When I first moved to Hamilton, I was warned that it was unsafe and broken. People told me about crime, teen pregnancy and drug abuse. I was cautioned to stay near campus and to avoid downtown.
In my first year, I remained skeptical and judgmental. Most weekends, I went home to Toronto, and during the week I occasionally wandered into Westdale to enjoy a harmless frozen yogurt. Once, I took two busses to Limeridge Mall. As I stood waiting for the second bus at Macnab Transit Terminal, I glanced around nervously and tried my best to emit unfriendly vibes. It’s likely that I was particularly paranoid and closed-minded. But either way, I was resolutely uninterested in the city itself.
When I finally attended Art Crawl for the first time, I was moved, but also confused. Where did this all come from? Where had I been? How come I was told over and over again that Hamilton was “sketchy,” but nobody had told me that there was a monthly event where everybody came together to celebrate art, music and the community? In Toronto, I had regularly gone to Art Crawls and summer festivals, but the James Street experience was different. Even though I grew up near Toronto, whenever I went exploring there, I often felt like an outsider looking in. But here, I wasn’t a local artist, a Hamilton native or even a particularly empathetic tourist. I was an ignorant student who had believed everything I’d heard without having a more curious, careful and compassionate eye. The city had welcomed me anyway, and with open arms.
In the months, photographs, articles and memories that have passed, I’ve come to find every old building, funky sign and graffiti-laden wall charming and gritty and expressive. Every little shop and venue has its own funny story. If my life were a novel, Hamilton would be the character who changes me, challenges me, understands me and lets me be myself. Hamilton never pretends to be something it’s not. I have never found it particularly exotic or sexy or glossy. But it’s always honest and striking and stunningly beautiful in its own peculiar ways.
Hamilton’s music expresses the city’s identity far more eloquently than I ever could. It’s a never-ending cassette that serves as the city’s diary. And it’s accessible to anyone and relevant to everyone. From The Rest’s rich but subtle complexity to TV Freak’s rough poetry to New Hands’ funky music and somber voice, the sounds that come from this city tell a story that’s strange, evocative and authentic.
In the pages that follow, we’ve compiled our own mixtape of musicians and artists who have helped construct the city’s cultural landscape. They’re all insightful and interesting and will make you love this place a little bit more. Our writers have shared their own stories of discovering the city beyond McMaster and how these bands have inspired them.
So give us a read, and give Hamilton a listen.