Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Balsam Ave Jewel Box

With the pinnacle of sport contest fast upon us, another year has already come and gone for Ivor Wynne. For more than a decade, I've trekked through snowstorm and drought to the old Balsam Ave Park. Family summer vacations often consisted of the ten home games each year - the endless journeys between Hamilton and Sarnia more than adequate to satisfy our appetites for adventure I suppose. I can't really say they were happy years. With the exception of a brief hiccup in the late 90s, the Ti-Cats have always been at or near the bottom. Season after season of sub-.500 play does not make for great conversation on the two and a half hour journey home through the bland flatlands of the S.W.O at two o'clock in the morning.

Coupled with the lackluster play has been the turmoil of ownership. Three times in the past decade the team has been on the edge of insolvency, and three times it has been saved. Labour Day ravagings aside, more than once I've sat through late October rainstorms with the 'Cats down 45-0 to some non-descript team from the West. Announced Crowd: 9,000... 8,500 more than sparsely huddled on the wooden benches. Rather than bringing humility to a whole new level, it peculiarly provides pride in the fans. Talk in the stands amongst us old timers regularly revolves around such franchise tragedies - and how the swine down the QEW aren't nearly made of such stuff. Like the team, we've survived burnt Astroturf, lightning strikes and the mascot that hospitalized an official with an ATV. And we goddamn wear it like a badge. It's nice to see the City finally coming around.

The catch is Ivor Wynne itself - it's what keeps me coming back. Nestled in working class East Hamilton, the view from the stands is among the best in sports. From the north stands the mythic mountain, and from the south the belching steelworks that built the town. I still remember the day when a group of guys would wander down Gage Street fresh from the mill. The stadium is built of Hamilton steel and has the tightest sightlines in the league. It reeks of old-time football and is without a doubt a vestige from when the CFL actually meant something to the national psyche. The Yard is tucked into the neighbourhoods and game day integrates the surrounding urbanity into the experience. Homemade signs, patio barbeques and front lawn parking greet the throngs as they approach via all directions. More so than any other stadium in North America, Ivor Wynne personifies the community. Together with the impeccable sightlines, are the views. The views of the Dofasco stacks and flares, the neighbourhoods and their canopies, the sunsets and the mountain underscore an authentic experience. It's not sullied with endless parking fields and their tedious walks. Cities spend hundreds of millions to achieve this effect - often in vain. Without pretence, this is Canada's Wrigley.

Even the effects of a neglectful council can't undermine the basics. With another Commonwealth bid will surely come another outcry for relocation to some sterile locale in a current farmer's field (and yet another bout of deferred Ivor Wynne maintenance and ambivalent management). I plead with you. Hamilton doesn't have much, but it does have a jewel box. It's about time it was dusted off and put on display.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Last Post.

Memories of Harold Ballard and McKenzie as told by Gramps of Halifax. This reminds me of our own perennial candidate Neil Spiegel. While a resident of Lansdowne and Queen, his friendly storefront served as the beacon signaling the north end of Roncesvalles. But after two hard years of non-stop campaigning and two tough fourth place finishes, it appears he's giving it all up... and the neighbourhood is the poorer for it. The campaign office became the constant on the King Car everyday - and frankly the best of a lacklustre streetscape.