Keith & Industrial Sectors
It has long been my opinion that the heavy industrial parts of cities are insufficiently recorded by us street photographers. It’s such a shame because these places and what goes on in them is important. They are obviously important to the economic prosperity of cities if not the entire nations that the cities are in.
Yes, there is the challenge of trying to accomplish urban/industrial photography in these places without appearing intrusive when you’re actually not being so. Understandably, today’s businesses closely guard industrial secrets, and a camera simply carried openly in the vicinity of a factory can cause on site security personnel for the firm to scrutinize you with tremendous suspicion.
There’s also the likelihood that most potential observers of such photography will be utterly disinterested in the artistic outcomes. Not much sentimentality or objectivity there, I’m afraid.
The work needs to be done regardless. The story of a community’s heavy industrial experience needs to be told, even for the precious few.
Stinkin’ Steel Town
Yes, that’s an old moniker for this old town. I recall that it’s the one that my German language teacher in high school repeated a few times to me when I would speak fondly about Hamilton while living in North Central British Columbia.
There are many areas throughout Hamilton where heavy industry has been. Amid the farms and fields of the rural areas there are rock quarries and other manufacturing facilities. Old factories in the constituent community of Dundas are still around but most have been converted into schools, galleries and office buildings. The west side of the Kirkendall neighbourhood had an industrial area that was rezoned as the West Hamilton Innovation District (WHID) in 2006, so the old warehouses that still exist there today stand a chance at being replaced by modern office buildings, concert halls, medical buildings and science centers. In the east, there is plenty of manufacturing and service and repair outfits from Stoney Creek to the satellite community of Grimsby. The largest concentration of heavy industrial sites, however, stretches from east to west right across the shores of Hamilton Harbour. These are the city’s official Industrial Sectors; identified as Sectors A through K. Spanning across electoral Wards 3 and 4, these sectors are where the city’s legendary steel industry was born. After a century of prodigious strength, these sectors are where the steel industry is dying a slow and painful death.
On the west side of these industrial sectors is the neighbourhood of Keith. The eastern half of this residential survey overlaps Sector B but the true borders of the area are Burlington Street to the north, the CN railroad tracks along the south, Sherman Avenue North to the east and Wellington Street North to the west. Keith is a Ward 3 area.
From inception, Keith has been a proudly blue-collar neighbourhood that has been extremely dependant on the surrounding heavy manufacturing sectors that have developed since the 1890’s. The overall population of the area today is around 1,830, and unlike other areas of Hamilton hardly anyone is moving into this area.
There are home renters in Keith but this isn’t much of a rental area. According to the Keith Neighbourhood Action plan (KNAP) – developed between 2011 and 2012, 72 per cent of the residential properties in the area are owned by the residents. Economically, it is a very low income area and both renters and home owners spend a tremendous 30 per cent of their incomes on just shelter costs.
29 per cent of residents are below the age of 19, while 22 per cent of the population is between 20 and 34 years of age. 39 per cent of Keith is in the 35 to 64 year range leaving the remaining 10 per cent of the overall population consisting of senior citizens (the average age of mortality among seniors is 66). Said seniors seem to all come from working-class families that have histories with the defunct and surviving plants and other businesses all around.
Less than 37 per cent of all age groups graduated from high school (since the 1980’s, the vast majority of jobs offered in the Industrial Sectors required high school certificates and higher indicating that many of Keith’s employable residents are unable to find work nearby unlike their early to late twentieth century predecessors).
The area is most likely to age out of existence under its current standard of living. With any elevation in residents choosing to leave, I figure that the age out could take two to three decades (by 2045). However long it would take, the demise of Keith seems inevitable unless considerable changes are made in the economic and social circumstances of the area. Clearly, that’s why the residents formed an association (Keith Neighbourhood Hub [KNH]) and set up the Keith Action Neighbourhood Planning Team (KANPT) to develop their KNAP. Featuring statistics mainly obtained from a survey produced by the Social Planning and Research Council (SPRC) of Hamilton, the KNAP is meant to help the association establish a working relationship with city officials in trying to sustain Keith’s future and working-class heritage.
The State of Things
Practically anyone with a camera can photograph the physical aspects of a community. That’s the easy part. The challenge for an urban photographer is to be able to show how that community as a whole or even in parts actually feels, barely survives or thrives. You can literally find thousands of amateur and pro shooters who have become very skilled at imaging the intimate guts of some of the world’s most famous or infamous cities but how many shooters actually take towns that most people are so ready to forget, and try with all their might to get others’ curiosities peaked about those unpopular localities?
Shooting Hamilton this way is tough. I’m not the only one who does it. Many have published photography and local history books on this city but to seemingly small audiences. It’s really hard to acquire mass appeal or mere constructive concern from a sufficient number of Hamilton’s citizens let alone outsiders. I firmly believe that photography, and a wide range of other art forms, still have the potential to gather attention to this city if pushed hard enough. The Hammer really needs to beat its drum really hard in this twenty-first century if it’s going to grow as it needs to.
Sure I’m biased about this city but aside from that, people, especially Canadians should really take an interest in what goes on in modern day Hamilton. History teaches us that just from its steel industry, this city had a critical role in the development of Canada into a first world nation.
There’s a special place in my heart for the industrial sectors because back when Canada was going through a recession in the early 90’s, the only place in the entire city of Hamilton where I could find a job that could sustain me, and give me a shot at drafting an auspicious future was right here. That job lasted me for many years, and I was able to use it as a stepping stone to get me to where I always intended to really be. That’s really something because there are many people in this town who know what it means to suddenly and inconveniently lose a heavy industrial sector job that they thought would last their entire lives.
Many of Hamilton’s business people and politicians strike me as an overly secretive and jaded bunch. Secrecy is a necessary evil in the business world but with all the quietness that has been going on around town for so many decades, you might expect positive change to happen quickly, often, and noticeably here. The fact is that the opposite is true despite being regarded as such a good place to do business. Too much enterprise has been downsized and lost since the 1960’s, and this is extremely noticeable. Some people and organizations become desperate.
Steel is said to no longer be the largest industry in Steel Town. Healthcare is now the largest employer. It’s ironic when you consider this city’s reputation as an environmental cancer and, therefore, expected to adversely impact human health, legitimizing a need for advanced healthcare services. The map of Hamilton is dotted with many large and still growing hospitals and clinics, despite a reported doctor shortage in Ontario. Where are all the big businesses going? Out of the province or even out of the country.
The offshoring of jobs and entire businesses doesn’t only adversely affect the US. Over the past few decades, Hamilton has seen the loss of numerous once well-established organizations like Proctor & Gamble, Case, Firestone, Eaton’s, Camco and others; many of which operated out of Industrial Sectors A through K. These are corporations that used to employ multitudes of Hamilton workers.
In July 2006 alone, the Hammer was hammered by a loss of 11, 600 jobs. Out of a minimum Census population of 504,559 citizens (2% of the population), that was serious damage to the local economy. With effort, we could recover from that loss but with difficulty as we do not get major job-making investors often, and a large number of those unemployed persons would not be prime candidates for the new jobs that slowly came around. The global downturn that began in late 2008 poured sallt on Hamilton’s festering wound. We really need to stop the bleeding!
At this point, I have to mention Stelco; a particular sore spot for the city (this photo essay is long enough, so I’ll try to be brief).
Growing to occupying Sectors A through D and K, the earliest beginnings of one of Canada’s premier steel companies dates back the 1860’s locally, and the 1790’s if you include the impact of the Montreal Rolling Mills of Quebec. Numerous small and mid-sized firms merged to create the Hamilton Steel and Iron Company, better known as Stelco, on the city’s north shore. With its competing next door neighbour Dofasco to the east, this giant greatly contributed to building the wealth of the entire nation. The organization employed thousands, and kept the city from becoming a ghost town.
Then, Stelco Inc. filed for bankruptcy protection in early 2004 and won a 2005 extension in court for that protection. Although Stelco was in the favourable position of restructuring, its situation was critical especially when more than 78 per cent of its debt holders – holding nearly 90 percent of the debt, voted in favour of Stelco’s restructuring plan on December 9, 2005 which did not pay back creditors 100 per cent of what they’re owed.
In theory, the liquidation of Stelco or otherwise considerable loss of Stelco jobs could have weakened Hamilton’s financial base and credit profile. The same result could happen if Dofasco was in the same boat, and Dofasco did have serious corporate handling issues of its own at the time, even if far less severe (that’s why Dofasco is now AreclorMittal).
Stelco filed for bankruptcy by 2007 and was purchased by US Steel out of Pittsburgh by August 27 for $1.9 billion. The deal for the American steel giant to absorb $800 million in debt was finalized on Halloween of that year (that could have been an omen for what had yet to come), and Stelco became known from then on as US Steel Canada Inc. The old company’s shares were delisted from the Toronto Stock Exchange.
On March 3, 2009, the steel producer announced that a continuation of debt consolidation was necessary to maximize efficiency while meeting customer demands. A “temporary idling” of the finishing and coking operations at Hamilton Works, and the steelmaking and finishing operations at Lake Erie Works near Nanticoke, Ontario was announced. Coking operations at Lake Erie Works continued production. But approximately 1,500 employees were affected.
Everyone I spoke to knew that the writing was on the wall. It was clear what was coming next.
On October 29, 2013, US Steel Canada publicly announced that the blast furnace and steel making parts of the Hamilton operations would be permanently closed on December 31, 2013 after a century of existence, and it was a done deal. US Steel in Hamilton now only rolls steel.
As of the 2011 census Hamilton’s population is now pegged at 519,949. As heavy industry has declined, education, government, services and technology sectors have increased, as do community cries for ways to attract major investors (that’s right, corporations). Investors who can provide a lot of good paying jobs for a lot of ordinary people, and thus bring vital revenue and commerce back to the city.
I’m not sure what can be realistically done to benefit Keith and the Industrial Sectors. My thoughts on the future further on.
To the Hamilton Police Service (HPS) the city is divided into three patrol divisions. Keith is located on the northeast corner of Division 1, which is surrounded by Sherman Ave, the border of the Dundas and Ancaster communities, the mountain brow and Hamilton Harbour. Division 1 is further broken down into four sectors for the police. Keith is part of Sector 2; what the HPS calls North Town. This is a sector that includes the neighbourhoods of Gibson and Landsdale. A couple of the poorest and most socially sensitive parts of the city in regards to law enforcement.
Industrial Sectors A and B, are also in Sector 2; A to the north of Keith, and B immediately to the East. Industrial Sectors C to K occupy the northwest portion of Police Division 2, which is split into four more police sectors. The northernmost portion of Sector 2 holds Industrial Sectors C to K.
It might be pessimistic to assume that white-collar crime is a seemingly unreported fact of life in the industrial sectors but I find that is the common assumption of many lifelong Hamiltonians in all parts of the city. While the official local news agencies don’t really discuss the realities of this, hearsay and tongue-in-cheek conversations on the street associate several of the town’s environmental, waste and metals organizations with Hamilton’s factually longstanding history with ‘Ndrangheta and La Cosa Nostra. Such gossip then proceeds to connect allegedly Mafia-run enterprises with the beloved City Council and large cliques of city workers.
Council is a constant subject of blame when things tend to go wrong for the city economically, politically, environmentally and sometimes socially but isn’t that the case for any city? Of course, being closely connected to Council through the Hamilton Police Services Board (HPSB), the HPS is assumed and speculated by many to have members who are in bed with local organized crime.
What local news sources do get to report more on is the blue-collar crime of Keith and the Industrial Sectors (there is a little speculation that this is about the HPS and HPSB throwing the media a bone once in a while).
Throughout the 90’s and early 2000’s, the authorities repeatedly raided and eventually shut down the Satan’s Choice motorcycle gang clubhouse on the corner of Lottridge Street and Biggar Avenue in Industrial Sector C. Then the Hells Angels; said by the HPS and media to have a history of being allies of the Mafia while also being competitors in the local black market, took over the place.
An urban legend now exists that after the HPS seized the clubhouse for the last time, they put the small piece of real estate up for auction. The Angels allegedly purchased it mainly to snub both the police and their former Satan’s Choice rivals. It is also said that the Hells Angels absorbed some of the surviving members of Satan’s Choice.
Late in 2009, Hamilton had a changing of the guard. Police Chief Brian Mullen retired and Glenn De Caire, a 29-year veteran of the Toronto police; a much tougher city than the Steeltown for crime control, took over. Within a month of taking office, the Hells Angels clubhouse was raided around 6:00am on December 15. The police knocked holes in the walls, threw in concussion grenades and gained entry.
Here’s what was the difference between this raid and all previous ones involving this same clubhouse — whether it was occupied by Satan’s Choice or some other gang. Previously, as is the theory on the street, the HPS would storm the place, confiscate contraband and make some arrests in order to set up some fresh listening devices. The gang, with all of their contacts and resources for such occasions, probably wasted no time in having their joint fixed, swept and cleaned of all bugs and then went right back to business; leaving the police to rely on only street patrols and confidential — possibly unreliable, informants in order to maintain surveillance.
Some new provincial crime laws came into effect, however. The Remedies for Organized Crime and Other Unlawful Activities Act (a.k.a.: Civil Remedies Act) made it easier for Ontario’s law enforcement bodies to go after major criminal factions. The passing of this Act in 2001 was instrumental in allowing the HPS to coordinate and execute the permanent takedown of the Sandbar Tavern in 2006. The Sandbar, of the Beasley neighbourhood, was said to be Hamilton’s most notorious crack house that was run by a New York-Jamaican posse that was too used to being raided by the police. This Act was destined to come in handy against the long-running posturing between the HPS and the Hells Angels.
Armed with the Act, it is also possible that the HPS’ raid of the clubhouse on Lottridge and Biggar was a show of force and/or a very personal introduction. It’s conceivable that De Caire wanted to show the Angels that he’s the new chief in town, that they’re not welcomed in this city and that the HPS can stick its finger in the gang’s face any time it wants to so long as its members and affiliates remain anywhere on Hamilton soil.
In Toronto, where street gangs run amok shooting each other and innocent bystanders, Chief De Caire is reportedly known for introducing police surveillance cameras to Yonge Street — similar to the downtown surveillance project that Hamilton has had since 2002, and battling gang crime. Just before coming to Hamilton, De Caire was downtown Toronto’s head of Central Field, one of Toronto’s two police field commands. He had also worked in the notorious Jane-Finch corridor in northwest Toronto. He’s not to be taken lightly.
Being the tough to eradicate gang that the Hells Angels are known for being, they opened a new clubhouse only two blocks away from their previous holdup by late May of 2011.
It seems; however, Chief De Caire found that squaring off with the Hamilton Chapter of the Hells Angels is not as tricky as contending with some of Hamilton’s public officials.
Problems may have begun in late 2012 when De Caire approached the HPSB and requested a 5.25% budget increase for the HPS while giving the HPSB statistics that showed that crime was low and still dropping, and 78.3% of citizens surveyed were satisfied with their local law enforcement. Leading the opposition to the Chief’s request was a very vocal Ward 8 Councillor Terry Whitehead. I think De Caire was sent away at least a couple times to have the numbers in his budget report and presentation reworked. He never did get the increase he was after.
Two weeks after Clr. Lloyd Ferguson told the media that the HPSB had given the Chief an “OK” performance review in August of 2013, De Caire announced in September that he would not seek to extend his original five-year contract and would retire the following year.
Public and HPSB supporters of the Chief met in a closed door meeting on December 3 to try to prevent De Caire from leaving but by the end of the day, the HPSB publicly announced its acceptance of his resignation. De Caire was to be gone by December 31, 2014.
As Keith and the Industrial Sectors are a mishmash of factories, recycling facilities, warehouses, scrap yards and offices operating amidst houses, you occasionally hear of drug raids, fights, stabbings, domestic disturbances and arsons that occur in these parts. The rest; only assuming that there is more, isn’t really talked about.
Seriously, are there any alternatives for Keith other than gentrification? I personally can’t see any.
The goals and objectives of the KNAP are to:
• Enhance neighbourhood beautification and pride;
• Increase neighbourhood health, safety and security;
• Strengthen educational business and economic opportunities; and
• Promote community interaction and partnerships.
The first goal is certainly necessary. Derelict since 1966, the old Studebaker plant of 440 Victoria Avenue North left Keith with its largest brownfield. Fortunately in August of 2012, Local developer Sergio Manchia and DCR Holdings Inc., the company that owns the former auto plant, launched their plans to raze the old factory to the ground and transform the land into an industrial subdivision. The redevelopment is to include both office and industrial space for businesses like contractors, roofers and small machine shops. Potentially, places where some of Keith’s residents might be able to find work. It appears to be an important first step towards realizing the KANPT’s mission.
With regards to the second goal of the plan, the residents of Keith reportedly exceed the city overall in the number of hospital emergency room visits according to the SPRC. The promotion of and means to ensure healthier lifestyles will have to be made real. This has to be considerate of environment, nutrition, physical fitness, medicine, illicit drug and alcohol addiction factors. Dedicated efforts to reduce all criminal activity in the area from drug trafficking to sporadic violence will also be necessary.
Depending on how fast the aforementioned redevelopment is completed, the new industrial park could also help with achievement of the third goal listed in the KNAP.
It could be between ten and twenty years for the current children of Keith to graduate with post-secondary education, and there is nothing to indicate that those new adults will even stay in the city. If they do stay and remain in Keith, however unlikely, it might not be until 2040 that as much as 50 percent or more of Keith’s population will have the higher education necessary to really take charge of the area’s propagation. Can Keith wait that long? Does it have a choice? While City Council acts to revitalize downtown core areas to the southwest, and seemingly puts even greater focus on developing the periphery, will City Council help KNAP residents and stakeholders revitalize their area as desired?
The Steeltown’s politicians and business interest groups are believed by some to place too much of their efforts and local money into attracting and maintaining corporations in an effort to achieve sustainability. I’m no economist, nor am I anti-corporation but I have a strong suspicion that key to the survival of Keith, perhaps The Hammer at large, is directing greater focus on developing existing and new small to mid-sized local businesses, and a little less on externally owned corporations that have proven to be unsustainable in the long run.
Cities are originally founded through the revenue from small business, and if corporations brought in from outside don’t monopolize and kill off the smaller businesses, those small venues will still be needed to keep the cities going after the corporations have run themselves out of town, as Hamilton has repeatedly seen.
In The Hammer, I have worked for corporations from a pizza restaurant franchise, to an oil giant, to a mid-sized recycling plant owned by various Canadian and US corporations. All the while working for them I’ve built and run my small commercial arts business, and observed the development of other local small businesses – including working for a small but growing local roofing company. I’ve personally seen where small and mid-size firms can be flexible while corporations exhaust themselves, the resources they depend on and need to be stringently controlled through regulations against abuses of employee rights, human rights, health and safety, the environment, fiduciary responsibilities to shareholders and government tax bodies (not to leave out the fact that unions do have at least a reputation of excessively bleeding corporations into financial ruin).
I believe that small businesses are important to creating growth and sustainability in the local economy. A big reason, I think, is because they bring innovation and diversity to industry, and create new industries. Sometimes created by those of younger generations, they create things that can appeal to younger people who may not be so likely to seek a livelihood, and the commodities they need and want, outside of the Hammer. As long as expenditures like property taxes, rental or leasing, government permit and licensing, shipping and distribution costs and advertising are well controlled, small businesses can even create resources and commodities that other cities, even larger cities, need and want (potentially making outside factions more dependent on Hamilton instead of the other way around). Such resources produced in Keith can certainly make the other parts of Hamilton alone more dependent on Keith.
Throughout the 90’s and into the new millennium I’ve met a number of people younger than me that have seriously considered leaving Hamilton to go to other cities and countries in order to establish themselves. Many have already done so with no sign of returning. Too much of this can’t be good for Hamilton. Imagine how a city stands to survive when the majority of its inhabitants are baby boomers in the retirement or near retirement age. I like the idea that someone kicked out about establishing a local tax deferment program aimed at entrepreneurs who want to open small businesses in the downtown areas; perhaps within the industrial park under development in Keith. That makes sense to me.
That last bullet point seems to be something that the KNH has started working on a long time ago.
As for the remaining Industrial Sectors, the corporations that are there will do whatever they must do to keep going. As far as the old US Steel Canada Inc. site is concerned; however, there’s a lot of cleanup that needs to be done. The end of the firm’s steel manufacturing operations, which occupies most of the old Stelco lands, means that The Hammer has a 4.5sqkm (1.77sqmi) lakeshore brownfield. It’s going to take an awful lot of money to adequately deal with that. Will the provincial government step in to help? Even if it does, I fear we could be stuck with the ruins for the next 50 years. Let me try, nevertheless, to put my fears aside:
Consider Chicago, they have wonderous plans to redevelop their own brownfield of which US Steel had also closed down another colossal steel operation there. So, it should not be said that Hamilton has no idea as to what to do about the potential remediation of its Industrial Sector eyesore.
On March 3, 2014, Ward 8 Councillor Terry Whitehead held a virtual town hall; the first of its kind for the city. In addition to the citizens who physically attended the meeting at City Hall, more than 3,200 virtual participants also interacted via phone and Internet. Although the Councillor’s ward is on the mountain and far enough away from Keith and the industrial sectors, the fate of Hamilton’s steel industry and the closed US Steel Canada site was very much on the mind of some Ward 8 residents (just in case Hamiltonians have forgotten, Keith and the industrial sectors still have an impact on the entire city).
Clr. Whitehead advised that the city had established a Steel Committee with reason to believe that steel is still a viable industry in Hamilton. I get the sense; however, that the viability is not viewed as such that an enterprise as large as Stelco was in its hay day, back in the 70’s (employing 14,000), could successfully fill the colossal footprint left at the edge of Hamilton Harbour. The expressed goals of the committee are to find out what lands on the US Steel site can be freed up for other business opportunities, and discover the land assessment value. I take it that the committee is working on a brownfield strategy with an approach similar to Chicago’s. Good!