The Friends of the Gore have launched a last-ditch campaign to petition the province to intervene to save this fine heritage row. You can can lend your support here:
Unbuilt Hamilton, which opened at The Art Gallery of Hamilton during the National Trust for Canada’s conference in that city last fall, is a fascinating exhibition about big building, planning and other projects in Hamilton that were never realized. [Note 1].
The boarded-up Gore Park buildings, while structurally sound, have been left vacant and moldering for four years. Hamilton city councillors will surely feel it is time for a solution to the eyesore on the Gore. They may be tempted to think that the current (now slightly revised) proposal for the buildings is a good or at least passable compromise. They should think again.
An acceptable compromise is a middle-ground that gives all parties much if not all of what they want. In a planning scenario it balances, or better yet reconciles, competing policy interests.
In downtown Hamilton there are some great examples of projects that respond to provincial and city (Official Plan) policies that require heritage building protection, encourage intensification and promote downtown rejuvenation.
There’s the Lister Block, of course. Ten years ago it was a blot on the landscape and its fate hung in the balance; today it’s a showpiece and symbol of a resurgent city.
The current proposal for the Gore reminds me in some ways of the original idea for the Lister Block: tear it down and build a facsimile. In that case, by fits and starts, the city, the owner and the other parties eventually worked toward a different result. [Note 5] They recognized that:
Facsimile/Pastiche = Inauthentic = Characterless/Blah
Heritage = Authentic = Character/Awe
But just down King William Street the Templar Flats is an even more recent — and more relevant — example. A case where the new development integrates the old, respectfully, within a larger, character-defining streetscape.
|Core Urban's Templar Flats development on King William Street|
I think a big part of the problem here is our penchant for focussing on parts or pieces, at the expense of the bigger picture — specific heritage elements rather than the entire exterior, exteriors or facades rather than the building as a whole, individual buildings rather than the surviving row of four buildings, the row rather than the King Street streetscape and the Gore as a whole.
What is it we experience when we walk around Gore Park? The whole (space) is so much better than the sum… Relationship and context is key.
The city’s designation notice for the Gore buildings speaks sagely of the four buildings as “integral components of the King Street East streetscape and the character of the Gore area.” Despite this, the planning to date has been about picking these buildings apart and rationalizing which bits are disposable.
Hamilton council is in the driver’s seat here. Drawing on its predecessor’s experience with Gore Park, it should stick to its Gore heritage designations and reject the major and irrevocable changes proposed. While the city should welcome and support the redevelopment of properties in the Gore, the current proposal is simply not good enough. Too much gets lost. A good proposal, like those successful examples nearby, would be more respectful of the Gore’s distinctive character.
Above all city council should listen not just to professional experts but to the voices of its volunteer communities, its neighbourhood groups, its citizens. This is the lesson from the 1983 fiasco.
Last thought: Maybe it’s time, as some local folks have suggested, for Hamilton to take a larger view and get out ahead of development pressures in the Gore. A Gore heritage conservation district, put in place with plenty of civic input, and setting out principles and guidelines for development, would help manage the inevitable changes to this special place. And help avoid public outcries. [Note 6]
Note 1: The exhibition and book of the same name are by Hamilton native Mark Osbaldeston. The exhibitions continues until February 12.
Note 2: See
Note 3: The city would have been smart to pursue the matter before the CRB and have done with it. Based on its track record, there can be little doubt the Board would have supported the city’s designations and in any case the city makes the final decision. Instead the city showed weakness by dragging the matter out and handing the owner a bargaining chip (agreement to the designations).
Note 4: There appears to be a serious misunderstanding or distortion here. From page 8 of council’s April 13/16 minutes: “The presentation, provided by Tim Bullock, Legal Counsel, Simpson Wigle Law LLP; and, David Premi, Architect/Director of DPAI Architecture Inc., respecting the designation and retention of 18-22 King Street East, Hamilton and redevelopment of 24-28 King Street East, Hamilton (Gore Park Apartments), was referred to staff for review and a report back to the General Issues Committee on May 18, 2016 on a process for Committee’s consideration.” (Bolding added.)
It’s clear that, while the owner’s lawyer/architect’s information presentation at the General Issues Committee may have called for the “retention” (i.e. facade retention) of 18-22 and the “redevelopment” (i.e. demolition) of 24-28, the Committee and Council itself were not endorsing this approach, merely directing staff to review the matter and develop a process for moving ahead with its consideration by the city.
Note 5: Full disclosure: As a representative of the provincial culture ministry, I was a member of the Lister Block Working Group.
Note 6: There is a parallel here with a stretch of Yonge Street in Toronto and what the city is attempting to do there. The city is studying the street for potential designation of a heritage conservation district. In the interim it has designated the area as a heritage conservation study area under section 40.1 of the Ontario Heritage Act. This puts a hold on development for one year.