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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