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Why This Cool Kid Moved to Hamilton

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I must admit, the recent shenanigans of the brothers Ford have made me somewhat grateful that I no longer call Toronto home. Don't get me wrong, Toronto is a lovely city, but how lovely it will be after four years of the Ford family rule remains to be seen. Regardless, nothing good can come of Rob and Doug's lack of appreciation of the arts and how much it adds to a city's vibrancy and cultural fabric, above and beyond the all important bottom line.

I got a chuckle out of the news that Hamilton Mayor Bob Bratina had invited Canadian literary icon, Margaret Atwood, to pay his city a visit, (essentially dismissing the Fords as a couple of backwater rubes in the process), and acknowledging Ms. Atwood's stature as one of our country's most storied authors. This, of course, was after Councillor Doug Ford commented that he wouldn't have a clue who Ms. Atwood was if she walked by him on the street. Something makes me think Doug Ford would be more likely to recognize Bubbles from Trailer Park Boys, but who am I to judge?

Hamilton, for those of you who don't know, is the reason I am now an ex-Torontonian. My family and I relocated to the former Steeltown back in 2009, and I have to say, it's the best move we've made. I adore my new city, although, the initial reaction of friends and family, upon learning of our new destination, was generally one of shock and horror. "Hamilton!??!" they would exclaim. "Why???"

It was hard to talk of the lower city's urban beauty, of its historic neighbourhoods, tree-lined streets and do it justice. I also got tired of explaining that heavy industry in Hamilton had been on the decline for years, and health sciences, technology and the arts are now the lifeblood of the city's burgeoning economy. Hadn't they heard? Art was the new steel. Instead, I simply emailed them a link to a National Post article entitled "Why the Cool Kids Are Moving to Hamilton," which spoke eloquently of the city's allure, especially to artists and young couples that are being priced out of the sky-high Toronto property market, but still wanted the vitality and vibe of an authentic urban centre.

In the article, the author encapsulated the challenge that every transplanted Torontonian faces in trying to justify a move to a city many, unfairly, classify as the "armpit of Ontario:" "This is the challenge and the opportunity of Hamilton -- the city is one of sharp contrasts with a legacy of beautiful neighbourhoods, refined architecture, spectacular settings and grounded friendly people, combined with brownfields, the misguided demolition of architectural wonders and urban decay."

For my wife and I, our move to Hamilton was also borne out of financial necessity, in light of our desire to have Heather stay home with our newborn daughter, Sadie, once her maternity benefits had run out. Our real estate agent almost fell out of her chair when we asked her to start looking further west. "Oh you're interested in Mississauga and Oakville?" Erm, no, we said, sheepishly, steeling ourselves for the inevitable sneer of disgust, "Hamilton". (If I had to look at one more $400,000 "fixer upper" in an "up and coming" area of Toronto, I was going to murder someone, most likely my real estate agent!)

For my parents, who are longtime denizens of the suburban wonderland that is Scarborough, Hamilton might as well have been Cambodia. I think my mum had visions of her granddaughter living amongst the city's two remaining steel mills, perhaps playing hide and seek in the coke ovens. Imagine her surprise then, when instead of smokestacks and slag heaps, she was greeted with 100-year-old maple trees, gorgeous detached houses reminiscent of Toronto's High Park and walkable, vibrant neighbourhoods. (Don't get me wrong, there are some dodgy areas in Hamilton, which, like every big city, has its unique, and ongoing, challenges with poverty.)

We have friends in Toronto, who, after losing numerous bidding wars, managed to get a semi-detached in Riverdale for a mere $50,000 OVER the asking price. The look of disbelief on their faces, upon learning of our miniscule mortgage (a third of theirs) and comfortable, one-salary lifestyle, was priceless. "Dude, if your house was in High Park, it'd be $800,000!" Of course, it's not, but the rest of Ontario, if not Canada, is slowly cottoning on to the secret that is the Hamilton property market.

In a recent report, the Real Estate Investment Network (REIN) ranked Hamilton number one on its list of Top Ontario cities and towns for real estate investment for 2011 and beyond. (Heck, even Toronto's Condo King, Harry Stinson, is getting in on the act, with a number of high-profile condo projects currently underway in downtown Hamilton.)

Oh yeah, British-based FDI Magazine (of the Financial Times Group, don'tcha know) recently ranked the Hammer as one of its Top Ten Large Cities in North America for foreign companies to invest in. Not that we're bragging or anything.

Throw in plans for LRT, talk of world-renowned architect Frank Gehry designing an iconic building on our harbourfront (the nice part, not the post-apocalyptic smokestacks y'all see when crossing the Burlington Skyway), the 2015 Pan Am Games, and the ongoing revitalization of Hamilton's downtown core, and maybe, one day, my adopted hometown will shed the unflattering comparison to a rather stinky body part altogether. Armpits? We'll leave those for Buffalo.

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