how Dee's images focus on the small moments of community that are the building blocks of Barton Villages Festival -- and of a safe, fun, and livable neighbourhood! Check out the pics below, and see more of Dee's photography on Instagram or Shutterstock.
Originally part of an old-growth forest called Land's Bush (after Robert Land), Woodlands Park, on Barton between Wentworth and Sanford, was at one time one of Hamilton's most important cultural hubs. Known as "The People's Park," Woodlands was the site of labour organizing, including a 10,000-strong march to Stelco at the height of the workers' strike in 1946.
The 1946 strike was a major event in the nascent labour movement that grew alongside the postwar economy. Hamilton's economy and working conditions changed a great deal over the course of World War Two, with industry booming to keep up with the efforts overseas. After returning from war, many workers were no longer willing to put up with the working conditions they'd accepted before. The fight for democracy overseas strengthened citizens' sense of democracy at home, and the labour movement coalesced into a series of strikes throughout 1946. In July, steelworkers union members walked off their jobs at Stelco, demanding higher wages and a 40-hour work week. In solidarity with the steelworkers, employees at Westinghouse, Firestone, and the Spectator also walked off the job and joined the picket lines. By mid-summer, 20 percent of the city's workforce was on strike, culminating in the massive labour march beginning in Woodlands Park.
Hamilton artist Murray Thomson, who was a production worker at the Westinghouse factory and also organized an artists' union, led the march dressed in a masked effigy of Conservative politician Nora Francis Henderson while other protestors marched in effigies of abour opponents like Stelco president Hugh "Old Ironjaw" Hilton.
The Playhouse Cinema were great supporters of the workers' cause, serving up food to the strikers, arranging entertainment for them, and generally helping to keep morale high.
The workers triumphed in 1946, but the momentum didn't last. In an effort to disperse the crowds who formed a movement together at Woodlands Park, the city first cut down almost all of the beautiful old-growth trees that filled the park, gutting the space into a bare field to make it less hospitable to gatherings. Nonetheless, the labour movement had made great strides that summer, ultimately forcing the federal and provincial governments to pass more meaningful labour legislation that would help protect workers' rights for decades to come.
If you've been following our social media channels, you'll know that we just can't stop talking about the wonderful Business Out of the Box project and all the talented local makers whose work can be found there. So: we're kicking off a series of blog posts profiling some of these incredibly skilled artists and crafters. First up? Bone and Rust jewellery, made by local artist Corey Odrach.
Corey’s beautiful handmade jewellery takes inspiration from the natural world and its cycles as well as from Hamilton’s industrial heritage. Their works combine scavenged materials such a bones and rocks with recycled leather and textiles and industrial metals like copper and steel, resulting in a hard-edged beauty that celebrates decay as a transformative state. Corey’s DIY ethos comes through in their approach to crafting their handmade pieces, which blend raw natural materials with beautiful hand-shaped organic forms.
After growing up in Mississauga and living in Toronto for a time, Corey moved to Hamilton a year ago and decided to call Barton Village their home. Corey says that they’re so thankful to have landed in the neighbourhood right when so much incredible grassroots change is happening, and they’re excited to be a part of it with Business Out of the Box.
Stop by Business Out of the Box to check out Corey's pieces, visit their Etsy shop or follow them on Instagram!