|A line of Simon Frank's concrete poetry on Locke Street, Hamilton|
"Since my house burned down
I now own a better view
of the rising moon." ~ Masahide
In the spring of 2012 my wife and I abandoned plans to move to Hamilton after a job offer there fell apart. Given that we’d spent a few months getting to that stage and already notified colleagues and friends in Ottawa of our imminent departure, we adapted and chose our hometown St Catharines; a reasonable contingency plan since leaving Ottawa was in large part predicated on a desire to be closer to family.
Now I’ve encountered the hometown stigma everywhere I’ve lived, in friends and co-workers having a disenchanted outlook on their surroundings because it’s where they grew up. I relate the condition to people who grow up entrenched in religious or wealthy families; it’s easier to take for granted what you never sought out for yourself. As my wife and I found an apartment on an all-too-familiar street, we rationalized the likelihood that ten years removed from the city, during which time we’d grown into ourselves, might diffuse our shared stigma.
It was an honorable attempt. I look back at those first few months of getting reacquainted with a sense of wonder: we shopped in malls, signed up for gym memberships and ate in restaurants that were plagued with awkward “run-in” potential. What’s more, we realized how immature those fears had been and commended each other on social skills that had unknowingly survived while deep in the two-person bubble we’d cherished for years.
Six months in, we owned up: this wasn’t meant to last. Or maybe it wasn’t meant to happen in the first place. We left Ottawa for some quaint pretense, a leap of faith. And it would be just as tempting to call the whole move a mistake if not for the undersides of our disappointments bearing fruit; each regret twinned with knowledge we’d have otherwise never found. Would we ever face our nomadic guilt without taking this backwards voyage? Could we ever feel assured in our secluded hideaway without investigating the alternative? As the past year has given us time to reflect and dismantle those questions, we can now confidently answer: no and no.
Well we’ve met our lease, paid our dues and finalized a move to Hamilton. It’ll be a return trip for both of us: years ago, my wife was a student at MacMaster and I had a Greyhound ticket. We tested our friendship on a boardwalk in Cootes Paradise, had our first kiss on Emerson Street; I worked a nightshift job on Main Street West, rented my first (and only) solo apartment on Woodbine Crescent.
For me, having grown up in Niagara but going to school in London, Ontario, Hamilton gained the easy impression of a smokestack tragedy. I saw the brownfields from the Burlington Skyway and kept going. Getting to know the city at the same time as my one-day wife, I realized what a secret Hamilton is: a staggeringly diverse and vibrant community surrounded by waterfalls, valleys and amazing urban architecture. Its history, good and bad, sits on its sleeve. We loved the city then and are proud of its revitalization in recent years.
Leaving St Catharines so soon – and for misunderstood Hamilton, to boot – will cause some confusion, I’m sure. That’s okay. The hometown stigma is indiscriminate but, more significantly, it’s a gut instinct worth paying attention to. There’s something to be said for discovering and staking one’s own city; for some it’s about new chapters and clean slates, for others it’s part of a lifelong adventure. And it’s about time we got back to living ours.