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.

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