Hamilton got stronger after amalgamation
You’re in the city of Hamilton. But only technically.
Dark pine forests fringed with wildflowers are all you see on southbound Highway 6 as the sign tells you you’re inside the city limits.
And for the next 20 kilometres, as farms and gas stations give way to light industry and garden centres, until you get to the tangle of highways at the edge of Lake Ontario, Hamilton is a city that doesn’t look like a city.
In January 2001, the city was required to merge with five surrounding municipalities: Flamborough, Glanbrook, Stoney Creek, Ancaster and Dundas.
Flamborough was especially unhappy about that, local politicians recall.
The area was mostly farmland and had tried to split itself up to join neighbouring rural municipalities instead, including Waterloo Region.
But the province rejected that idea and forced it to join the big city.
Seventeen years later, two key politicians say the amalgamation experiment was a success.
“There’s no question in my mind, this community is further ahead,” said Terry Cooke, who was chair of the Regional Municipality of Hamilton-Wentworth from 1994 to 2000. That municipality died with the amalgamation. Cooke is now chief executive officer of Hamilton Community Foundation.
The merge kept the wealthy, growing suburbs around Hamilton as part of the new megacity. Tax revenue was stable and could be directed to wherever there was a need.
Without that move, “we would have had inner-city blight,” with prosperous suburbs divorced from the core, said Hamilton Mayor Fred Eisenberger.
Cooke agreed, and pointed out that those thriving suburbs were originally built with the money from the industrial tax assessment from inner-city Hamilton.
Once amalgamation became reality, there was a transition board to manage the details. Some street numbers needed to be changed. People on septic systems had their taxes adjusted so that they weren’t paying for services they didn’t receive.
For years after the merge, there were complaints that the urban area of Hamilton had more residents per ward (and therefore each individual had less voting power) than the rural areas.
That’s to be corrected in this upcoming election with an additional ward on Hamilton Mountain and one less ward in Flamborough.
Eisenberger, who was mayor from 2006 to 2010 and again since 2014, said it was important to find ways to invest in every part of the new city.
Flamborough was the unhappiest of the new arrivals, with “Free Flamborough” T-shirts being worn. But time heals even these wounds.
“I always said it would take a generation” for those hurt feelings to settle down, Cooke said.
Population increase in the suburbs has helped the whole city thrive.
Even Flamborough has seen plenty of growth and prosperity in its Waterdown section, a favourite spot to buy a home if you must commute to Toronto.
Amalgamation has also helped Hamilton negotiate good deals for itself, Eisenberger added.
“We went from being the 15th largest city in Canada to the eighth largest,” he said. “That automatically gives you more clout at the provincial table, the federal table.
“It’s given us a much, much stronger voice.”
Here’s one example that may hit close to home: If Hamilton decides to go ahead with building a light rail transit line, it will be fully paid for by the provincial government. Local taxes won’t have to be raised to help cover the construction costs.
Waterloo Region, by contrast, had to contribute local tax dollars for about one-third of the cost of its light rail transit line.
The City of Hamilton was required to amalgamate with Flamborough, Glanbrook, Stoney Creek, Ancaster and Dundas in 2001.