Hidden Hamilton: The Rail Trail

Sunday, 20 April 2014

We're known as a city of industry, but we're also a city of abundant green space. The Hamilton to Brantford Rail-Trail runs for 32 kilometres, connecting Hamilton to Brantford along an abandoned roadbed that was first used by the Toronto, Hamilton, and Buffalo Railway (TH&B) in 1894.

I've heard rumours that the Rail Trail is home to an abandoned mini-putt course, which is tucked beneath the escarpment, out of sight from the many joggers, dog walkers, cyclists, and wanderers who use the trail. So, on Good Friday, we successfully set out to find it.

I wish there was more I could say about this abandoned mini-putt course, but with the exception of this music video, it doesn't much exist online. Right now, it's surrounded by the brownness and bleakness left behind by a long winter, but I can imagine, once the leaves return to the trees, it will be a hidden gem, invisible from the trail.

gritLIT 2014: Recap

Saturday, 19 April 2014

Authors have always seemed unreachable to me. They're the people who have written books — actual books — that are sold in stores, talked about in book clubs, and devoured in coffee shops. Needless to say, I get really excited and even a little starstruck when I find myself surrounded by them. This, along with my obvious love of books, is one reason I didn't even consider saying no when I was asked to join the committee of gritLIT, Hamilton's literary festival, last year.

The tenth annual gritLIT Festival was held between April 3–6 at the Art Gallery of Hamilton, and we were thrilled to celebrate the festival's anniversary with Lynn Coady, Michael Winter, members of Teenage Head, and Emma Donoghue, to name only a few, along with many local talent from both Hamilton and Toronto. I even got the chance to host a workshop with Denise Chong, the author of one of my all-time favourite works of non-fiction, Egg on Mao, which I reviewed a few years back for Ricepaper magazine.

It was a whirlwind of a weekend, but it was the best kind of weekend, reminding me of why I love this vibrant city and all that it offers. We hear a lot about Hamilton's thriving art and music scene, but sometimes it seems like our literary community is still our little secret — brimming with poets, novelists, and non-fiction writers who are just waiting to be discovered. My favourite part of gritLIT is hearing, meeting, and buying the books of authors who, until recently, I've been unfamiliar with. My favourite discovery at this year's festival was Dannabang Kuwabong, a Ghanaian-Canadian poet who read from his book Voices from the Kibuli Country

One of our goals as a festival for 2014 is to expand beyond the annual festival to include programming throughout the year. Our first endeavor is a writing group, which we hope will meet once a month. Sign up for our inaugural meet-up, which will take place on April 28 at Brown Dog Coffee Shoppe on Locke Street.

Gabriel Garcí­a Márquez Quotes to Melt the Heart

Thursday, 17 April 2014

“He was still too young to know that the heart's memory eliminates the bad and magnifies the good, and that thanks to this artifice we manage to endure the burden of the past.” 
Love in the Time of Cholera

“Intrigued by that enigma, he dug so deeply into her sentiments that in search of interest he found love, because by trying to make her love him he ended up falling in love with her.” 
One Hundred Years of Solitude

“She discovered with great delight that one does not love one's children just because they are one's children but because of the friendship formed while raising them.” 
Love in the Time of Cholera

“Death really did not matter to him but life did, and therefore the sensation he felt when they gave their decision was not a feeling of fear but of nostalgia.” 

One Hundred Years of Solitude

gritLIT 2014

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

I might be biased, since I'm on the committee, but gritLIT is one of the best festivals Hamilton has to offer, and it starts tomorrow! We're so excited to welcome a Writer's Trust Fiction Prize winner, a Journey Prize winner, a handful of punk rockers, and the winner of the 2013 Giller Prize to this year's celebration of writers, reading, and books. Visit gritlit.ca for more information.

Here's the complete schedule. Hope to see you there!

Thursday, April 3rd, 2014
7:00pm — Poetry
gritLIT partners with the Hamilton Poetry Centre to welcome celebrated poets Julie Bruck (Monkey Ranch) and Adam Dickinson (The Polymers).

8:30pm — Murder Was the Crime
Peter Robinson (Children of the Revolution), D.J. McIntosh (The Book of Stolen Tales) and Debra Komar (The Lynching of Peter Wheeler) share tales of murder and suspense in an evening of fictional and true-life mysteries.

Friday, April 4, 2014
7:00pm — Family Matters
Jump into the offbeat, sometimes hilarious world of family dysfunction with Ray Robertson (I Was There the Night He Died) and  Nancy Jo Cullen(Canary).

8:30pm — An Equal and Opposite Reaction
Michael Winter (Minister Without Portfolio), Emma Donoghue (Frog Music) and Catherine Bush (Accusation) delve into the lives of characters whose worlds are forever changed by events beyond their control.

Saturday, April 5, 2014
10:30 am — Literary Salon with Michael Winter
Join one of Canada's most celebrated authors for light refreshments and a lively round-table discussion about books, writing and the Canadian publishing industry.
This event takes place at the Mulberry Street Coffeehouse, 193 James St. N.
Registration is limited.  Registration fee: $20/$15 for gritLIT members

10:30am — Writing Workshop: Writing from the Prompt
Critically-acclaimed novelist Catherine Bush shows writers of all levels how to use prompts to dig deeper, become more open and find the playful exuberance at the heart of all great writing.
Registration is limited.  Registration fee: $20/$15 for gritLIT members

1:00pm — The Mother and Child Reunion
Memoirists Jowita Bydlowska (Drunk Mom) and Priscila Uppal (Projection: Encounters with MyRunaway Mother) share tales of struggle and recovery.

2:15pm — gritLIT Contest Winners
Two winners of last year's gritLIT writing competition, Alexandra Missettand Raymond Beauchemin, share excerpts from their winning works.
Admission is free.

3:00pm — Lives of Girls and Women
Krista Bridge (The Eliot Girls), Jennifer LoveGrove (Watch How We Walk) and Lauren B. Davis (The Empty Room) examine the lives of extraordinary women fighting to discover their own identities.

7:00pm — In Conversation with...Teenage Head
Graham Rockingham sits down with members of Teenage Head and with author Geoff Pevere to discuss Gods of the Hammer: The Teenage Head Story.

8:30pm — Putting the grit in gritLIT
Celebrate the work of two of Canada's grittiest and most interesting literary voices: Craig Davidson (Cataract City) and Lynn Coady (Hellgoing).

Sunday, April 6, 2014
10:30am — Writing Workshop: First Things First
Journey Prize finalist and novelist Krista Foss guides you through the process of developing a first novel from inception to publication.
Registration is limited.  Registration fee: $20/$15 for gritLIT members

10:30am — Writing Workshop: Telling Our Own Tales
Author Denise Chong examines the task of turning knowing family stories into telling them and focuses on the power and flaws of memory and issues of privacy and respect in bringing these stories to the page.
Registration is limited. Registration fee: $20/$15 for gritLIT members

1:00pm — A Book to Take Us Worlds Away
Travel from a small town in 1950's Yugoslavia to the badlands of the wild west with novelists Nicole Lundrigan (The Widow Tree) and Natalee Caple (In Calamity's Wake).

2:15pm — All About the Hammer preview
Local novelists Hugh Cook (Heron River) and Janet Turpin Myers (Nightswimming) share their stories in a preview of this evening's All About the Hammer event.
Admission is free.

3:00pm — Different Voices, Different Lands
Join Denise Chong (Lives of the Family), Saleema Nawaz (Bone and Bread) and Dannabang Kuwabong (Voices from Kibuli Country) for a fascinating reading and discussion about identity and the impact of cultural heritage on the stories we tell.

7:30pm — Closing Night with LitLive: All About the Hammer
gritLIT partners with LitLive for a gala closing night celebrating the recently-published works of seven Hamilton authors. Presenters include Chris Pannell (A Nervous City), John Terpstra (Brilliant Falls), Jeffery Donaldson (Slack Action), Amanda Jernigan (All the Daylight Hours), Marilyn Gear Pilling (A Bee Garden), Amanda Leduc (The Miracles of Ordinary Men) and David Haskins (This House Is Condemned).
This event takes place at Homegrown Hamilton, 27 King William St.

This is a pay-what-you-can event.

Photo Essay: The Pasadena

Monday, 24 February 2014

"Life changes fast. Life changes in the instant. You sit down to dinner and life as you know it ends."
— Joan Didion

I am a collector, a curator, and an obsessive hoarder of nostalgia. I keep ticket stubs and playbills, birthday cards and love notes, each a memento of a favourite night. A new adventure. A wrong turn. Something lived.

Just as the landscape of a city can change in an instant, the things we have collected can disappear. The photos of gap-toothed ancestors and the pages of books can be licked by flames, and just like that, they’re gone. Yet, ultimately, they don’t matter.

On Thursday night, as the Pasadena burned only metres away, some of my neighbours panicked. “Grab the things that are most important to you,” someone said. So, I put Ben, my domestic medium-hair, into his crate, and we waited for a possible evacuation that never came. The fire grew, but there was nothing I felt compelled to gather.

I should have thought of my great-grandfather’s pocket watch or my grandfather’s cuckoo clock. I should have grabbed my passport and the memory cards that hold thousands of photos. But I had Ben, and that’s all that seemed to matter.

Days later, from my parking lot, I can look into the broken windows of the Pasadena. From certain angles, there are patches of sky where the roof should be. There are charred bikes, beer bottles, melted blinds, and drapes that are surprisingly intact, each a reminder, that just four days ago, the people who lived in the Pasadena were eating meals, watching television, and then everything changed. 

Fundraisers are being planned for the residents of the Pasadena. The Corktown Pub and Pheasant Plucker are both accepting monetary donations. There will be a fundraiser at Doors Pub on March 7. A large fundraiser is being planned for the spring. I’ll post details as they arise. 

The Pasadena

Thursday, 20 February 2014

I've never written an obituary for a building before, but then again, I've never spent a night watching firefighters attempt to control a blaze in my neighbourhood. The Pasadena Apartments are located at 27 Bold Street, and tonight, flames erupted from windows, doors, and the roof as horrified spectators looked on.

Only a wire fence divides the Pasadena from my apartment's parking lot. It's a spectacular building, full of century-old charm, but for me, it's one of the biggest reasons I'm living in Hamilton. I first fell in love with the Pasadena in 2007 or 2008, shortly after I returned to my parent's semi-detached home in Burlington's suburbs after more than four years of living in Ottawa. I was restless, and in need of a change, so when two close friends began renting an apartment in the Pasadena, I fell in love. 

I fell in love with the apartment's charm — a nook for a kitchen, a fireplace, and whirring radiators. I fell in love with its proximity to Augusta Street and the Hamilton GO Station. And so I moved to Hamilton. At the time, a basement apartment was available at the Pasadena, but it had multiple bedrooms, which I didn't need, and the rent was too high. So I settled on the next best thing, an apartment just steps away from the Pasadena. It's from this apartment, where I have lived since April 2008, that I began to smell smoke just after 9:00 p.m.

There are Weakerthan's lyrics that seem fitting tonight: "My city's still breathing, but barely it's true, through buildings gone missing like teeth." You'll be missed, Pasadena. 

Steel City Stories

Sunday, 2 February 2014

How did you spend your Saturday night? I spent mine listening to stories in a dimly lit Cathedral built in the mid-1800s. 

As children, our days are filled with stories. We sit crossed legged on carpets while teachers tell us fairy tales. We wrap ourselves in blankets, sharing scary stories around campfires. We spin tall tales to get ourselves out of  trouble. And before bed, we ask for just one more book. Yet in adulthood, it's a rare occasion when people gather to tell stories.

The third installment of Steel City Stories brought Hamiltonians out of the sleet, welcoming us into Christ's Church Cathedral where five storytellers shared narratives about their roots.

"If history were taught in the form of stories, it would never be forgotten."
— Rudyard Kipling, The Collected Works

Matthew Green, a city council candidate for Ward 3, connected his past to the present through ancestors who escaped slavery by following the North Star. Anne Cumby, co-owner of The Cannon, reminded us that despite our greatest efforts, we all start to act like our parents. Storyteller Mary Love bookended her tale with song, telling us of a birth mother she never knew. Musician Lori Yates took us to a seedy apartment on Queen Street West where her musical roots began to grow. And dub poet Klyde Broox shared Canada through the eyes of someone with an accent and dark skin. 

It takes courage to get up before a crowd of peers and strangers to share a story. As someone who jots down phone numbers and prompts on a piece of paper before I make a simple phone call, public speaking is among my greatest fears. But as a listener, there's something organic, something special, about being the recipient of a story — especially a personal one.

"We tell ourselves stories in order to live."
— Joan Didion

The stories that some people share are what propel us forward, so I can't write about stories without talking about Pete Seeger, whom I was lucky enough to see and write about in 2009. I grew up on folk music. I grew up on banjos and sing alongs. I grew up on grassy hills and acoustic guitars. And I grew up on the stories and songs of Pete Seeger. He may have graced the Earth for nearly a century, but somehow, it doesn't seem long enough because there will always be injustices to fight and stories to tell.

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