Gibson is one of Hamilton’s greatest under-rated, under-valued neighbourhoods.
I lived in the neighbourhood for many years as a child and teenager in three different houses, including one a stone’s throw from Cathy Wever School for three years.
I miss living in the community.
Don’t let the headlines mislead you
Wednesday’s stabbing is one of the recent three headline-grabbing crime events in the neighbourhood. These events are anomalies.
It’s unfortunate they’ve occurred and can’t be swept under the carpet, but they could happen in any neighbourhood at any time – the fact they’ve occurred within a few months and blocks of each other doesn’t make a trend. These incidents are the opposite of the trend.
The positive stories of the community are not reflected in the media often. I can’t think of any recent instance of a community-driven positive story making it into our local media outlets that weren’t part of a a poverty/”code red” story.
Just yesterday, a new literacy camp started at Cathy Waver School. Three hundred children willingly returned to their school for an educational camp. Kids voluntarily going to school on first day of their summer break – that’s a good headline.
The neighbourhood’s actively building their community plan and empowering themselves to advocate for change. They are making their voices heard – and are being heard.
A community of amenities second to none
It’s a community full of undervalued assets. Let’s take a virtual walk in the community and see for ourselves.
Best small park in the city
I lived down the street from Powell Park, in my opinion, one of the best parks in the city.
Its sundial at the southwest entrance is one, if not the most, unique park feature in the city. As an eight-year-old, I spent a day just watching the sun’s shadow move along the pavement in amazement. (Seriously, I did this, I thought it cooler than a wall clock)
Its “wading pool” is likely the deepest in the city and once featured a slide in the centre that provided such joy during my childhood. Sadly, as with most fun things at parks, the fun police had it removed at about the same time as the swings at Gage Park. [Cause if misused, someone could get injured]
With a washroom in the park, there was no need to go home.
As a teenager, I’d head over to the park to use the basketball court. In the summer, I would enjoy reading in the shade of the park. The background noise of truck traffic along Birch and Cannon was oddly calming.
There is now a community garden in the south end of the park. For such a small park space, there’s plenty to do. I challenge you to find a better park per square yard anywhere in the city.
If it’s too small for your activity, Woodland Park is only a block away, and this park offers a football field.
Barton Public Library – a goldmine for any neighbourhood
When not in the park, I’d visit the Barton Library. It’s officially at Barton and Milton, but I always thought of it as Barton and Stirton because I first lived in the neighbourhood on Stirton for two months. Stirton became the primary north-south street for me. Within the neighbourhood, only Stirton and Gibson intersection with both King and Barton streets.
The book stacks were a great place to hide and read a book about the solar system or meteorology – I wanted to be a weatherman as a kid, meteorologist being a term unknown to me. Barton didn’t have index cards, but instead, the catalogue was on microfilm, which I thought to be cooler than the paper cards of other libraries.
Today, Barton Library provides a child access to the world of knowledge with their bank of computers. A teenager looking for a job can use the employment centre at the branch. There are not many communities with a library in the neighbourhood. Gibson is one.
Bonus points to anyone who remembers when the post office was on the corner as well and the Tin Man when Home Hardware was on Barton near Birch.
Across from the library, there’s Sub Master, a nice family-run sub place that delivers good food at a reasonable price.
Even the abandoned buildings are beautiful. The Westinghouse Building at the end of Sanford will one day be the best loft apartments in Hamilton. I hope to buy one when that day arrives in the not-distant future.
Recreation and community centres
In behind those homes is Pinky Lewis recreation centre and pool. It was my favourite pool as a kid, and I still think one of the best in the city.
The newer Cathy Wever School is the community hub. It’s an amazing community centre that offers numerous opportunities and is a testament to the strength of the community. Wednesday was the first day of their unique summer literacy camp. Again, 300 hundred child attended the literacy day camps sponsored by the Rotary Club.
The old Sanford Avenue School is scheduled for demolition and to be replaced by much-needed green space – space lost when Wever School was built.
Best gospel in Hamilton
Cannon Street offers one of Hamilton’s best church communities in the Wentworth Street Baptist Church – you want to enjoy the gospel, it’s the best place in Hamilton.
At Sanford, one of the larger Tim Horton’s in the city, offers plenty of room to sit and enjoy a conversation. At one time, it was a major bakery for local Horton’s and nothing could top going in at 6 am for really fresh donuts.
At Sanford and Wilson, there’s De Rosa Bakery – a great lunch spot.
A Boys and Girls Club
Across the street, the Sanford Boys and Girls Club. Part of the Kiwanis Homes complex, it offers a full range of recreational activities for children and youth. It’s tucked away but not a secret in the neighbourhood.
High school offering a range of programs
At Wilson and Wentworth stands Cathedral High School, one of the best in the city. A large school, it offers a range of programs from the hands-on to advanced calculus. Its large football field is one of the biggest patches of green space in the urban lower city. It even has a wind turbine.
Different perspective from another Gibson-raised journalist
Gibson-raised journalism professor Paul Benedetti laments the hard times the neighbourhood has come across in this 2009 column. I think he’s a little too gloomy, but his perspective is shaped by the eastern half of Gibson and mine the western half. It probably doesn’t surprise readers of this blog that the dividing line of our “worlds” is a one-way truck route and overhead hydro transmission towers.
For a time, I lived at Wilson and Chestnut in the western half of Gibson, but I gravitated to my old haunts on the east side.
During my childhood, the Birch to Sherman strip of Barton was thriving. Today, even the funeral home that stood on the corner on Birch and Gibson is gone, long dead. The school, Gibson, is closed as well.
Three years ago, I wasn’t confident about the west side either.
The empowerment of the community I’m witnessing as the Cathy Waver Hub matures and the changing demographics (I emphasis not a change of income levels – the problem is not “poor people”) back to younger families is convincing me the neighbourhood is beginning to climb out of two rough decades since the early 90s recession battered it.
Why I see hope and a bright future for the community
The amenities in the community are second to none. That’s a fact. The only thing missing is a grocery store. (When groceries stores were smaller, there were two IGAs in Gibson – one on Barton, the other on King.)
We’re seeing many young families moving into houses along the Gibson/Landsdale border. Many of these parents are becoming involved in the community. Empty nesters are starting to sell their homes in the community as they move into smaller retirement-oriented housing.
The movement to convert one-way streets to two-way will eventually succeed. When this happens, Cannon, Wilson, Birch, King, and Main will no longer fragment the community.
Houses in Beasley, Stinson, and South Sherman are hot now. The demand will spill over into Gibson and Landsdale. Once one-way streets become two-way, the floodgates will open.
Small business is growing in the city. They will quickly follow into the neighbourhood to offer services to families.
Community infrastructure is in place. What other community in Hamilton offers all these amenities?
Gibson already has everything to be the best place to raise a child. It just needs perceptions to reflect reality.