I came to Hamilton from my cabin on the shore of Georgian Bay (just north of Owen Sound) to fulfil a three month residency at The Cotton Factory. By the second month I’d decided to extend my residency in Hamilton to three years. I was finishing up a Masters in Community Music at Laurier, living in rooming houses (one of them in the centre of the red light district), and rediscovering the city where I was born. Hamilton, where working class immigrants came 100 years ago to earn a decent living in the new country, my Glaswegian grandparents among them. My dad grew up here in the ’40s, through the war. He was a highschool football hero at Delta, a monument of a school that just closed its doors in 2020. I explore a city of enormous churches from all countries and denominations, trains threading through the north-east end houses. There are too many abandoned buildings here, but also signs of renewal and life – a thriving arts community, of course. Artists revive a place.
By the third month it was clear that my dad was dying. I’d found an apartment just two walking minutes south of Gage Park, and moved all my stuff from Owen Sound out of storage, and into the new place. The day after Dad died I presented my Master’s Capstone, and three weeks later was traveling through Ireland, France, Italy and Scotland – my first solo travel in decades.
In February, I wrote this to my dad’s parents who worked in the Hamilton factories:
Song for the Workers
How many miles of pavement walked
through the working years?
Did you wonder, over a hundred years wonder where
where it would lead us?
Out the grey porch door
down eight city blocks of concrete
over the train tracks
through the opened gate
through the big door (with the others)
up the long stairs (with the mothers)
across the wooden floors to the chair, to the treadle
A billion miles of thread, fed
carefully through your steady needle.
For Jeannie Brown, born in Ireland
and for Hamilton where she made herself fit
like all the others, all the mothers
the brothers daughters and sons,
transplanted and harnessed
in the name of God, waged
In the church, when the bells rang