When Daniel Banko purchased a building on a bustling street in Hamilton, Canada, 10 years ago, he had no idea that the neighborhood would be at the center of what has been described as a “cultural renaissance.” Located 38 miles outside of Toronto, Canada’s most populous city and economic centre, Hamilton has experienced an awakening both in terms of a major influx of people moving to the city and in its artistic blossoming.
“No one wanted to be here,” says Banko, who purchased the building to house two of his businesses: a photography studio and an advertising agency. Banko opened his third business, the Nathaniel Hughson Art Gallery, at the start of the so-called renaissance.
“Hamilton has always been a strong cultural city mostly with music, but it has never really been celebrated in the way that it is now. There have always been a lot of talented artists who lived here but they just didn’t get the same media attention that they are receiving now,” said Banko, adding that Hamilton’s thriving food scene and numerous cafes have contributed to the recent spotlight.
Banko points to Hamilton’s regional theatre, Theatre Aquarius, along with the Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra, and the Art Gallery of Hamilton as three cultural institutions that existed long before the renaissance. These icons have acted as pillars to support the city’s artistic development, encouraging its citizens to weave the arts into their daily lives. Adding to the cultural movement is the influx of city-dwellers heading west from Toronto, the country’s second-hottest real estate market after Vancouver, as housing prices continue to rise and push residents outside of the core. But for many people leaving Toronto, the choice is not purely economical. The arts scene has drawn many to Hamilton, including large numbers of young adults who don’t want to have to sacrifice the feeling of living in a bustling city rich in culture.
“We’re in the very early stages of this renaissance and there are more and more people discovering all the wonderful hidden or ignored cultural treats the city has to offer as people move west. Right now, food is the big cultural phenomenon in town. Because the population is so diverse, there is a lot of authentic cultural flavor and a great fusion food movement.”