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How Hamilton’s Collective Pursuits Are Creating Canada’s Brooklyn

In case you haven’t heard, you can do anything in Hamilton. We even have a t-shirt to prove it. That place known as “steel town” is no more.

We have had the opportunity to experience this renaissance over the last 11 months, and see it now not as a fad, or a moment in time.


Hamilton is for real and we should all take notice and learn from the movement that is driving this perfect storm.

What do you create when you combine a fusion of artists and culinary mavens priced out of some of our countries larger cities, the willingness of a local government to enable innovative place making and cultural/culinary collective happenings, some forward thinking developers and creative entrepreneurs and a galvanized social media push around one hashtag called #hamont?

Meet Hamilton 2.0. A city that is organically and strategically turning into what some are saying could be Canada’s answer to the movement that inspired a modern Brooklyn.

What seems consistent, and could be the very insight that continues the growth of this city and why we should all take notice, is a genuine sincere will to work together. There is this common feeling that collectively, anything is possible.

The city is showing us that if you celebrate and create a collective atmosphere, everyone wins: local businesses, the culture and food mavens, communities, tourism and development.

Add in the stunning historical architecture and a “re-invention of large heritage buildings into active hubs of commerce and culture ” seen through examples like the Cannon Knitting Mills and you have a setting where magical transformation can take shape.

They are creating a place where people want to come live and visit.

And the proof is there.

Hamilton now attracts 4.5 million visits that spend $359.5 million annually and in 2014, it welcomed 57 conferences and 76 sporting events.

The city has welcomed various festivals over the summer to date including Hamilton Kicks It Up which animated the city around TO 2015 Pan Am Games, the Because Beer Festival, a great new-ish waterfront event and part of Hamilton’s evolving local craft beer scene, along with favourites such as the Hamilton Fringe Festival and the Hamilton World Music Festival.

We had the opportunity to sit down with two of the change makers that are driving the transformation of Hamilton. Tim Potocic (TP), Co-owner of Sonic Unyon and one of the founders of Supercrawl, and Jason Cassis (JC), one of Hamilton’s most innovative hospitality and real estate entrepreneurs, shared their thoughts on what is driving this transformation and the exciting things to come.

There seems to be a growing movement around the arts and food in Hamilton. What triggered this?

TP: This has been triggered by community. People working together and supporting one another.

JC: I believe growth was organic for the most part however when the trends emerged, the city did not take long to back them both. In the case of arts, they have committed to organizational assistance and some funding and in the case of food trucks, they have removed barriers to growth that allow that culture to thrive.

One can see there is authentic collaboration happening. What’s the secret other cities can learn from?

TP: Hamilton has transformed in the last 10-15 years into a community that thrive on working together. Egos are checked at the door – people willing to help others are now in turn thriving.

JC: The change agents actively work together across multiple industries from food to arts to development, with the end goal of a better city in mind – ultimately the city at large wins in this case. Other cities should see the end product of improved neighborhoods as its most important goal, not individual interests.

What are the top three culture or food trends that are thriving in your city?

TP: Music, galleries and small business restauranteurs.

JC: Really big free festivals like Supercrawl or Festival of Friends, shared community office space and the reincarnation of the corner store/corner market such as Dundurn Market, one of my new passions.

Can you compare the city to another city in the world?

TP: Brooklyn.

JC: Brooklyn, New York a decade ago.

In one sentence, tell us why someone should visit? And live?

TP: Hamilton is an open, affordable and accommodating city, with lots of hidden gems ranging from culture to architecture to the nature surroundings.

JC: “Because you can do anything in Hamilton.”

Where do you see the city in five years? 10 years?

TP: Massive growth, rebirth of a downtown, downtown living, thriving core one of Canada’s cultural hotbeds. In 15-20 years — the most talked about city in Canada.

JC: Five years — I believe Hamilton will continue on its path of creating vibrant communities and will be home to wonderful homespun amenities. Those amenities created almost exclusively by the citizens that call it home. Ten Years — Hamilton will become one of the top three cities to live in in Canada. This will be a result of a city hall that acts as a conduit to lead and engage its change agents to listen closely to its neighborhoods.

As the summer hits its midpoint, there are still many happenings for the public to attend.

Highlights include Greenbelt Harvest Picnic (August 29), co-founded by legendary music producer Daniel Lanois (originally from Hamilton), Supercrawl (September 11 to 13), and the AGH BMO World Film Festival (October 16 to 25). If you have kids, do not fear, the Telling Tales, A Family Festival of Stories (September 20) is a popular family event celebrating children’s stories.

There are many lessons here for those who look to how to build successful communities. And for those of you who just want to go to a place filled with authentic, fun, collective experiences, you can now add Hamilton to the list. And if you want to be part of the movement, they are no doubt looking for big thinkers who are authentic in what they do.