Because so much has been forced on us so rapidly in the last three decades, we seem have become averse to choosing change, especially in the public realm. For all the talk of innovation, there is much resistance to real change here.
By Shawn Selway
Published June 29, 2012
Visitors to the Waterfront Trust recreation compound at the foot of John Street are getting an unadvertised extra this month: a wall of steel that even the glibbest brochure writer would have trouble domesticating - though I suppose arts-inflected publicity could describe it as looking like the product of Serra + Kiefer. (Say, shouldn't someone be promoting this collaboration?)
Not quite post-industrial Hamilton. The Algoma Provider docked at Pier 8 for refurbishing.
After the aestheticizing of industry and its traces is all done, however, there remains another, inside story to tell, and other cities are telling it to highly interested visitors.
Given our continual fretting that the conception of Hamilton held by others is not what we would prefer, perhaps we can learn from elsewhere how to cure ourselves of this embarrassing Skyway Syndrome - you know, the continuing low-level anxiety that people driving by on the Skyway are misled by the spectacle of smoke and flame and never come to appreciate our true Inner Beauty.
Although I have been a member of the Society for Industrial Archeology for going on fifteen years, I have attended only a few of their annual conferences.
These take place on the first weekend of June, and consist in a day of paper sessions and a day of "process tours" - that is, visits to factories, power plants, dam-sites and the like, where participants are shown the inside and the underside of a wide variety of industry and infrastructure.
Five concurrent tours were on offer at this year's get-together in Cincinnati. I opted for "upriver": the waterworks, an airfield, a bell foundry and a garage specializing in the restoration of antique racing cars.
Joining us on the bus were a few of the dozen or so members of the British Association for Industrial Archaeology, a senior organization in the network whose members are represented globally by the International Committee for the Conservation of the Industrial Heritage.
TICCIH, in turn, serves as special adviser on industry to the International Council on Monuments and Sites. The AIH people were on an extensive tour of American sites, and had connected with us for the weekend.
First up was the waterworks, where an expert on purification imparted the rudiments to half of our group while the rest were next door viewing the old pumphouse.
Cincinnati draws its water from the Ohio River, which is muddy and dirty. The mud and a few other things are cleared by sand filters. The rest of the ingredients are captured by activated carbon, a process which Cinci adopted early in North America.
Seeing Cincinnati from the bottom up. Map of the water system in the filtration building.
Sand filters, feed paused...then backflushing to clear the filter of accumulated sediments.
When it was our turn to see the pumps, we found them housed in a grand stone rotunda that caps a circular well four stories deep.
Cinci steam pumps
Water is conducted to the inlet side of the pumps via a tunnel cut through the bedrock below the riverbed. Triple expansion steam engines are mounted directly over the pumps to power them. Again we were divided, with some descending in a cage elevator to the pump floor, while the rest got an explanation of the engines from the retirees who are currently maintaining them in preservation.
Triple expansion steam engines
Steam engine illustration
Cincinnati Lunken Airport's location in a basin eventually curtailed its expansion. It has now become a base for private jets, including the fleet of Procter and Gamble, which is the dominant company locally.
The terminal survived near total immersion in the great flood of 1937. Howard Hughes had a hangar here, and the pilot of the Enola Gay did his flight training at this field - which is as momentous a historical association as it is possible to have, I suppose.
Cincinnati Lunken Airport
The masses enter the aviation age in Harry Gothard's 1937 paintings for Lunken.
Since 1842, the family-owned Verdin Company has manufactured cast bronze bells, carillons, digital bells, tower clocks and street clocks.
Electronic carillons on the repair bench
Verdin Company bells
Hot metal, happy tourists, and another satisfied customer.
Back at the hotel I rehearsed my presentation for next day's paper sessions ( flying the company flag is always good to justify the cost of attendance at these things), and wondered for the umpteenth time why we don't offer opportunities for industrial tourism here in the once ambitious city.
After all, Hamilton continues to bear the distinction - unique in the country, as far as I know - of doing it all: from the heaviest of heavy industry (mining excepted) to the most delicate and arcane of researches into biological processes, and a good deal in between.
What other city smelts iron and also advances telerobotic surgery technique?
And yet, consider the following paragraph from the draft Official Plan.
3.1.10 The City's tourism product shall focus on outdoor, cultural, sport and meetings and convention business
That is, everything but our historic strength and specific difference - an oversight which becomes neurotic avoidance in that portion of the OP which deals with cultural heritage policies. Thus we have:
3.4.3 General Cultural Heritage Polices for Urban Areas Downtowns
18.104.22.168 The City includes several downtown areas that are historical centres of the community and typically contain a high concentration of cultural heritage resources and associated historical streetscapes, including buildings, such as town halls, landmark institutional buildings, commercial terraces, churches, railway stations, parks and distinctive residential areas. These downtowns are generally located within the Downtown Urban Growth Centre and the Community Nodes associated with the downtowns of the former municipalities of Ancaster, Dundas, Stoney Creek and Waterdown...
Note that buildings housing industry or manufacturing do not appear on this list -though at the time of its writing a mustard-milling plant and two garment factories were operating within a few blocks of King and James - and still are.
Insignificant building near York and Bay, downtown Hamilton.
Very large non-landmark building across from Central Library. Rumoured to be associated with manufacturing of some sort.
Insignificant building in downtown Hamilton. Also said to be associated with production of some sort. Note entirely forgettable ornamentation of ironwork, stained glass and brickwork at street level.
Portion of extra-large non-landmark building in downtown Hamilton. Note culturally irrelevant heavy timber truss construction of interior. Interior image: Carla Mackie.
Well, that's enough of that. But there's a problem here, and it has to do with the value we place on basic production. What is most interesting about these buildings (except the last, which is silent) is what is going on inside them.
There is a notion that we are, or perhaps should be, "post-industrial". Whether we could or should be is a complicated question. But we have not yet been translated entirely into the intangible; nor does the economy consist in nothing but an unbroken chain of promises to pay that are never called in.
No matter how long the chain, at its end someone, somewhere, is taking something from the earth and adding value to it.
Certainly we must try to get into a better position within the ever more closely knit collective cyborg. Assimilate or be assimilated, as it were. Nothing new about that. Continual adaptation has always been our economic path.
But because so much has been forced on us so rapidly in the last three decades, we seem have become averse to choosing change, especially in the public realm. For all the talk of innovation, there is much resistance to real change here.
As Mark Chamberlain rightly points out in a piece over at CBC New Look:
When you think of the city of Hamilton, the amount of time and effort and angst we went through to change a couple of one-way streets to two-way streets, that's an indication that we're not being very innovative.
Dithering around for years over a few two way street conversions is not the mark of an innovative community. Our public art is timid. (That is not to slight our artists. Any visitor to the recent TH&B show knows that they are quite capable of bold and vivid work at any scale.) Traffic management in the central city is utterly obsolete. Sprawl repair in the upper city has been made dependent on light rail development. Most new buildings are architecturally insipid. The more impoverished what is actually built, the more grandiose the compensatory fantasies of a Big Fix.
Meanwhile, real achievements of more prosperous periods, like the Education Centre, are treated with contempt. Adaptive re-use, which would be truly innovative in our context, is rejected - even when we have a fine model of the successful fusion of old and new in the Sopinka Courthouse.
Interim green-up measures for brownfield sites are non-existent, and the urban forest appears to be shrinking rather than growing - though I would certainly like to be corrected on that.
Some of these problems may have no solution - or none that we can afford. But perhaps we can at least resolve our ambivalence about grit and metal and the basics of life in industrial society: one minute proud to be free of the artificiality and pretense that afflict other places, the next chewing our fingernails and worrying that others think we are backward and uncouth and live under a perpetual pall of pollution, and who wants to come to a place like that?
We are what we do. No amount of image-mongering can change that. If we want to dispel a supposed smokestack stigma, we would do better to reposition the admen and deal with the problem head on, Hamilton-style.
We have forgotten, or become apologetic, about who we were and often still are. Although lately the tone of public discourse has shifted a little, and the continuing contribution of basic production is acknowledged, we need to go further. We need to integrate, as the psychologists say.
If we offered visitors - and ourselves - opportunities to get inside our workplaces, to see what we do and make, and what we used to do and make, we might begin to form - and convey to others - a better estimate of our city and our place in the world.
Doors Open Industrial, anyone?
Day pass from the walled gardens of the online world. The plant manager's daughter gets some education at Verdin foundry.