By Rose Divecha
Welcome to the North End, A Child & Family Friendly Neighbourhood the sign read. It was one of many that had been erected around the community. I looked at it and thought about what might have prompted the installation of these signs and when. They certainly weren’t around when I was growing up in the city. Who are they trying to convince? I wondered.
I grew up on East 43rd Street on the Hamilton Mountain in the 1970s and while most of my day to day experiences were limited to the confines of the Escarpment’s edge, we did go downtown from time to time, usually to see the Nativity Scene in Gore Park, visit family friends or shop for something special at Salvo’s. I remember assuming all cities were set up like Hamilton – with downtown being literally down town – and that the term naturally referred to a difference in elevation rather than the city’s core. But I was always happy to return to the 1.5 story red brick house in my quiet little neighbourhood where as children we could run out onto the streets without the risk of getting hit by a bus, being abducted by bikers or having to search my pockets for loose change with every homeless man I passed. At least this is the way I saw it. What can I say? I was a sheltered Mountain girl. I was well into my twenties before I stopped locking the door on my side of the car every time we drove north of Barton Street. If you had told me thirty years ago that I’d be living in the north end of Hamilton, I would have called you crazy.
So what changed? The neighbourhood or my perception? Both of course, at least to some extent. With months and years of searching and through the process of elimination, my husband and I found it was the one neighbourhood we kept coming back to while looking for a new home.
“Why?!” our Burlington friends asked puzzled by what seemed to them I’m sure like a big unexpected change. We knew what they really meant was – Why?! Why would you leave all this to go to Hamilton?! (We heard the superiority in their voices. Surely, we had never been like that!) What we told them was “this” wasn’t what we wanted anymore. We had stayed in the suburbs long enough. We wanted the excitement of city living, the sights, the sounds, the smells. We wanted restaurants, shops, entertainment and the water at our doorstep. We wanted Hamilton’s North End.
I thought back to the sign I had first noticed in the fall of 2016. Who was it trying to convince? Obviously, it had convinced me.