The Ambitious City

Two weeks ago we went to a terrific concert, Welcome to Hamilton, where the Supercrawl organizers raised a great deal of money to provide cultural and recreational opportunities for Syrian refugee youth. 

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From the stage, Matt Berninger of The National noted that Hamilton is welcoming as many or more Syrian newcomers than the entire United States. (As are many other Canadian cities.)

Between sets and in the gorgeous evening light at New Vision United Church, Hamilton writers spoke briefly and evocatively about the city.

Poet John Terpstra read Giants: "There used to be giants,/and they loved it here. They'd sit/their giant hinds in a row along the top edge/of the escarpment"...

Gary Barwin, author of Yiddish for Pirates, read Poem for Welcome to Hamilton: "welcome to the city/now each other's home".

Sally Cooper read a scene from her novel-in-progress, leading us along James St., the centre of our civic renaissance, at a critical time for both her character and for the street. (Yes, custard tarts are mentioned in the story. Some things should not change.)

Steve spoke too, and here is his script: 

This town has changed a lot since I was a kid. On the block where I grew up you could go past the houses and say, Stelco, Dofasco, P & G, National Steel Car, Studebaker. The places where the dads worked, mostly gone now.

Every once in a while, especially in summertime, the air would get particularly funky and my parents would say, don't worry about that -- that's the smell of jobs. 

Twenty-five years ago, when I moved home for good, I had to explain to my big-city friends where I was going and why, defending the home turf against those familiar slurs.

The air is better now, the water is cleaner in Cootes Paradise, and all the cool kids want to move to Hamilton -- to "Brooklyn North". Suddenly everyone is talking about real estate. Sometimes you wouldn't guess that some of the poorest neighbourhoods are right down the street from here.

But there are things about this place that haven't changed. Authenticity is the word I always come back to. 

This is its own place, not part of the Greater-anything-else, an honest place, low on pretence, grounded, with a great big beating heart that you can hear thumping away tonight. 

So: Welcome to the Ambitious City, those of you who have been here all your lives, those more newly arrived, and those who have just joined us from faraway. 

I have always liked that slogan, even though it was used as cover for some godawful political decisions in the past. It suggests a town full of strivers bucking the odds, trying to build something together, to make better lives. To me that sounds like as good a place as any to call home. 

-- Stephen Brunt

Mother Tareka performs at New Vision, June 3 -- Cathie Coward. (Reproduced with the kind permission of The Hamilton Spectator)

Mother Tareka performs at New Vision, June 3 -- Cathie Coward. (Reproduced with the kind permission of The Hamilton Spectator)