Doors Open Hamilton and Jane's Walks 2016

Sunday 15 May 2016

Doors Open Hamilton and Jane’s Walks are two annual events that mark the beginning of spring for me. They’re both the perfect excuse to wander and explore Hamilton’s unique and storied history, learning about the people and places that have helped shape the city we live and work in today.

I began my day of urban adventuring by stopping at a number of Doors Open Hamilton sites in the downtown core. Organized by the Architectural Conservancy of Ontario Hamilton Region Branch, in partnership with the Hamilton Burlington Society of Architects, Doors Open Hamilton is a chance to see inside buildings that often aren’t open to the public. This year, 30 buildings opened their doors to the public, including the Cotton Factory, which will be home of the HIVEX 2016 Conference in November.

The Textile Building
I began my Doors Open Hamilton tour at the Textile Building. Tucked between Bay and Caroline, the Textile Building isTextileBuilding1 located at 10 George Street. The four-storey red brick building was built in 1874 (with modifications in 1903), and it was redeveloped in 1988. It’s currently being renovated by Core Urban Inc. into a contemporary office building. The Textile Building was originally home to the E. Van Allen Shirt Company, which manufactured shirts, collars, cuffs and other clothing.

The Doors Open Hamilton brochure promised a look at the before (unrenovated 4th floor), during (2nd floor), and after (a new glass-enclosed elevator in the four-storey atrium), but unfortunately, we were only able to view the second floor, which is currently being renovated into a contemporary office building that will include a gym and day care. Characterized by wood beams and exposed bricks, the Textile Building is stunning, in a raw and unfinished way. There’s no doubt that this project is a work in progress, as evidenced by the empty cigarette packages and hand tools strewn around the site.

Pit Stop #1: St. Mark's Church
Three years ago, there was excitement when the Hamilton Spectator reported that the "boarded up St. Mark's Anglican Church on Bay Street South could be rescued from decay and given a new future under a city plan to turn the building into 'cultural programming space.'" As you can tell from these photos, little has changed in the past few years. St. Mark's Anglican Church was built in 1877 and closed more than a century  later in 1889. It's been owned by the city since 1994. Read more about its "saga" here.

Central Presbyterian Church
Located on Charlton Avenue West, right across the street from Durand Coffee, Central Presbyterian Church is home to a congregation that is celebrating its 175th anniversary this year. Built in a neoclassical style in 1908, the church was built by the congregation after their location was destroyed by a fire in 1906. It was built by architect John M. Lyle, whose granddaughter Lorna Harris gave a number of talks on a number of sites during Doors Open Hamilton weekend. Many of her photos and artifacts were on view at Central Presbyterian.

I arrived just in time for the organ recital that began both Saturday and Sunday at 2 p.m. on the Casavant pipe organ, which is original to the building. Among other original elements at Central Presbyterian church are the interior oak panelling, decorative plaster, and English and Canadian stained glass.

After years of attending Doors Open Hamilton, I’ve noticed a similarity between all the churches I’ve visited. Church volunteers are among the most welcoming folks I’ve encountered, and they’re always so willing to share the history and stories of their congregation and the buildings that house them.

Pit Stop #2: Durand Coffee
A new favourite coffee shoppe in Hamilton? Maybe! Post on this one coming soon.

Hamilton GO Centre (Toronto, Hamilton and Buffalo Railway Museum – TH&B)
Next time you’re at the Hamilton GO Centre, look up. Did you know there’s a museum on the second floor that overlooks the main lobby of the station? It’s small, but worth a visit, as it includes a number of artifacts related to transit and rail in Hamilton. The museum is located on the mezzanine level and is operated by retired staff.

The Hamilton GO Centre is located between James Street South and Hughson Street South. It was built in 1933 by architecture firm Fellheimer & Wagner, New York, and restored by Trevor Garwood-Jones in 1995. The building is “a rare example of an art moderne public building with curved forms, polished metals and machined detailing throughout.” The gracious volunteer shared with me that the centre’s benches, some of the windows, and many of the other features of the building that I’m in nearly every day are original to the 1930s. I’ll see the Hamilton GO Centre in a completely different light now.

As Hamilton HIVE Vice-Chair Michael Parente explained in his article yesterday, “Jane’s Walks are a wonderful opportunity to explore parts of the city that may otherwise go unnoticed.” The Jane’s Walk Secret Staircases gave me the opportunity to check out a site in Hamilton I’ve been hoping to find for years — Uli’s Stairs.

Led by Mary Lou Tanner, the Chief Planner at the City of Burlington, Secret Staircases began at the base of the Kenilworth Stairs, in Hamilton’s picturesque Rosedale neighbourhood. The group of approximately 15 of us climbed together, ending up on the Bruce Trail. After a half-kilometre trek along the trail where Mary Lou shared stories of Rosedale and the mysterious Uli, we arrived at the first of Uli’s Stairs, a set of staircases built by Uli himself.

If you’re not familiar with Uli, you’re not the only one! He’s been a mystery to journalists and Rosedale residents for years. Read about Uli (full name Ulrich) in this 2007 article in the Hamilton Spectator. His finely crafted stone staircases are a marvel, and the climb to the top is treacherous, as no rock is the same, and the incline is steep!

Even in his 70s, Uli is still adding to his masterpieces, recently adding benches that allow climbers to pause and take in the breathtaking view. I urge each of you to take the time to visit Uli’s Stairs this spring. They’re worth the trek to East Hamilton.

Review: I'm Thinking of Ending Things by Iain Reid

"I think there's a perception that fear and terror and dread are fleeting. That they hit hard and fast when they do, but they don't last. It's not true. They don't fade unless they're replaced by some other feeling. Deep fear will stay and spread if it can. You can't outrun or outsmart or subdue it. Untreated, it will only fester. Fear is a rash." — Iain Reid, I'm Thinking of Ending Things
I began I'm Thinking of Ending Things in the most idyllic of settings — relaxing on a beach in Playa del Carmen with the sea to my left and a piƱa colada to my right. I finished it in what's probably the worst place to read a psychological thriller — home alone at night in the middle of a rainstorm.

Gripping and smart, I’m Thinking of Ending Things is a fast (but harrowing read) that follows an unnamed narrator on a road trip with her new boyfriend, Jake, to and from his parents' farmhouse. An unexpected detour lands the pair outside (and ultimately inside) a deserted high school, a decision that culminates in more questions than answers. 

I’m Thinking of Ending Things is the first novel from Iain Reid, the critically acclaimed memoirist behind One Bird’s Choice: A Year in the Life of an Overeducated, Underemployed Twenty-something Who Moves Back Home, in which he returns to his familial home (his parents’ hobby farm), and The Truth About Luck, his tale of a road trip with his grandmother. It's no exaggeration to say that I'm Thinking Ending Things is a huge departure for Reid. 

“I think a lot of what we learn about others isn’t what they tell us. It’s what we observe”

I'm Thinking of Ending Things begs for a reader with a keen sense of observation. I'm going to be honest here — I'm not that reader. I was greeted by the last page of I'm Thinking of Endings Things with deep confusion.

Full disclosure: I didn't get it. Not even in the least. So I did what most confused readers would do, and I visited Goodreads where some kindly readers explained the ending to me. There seem to be two camps of people on Goodreads reviewing this novel: Those who were gobsmacked by the ending and those who didn't understand it. I was clearly the latter.

What I did find fascinating about I'm Thinking of Endings Things is Reid's ability to use his own experiences, as chronicled in his memoirs, weaving them into the unlikely narrative of a thriller. Don't let my experience with this novel deter you. I'm Thinking of Ending Things is haunting and tense, forcing readers to think. That said, it's not one for readers in search of neat, tidy endings. But there are many other books for that.

gritLIT 2016: Festival Weekend

Wednesday 4 May 2016

Authors Corrine Wasilewski, Brent van Staalduinen, and Sabrina Ramnanan.

I’m so pleased and proud to report that this year’s gritLIT: Readers and Writers Festival was the most successful yet. For me, one of the greatest joys was seeing many new faces I haven't seen before in the gritLIT audience. Even my own mom and sister attended their first readings. Along with new faces, we also received the support of some of my favourite local media outlets. Check us out in The Paper Street Journal and People of Hamilton.

Thanks as always to the folks at Bryan Prince Bookseller for acting as gritLIT's official bookstore.

 It's wonderful when the authors you admire turn out to be gracious, giving people, and Charles Taylor Award winner Plum Johnson is the perfect example of that. Here she is talking about They Left Us Everything, one of my favourite memoirs.

 Host Michael Winter really cares about our well-being. Stretch break.

Thanks to Kristin from I Heart Hamilton for joining us again this year as a host.
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