CENTRAL Hamilton

Downtown and the core

The exact borders of what constitutes Central Hamilton aren’t totally agreed upon, but for our purposes we’re looking at the lower city between Queen Street in the West and Wentworth in the East. This area isn’t geographically huge, but the neighbourhoods are diverse, historic and, in a way, tell the story of the changes Hamilton has gone through culturally, socially and economically in the last century. 

 

Central Hamilton is sometimes referred to as The Core and often used interchangeably with “Downtown Hamilton”, which is technically the area between Hunter, Queen, Wellington and Cannon. Whatever you call it, this area has undergone huge changes in its density in recent years (and still increasing) with the recent introduction of several completed condo projects and the announcement of many more to come right in the core. 

 

What’s the biggest defining characteristic of Central Hamilton? Well, it always seems to be at the center of some form of political debate in the City. LRT is definitely the most notable (and frustrating) one of the past decade or so. Yes, you heard that right… a decade. Is it happening? Only time will tell, but no one can accuse us of not passionately arguing over every single pro and con of this massive transit investment. 


In terms of housing and neighbourhoods, Central Hamilton has a little bit of everything. Downtown, you’ll find trendy condos like the impressively revived Royal Connaught and the Theatre Lofts. The streets running off of James North in both Central and Beasley have lovely classic brick homes, both detached, semi and row-style which are in high demand, especially for those that are moving here for the first time. Sought-after Durand is a largely residential neighbourhood situated between Central and the edge of the escarpment. In terms of housing, this area is quite mixed with single families, low rise and high rise options. As you get closer to the escarpment you’ll find some incredible historic homes, noted to be one of the best preserved areas of Victorian and Gothic mansions in the country. 


Just east of Durand, you’ll find the Corktown and Stinson neighbourhoods. Corktown has a dense mix of old character homes (many converted into multi-family units), low-rise residential, and some newly developed townhome blocks. Stinson is home to the development of the old Stinson School into lofts by Toronto and now Hamilton based developer, Harry Stinson. This neighbourhood is one of those famous for being nestled up against the base of the escarpment with lots of big character homes, many had previously been converted to multi family homes and are making their way back to single family.

 

Finally, the North End – this neighbourhood has long had the reputation of needing to be avoided. Oooooh, the north end!! But in recent years, with the redevelopment of James Street North and the extensive plan for the Waterfront, this community has once again become known as a trendy and upcoming place to be. It is a family friendly community that features a mix of styles of homes, as well as many long term residents who were born and raised and have remained loyal to their community. It gives you easy access to many of the access points into and out of the city via Burlington heading East and Cannon heading West to the 403. Some much needed and welcome redevelopment is happening specifically with affordable housing in mind – like the Indwell units on James North. It’s no doubt that gentrification is a big topic in the city right now, so it’s important that developers and planners keep in mind that we have a great mix of people here to incorporate into all plans.

THINGS TO DO

There is just about something for everyone in Central Hamilton. Right in the middle of downtown you’ll find the rejuvenated Gore Park area, which has been completely transformed in the last five years. The guys behind Sonic Unyon have opened up an arts and event space at 95 King East, Mills Hardware. But we’re also seeing some great new businesses that already seem like long time neighbourhood staples like Red Church and super popular chain Kenzo Ramen.

 

The downtown mall is Jackson Square which connects some of the downtown business towers to the Central Library location and to the Hamilton Farmer’s Market – one of the oldest markets in Canada! Recent years have seen the resurgence of attention to the market which has struggled with renovated spaces and temporary locations  – the traditional favourite vendors have been joined by a group of independent food stalls that are introducing great new foods on the small scale – like Mexican Kitchen and The Flying G’nosh

 

James Street North and King William are the main area that gets all the attention in with a strong group of small business owners coming in and filling up the empty storefronts and restaurants. Some old and new faves include iFiori, Pretty Grit, and Chocolat. Along King William (Restaurant Row), you’ll find a great dining scene (and summer patios) like The French, The Mule, and The Diplomat. Of course, once progress is seen as sustainable, you do start to see rents increasing and some of the smallest are being forced to look elsewhere, but there is lots of room to grow in Hamilton and this positive progress is starting to spread East along Barton and in the downtown core towards Beasley. You only have to check out the page of independent restaurants to see how much eating is going on down here! This strip of stores, coffee shops, galleries, and old school veggie markets are walkable for residents and a great place to spend the day for those from other neighbourhoods or regions. This area is also super connected to the music scene in Hamilton with Dr. Disc and Sonic Unyon all right there. 

 

The International Village, to the east of Gore, park has an active BIA that is changing the face of King East – as is evidenced in this Vignette video series produced by Double Barrel Studios – great spots there include True Hamiltonian, VintagesoulgeekStudio205, Circle Studios. Also make sure to check out a show at Theatre Aquarius. 

In Corktown, you’ll find a bustling restaurant and pub neighbourhood along Augusta and on James and John Streets South. In 2018 the city held a competition for a mural to replace the old one on James south that was wasting away and the winner was “Gateway” by Vivian Rosas and Vesna Asanovicit – it looks amazing and has totally brightened up that stretch!

 

And let’s not forget the North End! The Collective Arts brewery on Burlington St is home to delicious beer but also hosts amazing shows like Lowest of The Low (!!), pop up food events, outdoor events in the beer garden and even an annual music festival. The amazing artwork on the outside of the brewery is such a bright beacon on the grey industrial strip. The North End is also home to Grandad’s Donuts – don’t ask, just go and get them you won’t be disappointed!

FOOD & DRINK

Berkeley North
My absolute fave pick in the city,  service and food never disappoints – get the fresh cheese, thank me later – oh, and the avocado salad.

Rapscallion & Co

Formerly a staple on John St S, The Other Bird have brought their unique dining concept to James North.

Noodle Me

To-die-for noodle spot in a strip plaza off Wilson St.

Mesa 
Used to be Mex-I-can and now with it’s new menu and new location, it’s gotten even better!

ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT

Supercrawl

A true Hamilton experience, Supercrawl was founded in an indie music and visual arts festival founded in the spirit of Art Crawl on James St North.  The festival is one of Ontario’s largest with over 200,000 visitors annually.

Workers Arts & Heritage Centre (Custom House)

Dig into Hamilton’s roots as a working class city. This not-for-profit centre runs art, history and cultural exhibitions on the subject of labour justice. Housed in the Customs House (1860), the building itself has a fascinating history and is also available to rent for events.

Live Music

Catch a concert in downtown Hamilton at one of the many venues of different sizes. You’ll find bigger acts at the First Ontario Centre and Concert Hall. Smaller acts can be seen at Mill’s Hardware, The Studio, and the brand new New Vision Music Hall.  

NATURE

Bayfront Park

Just steps from downtown at the end of Bay St, Bayfront Park is a gem in the lower City. Features a beautiful waterfront trail for walking and cycling, ample picnic areas, and naturalized areas. 

Pier 4
Connected to Bayfront Park by the Waterfront Trail is Pier 4 – another waterfront park. More family oriented, the park has a grounded tugboat-turned-playground for kids to explore.

Wentworth Stairs
At the base of the escarpment between Stinson and St. Clair (officially beginning East Hamilton) is the Wentworth Stairs. Popular with exercisers, but also a great way to get access to the Rail Trail or climb all the way up to get to the Mountain Brow Park.

FILM & TELEVISION

WAIT, IS THAT HAMILTON?

Have you ever watched a movie or show and thought, wait – do I know that place? Chances are your gut is right. Hamilton, and partcularly the Central area, is hugely popular as a filming location – standing in for American cities like New York, Boston, Detroit, and even LA. The historic homes of Durand are heavily featured in The Handsmaid’s Tale and locations like Liuna Station can be spotted in X-Men, The Hulk, and The Umbrella Academy (to name a few). The City’s popularity with location scouts is testament to its unique urban infrastructure and historic housing stock (and, okay, a fair amount of grit).

 

 

Click here for a list of productions filmed in Hamilton.

A LITTLE BIT OF HISTORY

Incline Railroad

At the top of James Street, there was once The Hamilton & Barton Incline Railway. Open 1895-1931, the incline was steam-powered and the primary mode of transportation up and down the escarpment. The flatbed platform carried pedestrians as well as cars, farm carts and horses. Another similar railroad was in place at the current location of The Wentworth Stairs.

Image courtesy of the Hamilton Public Library, Local History & Archives

Gore Park

Gore Park has a long history and is an important piece of Hamilton’s history. Sold to George Hamilton (a hustler by all accounts) by James Durand in 1806, this oddly shaped piece of land became a Town Square right in the centre of Hamilton and also functioned as the administrative center of The Gore District, a political region in Upper Canada at the time. Many of the original buildings and features of the park are still here today and many advocates have fought for them to be preserved for future generations. 

Image courtesy of the Hamilton Public Library, Local History & Archives

Whitehern

Whitehern is a historic home right in the middle of downtown Hamilton that now operates as a museum. The house was home to three generations of the McQuesten family, who were active in medicine, law, and politics throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries. In 1959, the three surviving members of the family bequeathed the home to the City with all its original contents. The public garden at the back of this property is very Secret-Garden-ish! 

Image courtesy of the Hamilton Public Library, Local History & Archives