Hamilton, Ontario is full of 'communities'. This is very clear in the former towns and villages which now comprise the Hamilton supercity. Being one of the few bi-level cities in North America, divided by the Niagara Escarpment, the former (and smaller) Hamilton has a 'lower' and 'upper' side to its development.
Placing the name "Upper" before a street name should be taken in its literal sense. Upper James Street runs north/south on the Niagara Escarpment, whereas James Street also runs north/south but below the escarpment.
As a port town in the early beginnings, one can clearly see the development and growth of the local neighbourhood communities within.
In the 70s, suburban development or sprawl spread horizontally south on the Escarpment, versus vertically in the lower city. That sprawl left out one key component, which was "community".
Ask folks who live in Ancaster where they live, and they'll reply "Ancaster". Ask folks who live in the lower City where they live, and they'll tell you "North End", "Keith Neighbourhood", or the "Beasley Neighbourhood". In just about every example, the answer identifies in clear context as to where that individual lived.
Ask folks who live on the escarpment where they live, and the answer varies from "on the Mountain", "East Mountain", or "West Mountain". Very rarely do you hear "Berrisfield Park" or "Lawfield".
While these names exist for Mountain neighbourhoods, there is very little in the way of community markers to indicate to a visitor or resident that they are indeed in a 'community'.
To illustrate my point, I will look at the area from Upper Ottawa to Upper Gage (east/west border) and Limeridge to Mohawk (north/south border). According to the City of Hamilton, this area is called the Berrisfield Neighbourhood.
Absent of scientific research, I would feel more than comfortable to say that less than 20% of residents who live within this area actually know that they live in Berrisfield Neighbourhood.
Conversely, if I took an area bordered by James and Queen Streets (east/west border) and the Escarpment to Main St. (north/south border), which according to the City of Hamilton is called the Durand Neighbourhood, I expect that greater than 75% of the residents would know that they live in Durand Neighbourhood.
What appears to separate these two communities are businesses - or, rather, the lack of them in the case of Berrisfield.
Both communities have a junior public school, and while Berrisfield has a public high school, this location is slated to close in the next 3-5 years. Durand does have a church, Berrisfield does not, and I'm not sure that is relevant today but it may have been in earlier days.
Living and playing in one's neighbourhood seems to hold true in either location; however, it's quite unlikely that the employees of the few businesses which are within the Berrisfield Neighbourhood actually live there.
Therefore, just about every employable person within Berrisfield leaves their house to work somewhere outside of their community. Based on the number of businesses within the Durand Neighbourhood, the situation cannot be the same.
Coming from London, Ontario where folks answered those "Where do you live?" questions with neighbourhood or community identity responses, and now living in Hamilton, I am continually awed by those who live in either the lower City or the former towns and villages who mention where they live without apology.
Residents of the 'Mountain' (as it is referred to) seem lost in responding to the question. "I live on the mountain."
Just once, I would like someone to tell me that they live in "Barnstown Neighbourhood" or "Thorner Neighbourhood" or even "Yoeville Neighbourhood". Better yet, I'd like someone to tell me where they are, without looking at a map.
this essay was first published on Dan's personal website
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