The 1996 Hamilton Sesquicentennial: a Study in Vita Memoriae
Simone J. Saunders
In the Introduction to his translation of Maurice Halbwachs’ essays concerning collective memory entitled On Collective Memory (1992), Lewis Coser critiques what Halbwachs refers to as a "presentist" approach to history. While Halbwachs proposes that our understanding of the past is comprised of collective recollections that society reconstructs exclusively within present-day frameworks (189), Coser insists that this perception of history fails to address the phenomenon of continuity apparent in successive historical epochs. Drawing on the work of the American sociologist Barry Schwartz,1 Coser concludes that collective historical memory has both "cumulative" and "presentist" aspects: "[a] society’s current perceived needs may impel it to refashion the past, but successive epochs are being kept alive through a common code and a common symbolic canon even amidst contemporary revisions" (26-27). An examination of the 1996 Sesquicentennial Celebration in Hamilton, Ontario will illustrate this binary composition of local Canadian history, but, even more important, it will betray the impact of biases engendered by the asymmetrical appropriation of power among special interest groups on the selection of memories for posterity and for contemporary revision. Confronted with the significance of "memory communities" in shaping memories for the present and in selecting memories to be consistently commemorated from the past,2 the task of identifying these communities in Canadian society and determining their differing degrees of influence is the first step towards evaluating the authenticity of Kevin Walsh’s observation that "the representation of the past has been, and always will be, political and therefore ideological" (; 130). Although Walsh cites museums and academies as examples of the encroachment of modernity and, more recently, postmodernity on history, the manipulation of the past by political and corporate institutions and the disjunction that this process creates with the past enacts a similar process of "sequestering" memory from those to whom it belonged. According to Walsh, the consequence of this process is that the past becomes a "reservoir of shallow surfaces" vulnerable to exploitation (3). That this was true in the case of the Hamilton Sesquicentennial is evident from both the multifarious assortment of souvenirs produced by the Sesquicentennial Committee and the appropriation of historical moments in Hamilton’s history to meet more commercially-inspired interests.
In "History as Social Memory" (1989), Peter Burke expands upon Halbwachs’ theoretical association between the memory of an individual and the memory of the group in which he or she is located to argue that the inevitable outcome of this association is a similar degree of memory selectivity in the group environment as in the subjective selection of memories exercised by the individual (100).3 Hence, asking ourselves the questions of how social memories are being shaped and by whom is critical not only to our understanding of whose version of the past is being recorded, but also to our understanding of where we can locate ourselves in relation to that memory and therefore in relation to our society. That all social groups do not equally share the power to shape collective memory (as Coser’s analysis of Halbwachs’ work might imply) is evident in the following statement reported by Tami Paikin Nolan in an article published in the February 24, 1994 issue of The Hamilton Spectator and attributed to Milton Lewis, a former senior partner in the Hamilton law firm of Lewis, Brown, Scarfone and Hawkins, and the voluntary co-chair of the Hamilton Sesquicentennial Committee: "[w]e hope the Sesquicentennial will revitalize us and renew us as a community. We want it to be a bridge between the last 150 years and the Hamilton of the future…. Whether you’re a longtime Hamiltonian or not, whether you use the downtown or not, there is no denying that the region needs a solid centre if it is to be a major player on the national stage, if it is to attract conventions and tourism and business dollars." Lewis’s references to a "solid centre," "national stage," and "tourism" locate Hamilton’s identity in the City’s core, and anticipate a stronger economic future for the City based on a prosperous profile circulated nationally and internationally. Thus the "community" that Lewis initially evokes becomes increasingly more exclusive as he specifically focuses on the downtown core of the City—the "solid" (that is, commercial) centre of Hamilton—and its potential to attract more "business dollars." Spoken by the co-chair of the Sesquicentennial Committee two years prior to Hamilton’s Sesquicentennial, this statement clearly illustrated that the agenda for the 1996 Celebration had already been established as a means to a brighter economic future for those with vested commercial interest in the City core.
When Lewis’s vision is read alongside John C. Weaver’s characterization of Hamilton’s history, Hamilton: an Illustrated History (1982), an unequivocal sense of what (and whose) memories constitute Hamilton’s cumulative historical memory emerges. Weaver, a member of the history department at McMaster University and a specialist in urban history, describes Hamilton as maturing in an era of capitalism under civic leaders who shared a self-interested commitment to "growth" that reflected their controlling interests in land ownership, credit, employment and public offices (12). Weaver adds that, in addition to—or, perhaps more accurately, as a natural consequence of—their very real control over much of Hamilton’s civic and economic activities, these men often acted with a measure of public sanction since their "interest in community expansion with its promise of jobs could be embraced by all social groups" (12). In reviewing the history of Hamilton as recorded in both prose and poetry, it becomes evident that it is this homogenizing code of "growth" or "progress" that prevails and is remembered in the rhetoric of Sesquicentennial propaganda—witness the yearning for economic prosperity in Lewis’s statement.
Hamilton Circa 1846: a City of Prospects4
Weaver describes the early history of Hamilton as a meeting between "a unique natural environment and men of ambition," and, in fact the City seal, created soon after the City’s effective date of incorporation in January of 1847, bore the words "I Advance" to embody the drive of these "merchant princes" (Weaver 9). Although the editor of a Toronto newspaper attempted to turn Hamilton’s ambition against itself with the patronizing epithet "ambitious little city," this designation was proudly accepted as the City’s unofficial motto soon after the story was reprinted in the September 9, 1847 edition of the Hamilton Spectator and Journal of Commerce (Katz 1). Given the Hamilton area’s original landscape of marshy land, poisonous rattlesnakes, and sword grass so sharp that it could cut through every known material with the exception of buckskin, it would seem upon reflection that only raw ambition could ever have overcome such formidable obstacles in order to exploit the potential of the region’s enviable location.
Until 1830, activity in the district that would become Hamilton Region consisted primarily of clearing the land and farming, two arduous tasks undertaken for the most part by the early Loyalist settlers fleeing to British North America after the onset of the American Revolution in 1775. Evidence of an evolving community can be detected in the existence of a 1788 land survey and the construction of a court house and jail in 1817. Geographical restrictions partially explain the slow development of the area: in addition to being edged by a landlocked bay, the district was limited by an encircling escarpment, swampy lakeshore, numerous ravines, and the critical absence of road access to the main route between Dundas and York; however, given the region’s convenient location at the junction of two major continental corridors—the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence corridor and the Mohawk Valley-Niagara Peninsula route—the potential for development clearly outweighed the topographical drawbacks in the minds of men with ambition and substantial capital. The first project undertaken in the region was to improve access to the bay via a canal linking it to the open water. The construction of the Burlington Canal, begun in 1827 and completed in 1830, heralded the beginning of a period of rapid growth in population and entrepreneurship.5 Attracting a labour force consisting of settlers from outlying areas and immigrants, the building of the canal generated the first population boom and expansion of district boundaries as workers and their families sought accommodation in the settlement nearby. Direct access to Lake Ontario and its central location made the district a hub of trade activity, and enabled it to serve the hinterlands to the west, south and north. In fact, the 1830s inspired the ambitious dream of establishing Hamilton as the "mercantile centre" of the British commonwealth. Such hopes were fed by the 1833 Act of Incorporation that designated Hamilton a township and the consequent genesis of a civic life.6 In A Mountain and a City (1966), Marjorie Freeman Campbell describes the Hamilton of the 1830s as a "half-grown child, not yet adolescent but out of first childhood" (75). Weaver, however, is far less lenient: taking into consideration the plight of the common man as well as the activities of the elite during this boom-town decade, he discloses the dramatic class contrasts behind the push for progress: "[t]he governing class of Hamilton…had a strategy for economic development and recourse to patronage and intimidation when it confronted opposition. What unfolds is a picture of a community whose founder and builders were self-interested, whose economy and culture drew heavily on United Kingdom and American connections, and whose residents were often part of a transatlantic drama of distress" (39). Propelled by the momentum generated by their capital in the 1830s, the "governing class" would successfully ride the wave of progress through the next two decades of "expansion" and "improvement".
The following decade saw the completion of the Desjardins Canal linking Dundas to the Hamilton Harbour. Rather than suffering from the competition that this event might have engendered, Hamilton in fact benefited: not only did the ships passing through the Harbour to reach Dundas include the port of Hamilton on their passage, but the size of the cargo ships expected by Dundas necessitated deepening the Burlington Canal, thereby simultaneously improving the route to Hamilton. A further development that enhanced Hamilton’s significance as a port town was the completion of the St. Lawrence Canal in 1848, a development that, together with the Welland Canal completed in 1820, created a direct shipping route between Montreal and Chicago with the Port of Hamilton situated midway between the two. The increase in port activity soon led to improvements in land transport. The 1840s witnessed the completion of the Hamilton-Port Dover Plank Road and the Hamilton-Toronto Plank Road, both of which improved access to the nearest large urban centers and the agriculturally rich communities along the way. These improvements in transportation via water and land generated a booming economy in the 1840s: "[i]mports for the new settlements, combined with the handling of increased exports of timber, wheat, and flour, led to a burst of merchant activity" (Gentilcore  107). It was Hamilton’s transportation system and mercantile expansion during this era that spawned the largest influx of immigrants experienced to date.7 In turn, the population surge pushed the boundaries of the townsite further afield and generated a number of manufacturing firms producing much-needed domestic items such as stoves, agricultural tools and pumps.8 The most significant event of this decade was legislative approval of the Act of Incorporation on June 9, 1846 that granted Hamilton city status.9 A city designation, improved and expanding transportation systems, and the genesis of a bustling manufacturing sector sustained by a growing immigrant work force marked the end of another successful decade of growth under the leadership of Hamilton’s political and business elite—frequently one and the same.
The 1850s saw two significant developments in Hamilton’s economy that earned the young City a metropolitan reputation and brought the dream of becoming a center of commerce one step closer to realization. Led by politician and businessman, Sir Allan Napier MacNab, an elite group of Hamilton’s business leaders banded together to bring the railway home. Completed in 1855, the Great Western Railway (GWR) solidly established Hamilton as the transportational focus of its region and thus presented substantial competition to its commercially-ambitious rivals. In addition to providing the best transport westward to London, the GWR dominated all of the regional routes: "[c]ollecting wheat and other produce from the Niagara Peninsula and southwestern Ontario, Hamilton would also vie with Toronto in attracting trade from the upper lakes by rail from Georgian Bay ports. It also became a major centre on the U.S. immigration route from the east coast (New York and Boston) to the midwest (Chicago and Milwaukee)" (Gentilcore 111). The second most significant development (and one which grew out of the establishment of a railway system) was the ability to import coal via rail or ship. Liberated from the constraints of sparse water energy sources, Hamilton now saw the establishment of foundries and machine shops where production relied on steam power. The major industry to evolve from this new energy source was quite naturally the railway itself: "[t]he Great Western shops, built in 1849 to manufacture rolling stock, were the first in Canada, making it possible to replace or finish imports from England and the United States. Locomotives were unloaded from schooners and assembled by English mechanics at Hamilton, Stoney Creek, Winona…. In 1863, the Great Western built its first rolling mill—the first in Ontario—in Hamilton, to reroll English rails to withstand Canadian winters" (Gentilcore 111). Although the crash of 1857— the consequence of an international depression and Hamilton’s own excessive railway involvement—severely crippled the industrial sector, within four years Hamilton had once again resumed its footing on the path of progress. For the most part, this relatively quick recovery was due to the maintenance of a manufacturing economy that looked to the past (for example textile plants, brickyards, carriage and wagon works), and to a lesser extent, to the future (railway equipment, steam engines, boilers). In addition, City leaders introduced a tax exemption on new machinery, stock, and buildings to encourage entrepreneurship, and aggressively pursued and obtained protection under a federal tariff. All of these factors culminated in a steady recovery of the economy through the 1860s—a decade that saw Hamilton once again on the eve of progress and prosperity.
The next twenty years saw the population of Hamilton double (reaching 50,000 in 1891), making it the fourth largest city in the recently created dominion of Canada. The steady growth in the railway and maritime industries prompted expansion in the bayfront area that was made possible by reclaiming the marshland. Industries increased in number, size and sophistication as methods of production evolved with the advent of steam. By the late 1880s Hamilton had left behind its early appellation "ambitious little city" and reveled in a reputation of being widely considered "the Birmingham of the North"—a nickname justified by the presence of 170 factories and approximately 14,000 skilled workers. Hamilton’s fate as a "steeltown" was sealed in 1898 with the construction of an electrical power source at Decew Falls. Decew attracted large manufacturing firms such as Westinghouse and International Harvester from the United States and facilitated the development of Hamilton’s major steel-producing industries—Stelco and Dofasco—a little over a decade later. Industry and a steadily increasing population augmented by immigrants seeking industrial jobs sustained Hamilton through the fluctuations caused by two wars and a decade of depression during the first half of the twentieth century. Post-War Hamilton saw the steel companies expanding to dominate the industrial sector not only in terms of products, but also in terms of improved technology as research and development became vital to production efficiency and the creation of new markets. The years between 1945 and 1965 also marked a period of increased conspicuous consumption as home ownership and appliances were vigorously promoted—further pushing Hamilton industries into boom growth. Since the late 1960s, Hamilton has experienced a number of economic downturns which have forced many industries to leave the area in search of cheaper modes of production (found in the southern United States and Mexico for example), and others to dramatically "downsize" production in order to survive.10 The most recent recession, begun in the early 1990s, forced Hamilton to look beyond the steel industry for alternative sources of economic growth: the service sector and information and environmental-based industries are three of the areas currently being developed. It is conceivable that Hamilton may earn yet another appellation evoking its drive towards progress and prosperity over the next decade of technological adaptation and development.
Themes of Progress and Prosperity in Early Hamilton Literature
The push for progress illustrated by the history of Hamilton’s business and civic leadership exemplifies what Kevin Walsh refers to as the "essence" of modernity: "[p]rogression through the exploitation of the environment, combined with a faith in humankind’s dominant position in the scheme of things" (8). The seemingly unlimited potential of the modern world embodied in the omnipresent idea of progress captured the imagination of many early Canadian poets as they surveyed an increasingly civilized landscape hewn from a wilderness of rock and bush. Adam Hood Burwell’s 1818 poem Talbot Road, for example, traces the development of a community from its beginnings as a "wild wood" to an Eden-like pioneer settlement. Burwell discusses the progress of man’s subjugation of the wilderness in the context of God’s divine will and thereby justifies the presence of man in the Canadian landscape as a foreordained event:
The theme of man as God’s agent of civilization is further explored by Alexander McLachlan in his poem The Emigrant (1861): "We are God-commissioned here, / That howling wilderness to clear, / Till with joy it overflows / Blooms and blossoms like the rose!" (IV.vii.93-95). Associating God’s will with the potential prosperity that the landscape holds for man, Burwell and McLachlan were not alone in laying claim to progress and prosperity as integral components of a divinely consecrated master plan.11 Describing the domestication of the landscape as predestination justified and encouraged further settlement and capital investment in Canada while it simultaneously mythologized the process by lending it a degree of historical resonance, a quality conducive to making raw commercial enterprise more palatable to Canadian collective memory.
In the same vein, but to a less successful degree than his pre-Confederation peers, William Stephens attempts to situate Hamilton amidst multiple biblical and classical allusions in Hamilton (1840), a poem that, despite its title, treats only briefly of the City.12 The poem’s real significance lies in its use of the metaphor of Noah and the Flood to disclose the same expectations for prosperity through industrious "progress" that has just been observed in Talbot Road.13 Drawing a comparison between Noah and nineteenth-century immigrants, Stephens establishes (albeit in a rather heavy-handed fashion) the same myth of predestination that poets such as Burwell and McLachlan use to justify the "civilization" of the Canadian wilderness. That Stephens perceived the usefulness of biblical metaphors for luring more settlers, and perhaps more capital, to his adopted country is implied by the dedication of his poems to James Buchanan, Canadian immigration consul in New York.14 It seems reasonable to conclude that Stephens fully intended Hamilton to be as much a piece of immigration propaganda as a record of his own observations. In the event that his somewhat belaboured Noah metaphor misses the more commercially-inclined individuals in his prospective audience, Stephens turns to a more explicit description of the potential for prosperity in Hamilton that awaits the enterprising and industrious immigrant: seated on a rock midway up the side of the escarpment, the poet’s glance absorbs a "narrower, but still wide expanse" (98), implying the vast prospects the town has yet to offer. That progress is already a critical component of Hamilton’s identity is represented in the poet’s anticipation of the steam engine:
Who would have thought it was prophetic truth
As concrete examples of the wealth to be gleaned from Hamilton’s bountiful economy, Stephens presents the palatial homes of Sir Allan Napier MacNab and Colin Ferrie. Described in such terms as "brave" and "gallant," MacNab represents for Stephens the epitome of progress: "[h]is speculations gave mechanics bread, / And sent the town most rapidly ahead" (109). Stephens attributes both MacNab’s and Ferrie’s affluent and prominent positions in the civic and business communities to their "bold" enterprises—land speculating in the case of MacNab, and commerce in the case of Ferrie. Led by men of such cunning business acumen, Hamilton, according to Stephens, cannot help but soon become a city with "castles," universities, and "classic temple tow’rs"—all symbols of the progress these men embody (111).
The prosperity that can be achieved through "honest Industry" is a prevailing theme in more explicit examples of immigration propaganda such as William Hope’s Scraps from Canada (1877) published almost four decades after Hamilton and during a period of significant industrial expansion. Written under the premise of fulfilling a promise to friends in Scotland, Scraps from Canada cites several examples of men who arrived in Hamilton with nothing, yet with careful management eventually built for themselves a "little Eden"—thanks to the City’s booming potential: "[f]urther down the city a large wooden house is pointed out to us, two stories…. The late owner of it came to this city as a "tinker," with all the tools he had on his back, and now his widow (no family) has an ample income, and enjoys a princely residence. To the left is a larger and more attractive edifice still, built of stone…. The owner has risen from the position of a small druggist to independence. Our "merchant princes," I learn, have nearly all had such beginnings (10). Although Hope extends an earnest invitation to ""faithful labourers" whose hard toil will be "suitably rewarded" (21), it is evident that the source of their "rewards" is really immigrants with capital. The company of Hurd and Roberts, for example, is described by Hope as providing employment for forty men, sixteen of whom have managed to accumulate considerable capital of their own (presumably through the "careful management" that Hope advises for the enterprising employee, 19). Furthermore, the company is in the throes of expansion, giving "a mighty impetus to the increasing prosperity of this ambitious city" (17). Hurd and Roberts is only one example of the role that capital investment plays in providing work for immigrants from the "Old Country" "who would otherwise be idle and perhaps starving" (51). In addition, these "merchant princes" are responsible for expanding trade via rail transport (48) and for creating markets abroad for the region’s produce: "our merchant princes are having inducements offered whereby we will be able to find a market in India" (40). Attracting more men with capital can only further exploit the resources that are defining Hamilton’s prosperous identity: "[t]his year a special effort and a still greater expenditure is being made to secure skilled labour to do the great work yet unaccomplished. If this is a fair field for the sale of manual labour, how much more should it entice the emigration of capitalists? Men with small capital would find special advantages, and safe investments yielding satisfactory profits" (22; emphasis added). The praise and encouragement that both Hope and Stephens reserve for men with capital—men who generate trade and prosperity for the region—can only have consolidated Hamilton’s identity as a city founded on "bold" commercial enterprise.
In both historical and literary documents Hamilton emerges as a city underpinned by the forces of modernity; specifically, the drive for progress realized in the exploitation of the environment for economic prosperity. Every facet of the Sesquicentennial Celebration— including the Committee, funding, and events—claimed "progress" as its impetus. Hence, the "Hamilton" that was commemorated in 1996 was the City created by a legacy of business and civic leadership and recorded by members of these two elite communities. Where memory met the Sesquicentennial objective of "revitalizing" and "renewing" the community it was left unspoiled; however, where memory deviated from this objective it underwent a transformation that rendered its former life null and void. Consequently, the most significant role played by the Sesquicentennial Committee is that of Burke’s "memory community" since its elite members enacted the process of selecting—and on occasion, molding—the social memory of Hamilton.
The Sesquicentennial Advisory Committee
The Sesquicentennial Advisory Committee was established in January of 1993 under the voluntary chairmanship of Hamilton’s Mayor, Bob Morrow. Morrow’s first task was to appoint Milton Lewis and Vincenza Travale as voluntary co-chairs whose initial responsibilities included organizing a team of sixty volunteers. Soon after the Committee assumed an active media profile in preparation for the 1996 Sesquicentennial Celebration, it came under attack for its lack of racial diversity. Marlene Thomas-Osborne, the co-chair of the Mayor’s Committee Against Racism and Discrimination, and Evelyn Myrie, a community activist, described the Celebration as a "big birthday bash" to which "people of color are not invited," and suggested that, as such, it did not accurately represent the whole of the Hamilton community. Lewis’s response was to acknowledge that since "several" members of the Committee had been personally invited by him to join, perhaps it was the lack of racially diverse people in his "circle" that could be held accountable (Peters [14 March 1995]). Lewis’s reference to his "circle" of acquaintances, in conjunction with the fact that the Committee’s three authoritative positions were filled by prominent and active participants in the business and civic communities, introduced the impression of exclusivity that characterized the Committee’s activities throughout the Sesquicentennial Celebration.
The exclusive nature of the Committee can be explained in part by the funding arranged by the Sesquicentennial organizers. Unlike previous anniversaries, only $3,000 of taxpayers’ money was provided by the City.15 The bulk of the outstanding $350,000 Sesquicentennial budget was expected to come from the corporate sector,16 with some money raised by fund-raising activities, promotions, advertising revenues, tickets, and souvenirs. The elitism engendered by the intimate relationship between leaders in the public sector (civic officials such as Morrow) and leaders in the private sector (corporate sponsors such as Philip Environmental) culminated in the staging of restricted "heritage" events such as the Sesquicentennial Ball. Scheduled for the eve of Hamilton’s birthday, the Sesquicentennial Ball was a black tie and medals affair that boasted the presence of Canada’s governor general, Romeo LeBlanc. The $200 per couple price tag of attending the event was sharply criticized by several members of the City Council for restricting attendance to Hamilton’s wealthy elite (Peters [8 June 1996]). However, considering that the article was published in The Hamilton Spectator the day of the Ball, and that the newspaper was one of the many corporate sponsors of the event, it is difficult to percieve the ctiticism as anything but a token gesture of objectivity. In addition, the Ball co-chair, Cathy Keyes, is quoted in the article as extending a broad invitation to the community to attend: "‘[w]e have not had a black-tie, long-gown event in this city in so many years. Whoever wants to come can come and purchase a ticket.’" Just as Lewis glossed over complaints about the elite composition of the Sesquicentennial Committee by extending an invitation to anyone in the community interested in volunteering, Keyes similarly concealed the real issue—the restrictive cost of the tickets—beneath a seemingly beneficent, if somewhat belated, invitation. Despite Lewis’s and Keyes’ verbal invitations to the community at large, their actions quite blatantly protected the interests of a much narrower group— one that comprised an elite assembly of wealthy business and civic leaders.
Sesquicentennial Public Relations: a Business Venture
The daily business of coordinating funding and planning the Sesquicentennial Celebration was carried out by Hamilton Sesquicentennial Celebrations Incorporated, a private business venture supervised by Carmen Rizotto, Executive Director. Operating under the directive of the Advisory Committee, Sesquicentennial Celebrations Incorporated inevitably shared the same allegiances to the public and private sectors. Obligated to fulfill an agenda of combining community involvement with corporate sponsor recognition, Rizotto’s first undertaking—a logo competition open to the public—proved to be an almost uncanny fusion of the two. The
winning logo submitted by Richard Freedman, a local museum employee, represented two familiar natural elements of Hamilton’s communal memory—the Hamilton Harbour and the escarpment—linked in a visual pun of a birthday cake. The suitability of the natural environment as a symbol of Hamilton in 1996 cannot be underestimated given the acceptance by the civic and corporate sectors of Vision 20/20, a study presented by the Task Force on Sustainable Development that enumerated over 400 goals and action statements aimed at implementing sustainable practices in every aspect of Hamilton’s economic and social environments.17 The Harbour in particular was the target of several sustainable project proposals including expansion of the yacht club and a park, both intended to encourage Hamiltonians (and tourists) to view the Harbour as a site of outdoor recreation. Including an image of the Harbour with three sailboats in the logo therefore did more than commemorate the Habour’s history as a port and a place of leisure; it also corresponded with the future role of the Harbour as envisioned by the creators of Vision 20/20. The link between the logo and Vision 20/20 was made explicit in The Hamilton Spectator article that announced the contest winner: "[the designer’s] instinct over the
harbor’s importance [to] the city is being proven all over again as the new waterfront development and Pier 4 Park rejuvenate the area for the whole region" (Humphreys [27 June 1995]).
Why Vision 20/20 was of such interest to the business and civic communities can be explained by the proposal’s emphasis on rejuvenating the downtown core, a recommendation that translated into "business dollars" and a consequent rejuvenation of the City’s economy. Given the private sector’s heavy sponsorship of the Sesquicentennial Celebration, Sesquicentennial Celebrations Incorporated readily made itself available as a vehicle for promoting the City core as a "place to be," a location attractive not only to potential consumers, but also to potential investors and entrepreneurs. To this end, Sesquicentennial Celebrations Incorporated commissioned a visual image capturing the essence of "progress" and "prosperity" in Hamilton. The image by Robert Palmese that was selected shows a brightly lit streetscape with historical Hamilton in the foreground (Gore Park to the left and old commercial buildings to the right) and two of Hamilton’s modern skyscrapers in the background (the Stelco Tower and the recently completed CIBC Complex). Blurred lines of traffic lights linking foreground to background—or past to future—manipulate the viewer’s impression of Hamilton as an exciting city rapidly pursuing progress.18 That this image was an exaggeration of the City core was betrayed by what it does not show. The blurred lights, for example, effectively concealed the empty store fronts, porn palaces, dollar marts, and the video arcade that confronted the pedestrian moving at a much slower pace along this particular section of King Street. Not unlike the Sesquicentennial logo, which communicated a message about the future as much as it commemorated the past, the official Sesquicentennial photo image of Hamilton recalled the City’s history of commercial "progress" while simultaneously projecting the future renewal of a bustling commercial City core.
Another place where Sesquicentennial Celebrations Incorporated catered to private sector interests was in the official Sesquicentennial book. Although Lewis announced in February of 1994 that a "high quality history book" would be written to commemorate Hamilton’s 150th birthday (Nolan [24 February 1994]), the result was little more than a glossy two hundred and fifty-six page business directory. That the focus of Hamilton: It’s Happening (1996) by Sherry Sleightholm is predominantly commercial as opposed to historical is apparent from Morrow’s Foreword, which utilizes phrases such as "successful economic diversification" and "ties around the globe" to convey a sense of Hamilton’s national and international economic profile (iii). Not unlike the Hamilton and District Chamber of Commerce’s sponsored publication Hamilton: Chronicle of a City (1983), Hamilton: It’s Happening also records the evolving role of the corporate sector in shaping communal memory. Whereas in Hamilton: Chronicle of a City, history (albeit an enthusiastically pro-commerce history) takes precedence in nine out of the book's ten chapters,19 Hamilton: It’s Happening is dominated by business profiles with only twenty-two pages at the back of the book dedicated to "local landmarks." Significantly, the historical qualifications for being a local landmark are so arbitrary that six contemporary private businesses are classified under this heading, including a machinery and equipment contractor in Burlington and a funeral home in Dundas. Like the images produced to capture the "spirit" of the Sesquicentennial, Hamilton: It’s Happening similarly exploits the past in order to create a bridge to the future—a future made possible by community leaders and their interpretation of Vision 20/20.
The Sesquicentennial Machine in Action
In order to ensure that Sesquicentennial Celebrations Incorporated fulfilled its objective of maximizing community involvement, the Advisory Committee developed two ways in which the public could participate: individuals could register their business, institutional, or individual event with Sesquicentennial Celebrations Incorporated, or they could participate in one of the "free-standing events" that was conceived, funded, and organized as part of the Sesquicentennial Celebration.
Registering with Sesquicentennial Celebrations Incorporated entitled community organizations to be included in the calendar of endorsed events and to use the Sesquicentennial logo and mascot. Everyone stood to win from this arrangement: Sesquicentennial Celebrations Incorporated achieved additional publicity for itself and for its sponsors, and the organization gained publicity and a degree of historical resonance through its association with the City’s anniversary. However, in light of the non-existent requirements for qualifying as an "official Sesquicentennial" event and the consequently arbitrary awarding of Sesquicentennial designations to all who applied, the historical resonance achieved by community organizations was superficial at best. The Miss Polonia Beauty Contest is a case in point. The McMaster University Polish Society—a one-year-old institution—elected to hold its first-ever Miss Polonia Beauty Pageant in 1996. Recognizing the benefit of free publicity from being associated with the Sesquicentennial Celebration, the Society applied for, and was granted, a Sesquicentennial designation. When the Polish Canadian Alliance of Youth (PCAY)—an institution claiming over fifty years of history in Hamilton— learned that another Polish youth organization had appropriated the Miss Polonia contest—a contest the PCAY had been running for forty years—and received an official designation for it, the PCAY demanded that Sesquicentennial Celebrations Incorporated withdraw its sponsorship of the McMaster Polish Society. While Rizotto and Morrow agreed to "look into the situation," the PCAY applied for and received its own Sesquicentennial designation. The end result was that both organizations staged an "official Sesquicentennial" Miss Polonia Beauty Pageant. Given Rizotto’s blatant lack of discrimination in awarding Sesquicentennial designations, the role of history in this aspect of the Celebration can only be judged as inferior to the more commercially-motivated priority of maximizing public participation in an effort to increase publicity for its corporate sponsors. The community organizations that solicited Sesquicentennial recognition therefore unknowingly participated in an illusion of memory creation and commemoration fostered by the real "memory community"—the Sesquicentennial corporate sponsors and organizers. That the public had no control over Hamilton’s communal memory was driven home by Jack MacDonald who reminded the public in a June 26, 1996 editorial entitled "Open up your home for the best Canada Day ever" that corporate sponsors were footing the bill so that the "party would not cost taxpayers a dime." MacDonald also made it perfectly clear that the public’s role was not as active purveyors of historical memory, but rather as consumers of it: "[i]f you want to be involved, there is lots of time and unlimited ways available to you…you can buy coins or hats and shirts. You can buy a beautiful sesqui pin to display your local pride." As a marketable product intended for consumption, history—as it was represented by Sesquicentennial Celebrations Incorporated on key chains, lapel pins, T-shirts, Christmas ornaments, stickers, mugs, and pens—had indeed become the "reservoir of shallow surfaces" that Walsh attributes to the forces of modernity (3).
Further evidence that a self-interested "memory community" was responsible for the memories commemorated by Sesquicentennial Celebrations Incorporated was revealed by the civic community’s reaction to a public sculpture competition. Intended to be a gift to the community from City Hall on Hamilton’s 150th birthday, a three-dimensional art work by a Canadian artist was to be selected by the Department of Culture and Recreation and placed in the exterior forecourt of City Hall. By the end of the summer the jury had made its decision and the winning entrant, Reinhard Reitzenstein of Grimsby, Ontario, had been informed that he had won the $55,000 commission. Up until the moment when they learned what the sculpture was to be, City officials were in full support of the project. Alderman Marvin Caplan, a member of the Arts Advisory Committee, for example, was quoted as acknowledging the "civilizing" role that art plays in the community: "‘[n]o matter how tight your budget is you must find a way to nourish the soul’" (Peters [27 July 1995]). When the sculpture was presented to City Council, however, their reaction was to withdraw their support by cancelling the commission. Described by Reitzenstein as reflecting the "natural, human and industrial history" of Hamilton, the stone and steel sculpture depicted a puma (now extinct in the area) resting on a stone (representing the escarpment), and a lynx (still in existence) lying in front of the facade of an Iroquois long house. Obviously confused by the sculptor’s allusion to the Hamilton region’s natural and native origins, City officials—including Caplan—condemned the piece as "not saying a lot…about the past 150 years of Hamilton history" (Peters [2 November 1995]). Despite Reitzenstein’s attempt to reunite Hamilton’s history as a city with the environmental history that made this development possible, it is apparent from the civic rejection of the sculpture that this aspect of the region’s history was not on City Hall’s "memory agenda." Apparently the environment was only of interest to civic and business leaders in the 1990s when it was shown to be an incitement to consumerism and capital investment, as it was within the context of Vision 20/20. Contrasting the failure of the sculpture with the success of Sesquicentennial Celebrations Incorporated’s Gore Park Fountain and Sesqui Super Home Lottery projects allows immense insight into precisely what memories civic officials were prepared to endorse.
Originally erected in 1859, the Gore Park Fountain was dismantled in 1959 because of its deteriorating condition and a civic movement in favour of "modernizing" the City core. In 1993, the Head-of-the-Lake Historical Society expressed an interest in returning the Fountain to Gore Park with pieces of the original structure incorporated to enhance its heritage value. Under chairperson, Dennis Missett, The Fountain Foundation was formed to oversee the project and raise the $500,000 needed to pay for the construction of the Fountain and its installment in the Park. It was the Foundation’s position that the Fountain would "provide a real and symbolic link between [Hamilton’s] past and future" and offer citizens the opportunity "to make a meaningful and lasting statement to their commitment and interest in the downtown and the City as a whole" (Missett 5). City officials, however, saw the Fountain as a unique opportunity to partially fulfill the agenda of Vision 20/20 by generating "business dollars" in the City core. By placing the Fountain in a new location—on the site where Hughson Street bisects the eastern third of Gore Park, Morrow and a small band of supporters felt the Fountain could more effectively attract consumers: "a fountain in the middle of Hughson," wrote Brad Honywill in an article published on March 27,1995, "would put the fountain in the middle of the extended park and…would provide a visual draw to the area down Hughson from the new GO station, three blocks away. That would encourage people to go into the eastern part of the downtown, provide a more pleasing symmetry to the core, and encourage development on Hughson." In a rare gesture, Sesquicentennial Celebrations Incorporated, in conjunction with The Hamilton Spectator, solicited the public for their opinion on the placement of the Fountain. Interestingly, of 573 responses an overwhelming 450 votes favoured the original location (Honywill [27 March 1995]). When City Council met to vote on the issue, they wisely chose to favour public opinion and return the Fountain to its historical place in the Park (Peters [29 March 1995]). Despite the failure of civic officials to place the Fountain in a more commercially-favoured location, the fact that the money intended to fund the City Hall sculpture went to support the Fountain suggests that this project held the advantage of greater commercial promise in the eyes of the City. Specifically, in partially realizing Vision 20/20’s recommendation for "renewing" the City’s core, the Gore Park Fountain provided the kind of "attractive marketing surface" that Walsh describes as the inevitable role of heritage in a (post)modern society (136).
A second project conceived, funded and organized by Sesquicentennial Celebrations Incorporated was the Sesqui Super Home Lottery. Like the Gore Park Fountain, the Lottery could lay claim to a communal memory, but unlike the Fountain the Lottery underwent radical revisions to accommodate the private and political agendas operating behind the scenes of Sesquicentennial Celebrations Incorporated. The referent for the Sesqui Super Home was the Dream Home raffled off in Hamilton in 1950 to raise money for the Winnipeg flood victims. Although operating under the same premise as the 1950 lottery, which was to build a home showcasing the most advanced technology available in the Hamilton region, the Sesqui Super Home lacked the qualities of selflessness and compassion the Dream Home elicited from the Hamilton community as it pulled together in response to a crisis. Instead, organizers of the Sesqui Super Home sequestered the communal memory of the Dream Home and built a monument to the cooperative efforts of the manufacturing and civic sectors, to be appreciated by not only
the citizens of Hamilton, but by the world as well:20 "[t]he Super House is a million-dollar exhibition for the world," enthused Sherry Sleightholm in her article "A dream home on Upper Paradise" published in The Hamilton Spectator on September 7, 1996, "a display of our construction skills, innovation and electronic wizardry. It is a textbook lesson in building expertise for the delegations from countries such as Russia, Japan, Panama, and Chile. It is international marketing on a grand scale, demonstrating the steel studs, framing and decorative roof by corporate giants Stelco and Dofasco—an historic collaboration and a made-in-Hamilton solution to clearcutting forests." Referring to the collaboration between Stelco and Dofasco as both "historic" and a "green" solution to clearcutting, Sleightholm captured the spirit of progress illustrated in the history and early literature of Hamilton—that is, the industries that have historically given Hamilton its reputation as an ambitious and progressive city still continue to do so. Furthermore, by highlighting the industrial sector’s interest in supplying innovative "green" solutions, Sleightholm also drew attention to the cooperative efforts between the civic and business communities that Vision 20/20 advises if Hamilton is to realize a sustainable (and perpetually prosperous) environment. In many ways, the Sesqui Super Home was in fact a vehicle for bringing these two communities together for the purpose of exploring the feasibility of the kinds of cooperative projects that Vision 20/20 demanded. The experimental nature of this union and the privileged positions of its members in Hamilton’s civic and business communities partially explains, but does not excuse, the Sesquicentennial’s distinction between an elite versus a general public appreciation of "heritage" as demonstrated in the cornerstone ceremony of the Sesqui Super Home and the unveiling of the Gore Park Fountain. While the cornerstone ceremony refused admission to the public (although they were later encouraged to visit the site for the purpose of purchasing lottery tickets), the ceremonial unveiling of the Gore Park Fountain necessitated a physical division between the organizers and sponsors on the one hand, and the general public on the other, with the result that during the ceremony the Sesquicentennial "circle" occupied a tent while the public waited outside in the rain. The Heritage Day ceremony demonstrated a similar spatial division between the elite few who were privy to a genuine commemoration of memory versus those who were served a "reasonable facsimile." On this occasion a select group withdrew to City Council chambers to present commemorative plaques while the public viewed heritage displays in the hallway.
Both the events supported by Sesquicentennial Celebrations Incorporated and those organized by them demonstrated a process of sequestering memory from those to whom it belongs and placing it within the rarefied discourse of an elite group of community leaders. The Sesqui Super Home in particular is an extreme example of the ways in which Sesquicentennial Celebrations Incorporated’s commercial motivations assumed precedence over history to the point where a rupture with the past was created. The memory of the cooperation and compassion associated with the 1950 Dream Home was irrevocably subsumed under the drive to generate progress and prosperity symbolized by the 1996 Sesqui Super Home. Although the Sesqui Super Home Lottery implied a "tradition" by its very repetition of an historic fund-raising event, the flagrant self-promotion behind its revivification suggested otherwise. As Hobsbawn observes in the Introduction to his work The Invention of Tradition (1983), "insofar as there is such reference to a historic past, the peculiarity of ‘invented traditions’ is that the continuity with it is largely factitious…they are responses to novel situations which take the form of reference to old situations" (2).
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Measuring the success of the Hamilton Sesquicentennial Celebration depends entirely on which side of the fence your Sesquicentennial birthday party took place. From the perspective of the Sesquicentennial sponsors and organizers, the events they staged to commemorate Hamilton’s birthday in 1996 engendered a cooperative working relationship between the private and public sectors that was clearly intended to help realize the objective of a progressive and prosperous Hamilton as envisaged in Vision 20/20. That this relationship proved productive was evident from the multiple city projects the Sesquicentennial Celebration helped to engender in subsequent months. In February of 1997, for example, the City of Hamilton placed an advertisement in The Hamilton Spectator entitled "Downtown Hamilton is…‘OPEN FOR BUSINESS’" (15 February 1997). The advertisement reported that for a limited time the City was undertaking a number of initiatives to defray the costs of "new residential and commercial development and redevelopment activity in the downtown area." These initiatives included refunding fees, no development charges or parking requirements, and less restrictive zoning for residential development. The City’s temporary leniency spawned a residential and commercial development project called "City Places" and a summer-long arts and entertainment event entitled "Positively Downtown" (see Peters [19 April 1997] and "City will fill the streets" [19 April 1997]). Taking into consideration that these kinds of projects had never before been attempted, it is safe to assume that the cooperative environment that Sesquicentennial Celebrations Incorporated cultivated is, at least in part, responsible for such efforts.
But Sesquicentennial Celebrations Incorporated itself was not a financial success. Despite Rizotto’s and Morrow’s assurances that the Sesqui Super Home broke even and that all Sesquicentennial expenses would be covered by sponsors, an article by Steve Arnold in the June 14, 1997 issue of The Hamilton Spectator revealed that Sesquicentennial Celebrations Incorporated still owed its creditors approximately $227,000. No longer speculating about which Hamilton organizations would receive fund-raising profits, Sesquicentennial Celebrations Incorporated began scrambling at the end of March, 1997 to unload 25,000 commemorative coins and 3,500 copies of Hamilton: It’s Happening just to make ends meet. In May of that same year Morrow began canvassing local corporations for financial handouts.21 Unfortunately, Sesquicentennial Celebrations Incorporated’s outstanding debts were added to the $1.2 million lost in the 1996 Grey Cup and the $200,000 sunk into the 1996 Hamilton International Air Show—all debts felt most acutely by Hamilton taxpayers.
In addition to failing to meet their fourth objective, outlined in their pamphlet Hamilton Sesquicentennial Festivities, of operating at a minimal cost to the City, Sesquicentennial Celebrations Incorporated did not fulfill its objective of celebrating 150 years of Hamilton’s history.22 As this essay has shown, the history that the Sesquicentennial Celebration consistently commemorated was one shaped by commercial and civic interests and hence restricted to manipulation by these two "memory communities." The consequence of this commemorative elitism was the sacrifice of many significant aspects of Hamilton’s historical identity. The strong history of union movements in Hamilton, for example, was never once alluded to, despite Hamilton’s Labour Action Day March in February of 1996 which attracted over 100,000 supporters from across Ontario. The Native community and the history of immigrants in Hamilton were similarly ignored, as was the exciting and varied history of Hamilton Beach—the sand bar that stretches across Hamilton Harbour.23 The fact that these communal memories were never invoked suggests that they posed too great a threat of dissension from the civic and corporate communities’ homogeneous objective of achieving a progressive and prosperous city profile. That this objective has not significantly changed over the past 150 years of Hamilton’s history leads to several plausible conjectures about the nature of collective memory. For instance, the "historical homogeneity" of Hamilton’s past suggests that Coser’s "memory communities" do not necessarily change over time and that one (or more) of the dominating "communities" holds the balance of power and wealth in any given society. In addition, this relative consistency indicates that those who record history are frequently members of the dominating "memory community" (witness Hamilton: Chronicle of a City and Hamilton: It’s Happening). Finally, given the evidence supporting these conjectures that is provided by Hamilton’s 1996 Sesquicentennial Celebration, it appears that "cumulative memory" is as much the work of one or two "memory communities" as "presentist memory." Inevitably, the answer to the question "who wants whom to remember what" will seldom vary over time.
I would like to thank Milt Lewis, co-chair of the Hamilton Sesquicentennial Committee, for approving my proposal to research the 1996 Sesquicentennial Celebration and for granting me his full cooperation. Thanks also to Carmen Rizotto, Executive Director of the Sesquicentennial Advisory Committee, for his donation of Sesquicentennial public relations materials.