Cameron Kowalchuk and Andrea Blakey found themselves at a bit of a crossroads a little less than year ago; they could either pay for a wedding or pay for a house.
The couple had been together for five years while they both lived (and still work) in Toronto—Cameron as a web developer and designer for a large company downtown, and Andrea as an actress primarily in small roles in television and film, as well as a yoga instructor in Hamilton.
Renting an apartment west of downtown Toronto, they found their commutes to work on an average day would take roughly an hour or more riding streetcars and buses. As well, house prices in Toronto over the last few years have continued to rise, with the average now hitting more than a million dollars.
They didn’t even consider buying in Toronto—it was just too expensive. If they were going to live in Toronto they knew they would need to keep renting.
However, resting in the backs of their minds at the time was Hamilton. “We weren’t even in the buying mindset until we saw the prices in Hamilton,” said Cameron.
The couple was visiting Hamilton with some friends about a year ago when they first considered buying a home here. They went up and down James North and through other neighbourhoods and enjoyed a few drinks at The Brain, a bar near James and Mulberry. It was then that they realized Hamilton was cooler than they had thought.
The next time they came to Hamilton, they took a short vacation from work, stayed at a friend’s home for a weekend and visited Art Crawl, which they will admit pretty much did it for them.
After a little bit of looking, they put an offer on a house on Victoria Street North—a pre-war building with three levels plus a basement, original features, a large backyard with parking, and lots of room for themselves and the family they plan on starting soon. $228,000—roughly 80 percent less than a comparable house in a comparable neighbourhood in Toronto. They moved in March of 2014.
Cameron and Andrea love walking with their dog Gus, and in Hamilton they can do just that—another advantage that they found Hamilton had over Toronto and most commuter cities. This summer they have been frequenting the Bayfront, Cootes Paradise, the Bruce Trail, the Hamilton-Brantford Rail Trail, Webster’s Falls and the various others. They have found that Hamilton truly is a very walkable city.
They do own a car for “just in case” situations like visiting family and friends out of town and in areas not serviced by transit, taking day trips, and moving big things like furniture, but neither of them drive to work.
For Cameron, it’s a short walk to the Hunter Street GO station each morning where he catches an early train to Toronto, and takes another back in the evening. His office is only a few blocks from Union Station so he has been finding his commute to Toronto from Hamilton takes almost the same time a commute on the streetcars, subways, and buses used to take.
Andrea’s doing well for work in Hamilton too. Conveniently, she has had work on a couple of TV series this summer, both of which have filmed in Hamilton. More and more she is finding commercials, movies and TV productions are shooting in Hamilton—sometimes more than Toronto. Unfortunately, she still has to commute to Toronto for auditions.
For both of them, however, their goal is to live, work and raise their family in Hamilton.
Cameron says he’d like to find a local job, but the market isn’t comfortable for his preferences yet. “One thing that’s keeping me from getting out there so far is that I prefer a really big company, like 10,000 plus employees,” said Cameron. “It’s very stable and you know the company’s not going anywhere anytime soon.
The couple is very involved online and on social media. “One my way to and from work in Toronto I read my tweets,” said Cameron.
In fact, we at urbanicity only got in touch with them because they reached out to us answering our call for submissions about living in Hamilton.
Having only lived in Hamilton for a few months, Cameron especially has been taking every opportunity to get involved in the conversations, initiatives and concerns of our community. Their kitchen fridge was littered with local literature including a handout from the Fringe Festival, and a Yes We Cannon flyer. They had much to say about bike lanes, rapid transit, car-share programs, and downtown development. Cameron even invited and accompanied Councillor Brian McHattie on a tour of the Landsdale neighbourhood for McHattie’s 100 Day Tour, a part of his 2014 Mayoral Campaign.
One concern, however, that the couple wasn’t expecting is the speed of cars in the area, barreling down Cannon and Victoria streets via the multiple, one-way lanes with synchronized lights. Cyclists themselves, they’re supportive of the bike lane initiatives in the area, and the talks of two-way conversions to tighten up and hopefully slow down traffic, after all they want to raise a family in this home.
With absolutely no regrets, Cameron and Andrea are confident they will be calling Hamilton home for a long time to come. With the money they saved from buying outside of Toronto, they now have the chance to renovate their home one piece at a time. Currently, they’re replacing the floors, they’re exposing the brick in their living room and putting in a fireplace, and they’re tearing down a front-end addition to take it back to its original brick.
They have more room than they know what to do with, and a lot of possibilities.
Do they regret not paying for their wedding yet? Nope. They just might have it in their new backyard.
My fiance and I just moved to Hamilton from Toronto in late March of this year. We are first time home buyers who were priced out of Toronto but still wanted to live in an urban center where we didn’t need to use a car to get everywhere. We bought in Landsdale, on Victoria Ave. North for a few reasons. Firstly, the price and the size/quality of home was incredible. It’s an old 100+ year old red-brick Victorian that would be well over a million dollars anywhere in Toronto. Secondly, we’re just outside of the downtown core, but we’re still only a 5 minute walk to the cafes and shops in International Village, less than a 10 minute walk to prime James St. North, only about 15 minutes to the Go Station which I use to commute to Toronto for my job and less than 20 minutes to enjoy everything that the waterfront has to offer. We’ve got a active dog so having the the water and the rail trail so close gives us some great walk options. Lastly, we now have a front row seat to the Barton revitalization, with things like the 541 Eatery, The Gibson Lofts project and the misc. other food options opening up close to Hamilton General, we feel the area is ripe with potential and slowly developing into a more vibrant, desirable area. The addition of the Cannon bike lanes, and hopefully the eventual conversion of Wellington, Victoria and Wellington into more pedestrian friendly two-way streets will also do wonders in making us love the area even more.
Other random stuff:
– We own a car but barely ever use it. We try to walk and bike as much as possible.
– I work in downtown Toronto but am currently looking for work in downtown Hamilton so I can avoid the commute.
– Our favorite thing about Hamilton is it’s amount of beautiful nature that’s so close to the city and how housing is so affordable even with having pretty much everything you might want from a city.
– Anecdotal evidence, but in our experience pretty much every friend from Toronto that comes and visits us in Hamilton falls in love with Hamilton as much as we do. Several of them are now planning on making the jump like we did. On that note, it seems like the negative perception Hamilton seems to often have comes almost entirely from Hamiltonians who are down on their city. Most Toronto transplants I meet in Hamilton are head over heels with the city, but all my Hamilton friends and neighbors love to talk about how terrible it is and don’t seem to recognize what it has going for it. It’s a really weird mindset.
– I’m extremely Pro-LRT, pro-Bike Lanes and pro-Two-way conversions.
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