LivingArts: Telling Our Stories; Or, An Introduction of Sorts

If we write what we know, then Hamilton informs everything that I have ever created and will ever create. It may not always feature prominently in my work, but the nuances of the city — making fun of the city in one breath and defending it to the death (especially against Torontonians) in the next; the absurdity of finally getting your table at Mezcal after waiting for over two and a half hours and trying to decide whether you’re still hungry or not; the frustration of having to explain to people that, yes, it’s called a mountain and, yes, I’m fully aware that it’s not actually a mountain — inform everything that I do.

You see, I’m a Hamiltonian through and through. I grew up on the Mountain, but the blue collar work that defined this city for generations runs in my veins. I’m the son of a former Stelco worker of 30 years who grew up just off of Burlington Street, went to Scott Park Secondary School, and played in the area that became the stereotypical image of the city to those outside of Hamilton. (You know exactly which image I’m talking about.)

Much of the Hamilton my father knew, however, is gone. Stelco is still technically here, but it’s not the same. The lot where Scott Park once stood sits vacant, waiting for a new school (or, knowing Hamilton, another Shopper’s) to eventually be built in its place. Most of the houses on his old street, including the house he grew up in, were bought by developers and flipped for profits. For all intents and purposes, the Hamilton he knew is gone.

His memories of that Hamilton still remain, though. My dad proudly talks about his time at Scott Park as if it were still standing across from Ivor Wynne today. Very occasionally, we’ll drive by his childhood home and he’ll tell stories about my late grandmother and the neighbours, some living, some dead, that he still remembers by name and all of the trouble he and his brothers got into while living there.

My Hamilton, however, is one of change and transformation. I never dreamed of working in a steel factory. Instead, I studied English Literature at McMaster (and quickly realized their plan to own every square foot in Hamilton). I frequent the coffee-houses and art joints downtown, but I couldn’t tell you my neighbours’ names. I do still refer to Stelco as Stelco, but I think that’s due, in large part, to the fact that I haven’t been able to keep up with its name changes over the years. The list goes on and on, but I think you get the point.

Through all of the differences, though, there is one thing that remained the same. In Hamilton, it’s not our steel or our art that defines us; it’s the stories that we’ve created together. We’re a city of storytellers. So, when I say that Hamilton runs in my veins, I’m not talking about Stelco (aside from the pollution), or Scott Park, or McMaster, but rather the stories that we tell each other to create a personal, mental portrait of Hamilton as home.

All of this is to say that my life as a writer in Ontario’s biggest little town is anything but ordinary. From the death of the Steel City to its resurrection via the arts, I like to think that the transformative energy of Hamilton - of Supercrawl, and gritLIT, and coffee-houses doubling as art galleries (looking at you, Mulberry) - is what inspires me to write and encourages me to keep writing. The city’s stories are my own stories, and as long as they’re still being told, I’ll be here to write them down.