The boundaries of the lower (below the escarpment) Hamilton neighbourhood of Bartonville are Main Street East along the neighbourhood’s north, Lawrence Road along the southern edge, Cochrane Road South to the east and Kenilworth Avenue to the west.
Head of the Lake
In considering the current state of the neighbourhood, and its future, it helps to also try to gain some perspective on this land’s development through history. Before the city of Hamilton came into existence, the western end of Lake Ontario was known as The Head of the Lake by the early Scottish and English settlers. This land was rugged, heavily forested wilderness inhabited by a population of native Indians. The British colonial government of Upper Canada formed by 1791, and surveys for the creation of townships; which had begun in 1788, concluded in 1793.
Eight large townships were formed at the Head of the Lake. They were Ancaster, Barton, Beverly, Binbrook, Flamboro East, Flamboro West, Glanford and Saltfleet. Barton Township, where Hamilton would eventually rise, was named after a township in Lincoln County, England (as was Barton Street in the late 1800’s or early 1900’s). The burgeoning community of Bartonville was obviously named after the new Upper Canadian Township. Interestingly, some of the development of Bartonville can be accredited to Elisha John Harris, the founder of Harrisburg, PA who later settled in Saltfleet with his family. Reproductions of very old maps and art provide very good indications of what these lands looked like back then in comparison to how they are now. Surprisingly, through only minor contemplation of regional history with these illustrations, the monumental challenges of living here in those early times become understood.
The Old Village and its Old Churches
Typical of North American villages, towns and metropolises that formed observing European cultures and traditions, the earliest history of Bartonville is very much rooted in the founding and popularity of local churches and their congregations.
Although not considered one of the original neighbourhoods of the city, the history of Bartonville goes back at least as far as those older neighbourhoods of Beasley, Central, Corktown and Durand; all of which are a few kilometers to the west. An 1875 map republished by McGill University indicates that Bartonville existed next to or straddled the border between Barton and Saltfleet townships. The small community had its own post office, Pioneer Episcopal Methodist Church, Bartonville Methodist Church (later becoming Pioneer Memorial United Church), cemetery—that still exists today as a historical site, blacksmith, general store (run by John W. Gage, a speculator and major landowner in Hamilton Wentworth; family resided in the Stoney Creek area), a small public school (some say that Bartonville school originated as a two-room schoolhouse that grew in size over years) and homesteads. This settlement likely was predominantly an agricultural community, as was much of Saltfleet’s watershed area below the Niagara escarpment. It appears that Bartonville’s residents may have viewed where they lived and toiled as a proud and independent village.
As a reaction to the Church of England’s lack of sympathy to the plight of poverty in the industrial cities and mining towns, Christian Theologian John Wesley organized the original Methodist Society in 1739. A faith considered for the masses, England’s Methodism grew quickly and spread rapidly. Methodist Circuits (groups of two or more Methodist Societies, under a Superintendent Minister and subordinate Ministers in consideration of the number of members; today referred to as a charge) came to North America and proliferated throughout the 1740’s.
Bartonville Methodist Church was reportedly established under the leadership of Episcopal Methodist circuit riders who traveled here from the United States. Although circuit riding was an unofficial ministry, these “saddle-bag preachers” were apostolic clergymen who, in the earliest years of the US, were sent to travel through specific regions of North America for the purposes of preaching to settlers and setting up congregations. The Circuit riders were specifically missionaries of the Methodist Episcopal Church and related denominations.
During the 1840’s and 1850’s a large number of Wesleyan Methodists came to Upper Canada (a colony of British Canada that governed all lands immediately north of the Great Lakes from 1791 to 1841) from the British Isles. In Upper Canada, these colonists held “Bible classes” in schools, barns or homes but by 1824 a rough log structure was constructed in Bartonville to serve as a chapel or meeting-house. This log chapel was built on the site of Bartonville Cemetery, which is just diagonally across King Street East from where the current Pioneer Memorial United Church now stands but seems to have been occupied by the Episcopal Methodists.
Although there were at least sixteen different Methodists societies, the Episcopal Methodists and the Wesleyan Methodists were the two dominant societies of Barton Township. Historians cite that for some years the Episcopal Methodists and the Wesleyan Methodists competed with each other for members and perhaps control of the circuit.
By the mid-1800’s the wooden churches all over Barton Township were being replaced with more permanent brick or stone. Brick produced by the Stroud, Ollman, Webb, Frid and Hancock farms in the Ainslie Wood area could have contributed greatly to this. I’m also pondering that Vinemount Quarries (still in existence 7 kilometers east of Bartonville, and on the escarpment) may have also been a resource of construction material if it existed back then but a much closer limestone quarry, operated by Canadian Quarries, in the Mount Albion area is probably the most likely source for stone (the latter quarry was sold off in pieces to a number of local entrepreneurs in 1922, and then abandoned by 1970). A fire destroyed the log chapel by the Bartonville Cemetery in 1846; the same year that Hamilton was incorporated. Bartonville was annexed by Hamilton in the following year, and a couple years later, the Episcopal Methodists obtained a deed to the property by the cemetery; probably from the new city, and erected a brick chapel on the land.
In the third volume of Vanished Hamilton—-photographic history books on the city, written by numerous authors and edited by Margaret Houghton, Bartonville was nicknamed “slabtown” because many of the inhabitants worked at the nearby rock quarry until they eventually began abandoning the area around 1856. I wonder if having to live under the rule of the new municipal government had any bearing on the inhabitants of Bartonville leaving the village. In any case, the brick chapel by the cemetery became the Bartonville Episcopal Methodist Church in 1859.
The Wesleyans built their own brick church on Kenilworth Avenue and dedicated it as the Bartonville Methodist Church in 1879. When the Episcopal Methodist Church by the Bartonville Cemetery had fallen into disrepair, the congregation and property there put aside their differences and united with the Wesleyans of nearby Kenilworth Avenue. The brick church at the cemetery was sold, moved by horse and wagon up the escarpment and rebuilt as Tweedside Church on Mud Street. After many years of no longer being used, the little red-brick church of 1145 Mud Street was demolished by the city in 2005. A commemorative plaque was erected in honour of the old church’s history.
Despite the real estate transaction, it seems the Bartonville community was determined to remain a distinct and predominantly Methodist village. Perhaps the Episcopalians, specifically, didn’t appreciate having to purchase the land by the cemetery that they felt they had already owned through many years of material possession. Bartonville at large fought the growing city for independence until 1949.
Through the end of the nineteenth century and into the early twentieth century, the Methodist Circuit of Bartonville included the Lake and Bartonville societies below the escarpment and the Wesley and Burkholder societies above.
The United Church of Canada was founded in 1925 as a merger of four Protestant denominations: the Methodist Church of Canada, the Congregational Union of Ontario and Quebec, two-thirds of the congregations of the Presbyterian Church in Canada, and the Association of Local Union Churches. This union resulted in The United Church becoming the largest Protestant Christian denomination in Canada, and after the Roman Catholic Church, it remains the second-largest Christian church in Canada. Bartonville Methodist became Kenilworth United, and with the Burkholder society it continued to exist as a two-point charge.
Immediately after the Second World War, the congregation of Kenilworth United rapidly outgrew its edifice. The church purchased land on King Street East across from Bartonville Cemetery and erected Pioneer Memorial United Church by 1954; so named in honour of its pioneers. Pioneer Memorial United Church was dedicated on January 18, 1959. It has remained a successful Hamilton church in that location ever since.
Kept on the Move
The HSR (Hamilton Street Railway) is the Transit Division of the Public Works Department for the city. It began by operating horsecars in 1874, and then modernized to electric streetcars in 1892. Keyes to Bartonville’s sustainability has been the area’s link to public transportation and the earliest years of the HSR.
In 1907, a single track was laid along Main Street from Sherman Avenue to where King Street arcs southeastward and intersects with Main. Another length of track was added from there eastward along King to the Barton-Saltfleet township border (now Cochrane Rd). This part of the track cut right through Bartonville, thus creating the Bartonville route. As this route extended beyond the then boundaries of the city of Hamilton, construction was carried out under the Hamilton Radial Electric Railway Charter by cannibalizing the abandoned Vineland extension of the Hamilton, Grimsby and Beamsville (HG&B) Electric Railway. A streetcar was “leased” from the HSR to provide service.
With the opening of the Belt Line in 1913, the Bartonville route was cut back to King and Main and service remained unchanged for the rest of the Bartonville route’s lifetime. Operations were transferred from the Hamilton Radial Electric Railway (HRER) to the HSR in 1927, and December 20, 1927 is the date of the last actual rail service expansion. By that time, the motorized bus had become the more economical and practicable means of public transportation; Hamilton had to begin adapting or perish. On July 30, 1929, the Bartonville King Street East streetcar route was replaced with buses. This was the first major abandonment of the HSR streetcar network.
Sustainability by Redlining
From its village beginnings to being formed as an east Hamilton neighbourhood, Bartonville has been respected and favoured. According to “The Suburban Origins of Redlining: A Canadian Case Study” by Richard Harris, the discriminatory practice of redlining emerged with Hamilton financial institutions keeping Bartonville a privileged neighbourhood.
Redlining is when money lenders decline to make mortgage loans in specific areas. The practice originated in the 1930’s, when US and Canadian government agencies encouraged banks to rate neighbourhoods for mortgage risk. Since the 1960’s, especially in the US, redlining has been viewed as a feature of inner cities and associated with disinvestment, racial discrimination and neighbourhood decline. Across Canada, the first areas to be redlined were suburbs considered to have low economic stature. Land registry and property assessment data reportedly reveal the emergent patterns in Hamilton.
Between 1931 and 1951, institutional lending became a social norm, and it started with new suburban homes. At one time, individual lenders were at the top of the food chain of financial lending institutions, and they had their pick of up and coming, or fairly wealthy areas of home buyers to finance. Due to increased competition and a decreasing number of newly developed regions, however, the individual lenders found themselves having to offer loans for older, cheaper, less-desirable inner-city properties. At the start of this lending trend in 1931, only slight differences in institutional financing between urban localities existed. By 1951, lending institutions; predominantly insurance companies, not banks, were discriminating considerably in favour of the developing Hamilton Mountain suburbs, and similar neighbourhoods and suburbs of western lower Hamilton like Ainslie Wood, Durand, Kirkendall, Westdale and probably even the community of Dundas. This favouritism was extended to the eastern lower Hamilton suburb of Bartonville, and against east end neighbourhoods and regions that had little or no infrastructure or was close to the blue collar lakefront industry.
Although very much integrated with the city now, Bartonville has evolved into a still well-respected neighbourhood in Hamilton’s electoral Ward 4 and still resembles a self-sufficient community. Several businesses line the Main Street East border to the north. A greater amount and variety of stores, including a large supermarket, dominate King Street East nearly a kilometer away to the south. This is also the location of the Bartonville Historical Cemetery. Everything in between is residential except for Montgomery Park, a large public recreational field featuring a couple small playgrounds for children. Other than Pioneer Memorial United and a supermarket, the land south of King and north of Lawrence is occupied by high-rise apartment buildings, a detached campus of Brock University which is based in St. Catharines, ON, and more houses. Statistics Canada’s Census tract profile for Bartonville pegs the area’s population at more than 4, 200 residents.
According to the Community Care Access Centre and real estate sources, most of Bartonville’s homes were built before 1961 continue to be very well-kept and have fair amounts of equity tied up in them. The typical Victorian row houses found throughout much of lower Hamilton cannot be found here.
Today, Bartonville is a suburb of mostly framed single-level and full basement homes of between 1, 080 and 1, 800 square feet. They have small but manicured front lawns, sometimes hedges, often gorgeous flower gardens and petite cement or stone front porches. Beyond this, however, there really isn’t anything that the average person would find to be architecturally significant about the area.
Middle Class Canadians
Most of the residents of Bartonville are Caucasians who originated in Canada, England or are descendants of English immigrants who became firmly connected to Hamilton’s unionized blue collar labour workforce. If you walk along King Street, you’ll be reminded of this as you’ll see a few Union Jacks here-and-there, and clear over the roofs of the neighbourhood. You’ll have a view of the Stelco/US Steel Canada factory a few kilometers to the north.
The residents of Bartonville may not be the richest of Hamilton but they certainly aren’t the poorest either. The vast majority of families in this neighbourhood work for their living, and keep to themselves. The area appears to be happy and content; like Mr. Rogers’ Neighbourhood.
A walk through in the summertime is bound to reveal a few residents working on their gardens, laws or hedges. If you pass through on a winter day, you’ll likely be pleasantly greeted by a number of citizens who cross your path. These are exactly the experiences I get every time I’m there.
Statistics Canada tracks physical incivilities and social incivilities. Physical incivilities are defined by the criminologists reporting to Stats Can as garbage or litter lying around, vandalism, graffiti and other deliberate damage to property or vehicles. Social incivilities are classified as noisy neighbours or loud parties, people hanging around on the streets, people sleeping on the streets or in public places, people using or dealing drugs, people being drunk or rowdy in public places, and prostitution.
Stats Can reports that out of the 12 largest census metropolitan areas (CMA’s) surveyed in 2004, of which Hamilton generally ranks as the 10th largest Canadian city, “the highest rates of perceived social incivility—with one in four residents seeing a problem where they live—occurred in Halifax, Montréal and Vancouver. The lowest rates were in Québec, Hamilton, Winnipeg, Regina and Calgary, where one in six inhabitants observed social incivility.” Hamilton didn’t even place in the top 12 with regards to perceptions of physical incivility.
The Hamilton Police Service, (HPS) regards the city through three patrol divisions. Bartonville is located in the western portion of Division 2, which is surrounded by Sherman Ave North, east of the Redhill Creek, the mountain brow and Hamilton Harbour. Division 2 is further broken down into four sectors for the police. Bartonville is near the southern tip of Sector 2.
It’s true that some citizens and many non-citizens view all of Hamilton as a filthy, rundown, crime plagued steel town. This perception is mainly held for the eastern parts of lower Hamilton, which includes Bartonville. Of course, negative perceptions about anyone or anything are usually espoused by a number of pessimists relying on baseless assumptions. The critics, citizens and non-citizens alike, clearly haven’t actually spent time actually observing these parts firsthand.
I really can’t be certain about the reality for Bartonville. It’s so hard to find reliable crime stats for most of Hamilton’s neighbourhoods, and when I requested such info from the HPS, Sgt. John Heide, the Div-2/Sector 2 Crime Manager told me in 2010, “. . . we do not release crime stats for individual neighbourhoods.” He advised me that, “General stats are available through Stats Canada and some information is also available by reading the annual reports available through the Hamilton Police Service website.” Thanks, all this I already have.
I suppose that the city wants to protect the reputations and property values of areas that could be seen in a bad light if word got out that there is a seamy crime element about them, and that’s understandable. For example, someone briefly mentioned in a November 2009 Zimbio.com article that, “Hamilton’s Bartonville and surrounding area is a 4.3km forgotten area of crack houses, hookers, sleazy junk shops . . .” Looking for proof, I tracked the article back to the author’s blog and asked him to help me verify his notion. I never heard back from him. I also haven’t heard of unusually profound occurrences or trends of crime reported by local media or other citizens.
I’m guessing, based on the writer’s description, that he confused Bartonville with Barton Village; a district along Barton Street East a few kilometers away and really not associated with Bartonville. I don’t want to insinuate that Barton Village is an area of abject squalor but there are well known social and economic concerns there that I’ll examine in other posts.
From appearances, Bartonville is a very clean, and very quiet neighbourhood; both day and night.
It is difficult to say what’s in store for Bartonville. Hamiltonians have no compunctions about complaining when something’s going wrong but it seems that there are no real complaints about Bartonville. If it isn’t broken, don’t bother fixing it I guess. So, it seems that Bartonville is destined to stay much the same way it is for quite some time to come. Whatever would influence future change in this area, for the better or worse, it will have to be pretty big.