By now, most Torontonians know someone who’s at least considered making the move to Hamilton. They argue it’s cheaper, and it has a great arts scene.
It’s definitely a city on the rise. Earlier this year, TD Economics labelled Hamilton one of the country’s hottest housing markets, saying houses for sale are being snapped up fast. Anecdotal reports from buyers say they’re seeing an increase of Toronto folk swooping into town — people with money to spend and a tolerance for bidding wars, a kind of people who aren’t the norm in Hamilton.
In other words, if you’re hoping to capitalize on Lunch Bucket City’s cheap real estate, the sooner you do it, the better.
But how is Hamilton’s queer community? And could someone who’s used to the action in the Big Smoke really be content in the Hammer?
What Hamilton is not is what you may have seen from the Queen Elizabeth Way: a smog-drenched factory town full of drab industrial buildings. It is rough-around-the-edges in parts, but that grittiness is what many who move there come to love. There are also dozens of great neighbourhoods to choose from with easy access to scenic hiking trails, very friendly people and, by Toronto standards, almost no traffic.
And another minor selling point: the average home price in Hamilton Centre in October was $200,926. That’s compared to $587,505 in Toronto and $420,778 for the Hamilton-Burlington region as a whole. If that has your blood pumping, we present a few neighbourhoods worthy of consideration.
Artist Paul Elia, 37, moved to Hamilton from Toronto seven years ago and says he’s found much to love — and little judgment of his lifestyle — in his new home. Elia, whose photo-based illustrations celebrate streetscapes in his current and former homes, first moved to Beasley, a still-gritty downtown neighbourhood that he compares to Toronto’s Parkdale.
He now lives on the border of the Durand and Kirkendall neighbourhoods, a well-treed area of stately older homes nestled at the base of the Niagara Escarpment, in downtown Hamilton’s west end. Picture Hamilton’s version of the Annex: it’s one of the nicest parts of town, with homes that would sell for upward of $1 million in Toronto. Recent listings show houses in that neighbourhood for sale starting at $250,000, with many under $500,000.
“It’s walking distance to downtown but still feels like you are tucked away from the hustle and bustle,” Elia says. “Durand/Kirkendall has attracted a strong LGBT community . . . because of the impressive selection of unique homes that have been well-maintained over the years. And they are still available at a reasonable price, compared to Toronto prices at least.”
The area’s main drag, Locke Street, was known as a hotspot of LGBT activity about 10 years ago because of a cluster of gay business owners, including one of only three gay bookstores in the province. The store is now closed and the scene is somewhat muted, but there are still plenty of queer folks in the ’hood.
Stinson to Gage Park
This section south of Main Street is also nestled up to the escarpment, which provides easy access to a strip of nature, including the Bruce Trail. Its west end, the Stinson neighbourhood, is close to downtown, while the east is near the beautiful Gage Park and the up-and-coming commercial strip on Ottawa Street North.
This area is much more classically Hamilton than Durand. It can be gritty in parts, but many come to find that endearing. Large, old homes can go for less than $300,000.
Hamilton realtor Alexandra Borondy says the area has a reputation for being “extremely LGBT-friendly.” One client shopping in Stinson recently told Borondy “she loved the time and investment [people] seemed to be putting into their homes making the old character modern and fresh.”
McMaster University medical student Adam Matheson, 28, recently bought his first home, choosing Stinson for its proximity to downtown’s cafés and pubs. He said his neighbourhood is still “rough around the edges” but close enough to areas that have gentrified that it seems like it could be next.
Not all rainbows
While most people who spoke to Xtra said they’ve been welcomed by Hamiltonians, community activist Deirdre Pike says the city is by no means a paradise for LGBT people. Pike, 52, is a senior social planner at the Social Planning and Resource Council of Hamilton and conducts diversity training throughout the city.
She points to several historical incidents of violence against LGBT people and a recent incident in which two lesbians said they were kicked out of a Locke Street restaurant for kissing. (The restaurant owner said they were being too sexual and he would have done the same to a straight couple.)
It can be hard for a newcomer to tap into the scene, Pike adds, since there are so few overtly LGBT businesses. The Embassy is the only gay bar in the city today. Another — the Steel Lounge, a women-owned pub — was set to open Nov 28.
Matheson speculates that most young Hamiltonians who want to socialize in a gay environment travel to Toronto or find someone to meet up with online. Pike takes that idea a step further, saying the city loses a lot of its younger LGBT people to Toronto, as they seek more gay-positive environments.
That said, she says she chose Hamilton deliberately more than 10 years ago and does not regret it.
“I love it here,” Pike says. “I just think it’s really important for people to recognize that there’s still lots to be done.”