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moon over boats

It seems I’ve only had minutes here in the Hammer before it’s time to head out again. I truly lucked out in having a week of glorious summer weather since arriving from Costa Rica. The blue skies and sunshine just won’t quit.  I’ve unpacked and am now repacking to go to the northeastern US for a couple days – heading to a Quaker retreat in Vermont on a lake, so I sure hope this weather will follow me there and make the lake swimmable. Will then visit again with Cocky and Peter on the coast of Maine and stop in to see Carlos Guindon, who is moving forward with the final details of the Spanish translation of Walking with Wolf.

Between preparing to head out, juggling my book event schedule (have just added a talk on November 19 for the Kingston Field Naturalists), and meeting up with friends who I haven’t seen for a few months, this week has flown by as quickly as the planes that keep appearing above my house as part of the Hamilton Air Show. As is usual when I’m here in the Hammer, I’ve managed to catch a lot of live music this past week.

the saint

There is a new music venue  that opened up while I was in Costa Rica, just a two minute bike ride from my house. I can see myself becoming a regular here when in the city. What used to be the old Copperhead Bar on James Street North (or the Copper John or Copper Corner or something like that – a place I’ve passed for years but never really taken notice of) has been given a new life as “This Ain’t Hollywood” – more affectionately known as The Saint. Hammerheads Lou Molinaro, Glen the Hamilton Kid and Gary Daly have taken over this ancient beer hall (slinging beer since 1893), done a few smart renovations and added a big sound system. The new stage is filling with rock, punk and alternative acts passing through the area as well as regular open mic nights where local musicians and their friends and fans gather.

 Local singer-songwriter-music producer, JP Reimens, has organized a songwriters’ soiree at The Westtown over on Locke Street for a few years, but last week moved his Tuesday night gathering to The Saint. I’ve managed to catch the shows. It is a real nice room to see musicians play with good sightlines and there is a full clear sound. There is so much great talent around and you never know who will show up to perform or just drop by to see what’s going on: from the sultry sirens Ginger St. James, Lori Yates and Buckshot Bebee to guitar wizards Brian Griffith and Dan Walsh to the city’s songwriters with attitude Tim Gibbons, Linda Duemo and Dave Rave.

heather, jeff and me

Last weekend was “the biggest Ribfest in the country” on the Burlington waterfront. With my friends Jeff (no last names please – the CIA is watching) and Heather, we went over to hang out on the beach in the late afternoon and have a barbeque, waiting for the sun to go down before heading up to the biggest pig-out in the land.

burlington skyline

It’s a very different beach than the Caribbean shore in Cahuita I just spent the last two weeks on – chilly Lake Ontario sipping at its sand, just as often lashing it with serious waves. But the lake was calm and the full moon was rising and the city startled to sparkle as a gorgeous night came on.  

tom wilson

 

 

We rode our bikes up the waterfront path to the big rib-affair to see Tom Wilson, another of my favorite musical beasts of Hamilton, along with some great musicians, including Jesse O’Brien, keyboardist extraordinaire.

 

tom, jesse and harlan pepper

Tom’s son Thompson and friends have a band – Harlan Pepper – as well as a big self-promoting father who gets gigs and press, so these four young guys are getting some exposure  (opening for Tom’s show as they did on this night.) Some talent, some good songs, but still young and could do with some attitude. But the papa-musician, Tom, rocks as always and is guaranteed to be playing with hot talent no matter who he is at the moment – Blackie and the Rodeo Kings, Junkhouse, Lee Harvey Osmond, or he himself with an assembled band.

moon over house

 

 

That big full moon continued hanging over us the next night when I went to Sonny Del Rio’s birthday party. Sonny’s the father of the sax here in the Hammer – been playing forever and at 66 is playing more than ever and loving it.

 

 

gord lewis, sonny, dean

There was a backyard full of musicians and they stepped up to the mic, including Gord Lewis of Teenage Head who played a few with Sonny and friends. It was a real nice evening spent with my good friends Mike and Freda as well as Dean and Gary Duncan and his brother Randy, folks I love but I don’t get enough chances to see.

 

randy & dean

gary

 

It is so great to come back to this happening little city where good friends reside and I never need be bored – not a word in my vocabulary anyway.  Yet it is all on a scale that makes you look at the central core of Hamilton as truly down-town, as in the backbeat of a town, not the staccato of a big city.

Now I’m hanging my sign on the door of this blog

GONE ON ROADTRIP…THE DOOR’S OPEN…MAKE YOURSELF AT HOME…BACK SOON

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k reflects

 

 

 

 

Aah, my last week in the Hammer. She’s been an attentive hostess this last week, our fair city. Blue skies, warm sunshine, no pollution (well, maybe that’s a relative thing), the bursting of bulbs and buds – all a perfect backdrop for getting my house and yard ready to be abandoned (well by me, not my house guy Ben),

jerry treeman

 

 

assisting my pal Gerry to take down the rest of the crumbling poplar tree in my back forty, spending some last precious moments with  friends, doing my taxes to the tune of a good return, gathering things for jungle living, and spending the second Friday of the month on the ever-fascinating James Street North.

mixed mediaThis once maligned street – the original road up into town from the harbour of the Port of Hamilton – has traditionally housed all kinds of storefronts, bars, and restaurants as well as the Canadian Forces Armoury and the original train station which is now a large dining room and conference center.  There’s also a whack of Portuguese and Italian mens’ clubs and cafes which is where I went to watch games with the old European men during the last World Cup in 2006.

I’m sure at one time the street would’ve drawn sailors off the big boats pulled into the harbor – I’ve met a sailor or two at Fisher’s , my local eatery & pub at the most northernly end of James Street North. When I grew up, across the bay in Burlington, and for most of its existence, the neighbourhood had a reputation for a mafia presence. venturaIt certainly has always had a tough spirit and a working class energy.

 

 The original Portuguese restaurants, the Wild Orchid and Ventura’s amongst others, have continued to thrive and the little Gates of India restaurant that consistently gets great reviews is still here. There are still a few long standing family-run businesses, Millers Shoes and Morgensten’s Department Store, that have survived the years. Now a larger variety of cultures are represented, East Indians and Koreans and West Indians included. But the biggest new crowd in the area has to be the arts community.

print studio

Sometime around the turn of the century (this last one), people starting buying up the old, now fading buildings, and turning them into  art galleries and studios. Torontonians with dreams of owning their own gallery or studio could actually do it here in the Hammer as the prices were hillbillyish compared to the over-inflated costs of the Big Smoke  which is only about 45 minutes down the highway.

So bit by bit the face of  James Street is changing – to the point that one is beginning to wonder where it will all end (besides at the bay to the north and the steep climb up the mountain to the south. ) As in, how long till Starbucks realizes a good thing? James Street South, which cuts across the upper “mountain” of Hamilton, has already filled with car dealers and is working on collecting big box type stores. Lower James Street, here in the heart of the city, holds the life of the Hammer.

James North Gallery

There are many characters responsible for the most recent turn of events – Bryce Kanberra, Dave Kuruc, Cynthia Hill, Jim Chambers – who first saw the possibilities for the street and were smart enough to take advantage of the cheap prices involved in renting and buying. Once people started coming to their galleries and shops – the You Me, Mixed Media, the Blue Angel and James North Gallery – they were intrigued by the possibilities and, well, the rest is modern history.

old silk

On the second Friday of each month, the street opens its doors for the Art Crawl.  I think this has been going on for four or five years. In the beginning there were maybe ten small galleries, mostly simple renovated spaces created within old funky buildings with an abundance of red brick and ubiquitous white drywall backdrops to hang paintings. In the last two years, there have been many other artist-held spaces opened and you could no longer do the street at a crawl – you now have to scurry to get through all the openings and exhibitions. This last Friday night saw the opening of about five new or renovated spaces – and the bar keeps getting raised each time with the effort people are putting into their new ventures. 

The street was teeming – I mean, I was recently in New York City on a Saturday night in July-like weather and, well, okay maybe there were a few more people wandering the streets of the Big Apple, but in a relative kinda way (NYC – 10 million people – Hamilton 500,000)  James Street North was packed and the atmosphere was exciting.

with freda & susie

 

 

With my friends Freda and Susie, we wandered through the galleries and couldn’t believe the buzz on the street. I’ve always found it hard to catch everything:  the art openings, the occasional busker or performance artist, the friends you bump into, and now add the local fashion designers’ studios as well which could demand trying on clothes! Sheesh, you need a weekend to do the whole street anymore, not just the evening. 

blackbird studio

I have talked before about Blackbird Studios, just off of James North on Wilson Street – Kiki and Buckshot have a dramatic line of clothing that has a sense of humor as well – it was one of their hot dresses that I wore to the Hamilton Music Awards last November. I stopped by their shop and was amazed at the racks of clothes and the new styles – and Kiki told me that it was empty compared to a few weeks ago before they had a big sale.  Prolific gals these two, charged with dressing the hard rock Hammer girls, and obviously starting to attract good attention. 

olinda

Just down James North, there is a new clothes designer who also does alterations and custom tailoring – Olinda, a young woman from El Salvador. With her extended family present, she had the grand opening of her shop, Olinda’s, with  free pizza and cake and a beautifully redone shop. 

olinda's

This building used to house a tattoo parlour and now it has a rose-coloured paint treatment and curtained dressing rooms. The care that Olinda and her family have put into this is a good sign for the quality of work she must do.  I doubt that she will be a direct competition to Blackbird – these are two very different styles with Olinda bringing in that Latin flair – but hopefully they will augment each other’s business and bring in women looking for original designed clothes (and in Olinda’s case, tailoring and alterations) that aren’t outrageously priced.

clay studio

Another changed space, just across the street, is The Clay Studio.  Grazyna, who does fine and interesting ceramic work, has moved down from a large space on the third floor of the building into a more reasonably-sized room that incorporates her studio and gallery. I have spoken with this friendly artist before, and am happy to see that she has moved into this space and it looks to fit her just right. She’s bound to get much more attention at street level whereas the galleries that lurk in the upper floors of these buildings take awhile for people to discover yet are always worth the walk up.

artists inc

In a short two blocks there was a bit of art theatre going on at Artists Inc, one of those bizarre scenarios that you have to watch for awhile.  There was also Gord Lewis, of Teenage Head, and Chris Houston, another Hamilton rockero, accompanying a photography retrospective of punkers and rockers at the Sonic Unyon building – I think Gord was going to play but we had to leave.  There was also a duo singing at the James North Gallery and an intense anti-smoking display at another new space put on by a group of university students . With a pig’s lung hanging in the window, they were intent on making a harsh point, but I got the impression it was mostly non-smokers hanging around anyway. The street is nothing if not eclectic.

tribal window

There is a new boutique selling  African and Indonesian art and imported items, the Tribal Gallery, just two doors down from the Woodpecker, which seems to me to sell basically the same stuff. It is wonderful to see a mix of cultures here though I don’t know how two such stores will survive in the same neighbourhood but I wish them both well.

Barbara Milne, at the Pearl Company, runs the Art Bus, taking people to openings around the Hamilton area on the first two Friday nights of each month.  The second Friday the tour visits other local galleries in the central city with openings but also takes in the James Street North Art Crawl.  I truly appreciate the Art Bus service – if you are in Hamilton on one of the first two Friday nights of the month, pay the $15 and leave your car at the Pearl and join the bus with Barbara’s enthusiastic commentary – it’s always a real enjoyable evening. 

flowers

The warm summer evenings have always been busy on James Street North. Now that there is more and more to experience during the Art Crawl, and each new business brings in a new mix of followers, these Friday night events will be just that – big events.  I hope that it spills over into bringing in good business throughout the month to the shops and galleries that line the street. Many of them offer locally produced items – like Mixed Media which is an art supply store but also carries local artists’  and writers’ work (including Walking with Wolf.) I have barely touched the list of artistic endeavours going on. I can’t imagine what James Street North will be looking like when I return in September. I hope it doesn’t outgrow its grassroots and start getting a corporate, chainstore effect going on. It’s magic is in the individual personalities of the businesses, their enthusiastic, energetic and talented owners, and the historic, funky character of the buildings that have come back to life on James Street North.

the truck of books

On a book related note, I received the new shipment of 2nd edition Walking with Wolf books.  The truck was supposed to arrive on Friday – a day calling for pouring rain that had me worried – but there was a knock on my door Thursday morning (luckily I was home) and a trucker telling me that his great big tractor trailer wasn’t meant for my narrow residential street.  Well, I coulda told him that if someone had asked me. When he opened the doors, there was my lonely little skid of boxes in an otherwise big ol’ empty trailer – carbon neutral be damned. My neighbour Bev came out and helped and we got those boxes of books into my house lickety split under a blue sky with no threat of rain. There’s a shipment of books headed to Costa Rica as well and Wolf and I will soon be visiting our old pal Eliecer, our customs man in Alajuela, to get them out of customs purgatory.

yard with tree

 

 

I’ve been working on my yard – the before and after pictures show my progress – and because of the tree that went down, it has now turned from a shady to sunny space. My yard consists of a terrace, beach, gardens, campground and work compound – it’s an oasis in the city and keeps me sane whenever I’m forced to be here and live like an urban animal.

full yard

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

lori

 

 

I’ve had some real nice visits with friends who’ve come to say goodbye and know that I will be missing them soon enough.

So now I’m on my way, floating down a sweet stream and letting the current have its way with me. I am truly excited to be heading back to Costa Rica and Cahuita and Roberto and his jungle home. And to see Wolf again and take care of details involved in Caminando con Wolf, the Spanish translation of our book. The next time I write I’ll have monkey songs in my heart and wolf howls on my brain.

molly

 

But I know I will be thinking fondly of the humble but hot-headed Hammer, wondering how she is doing – like a ragged mutt who has finally found love in a new home and is starting to shine with the  attention. The prolific growth of creativity that is happening here  is taking the Hammertown down her own stream (not the way of the Red Hill Creek I trust) – hopefully to an interesting and bright future. Shine on my Hammerhead friends! See you in the fall.

August 2019
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