ABOVE: An Ainslie Wood East family sits on a park bench and converses on a serene spring evening.
Ainslie Wood is a very large area of lower (below the Niagara Escarpment) Hamilton. It is divided into three parts; Ainslie Wood North, West and East. Ainslie Wood North is surrounded by Cootes Dr. (Veterans' Memorial Parkway) and Cootes Paradise nature reserve to the north, Main St. West to the south, Osler Dr. to the west, and to the east; Cootes Drive. Ainslie Wood West is bounded by Main West which lies to the area's north and west, Highway 403 (Chedoke Parkway) and the escarpment to the south and a hydro corridor to the east. Ainslie Wood East is enclosed by Clifford Street, Alexander Park, St. Mary's School and Kingsmount Street South all along the western edge, Main West to the north and the 403 which passes by the eastern and southern edges. The narrow area between the hydro corridor and the western edge of Ainslie Wood East is designated on city survey maps as the true Ainslie Wood but I prefer to simply consider all of these districts as one neighbourhood. Just north of Ainslie Wood East, and east of Ainslie Wood North is the neighbourhood of Cootes Paradise which is named after the adjacent conservation area. Forsyth Ave North, Mayfair Crescent border eastern edge of this neighbourhood. This entire section of land is occupied by the main campus and hospital of McMaster University or simply Mac for short.
The general notion of lower Hamilton is that it's all a rough, tough and gritty inner city. Actually, all of Ainslie Wood is bright and serene suburbia. The fact that the area is 1) only a few kilometers from the downtown core, 2) boxed in by the communities of Ancaster and Dundas which are closer to the true outskirts of western Hamilton, and 3) apparently older than most of the true suburbs above the escarpment is why I think it is an area worthy of being explored through urban photography, and not its brother genre of rural photography (as is how I explore the vast country areas of Hamilton).
My wife and I lived in areas near to the downtown core for several years. While I wouldn't call these terrible places for anyone to live, and I'm not ashamed to have lived there, I can say that our personal experiences there while trying to get ahead in life were quite difficult for us. Since leaving those areas, my wife and I have lived in Ainslie Wood East for many years. Unlike some other Hamiltonians I've come across, however, I still make occasional excursions into our old neighbourhoods to see what's going on, and sincerely appreciate their presence. Like some Hamiltonians who have a fair amount of physical distance between them and the core, I even continued to work a blue collar job in an east-Hamilton neighbourhood.
I'll never be an expert on Native Canadian-Indian history and heritage, geography and topography but I've always enjoyed these subjects and I often reflect on what I learned in high school. I've always believed that at least some understanding of this history is important to the growth of Canada and appreciation of the people who occupied these lands long before any Europeans, European descendants or anyone of any other race, ethnicity or culture who came to this country in one way or another. I truly believe that if Canadians, Native Indians and newcomers, pay attention and honestly consider the lessons that should have been learned, this nation could be far more unified and successful than it ever has been. Just because this world is an increasingly cynical, selfish and insensitive place doesn't mean that it's no longer true that unity and harmony is vital to the future of any society.
JUST ABOVE LEFT: Bare birch tree. After living through the ages, if trees could only talk.
JUST ABOVE RIGHT: Public access stairs to the Rail Trail from Main Street West.
In consideration of just the City of Hamilton and its neighbourhoods, researching the Native Indian history that's actually available helps me to get a sense of what any part of this city experienced in order to get to where it is today. This sense helps me to refine my approach to trying to capture the contemporary moments of these neighbourhoods. I hope that this sense will also inspire ideas in me as to how to contribute to improving these neighbourhoods, and therefore, the city overall. I hope my urban photography will have the same effect on others who view them.
Aside from all this, retracing steps is a thrill for me. My oldest and most favourite adventure-fantasy is to travel aboard a starship to encounter new intelligent life on a distant world. I've never expected this to occur in my lifetime but trying to learn about past and present civilizations on Earth is the next best thing. I know there are many who could care less and may somehow even consider it corny but I love doing it. I think of it as being especially surprising to me that I would take such pleasure in looking into the past as I have always been quite conscious about my obsession with the future.
There are archaeological and historical records and maps that show that this real estate of Ainslie Wood was once fertile Native Indian land, with an aboriginal trail, prior to European settlers entering the region.
Prehistoric Paleo-Indian cultures referred to as Clovis or Llano people are believed by most archaeologists to have been the first humans to settle into the Niagara Peninsula (the area between Lake Ontario and Lake Erie) around 10, 000BC. This was, of course, during the last glacial period within the current ice age and the land was spruce forested tundra. The world famous Niagara River and Niagara Falls began forming out of the Wisconsin glaciation between this time and 8, 000BC.
The Clovis people seem to have mainly lived along the northern shore of Lake Erie before abruptly disappearing around 9, 000BC. Not much is left of their culture now. Arrow or spear heads, hand-chipped out of stone, called Clovis points are probably the most common remnants of their civilization. Archaeologists believe that over-hunting staple megafauna like mastodons, and the majority of the Clovis population becoming less nomadic throughout North America; leading to wide differentiations in cultural traditions and identities, are the most likely reasons why the reign of the Clovis came to an end.
Between 10, 000 and 11, 000 years ago the lands of the Clovis were likely overtaken by Folsom culture; other Paleo-Indians moving in from the central region of the North American continent.
Circa 7, 500BC, the triangular region between Lakes Ontario, Erie, Huron and Georgian Bay was covered by deciduous forest. Wildlife like deer, moose, fish and plants thrived in this biome. Small isolated groups of Folsom people were able to hunt in the winter, and then, band together into larger groups during the summer to fish in the Great Lakes and at the mouths of area rivers.
The Iroquois Indians came to the Niagara Peninsula between 2, 000 and 3, 000 years ago; an area that is approximately 45-minutes drive southeast of Hamilton. They were apparently spreading northwest from the Finger Lakes area of Upstate New York (south of Lake Ontario) while others of their tribe would push southward through what we know today as Kentucky.
Typical of the developmental characteristics of the Woodland period, the Iroquoian villages began agriculture based on crops of corn, bean and squash. They developed technology for ceramics and sometime between 1450 and 1600 they created a rock-solid ceremonial and cultural League between tribes that were previously at odds with each other; the Seneca, Onondaga, Oneida, Cayuga, and Mohawk. This was the birth of the Five Nations (it became the Six Nations when the Tuscarora joined the League in 1722). As the Europeans began colonizing eastern North America since the mid-1500's, the progressive Iroquois Confederacy was also established as a decentralized government. Alliances such as the League and Confederacy would prove to make the Iroquois a force to be reckoned with during the 17th and 18th centuries.
JUST ABOVE: An oldy but a goody just passin' through.
While Jacques Cartier is recorded as being the first Caucasian to arbitrarily claim Canada for a European nation, despite the natives already living here, Étienne Brûlé was, in 1616, likely the first European to see the Chonnonton Indians, in their home that would one day become Ainslie Wood and all of West-Hamilton (enclaves also existed to the east near modern-day Milton, Ontario, and to the east across the Niagara River near modern-day Buffalo, New York).
The Neutral Nation consisted of a group of leaders of ten tribes within the Iroquois Confederacy. They were so named by the French (la Nation neuter) because they tried to remain neutral between warring factions of the Iroquois and the Huron Indians who lived in the north between Lakes Ontario, Huron and Georgian Bay. The Chonnonton and Onguiaahra were Neutral Indians that have some importance in understanding how the Great Lakes were settled, and how Hamilton and Ainslie Wood came to be.
Other tribes around the Great Lakes included the Petun, Erie and the Susquehannock.
Brûlé was a fascinating individual. He was a French traveler or frontiersman, and a linguist who was severely reprimanded for sympathizing and assimilating with the Huron Indians. The French pejoratively referred to the natives as sauvage (wild savages) and entered deceptive alliances with the Hurons during France's territorial conflicts with the British. Brûlé later went on to betray the government of France by helping the British to invade the colony of Quebec in 1629 (it was returned to France in 1632).
In the 1630's, the Iroquois developed a lucrative fur-trading relationship with the Dutch. The Dutch competed with the French who had allied with the Huron in the north, and the Swedes who were providing guns to the Susquehannock just south of Lake Ontario. With the decline of the beaver due to over-hunting the powerful Iroquois had already begun to conquer their smaller western neighbours, starting with the Iroquois-speaking Wenro tribe in 1638; they were abandoned by their Neutral Nation allies.
The expansion of the Iroquois Confederacy west of the Niagara Region was blocked by the Huron in the northwest who had assimilated surviving Wenro. Encouraged by the Dutch, the aggressive Iroquois pushed northeast. The Dutch began selling rifles and gunpowder to the Iroquois, even though this was a violation of the British law that the Dutch operated under. The Dutch presumed they would benefit from this strategy because they had trading posts along the Hudson River to the east; trading posts with ships so eager to take furs back to Europe. Iroquois sources for furs, however, continued to be in steady decline.
By 1641 the Onguiaahra Indians were the predominant tribe along the Niagara River, and the Iroquois Confederacy was able to move northwest enough to occupy this part of the Niagara Escarpment; the future City of Hamilton.
Mohawks of the Iroquois Confederacy tried to convince the French to establish a trading post in Iroquois territory. The French refused on account that the deal would violate their exclusive alliance with the Huron. This rejection by the French initiated a fur-trade rivalry between their Iroquoian-speaking Huron allies and the Iroquois. This rivalry turned into a bloody 5-year Indian war, followed by a couple more years of conflict between the Iroquois and the Susquehannock to the southeast. These violent clashes are known as the Beaver Wars.
Slightly outnumbering the Huron, the Iroquois pushed the advancing Huron Nation back to the north by the early 1650's, and scattered them. The Iroquois immediately assimilated some of the Indians of the Neutral Nation, slaughtered thousands of others and drove the rest out of the Niagara Peninsula and eastward to the vicinity of Albany, New York.
The British captured New York in 1664. The impact of the Dutch in North America quickly dwindled at this point. The British established their own direct treaty of friendship with the Mohawk in 1664, leaving the Dutch traders at Albany in charge of the trade that was critical to the success of the Iroquois conquests. This alliance, which essentially was about the British taking advantage of the Iroquois' hatred of the Huron, helped the British gain a strong foothold on early Canada against the French.
In 1669, the site of the future City of Hamilton was again visited by a French explorer. René-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle came here with Father Francois Dollier de Casson and seven other men in three canoes. Neutral Indians of the Iroquois Confederacy were here at that time (the last known reference of the Neutrals in French records dates back to 1671). La Salle's landing was commemorated in 1926 by renaming Wabasso Park in the City of Burlington to LaSalle Park. Today, Lasalle Park continues to be owned by Hamilton with a lease agreement to Burlington, in which Burlington assumes all maintenance, operational, programming and management responsibilities.
Other than La Salle's visit, the well-known ferocity of the Iroquois kept most European settlers away from the Great Lakes until the end the American Revolution.
The Dutch did recapture New York in 1673, but they returned it to the British in 1674 through the Treaty of Westminster.
Eventually, the Ojibwe Indians who came from near modern-day Sault Ste. Marie, at the outlet of Lake Superior (what is now the northern part of the Province of Ontario), had been advancing southward since 1680. They were hostile to the Hurons but upon arriving in the land just north and west of Lake Ontario, they also attacked Iroquois villages like nothing the Iroquois had ever seen before.
Some of these battles between the Iroquois, Huron and Ojibwe must have taken place right here in Ainslie Wood and other parts of Hamilton.
When I walk through this neighbourhood, downtown and up on the escarpment my imagination allows me to transform my contemporary surroundings to the wilderness which existed long ago. I can see the dense population of leafy trees and bushes in the summer. Wild grasses in open fields grow tall to my waist. In the winter, the snow is knee-deep and the biting wind from the northwest stings my face and whooshes loudly past isolated clumps of evergreens. In the dusk, I hear natives conversing in their languages. They're probably discussing strategies and tactics on how they will stalk, ambush, invade and kill their hated enemies.
JUST BELOW: A seat for those who must rest.
As I cross Main Street West from Paisley Avenue South, I imagine the sprits of some Iroquois walking by me. They're heading west. Ojibwe warriors jump out from behind trees and boulders on the south side of Main--which becomes a muddy east-west trail, and assail the Iroquois with impunity. I hear a shill cry, and see an Ojibwe charge right through me and jump an Iroquois who was passing on the other side of me. Arrows fly through next, and find their mark in the flesh of warriors. Nets, fists and kicks are thrown. Men grunt and pant as they wrestle in ditches; strangling and snapping each others bones mercilessly. I hear the report of the Iroquois' Dutch-made rifles but the shots miss their human targets, and the Ojibwe continue their charge. Spears are rammed or thrown into enemies. People's heads are split open by clubs, and battle axes are buried into chests and backs. The sounds of skin, muscle and tendon tearing, and cartilage and bone popping and breaking all around me make me cringe. Blood is just everywhere and I sense the weight of bodies, young and old, dropping hard onto the earth; never to move again.
No time to grieve for the dead and wounded, the Ojibwe stealthily advance past me and on through the neighbourhood of Westdale. Somewhere there, they will find Chonnonton camps to raid. No Iroquois will be left breathing by the time the attack is over.
I reach the south side of the trail now and as I turn to watch the Ojibwe fade into the forest, Paisley and the houses that align it rematerialize before my eyes. The traffic lights of Main Street turn green, and the cars begin to cross the intersection.
History tells us that the Iroquois were defeated and largely withdrew southeast beyond the Niagara River. The Ojibwe did grant peace to the Iroquois by 1701. In exchange, the Iroquois recognized Ojibwe possession of Iroquoia and permitted the Ojibwe an "open path" to trade with the British at Albany.
With peace established with the Ojibwe, Europeans--mainly the British this time, arrived and settled around the Great Lakes throughout the 1700's. The Ojibwe were eventually displaced.
It was during the late 1700's that a British officer stationed at Fort George (now Niagara-on-the-Lake) became known for frequently hunting the waterfowl that arrived in the vast nearby marshlands during migration seasons to rest and feed. This officer was Captain Thomas Coote, and the Cootes Paradise wetland is named after him.
Under the European settlers, the area that is now Ainslie Wood became associated with the newly established Ancaster Township as the Gore of Ancaster (gore: a triangular piece of land typically found where roads merge or split); presumably due to the area's wedged shape between the old Barton and Ancaster Townships. Settlement lots were arranged at an angle and oriented towards the old Indian trail. By the mid-1830's, the muddy trail was transformed into a planked road by the Hamilton-Brantford Turnpike Trust.
Ainslie Wood gets its name from George Howlett Ainslee, one of many settlers who established a successful farmstead in the area during the 1800's. The AWWCA (Ainslie Wood/Westdale Community Association of Resident Home Owners, Inc.) publishes historical facts about the neighbourhood on its website, and one of its essays states that George settled in the area in 1838. The 60-acre Ainslie farm was located on the south side of the planked road, and west of Longwood Road. Today, this is the northeast corner of Ainslie Wood East. From the different articles that I've read here-and-there, I find that the area is consistently described as being a beautiful forest; hence the name Ainslie's Woods to eventually Ainslie Wood.
ABOVE LEFT: The main entrance to McMaster University Hospital. It's a highly valued institution but the building is often criticized as an architectural eyesore.
ABOVE CENTER: The elegant windows of Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church.
ABOVE RIGHT: Mac students converse over textbooks under an old tree on the university campus.
In late 2009, Rita Griffin-Short, a local archaeologist, gave me a beautiful limited edition fine art print of an 1842 map of Hamilton that shows the old plank road as the "High Road from London and Brantford". The wooden planks laid down by the Turnpike Trust were eventually replaced by stones around the time the City of Hamilton was established in 1846. By the 1860's the road was fully macadamized with aggregate, and it was probably then that the former Indian trail became the Hamilton and Brantford Macadamised Road. Upon leaving the area that would eventually become the neighbourhoods of Westdale and Ainslie Wood East, eastbound, the macadamised road diverted somewhat southeast from the original Indian trail, and seems to have linked up with what used to be known as Concession 3 and/or Court Street further east. The part of the trail that didn't become the macadamised road seems to have, for a while, been a corridor where unwary travelers would often be assailed by bandits and other criminals before eventually becoming what we know today as King Street West. By the mid-to-late-nineteenth century both sides of the Hamilton Brantford Road were thriving agricultural lands. Today, the Hamilton and Brantford Road is Main Street West.
George's house was built of stone; strong enough to last more than a century. His son, Colonel Robert C. Ainslie inherited the farmstead, and converted a portion of it into an outdoor recreation/conservation area where the public could freely go and enjoy themselves. I guess, due to this profound act of communal philanthropy, and the popularity of the gathering place, a little tourist/commuter train was even set up by the Dundas Steam Railway in 1879 to take locals in and out of this private park.
Another railway company purchased the recreational part of Ainslie's Woods in 1885 and turned it into a public park which survived a century until Canada Westinghouse built a nearby railroad yard, which today is the Aberdeen/CP Rail Marshalling Yard of the Chedoke Park land surveys. The rest of the Ainslie property was eventually bought by 1920, by a public dignitary of Scottish origin. He was Lieutenant the Honourable Sir John Morison Gibson. This is the same John Gibson of which east Hamilton's Gibson neighbourhood is named after but Sir Gibson ensured that the Ainslie land maintained the Ainslie name. After John's death in 1929, his wife Lady Gibson donated parts of the land to the Hamilton Parks Board and Hillfield School. The rest of the land eventually became the property of the city, was sold to various developers and seems to have become the foundation for parts of the Chedoke Park A and B areas.
Important to the early economic success and development of the entire Ainslie Wood area was that several farms had reserves of red shale, a source of clay that was fully exploited for brick production by the Stroud, Ollman, Webb, Frid and Hancock farms into the 1930's, when the last production site was redeveloped for building the George R. Allan School on King St. West in Westdale.
The origin of Ainslie Wood as a modern developed area is fairly new as compared to other lower Hamilton neighbourhoods. This is in keeping with reports that indicate a lull in development in the early twentieth century. The oldest homes appear to have been built since the late 1920's. Most other houses and large buildings were built during World War II, perhaps with the bulk of area growth occurring in the 1960's.
It's fascinating to realize just how much forest, farmland and open space actually existed here between the 20's and the 60's as compared to how built up it is now. I can almost make out where all the old plots of land were, and can imagine houses being erected around newly established streets in waves. I see the area going from having a sparse population tilling soils and hauling shale in horse-drawn wagons, to being a little more occupied by picnickers, industrial workers, dignitaries and old pickup trucks and cars.
The southeast corner of Ainslie Wood East is now occupied by an Acura Dealership and the Camelot Towers high rise apartments which were built in 1963. It seems that Camelot Towers had a reputation of being a near-luxury apartment building into the late 70's or early 80's. They have changed ownership and property management firms a couple of times since then. I do remember that there was a Toyota dealership before Acura, and a Dairy Queen before then. My wife and some area residents recall a Red Barn restaurant before the Dairy Queen. The rest of George Ainslee's old farmland is cut through by the 403.
A 2002 background report by the city's Planning & Economic Development Department accurately states that more than half of Ainslie Wood North is occupied by the McMaster University and Hospital Campus (this suggests that the Cootes Paradise A neighbourhood is really only a survey that was cut out of Ainslie Wood North and named after the wetland) while the rest of the area west of Cootes Drive is a well-defined residential neighbourhood that has traditional residential street patterns, including crescents and avenues. This is clear to see on any contemporary map. Ainslie Wood East and West are described as being designed on a large grid street pattern that seems to have been inadvertently built as subdivisions in accordance with the early settlers' land plotlines, and around a small industrial/commercial district occupying both sides of Rifle Range Road.
It almost looks like a self-sufficient community but upon closer observation, Ainslie Wood relies heavily on an economic and political symbiosis with the university hospital, Westdale, everything eastward to the downtown core and an Ancaster shopping district and suburb known as the Meadowlands.
JUST BELOW: Lush tree canopies make tunnels of some residential streets.
If I could change anything about the physical features of Ainslie Wood, it would be to reintroduce the Sunken Gardens to the area. The story goes that in lieu of debts owed by the McKittrick Syndicate, a consortium that was instrumental in the formation of an elitist Westdale, the city acquired 400 acres of prime Ainslie Wood/Westdale land, consisting of Cootes Paradise ravines and water lots, in 1927. A portion of this land is where the Sunken Gardens was created, inclusive of a large reflecting pool with lily pads and goldfish, lush vegetation, manicured lawns and more. After using up its original 50 acres, McMaster bought approximately 98 more acres in order to develop the eastern side of the university campus. This was the end of the garden, and the beginnings of the university's lunar base-looking hospital and Health Sciences Centre. I still hear people revile this phase of McMaster's architecture as a "disgusting eyesore".
Albert Venters, a senior citizen and resident of Ainslie Wood West, remembers the Sunken Gardens quite well. "We used to pass it all the time, on our way to build houses," he told me. He says people don't really think of such things anymore because times are so different. He recalls that back then entertainment consisted of sitting on the front porch and having conversations. Al, as he prefers to be called, confessed to me nevertheless, taking the Sunken Gardens for granted. "It was beautiful but we didn't think much of it." So that's basically what happened. After a while of the garden being there, not enough people cared about it, making it easy for the city and the university to plow it up for modern architecture that people grumble about now; even though the hospital built in the garden's place provides extremely valuable service.
Ainslie Wood today is hardly a place devoid of green space with the Cootes Paradise conservation area (owned by the Royal Botanical Gardens) to the north but old photos and art indicate that the Sunken Gardens would still be an impressive urban park in this city, even by today's standards. I wouldn't get rid of the hospital but I'd like to see a modernized Sunken Garden established somewhere in Ainslie Wood, if it were possible (I really don't think it is). Who knows what modern changes could be made to make it a twenty-first century recreational area.
There are definite differences between the lifestyles of Ainslie Wood residents and those of the other Steeltown neighbourhoods, especially of the citizens who live around the downtown core. Most Ainslie Wood residents are not wealthy (for years I've observed a couple senior citizens who try to make ends meet by regularly rummaging through recycling bins to find aluminum cans to take to a scrap yard or recycling facility for cash) but they're not terribly poor either. This is a so-called majority upper middle-class community of baby boomers, most of who are well-educated and work service sector jobs. As a result, there seems to be an air of snobbery--real or imagined, associated with this part of western Hamilton. None of this means that there aren't any poor and poorly educated people in Ainslie Wood because there are. Individuals and families in the low income category seem to make up a nearly invisible minority in these parts, even as some would assume them to stick out much more.
On an occasion in 2010, my wife was shopping at one of her favourite bakeries in the neighbourhood of Beasley further east. A man she had never met before walked in, looked her up and down, went up to her and said, "You look too well-dressed to be from these parts." You'd think she came from somewhere else in the nation.
The clerk at the bakery, who has history with Kim, informed the stranger, "She's from Dundas." Not quite but definitely close enough.
The interrogative man flipped his hand up passed his nose as he turned away saying, "That explains the uppity!"
Relying on 2006 Census tract profiles from Statistics Canada, Ainslie Wood is home to approximately 9, 045 residents--not including the university student body (more than 24, 000 fulltime and 3, 000 part-time students; approximately 2, 000 of which are international students from over 90 countries). The demographics probably need to be studied more closely but the neighbourhood is easily described as being majority Caucasian. The area is also well-known across the city as having a highly visible Jewish population. The minorities of non-whites certainly stand out. If you're a visible minority, you'll probably recognize that there are still just a few Caucasians who will actually do double-takes or outright gawk at you when you walk down a street. Don't be alarmed. This is very rare but it does happen.
JUST BELOW: A young man from Ainslie Wood East, in Ragamuffin B-Boy style, rides a city bus with his underwear exposed over the waist of his shorts.
When leaving the neighbourhood of Landsdale, my girlfriend; at that time, Kim and I initially tied to move into this neighbourhood. We had an interesting time trying to move into Camelot Towers. I was quickly getting put off by funny vibes coming from the building superintendent, and as we stepped into the hallway with the lady to go see an apartment I walked ahead of my wife and the super. The super turned to my girlfriend and said, "I'm surprised he doesn't dress like the rest of them," in reference to me.
I remember clearly that day I wore a black button down shirt, khaki green slacks, black socks and black dress shoes. It's fairly typical of me to dress this way but in those days, there were many young black males who dressed in the B-Boy style which included a baseball cap with a tag, some oversized shirt or jacket, gaudy gold chains and leather Africa medallions dangling from their necks and pants so baggy that the brothers were tripping over themselves as they walked. It wasn't my style but it was, however, for the young black men who had somehow convinced themselves that they were in trend with the hip-hop resurgence that had been growing since the late 80's.
Funny thing; that style--that some actually still dress in, had only started in that time. North American blacks had been around for hundreds of years prior without dressing like that but for some reason, this building superintendent, who was no spring chicken, hadn't noticed (maybe she also hadn't noticed that many whites and other non-blacks dressed in the B-Boy style). She was completely shocked that I didn't fit a stereotype of young black men floating around in her head. She was also incredulous to the fact that I held a steady job. Maybe it was also an issue for her that my girlfriend, being white, and I constituted an interracial couple. I do know that from living in Canada my whole life, such a reaction is quite familiar to me but it wasn't to my girlfriend. The old lady's comment was completely unexpected to Kim; back then, not anymore.
I'd like to say that the super did not judge us by our appearances, realized that we were good candidates for residency in the building she looked after and granted my wife and me a place to move in. I'd really like to but I can't. Our application was denied. That was when we wound up living in the neighbourhood of Beasley for a while but we eventually managed to move into the building directly across from the one we had originally applied to. This building was run by a different set of supers.
My wife had a brief conversation with a senior citizen of Ainslie Wood East in 2008, who happened to be Caucasian, and who complained that she feels like Canada ". . . is being taken over by the Muslims" because she sees so many of them now whenever she goes into the Jackson Square Shopping Mall in the neighbourhood of Central.
This comment was made after the "Toronto 18" Muslim terrorists who plotted to blow up the Toronto Stock Exchange and government buildings, and to kill civilians and Canada's Prime Minister, were arrested in 2006. I get the feeling, however, that the lady wasn't even aware that Saad Gaya; one of the terrorists and a McMaster University student, may have; for a short time, lived on the same floor of the Ainslie Wood East apartment building that my wife and I have lived in. It completely hadn't dawned upon the lady that these Muslim people she's referring to are not taking over anything or taking anything away from her that she supposedly believed she owned.
These people, except for a very scant number like Gaya and the "Toronto 18", are merely living here going about their own business, like everyone else, as is the constitutional right of any Canadian citizen. The woman was completely put off by the fact that she was seeing more of them, as though merely being a visible minority is a gargantuan social problem destined to bring this city or nation to its knees.
It also hadn't dawned upon the lady that members of Canada's Native Indian population have felt the way she does about all the black people, white people and others who have been in this country from decades to centuries.
Too many people see everything as a war between demographic groups. Competition and indignation where there needn't be any, and we treat this behaviour as though it's an acceptable way of life; as though it makes us good Hamiltonians or patriotic Canadians. I once heard a callous and narrow-minded man in British Columbia say that such attitudes are, ". . . a healthy level of suspicion that serves to keep a community safe from the real threats to society."
Kim and I were married while living in Ainslie Wood, and despite the occasional bigots that we came across, we found the majority of residents to be quite decent and life was okay for us in this neighbourhood.
I remember one morning back in the 90's, and shortly after moving into the area, I had finished a night shift at my east end job and was making my way home on a westbound 5B city bus. I was so tired and I nodded off. I would have gone right past where I was to get off the bus if it wasn't for a soothing but persistent voice saying, "Hello, you're going to miss your stop." When I opened my eyes, there was a girl looking at me with a bright and warm smile. By the sight of her, and the way the bus was jam-packed with young Mac students, I figure she too was going to the university. Peering out the window, I saw that we were fast approaching my stop. I didn't have time to thank the girl or introduce myself. I rang the bell, headed for the door and staggered out onto the sidewalk. The crowded 5B Delaware closed up and took off like a shot.
To this day I don't know who that girl was but she must have been observing me for a number of mornings. How else would she have known which was my stop? I'm grateful for her random act of kindness, and occurrences like these reinforce in my mind that all the negative opinions that people have about Hamilton and its citizens are so unfounded.
In late 2007, my wife and I had the opportunity to converse with a woman working in a submarine sandwich shop in Stoney Creek (an east end suburban/industrial township of Megacity Hamilton) about feeling safe in Hamilton. She explained that grew up in that area and then moved away to the town of Guelph to attend university for a couple years. She returned to her parents' home for the luxury of free food and no rent while she worked to pay off her student loan. She said she hates Hamilton now and didn't know how dangerous Hamilton was to live in until she left and lived in a cleaner and safer city for a while. That's her description, exactly. She no longer trusts anybody here. "As far as I'm concerned, everyone's crazy until proven otherwise!" was her decree. She now describes Hamilton as "a smaller, dirty Toronto." That was really something to me. I told her that I had heard citizens say a lot of negative things about Hamilton but never before that they felt it was a dangerous city, especially Toronto-like. I asked her if her violent impression was of all of Hamilton or only parts of it. She wasn't sure, and did openly question herself as to if her fear was justified or just in her mind. Regardless, she knew from experience that in Guelph, she could walk home from a bar at night without issue but wouldn't dare walk the streets of Hamilton at night anymore. My wife agreed with her. That's a pity. She informed us that when done paying off her massive loan, she'd be leaving Steeltown for good.
ABOVE LEFT: Specifically looking for laptop computers, burglars pried this apartment door open with a crowbar.
ABOVE RIGHT: This car was broken into in order to steal the GPS.
Most people seem to like living in Ainslie Wood. A drawback for some however, has been the behaviour of unruly McMaster University students throughout the first ten years of what people used to call the "New Millennium". I can remember being woken up to the sight and sounds of what appeared to be a crowd of possibly 100 students freaking out at 3:00am for nothing in 2005. As they walked together, eastbound on Main, they flipped mailboxes, broke property lights and tore down local business signs. They all crossed the street and headed north on Paisley Avenue. Two of the hooligans took set on a car that was parked on the street outside of a chiropractic clinic on the corner of Paisley and Main. They jumped on the hood, and then up and down on the car's roof until it caved right in. The mob noisily made their way up Paisley through the Westdale area, wrecking more private and business properties as they went. Some Ainslie Wood and Westdale residents will stand up for their communities when pushed far enough though. My wife and I were of many who called the police that night. Disappointingly, by the time a lone cruiser arrived, the vandals were long gone.
The frequent, disturbances and vandalism by drunken students, who commonly rent student housing in the area, motivated the HPS (Hamilton Police Service) and AWWCA to launch an innovative restorative-justice initiative. The Community Accountability Program was advocated and financially supported by the MSU (Mac Student Union) in 2006. Since then, there has been a noticeable decrease in student shenanigans but you can still hear the occasional young drunkard hollering and cussing in the street, about something trivial, in the middle of the night.
In late April of 2010, neighbours of Ainslie Wood and Westdale were quite disturbed by a party held by Mac students at a house on Main Street. Their live band struck up at about 10:20pm, cranking out their own special flavour of death metal at full volume. The little backyard soirée toned it right down at approximately 11:00pm when uniformed officers in two vehicles showed up.
I haven't heard of any sexual assault reports on university campus or even related to any on or off campus MSU pub since the late 90's. Even before civilization collided with the "New Millennium", such occurrences seem to have been rarely reported despite the fact that they were so devastating when they did occur.
I know of only two murders occurring in Ainslie Wood East since the year 2000. The first was of a woman who was originally from Nigeria. The alleged story is that she was viciously abused by her husband where they lived in Alberta. She escaped him by leaving her two small children, a girl and a boy, behind with the man and found a hiding place in Camelot Towers. One day after building tenants had complained of a most foul odour coming from her 5th floor apartment for several days, the superintendent entered to find that the poor woman's throat had been slit from ear-to-ear. I don't think the police ever caught up to the husband or the children but it was suspected that he found and killed his wife, as is the typical and most unfortunate ending of domestic abuse situations.
The other murder was a drug-related shooting years later. The police did catch up to that guy.
JUST BELOW: A fire truck and ambulance respond to a woman in distress.
Ainsliee Wood has been hit pretty hard by graffiti just as any other neighbourhood in Hamilton has. My wife and I live within spitting-distance of one of the city's most pervasive taggers. That's right, for any Hamiltonians who didn't know, he's lived in Ainslie Wood East for many years. I won't mention his street name or real name because I think he'd like that too much, if he were to actually read this, but I will go so far as to say that he made it his mission in life to desecrate every block of upper and lower Hamilton by spray-painting his street name on a wide range of public and private properties.
He was busted twice in 2008; once in late September, and again in late November. He must have been so thrilled that his street alias and crimes made local print and television news. He was 18-years-old those times but the law stated that his true identity couldn't be revealed due to his standing juvenile criminal record. You could still find out his real name however by going on some of the pro-tagger Web sites that blatantly identified him. That's the Internet for you folks! What goes on it stays on it! Nothing is sacred in the e-world.
On his first 2008 arrest, the press showed photos of all his art supplies in his little apartment. He had way more paint and markers than I do. Sadly, with paint cans and writing implements piled overtop of each other it looked to me like the home of someone with a sufficiently serious case of the Compulsive Hoarding Disorder. That's not to say that he has CHD. Maybe he's just a slob. I got to thinking though, all that stuff, and all he did was scrawl some stupid little nonsensical name in basic stick-letters all over the city. Real genius! On his second bust of the year, he was caught actively tagging with two others, and was charged with eight counts of mischief under $5, 000 plus one count of robbery because he had apparently held someone up at knife-point.
I hear on the street that he was arrested again in 2009, this time assaulting a police officer in the process, and wound up serving two years in jail.
The HPS--formerly the Hamilton Wentworth Regional Police, regards the city through three patrol divisions. Ainslie Wood is located deep within Division 1, which is surrounded by Sherman Avenue, the border of the Dundas and Ancaster communities, the mountain brow and Hamilton Harbour. Division 1 is further broken down into four sectors for the police. Ainslie Wood occupies the western half of Sector 1 (West Town); also known to the HPS as simply Westdale.
The Kirkendall Neighbourhood Association and the Ward 1 Councillor Brian McHattie (since 2004) regularly post police crime statistics, reports and alerts for West Town, on their websites. The reports indicate that Ainslie Wood is an area of low to moderate mischief and theft activity, especially thefts from cars, but not much else. Most citizens seem to agree that Ainslie Wood is a nice, quiet, low crime area. Unfortunately, I've heard a few citizens actually use the word "boring".
It's not like me, someone who is always curious about the future, to not try considering what may be in store for Ainslie wood down the road. Doing this is important to my urban photography life project.
Looking toward the year 2020, it is the City's Planning and Economic Development (PED) Department objective to preserve the predominantly low density residential appearance of Ainslie Wood while directing the higher densities away from the single-detached areas (likely homes close to the escarpment), and towards major roads (Main Street and Cootes Drive).
The city aims to provide a diversity of suitable housing choices for families, students, seniors and others. The PED also wants to ensure that there will be employment opportunities within the area which are compatible with Ainslie Wood's residential uses, so that area residents may be able to work near to where they live. This is supposed to include the phasing out of industrial uses (perhaps such as those around Rifle Range Road), except for light industrial uses and other types which are compatible with the area's predominantly residential character. I suppose the idea is to replace certain industrial facilities with residences and/or shops in order to divert greater population densities to Main, Cootes and Rifle Range. This, again, could heighten the opportunity for some area residents to find work close to home.
ABOVE: Loaded down with empty beer bottles, a recycling cyclist pedals along Main Street, no doubt, to the nearest Beer Store where he can cash in.
Finding ways to help people establish businesses and find work near to where they live should be a consideration for many more neighbourhoods. Since the 1980's Hamilton's long-standing manufacturing and trades sectors dwindled until the steadily growing healthcare industry took over by the early part of the twenty-first century. Many people have resorted to commuting to and from cities like Oakville, Mississauga and Toronto to find meaningful work that pays enough in Ontario's high standard of living.
One trend that had been a part of Canada overall for decades is that employment will shift toward the western part of the country, motivating citizens to follow that economic prosperity, and then a few years later shift back to eastern Canada; bringing people back. This is even how my family wound up leaving Hamilton and moving to north-central British Columbia for close to a decade.
I've observed how many in my generation and after have left the country altogether after high school, college or university to make a successful living in either the US or Europe. Imagine how Hamilton will likely suffer if the majority of its baby-boomer population reaches retirement age without much of the younger generations being here to take over. Not everyone is or will be qualified to work in the healthcare and sciences sectors and Hamilton seriously needs industrial diversity.
At some point, Ainslie Wood may be shown off as a distinct Hamilton community by the introduction of stylish features like labeled gateways at the area's eastern and western ends of Main Street, to enhance streetscapes. I see a potential public art project in this. Such aesthetic designs should be interesting. This sort of thing has already been applied to Hamilton communities like Waterdown, and neighbourhoods in other Ontario cities like Cambridge.
Further work to advertise McMaster University and its Medical Centre as major community stakeholders is likely. The PED believes that doing this will help to define the identities of Ainslie Wood and Westdale, and contribute to educational and employment opportunities for both areas.
I think the future changes of Ainslie Wood are likely to yield some interesting results.
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