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Trent, Mac, and Udder Mudders

Technically, Trent University is my alma mater, but when I think of my other, bounteous mother, it's Peterborough, Ontario, not Trent, that comes to mind.

By Kevin Somers
Published April 26, 2010

Technically, Trent University is my alma mater, but when I think of my other, bounteous mother, it's Peterborough, Ontario, not Trent, that comes to mind.

In 1983, I was a nervous, nerdy 18 year-old leaving home for higher education. Thanks to a policy I still question, there wasn't space in the school's residence because second, third, and fourth year students were given squatters' rights.

There's a silver lining, however, because rather than being in the isolated cocoon of Trent's campus, I lived downtown PTBO for three years of real education.

Not long after moving into my shared-apartment, I discovered I was living with welfare recipients. Having been born and bred into Ottawa's civil service, I had never personally experienced poverty before.

They were nice, but I couldn't believe how poorly educated and unmotivated my new roomies were. They spent all day doing nothing, unless you consider learning the moves to the "Thriller" video productive. Family and friends assumed it was Hell living there, but I enjoyed the show and low expectations.

At the same time, I had befriended a group of other first-year students, who were sharing a house nearby. Some of those kids were from the wealthy Toronto set. I hadn't experienced rich before, either, and found them as fascinating as the poor. My new pals always had a lot of money and were carefree with it. It was awesome.

I learned to walk again in Peterborough. Although banal and pedestrian, the suburbs are pedestrian-hostile and every chore growing up required a car. Suddenly, I was walking or taking the bus. I loved the freedom of not needing a vehicle.

Similarly, me ma, who grew up on a farm and still has a farmer's work ethic, was a stay-at-home mother. She did everything for us. Alone in Peterborough, I had to shop, cook, laundry, wash, bank... and learned to enjoy it. Independence is bliss.

A fraying, fading blue-collar city, local news in Peterborough covered unemployment, layoffs, and plant closures. In the perfect suburbs of Ottawa, where I had come from, nothing ever went wrong and everyone I ever knew had secure employment for life. Seeing hardship firsthand was jarring and my mind was rapidly expanding in Peterborough. There was little time for school.

Fortunately, I was an Arts student and had around 15 hours of classes per week, but went to (way) less. I still love the Pig's Ear for helping kill time and reflect on everything I was (not) learning at Trent.

In my second and third year, I shared an old house with friends. Paul Calladine, amongst others, would visit regularly. Paul was older than us because he had traveled the world for three years prior to attending Trent. He told us great stories of living in Hawaii then sailing to Australia with newfound friends. I had never heard anything so compelling and became obsessed.

After graduating in 1986, I took off for a six-year global odyssey and the noodle got stretched even further. As with my real mother, I'm forever attached to Peterborough, my other mother and the first step on a great big trip.

McMaster University is unique, integral, growing part of Hamilton. How do Mac students, the reason for it all, feel about the city?

I wonder: What do they see through young, fresh eyes? Do they like Hamilton? What do they tell their friends? Do they want to stay? Why or why not? What's their experience? What do they think?

Kevin Somers is a Hamilton writer.

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By Apple (anonymous) | Posted April 26, 2010 at 12:23:27

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By FLT (anonymous) | Posted April 26, 2010 at 13:55:13

Apple,

I don't recall reading anywhere in the article that welfare recipients are poor and rich kids are cool. Take a chill pill and remember that this article is Kevin's experience. Given your comment you'd have us believe that no welfare recipients are poor and no rich kids are cool, and that's simply not true.

Instead of being a self righteous douche bag, why not take this article for what it is -- a discussion starter on how young people from all across the world view this city.

I for one know that your sweeping generalization that all Mac students hate Hamilton is ridiculous. There are a great many that come to love Hamilton.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted April 26, 2010 at 14:10:21

There are a great many that come to love Hamilton.

FYI I was a Mac student who came to love Hamilton. :)

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By moylek (registered) - website | Posted April 26, 2010 at 15:11:58

I went to high school in Grimsby and Burlington and learned in those five years that Hamilton was 1) to be sneered at, 2) to be avoided unless you need to go to a mall, 3) to be vaguely ashamed of, 4) home to a university I could drive to from my parents' house. And so to Hamilton I came.

For four years as an undergrad, I knew nothing but McMaster, Westdale and that great, lamented rep cinema on King William. Downtown Hamilton was just a scary place rife with punks and Cameros from which I caught the bus back to Burlington late at night.

I was hired by McMaster after I graduated and so I stayed in Hamilton. But it took me more than ten years before I would say "I am from Hamilton" instead of "I live in Hamilton."

So count me as another Mac student who came to love Hamilton ... eventually.

I, too, wonder if McMaster students today feel any more connected to the city (or even Westdale) than we did back in the 80s and 90s.

Comment edited by moylek on 2010-04-26 14:19:46

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By crhayes (registered) - website | Posted April 26, 2010 at 15:53:53

I am a MAC student that was raised in Hamilton, and I (since graduating High School) have come to love the city.

The ignorant Marauder's are the ones that 'hate' Hamilton; most of them just hate downtown (I can't really blame them). I try to bring awareness to the nicer areas within Hamilton, and many of my friends have been to the waterfront, Cootes, Ancaster, Dundas, the escarpment etc. and loved it.

However, I think most young people are looking for a bustling, exciting, trendy place to live, and therefore Hamilton really doesn't look appealing at all.

Comment edited by crhayes on 2010-04-26 14:55:34

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By kevin (registered) | Posted April 26, 2010 at 19:49:09

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By Tybalt (registered) | Posted April 26, 2010 at 20:52:46

I was a McMaster student who came to Hamilton for the first time when coming to the city to take up my grad studies there. I for one have fallen so hard for this city (I come from Halifax and had lived in Montreal before coming here) that 16 years later I'm still here, despite having to spend most of the last 13 years studying and working in Toronto for lack of opportunity in my field. I love the city, have lived all over West and Central Hamilton and five and a half years ago my wife and I bought a house in the Westdale area... no more than twenty yards from the house I moved into sixteen years ago on my second day in the city.

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By canbyte (registered) | Posted April 27, 2010 at 01:08:17

Great article and even better riposte! Took me back to a rather similar experience away at U.

Reflecting on Apple and assuming your profile is more or less correct, I'd guess there are lots of Apples in Hamilton - for many practical reasons, mainly the lower cost of living.

While its interesting to hear what young folks think about Hamilton, especially the positive ones, I'd guess that negative reviewers are not generally commenting here (self selected sample). Further, young people, say below 40, have other more important issues on their plate that keeps their minds off the negatives while they pay bills, raise kids, etc. Negatives, such as political, city budgets etc are removed from their daily concerns, even if the long term effects (of bad decisions) eventually will affect us all.

It is the older amongst us that have the time and/or perspective to reflect on how bad things can come from good intentions, not evident at the time. Ok, I'm generalizing, but the product of such reflection can be quite discouraging as one reads/hears the goings-on in Hamilton and sees the (negative) visual evidence. So i'm looking for ways to cut the Apples a little slack, (could be a tad more reflective), since he/she is a voter/non-voter we have to deal with who will either help or impede the fixing of the city. Cheers.

Comment edited by canbyte on 2010-04-27 00:09:31

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By Henry and Joe (anonymous) | Posted April 27, 2010 at 18:43:18

As a teacher in a fairly affluent, but predictable, Mississauga neighbourhood, I often hear remarks about Ham town, but its easy to see where these comments arise. It's from the kind of generic place where you can readily find a Boston Pizza, Esso, and TimmyHos's nearby. I often get feedback from my students who attend McMaster. The downtown is "sketchy" and downtown has "scary people that make me feel uncomfortable". They are kids and don't really know anything other than their Boston Pizza world and the urban environment of their reluctantly adopted home town. On the other hand, my wife came to Mac from a small northern town, and she developed a real love for this place. I have several friends that are under 30 that have moved from other places and they enjoy and love the city - even downtown. On the other hand, i know many people closer to my own age (mid 30s) that have no idea what great entertainment is in the city, and would never go downtown unless they were dragged kicking and screaming. We have to sell Hamilton to Hamiltonians first. Open-minded and intelligent students have always embraced the city. Many will happily keep their minds closed- it makes them feel better to say they belong to Toronto, even if they never go there either!

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By Kiely (registered) | Posted April 28, 2010 at 11:15:49

It is the older amongst us that have the time and/or perspective to reflect on how bad things can come from good intentions, not evident at the time. Ok, I'm generalizing, but the product of such reflection can be quite discouraging as one reads/hears the goings-on in Hamilton and sees the (negative) visual evidence. So i'm looking for ways to cut the Apples a little slack, (could be a tad more reflective), since he/she is a voter/non-voter we have to deal with who will either help or impede the fixing of the city. Cheers. - canbyte

Excellent post canbyte, I like that.

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By Seedling (anonymous) | Posted May 03, 2010 at 14:04:46

Staying anonymous I have to say that the negative Boston Pizza comments I'm reading here about Hamilton have been, in my experience, most often attributed to Mississauga. I'll discount them.

I grew up in Hamilton and attended Mac many moons ago. I got a weekend job delivering beer for the Brewer's Warehousing. I loved the job and the culture that I saw driving the downtown routes, and went back to participate in as the clubs opened in the evenings. I heard amazing stories which, as a not-terribly-successful author I've tried to write about now and again. Mind you, the city centre has declined since then, but I still find echoes of earlier and often lamented times and I'm not afraid to visit in order to hear them. I just do not get this unsafe imagery I so often hear about, but then I'm male and a rather large one, and maybe to old to be attracted by it. I know the types of incidents I do hear about are not in any way limited to The Hammer.

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