Gore Park: The Heart and Soul of The City

                                     Fountain Gore Park

      Places matter to historical remembrance and commemoration. As important as the physical aesthetics of monuments are to their meanings, their physical space is even more important. Currently bounded by James Street in the west, and John Street in the east on a narrow strip of land along King Street, Gore Park in Hamilton, Ontario is particularly interesting as a place of memory. Within its first century, four large and significant monuments were erected within the grounds. Prominent citizens erected a massive stone fountain in the centre of the park, both to commemorate the first visit of a British monarch to Canada, the Prince of Wales in 1860, and the inauguration of Hamilton’s new water works. After Prime Minister Sir John A. Macdonald’s death in 1891, another group of citizens raised the funds to erect a statue in his honour. Similarly, another group of prominent Hamiltonians paid for the construction of an even larger statue of Queen Victoria, after her death in 1901. Finally, Hamiltonians placed a new cenotaph in the park in 1923 to commemorate Canada’s war dead in World War I. Within these monuments are encased the aspirations, the values, the beliefs, and the ideologies of Hamilton’s first few generations of citizens, the Victorian generation. These meanings, however, change over time; new generations bestow upon these monuments new meanings and contexts relevant to their own times and circumstances. After nearly a century in the park, new generations of Hamiltonians have ascribed different meanings to these monuments, illustrating the fluidity of meaning of commemorative monuments across different generations.

             Gore, as a park and physical place, is also a significant place of memory. Gore Park is, by itself, its own place of memory and commemoration. Since the very beginning of Hamilton, the Gore has served as the heart and soul of the city. While it has significantly changed over the centuries, it has always been a meeting place for Hamiltonians, the crown jewel of the downtown core, and indeed, of the city itself. Interestingly, as the city has experienced hard times, whether economically or politically, so has the Gore. Gore has had its beginning as a city dump, as a market place, and later as a meeting place for people to come together. While Gore has been confronted with hard times over the past three decades, modern, and ongoing, renovations by the City of Hamilton seek to reinvigorate the park, again placing it in a position of prominence for Hamiltonians as a place of memory, commemoration, and meeting.

Early Years of Gore Park

            The story of Gore Park predates Hamilton itself. Since settlers first arrived in Hamilton nearly two centuries ago, the Gore has served as the metaphoric heart and centre of the village, town, and later city of Hamilton. The Gore owes its existence to the city’s founder, George Hamilton, who was a merchant in nearby Queenston until the invading Americans burned his home during the War of 1812, moved to present day Hamilton, where he purchased 257 acres of land in then-Barton Township in 1815.[2] As Marjorie Freeman Campbell points out, George Hamilton, the man, is shrouded in local mystery and legend. It is known, however, that the District of Gore (named after Sir Francis Gore, the Lieutenant-Governor) was founded by an act of parliament on March 22, 1816.[3] The bill established that “a Gaol and Court-House for said District of Gore shall be erected and built in some fit and convenient place, on Lot 14, in the 3rd Concession of the Township of Barton, to be called the Town of Hamilton.”[4] George Hamilton, on 30 December 1816, “as a site for court house and gaol…surrendered to His Majesty George III, two blocks of land in Concession 3, south of Main Street, containing two acres each, extending (by today’s limits) from Hughson Street to Catharine and from Main Street to Jackson.”[5]

            George Hamilton “became a ceaseless promoter of his new town,” seeking to sell off as many lots as he could to spur development.[6] The Gore, however, despite being the George Hamilton’s preferred location for the gaol and courthouse, remained undeveloped. The Gore land was originally an odd shape, especially within the context of the British grid system. The original land was to have extended farther north, past modern King Street. However, “the Gore was laid out by George Hamilton on the understanding that Nathaniel Hughson,” another prominent land owner in the area to be known as Hamilton, “would give an equal quantity of land on the north, ‘recovering the angles to form an oblong square.’”[7] However, “Hughson reneged on his part of the deal and this triangular area of land remained undeveloped, the centre of the property being used by the adjacent merchants as a dump.”[8]

            For nearly two decades, the site remained a merchants’ dump, as development never reached the Gore land. In 1833, after Hamilton’s first municipal election, the five-member municipal council voted to expropriate George Hamilton’s Gore land, for the purposes of building a new market place. George Hamilton launched a successful lawsuit to prevent the development of the land; when he died intestate in 1836, his eldest son, Robert Jarvis Hamilton continued the opposition.[9] Jarvis Hamilton and the town council ultimately reached an agreement to split the Gore, and develop buildings on the land. In 1847, however, the Canadian Solicitor General ruled that

 no power is given to close up a square, which this piece of land in question must be considered, and to grant building leases or to build houses thereon, either  with or without the consent of the owner of the soil, and if the Council were to attempt to exert such a power, they might be stopped in its exercise by an injunction from Chancery.[10]

With this decision, the Solicitor General had ruled in favour of a number of citizens who had brought the case forward. The citizens had, to council’s surprise and chagrin, “express[ed] surprise at [council’s decision to develop the land] and protest[ed] the proposed subdivision of the Gore into building lots.”[11] Council made another attempt to develop the land in 1853. A January 1853 bylaw called for the erection of a public building on the property.[12] This bylaw was defeated shortly thereafter, after a group of prominent citizens registered their loud complaints with the city. Undeterred, Council again recommended development of the Gore in July 1853, favouring the site for the construction of Hamilton’s new post office. This proposal was rejected by the population in equally short order.[13]

The Fountain: Loyalty to the Crown, Pride in Modern Technology

            By the middle of the nineteenth century, Hamilton was rapidly becoming one of the most important cities in British North America. Indeed, by 1860, “Hamilton was a thriving little city.”[14] In 1890, as in illustration of the Victorian values inherent in Gore Park, the Countess of Aberdeen, wife of the Canadian Governor-General Lord Aberdeen, visited Hamilton. The Countess noted in her diary that

A hundred years ago Hamilton had barely begun to exist. But the few who were then ploughing up the land on which the city now stands, were of the stamp   which makes nations to rejoice over their children. A popular writer described Hamilton in 1858 as the ‘ambitious and stirring little city’ and the name stuck; only she is little no longer…if you seek for news   of Hamilton in the general newspapers, you must look for it under the heading of the ‘Ambitious City.’[15]

Hamiltonians took great pride in the progress their city had made in such a relatively short amount of time. The population had more than tripled in ten short years, exploding from 6,832 in 1846, to 21,855 in 1856.[16] As such, Hamiltonians desired a new water system that would launch their town into modernity and to a higher class of Canadian city. As the Hamilton Daily Spectator noted in 1853,

The want of a supply of pure water, adequate for all household purposes, and for the extinguishing of fires and watering of streets, has been felt in Hamilton, as in every other place making pretensions to the rank of a city. The comfort, health, and cleanliness of the inhabitants demand the attention of those interested in the progress and welfare of the most rapidly rising city in Canada [emphasis added]”[17]

            By the fall of 1860, the new water works was ready for operation. Coincidentally, the British Prince of Wales, Albert Edward (future King Edward VII), the heir to the English Crown was on a royal tour of British North America. In a great honour for the citizens of Hamilton, “the Prince of Wales inaugurated the waterworks system that was to give Hamilton a supply of lake water.”[18] On September 18, 1860, the Prince opened the new fountain at Gore Park in a lavish display of modernity and pomp. Contemporary newspaper accounts report that “the illuminations of the Gore Park was very fine and effective. On each side of the railings were two semi-circular rows of gas lights surmounted by the Royal initials, also in gas. During the whole evening the grounds were crowded with people.”[19] As night fell,

Not the least attractive feature in the evening’s amusements was the grand  display of Fireworks in the Gore Park, which, together with the neighbouring streets was filled with a dense crowd of all ages and both sexes. About eight o’clock the firemen commenced a regular volley of rockets, Roman candles, red and blue lights…which continued until 9 o’clock, when the firemen formed in  procession, headed by a band, and vanished down King street in a blaze of flambeaux, the hissing of fireworks, and a thick cloud of smoke.[20]

For Victorian Hamiltonians, the convergence of both modern amenities and the physical presence of the future of the British Crown excited the population, contributing to memory-making. For many years, the Gore Park fountain would serve as a reminder of Hamilton’s potential, its pride, and its loyalty to the Crown. The iconic Gore Park fountain, one of many, the first erected in 1860, thus became a symbol of progress for a city that desired to live up to its reputation as the “most rapidly rising city in Canada.”

            The introduction of the Hamilton Water Works would rapidly transform the Gore lands, and marked the beginning of a new era, for both the city and the park. By November 1860, the Hamilton Park Committee submitted a report to City Council “beg[ing] leave to report that they have carefully examined the Park on King Street and have ordered sixteen or eighteen trees to be planted to replace those which have been destroyed by evil disposed persons in consequence of having access to the grounds at all times.”[21] This would mark the first time that the empty land on King Street was referred to as a park.

                                Gore Park2

Remembering The Old Chieftain


            Sir John A. Macdonald, Canada’s first prime minister, passed away in June 1891. By December 1891, the Hamilton Board of Trade had proposed a memorial to Macdonald. The Spectator’s account of the Board of Trade proposal is indicative of the Victorian feeling Canadians had for Macdonald. “Canadians of all shades of opinion,” the columnist noted, “delight to honor their great men…Thousands of them, recognizing his great work in building up the Dominion, desire to aid in erecting to his memory a monument which shall in some merit form give evidence that the man who has greatly served Canada will not be suffered to rest in forgetfulness when his life and labors are ended.”[22] His statue would serve as a reminder of the promise that Canada had, on the precipice of the twentieth century, and the prominent role Macdonald had in constructing the new nation.

            As was usual for the dedication of a monument in the Gore during this time, the dedication of Macdonald’s statue was characterized by a large gathering of citizens, pomp, and ceremony. On November 1, 1893, Prime Minister Sir John Thompson, joined a number of prominent dignitaries, and 20,000 admiring and cheering citizens for the unveiling of the statue at King and Hughson Streets, the eastern edge of the Gore. When the moment of unveiling came, “Sir John Thompson pushed an electric button and the veils dropped. The crowds cheered, the 13th Battalion played “Hail to the Chief” and the heavens dropped a torrential downpour on the assembled multitude.”[23] At a total cost of $6,000 (in 1893 dollars), Sir John A.’s bronze likeness stands at over 8 feet, 3 inches. Macdonald,

With closely buttoned frock coat; is represented standing in an easy posture with the right arm slightly extended and an animated but benignant expression on his face, as if he were in the act of addressing a sympathetic audience and about to get off one of his quaint witticisms. This likeness is an admirable one, and the pose of the figure is easy and natural.”[24]  

The English sculptor, George E. Wade, and Hamiltonians chose to remember Macdonald for his best qualities, as they saw them: a captivating politician, witty, benignant. Indeed, for many years after, that is how he was remembered by Hamiltonians.

“The Beloved, Revered Victoria”


            Similar to Sir John A. Macdonald, Queen Victoria held a particular cache among contemporary Hamiltonians. Macdonald had, essentially, created Canada; the country was shaped in his image of a country stretching from sea to sea; Victoria was queen of the largest empire in history, one in which Hamiltonians were intensely proud. Again, like Macdonald, Queen Victoria’s monument was paid for, not by government, but at the initiative of a group of private, and prominent, female citizens, the Queen Victoria Memorial Committee (QVMC). The QVMC had secured the necessary funds for the erection of a statue by “public and private subscription.”[25]

            Governor-General Earl Grey, one of the distinguished guests at the unveiling of the statue in 1908, captured the mood of Hamilton, and indeed of Canada, in the wake of Victoria’s death. For Grey,

The influence of Queen Victoria’s example and character has endowed the world for all time with an inheritance more precious than any material form of  wealth, for the influence of her example and character has made itself felt in almost every English-speaking home and wherever it has made itself felt it has been a force which has made for righteousness.[26]

 The theme of revering, and following Victoria’s good example pervaded in the discourses surrounding her memorialisation. The statue was the final act of appreciation by a grateful people to their beloved, lost, sovereign. A Mrs. Hendrie, of the QVMC, called “on the representative of Queen Victoria’s son to remove the veil [surrounding the statue], that all might see the result which such a reign had indelibly left on her people.”[27] Hamilton Mayor Thomas Joseph Stewart implored Hamiltonians, “the best homage that can be paid to her memory is to live as she did- for the good of others. May Hamilton be ever worthy of the memory of the beloved revered Victoria.”[28]

            Queen Victoria’s unveiling on May 25, 1908 was marked by another display of lavish pomp and celebration. According to the Spectator, “children of today will take their sons and daughters on to their knees in the days to come to tell them how 15,000 people of Hamilton and surrounding district assembled at and around the Gore on May 25, 1908 to witness the unveiling of the statue of Queen Victoria.”[29] The weather on that May day “could not have been better for the impressive ceremony.”[30] Thousands of people graced the neighbourhood around the Gore, “school children, to number of 460, marched in the east gate of the park and took their station on the lawn on the south side of the platform. The Thirteenth band was stationed close by to accompany their singing, while the platform, which was draped with red bunting, was occupied by many members of the ladies’ committee, the alderman and their wives.”[31]

            Queen Victoria, Sir John A. Macdonald, and the commemorative fountain, in many ways the centrepiece of both the park and the city, illustrate a particular set of ideals and ideologies. They represent the values and beliefs of late nineteenth century Hamilton. For nineteenth century Hamiltonians, Gore also represented a particular brand of progress and prosperity. By the turn of the twentieth century, Hamilton was a large and prosperous city, home to many of Canada’s largest industries.

Gore as a Park and an Elite Space in the Nineteenth Century

            Gore Park, as a physical space, has long held a special significance to Hamiltonians, depending upon the context of the times. The nineteenth century, or the Victorian era in Hamilton, provided a particular context to the physical use of space in the downtown. For Victorian Hamiltonians, Gore Park was an elite, exclusive space. It was a chance for prominent, wealthy citizens to enjoy traditionally upper class pursuits within the splendour of the open air of Gore Park, with the “Ambitious City” providing both a stunning background to outdoor activities, and a constant reminder of the city’s remarkable economic and physical growth in such a short period of time. Further, Gore Park was subject to many of the technological marvels of the late nineteenth century. Many Canadian cities had begun to install electric lighting in their cities, both as a means to reduce crime and display the new electric technology. Hamilton was no exception. In May 1899, the Cataract Power Company[32] proposed to illuminate Gore Park during a series of public conventions over the course of the 1899 summer months. “The idea is,” according to contemporary newspaper accounts, “to have electric lamps arranged in wreaths, festoons, etc., and to have many- coloured incandescent lamps among the trees, for which the company is willing to supply the power free.”[33] Such an installation, centred on the Gore, would display Hamilton as a truly modern city, with modern amenities.

            These upper class pursuits, however, distinctly barred many lower and working class Hamiltonians from enjoying the park. For the first two decades of its existence, the Gore had been fenced off from the general public. Open only during daylight hours, and subject to strict police supervision, the park was very much a public space, available to only the upper class. By 1884, however, calls were growing louder for a democratization of the Gore public space. As the Toronto Globe’s “Miscellaneous News From the Ambitious City” column noted, “a petition will shortly be presented to the City Council, asking for the removal of the iron fence about the Gore Park, a small square at the junction of King and James Streets, set out with flowers.”[34]

            By 1886, Hamilton’s upper class had taken to staging prominent musical concerts in Gore Park. In August 1886, the Hamilton 13th Battalion Band “gave another of their popular summer concerts in the Gore Park.”[35] This concert, as usual, “drew an immense crowd of the music-loving citizens. On the programme were some selections which this fine organization are to produce in concert in their Chicago and St. Louis engagement next month. As usual, they received a most enthusiastic reception. Over five thousand persons were out to hear them.”[36] For over a century, the Gore would play host to a number of these concerts, solidifying its reputation as a place of meeting, in addition to a place of commemoration.

The Cenotaph: Commemorating Valour, Remembering War Dead


            Hamiltonians, like all Canadians, were disturbed by the atrocities of World War I.  Continuing the pattern of privately funded commemorative monuments, in 1921, “a combined committee of the Men’s and Women’s Canadian Club approached City Council asking permission…to erect a cenotaph in the Gore Park extension on the site of [a] previously erected flagpole.”[37] Planned, paid for, and constructed in two short years, the new cenotaph was inaugurated in another lavish public ceremony on May 22, 1923. According to the Spectator,

The cenotaph is a replica of the famous cenotaph which was erected at         Westminster, London. It is composed of a granite column bearing at its summit a heavy casket shaped stone. Two smaller columns support the sides, and are surmounted by carved replicas of the fighting equipment of the Canadian soldier. It is about 24 feet in height and is mounted on a heavy granite base. The only words appearing on the column are ‘Our Glorious Dead’ and beneath this the date ‘1914-1918.’[38]

 As with the other monument inaugurations in the period, thousands of people from across the region crowded the streets around Gore Park to pay their respects, listen to dignitaries’ speeches, and participate in the spectacle.

            It has only recently been discovered that the cenotaph is not only a metaphorical reminder of Canadian’s sacrifice during times of war. During recent renovation on the cenotaph, a tiny scroll was found inside. Its contents, unknown to modern Hamiltonians until September 2014, was revealed by Governor-General Lord Byng during the inauguration ceremony in 1923: “This is no empty tomb. Within the depths lies a scroll bearing the names of sixteen hundred Canadians who gave their lives in the war.”[39] In a gesture of continuity with the past, Ian Kerr-Wilson, Heritage Resource Manager for the City of Hamilton, has revealed that “it is also our intent- upon completion of the construction work at Gore Park- to place the capsule back inside the cenotaph.”[40] Some values, evidently, remain constant across time and generations.

            Who decides how great historical events and people are commemorated? The question has dominated discussion of Canadian historical commemoration for centuries. Whether it is an elite driven process, driven by grassroots, or by government, historians have continuously debated the question. Gore Park provides an illuminating example of this principle. From the first proclamation that Gore would remain a park, and not be developed for other uses, the government has been consistently at odds with citizens over the nature, uses, and character of the park.

            As noted above, the nineteenth century was characterized by a definite conflict between the municipal government and the citizens. Fundamentally, both sides were at odds as to how the prominent space within the centre of the city should be used. From the mid-nineteenth century, as the municipal government sought to build on the land, citizens continuously protested, refusing to accept the loss of green space within the heart of the city.

Different spaces, different meanings: Gore Park in the Modern Era

            The very soul of Hamilton had developed around the Gore by the end of the nineteenth century. As John C. Weaver notes, “the central area was not the jumble of confusion that historical geographers have seen in other midcentury cities.”[41] Distinct businesses congregated around the Gore, cognizant of the fact that the area around the Gore was rapidly becoming a prominent area of economic activity, thanks to the rapid congregation of people within the core. “Retail stores dominated the north side of the Gore; wholesale establishments were most prominent on the south side. Banks clustered near the wholesalers. Lawyers located on Main Street close to the courthouse [one block south of Gore]. Artisan shops and manufacturing establishments dominated the outer central area, while hotels and boarding houses intervened between that area and the city centre,” notes Weaver. “Hamilton at midcentury was not clearly divided into economic sectors and socially distinct neighbourhoods,” no doubt thanks to the prominence of the Gore, but “its space had elements of segregated land use and was far from being a disorganized mix of estates, shanties, stores, and industries.”[42]


            There were consistent and constant attempts to reinvent the Gore Park space throughout its history. Some efforts were eminently practical, reflecting the changing nature of the city. As mentioned, Sir John A. Macdonald’s colossal monument graced the eastern-most corner of the property for the first two decades of its existence. A tragic incident, however, forced the city to relocate the statue. Fire Chief A.W. Aitchison, a highly respected member of the community, had been racing down John Street from the Hamilton Fire Station, on his way to a fire. At the intersection of King and John, his truck collided with an oncoming vehicle. He, and his partner Matthew Brittain, were flung from their vehicle. Brittain and Aitchison were both “thrown against the [Sir John A] monument.”[43] While Brittain would survive, Aitchison’s “skull was fractured, and he never recovered consciousness.”[44] From that point, Sir John A. Macdonald was viewed as a potential hazard, a threat to the safety of Hamiltonians. City Council immediately asked the Parks Board to move the monument; Sir John moved to Hughson Street in 1907, where he was deemed less of a risk.[45]

            Sir John provides another illustration of the increasing importance of Gore Park to Hamiltonians. After the Second World War, and nearly a century of the Gore, the Victorian ideals which Hamilton had instilled in their Gore monuments had significantly shifted, transformed by the changing values of the city. In July 1954, the Hamilton East Liberal Member of Parliament, Thomas H. Ross, proposed the removal of Sir John’s statue to the corner of King and Hughson Streets, approximately one block east of Gore. Indeed, for Ross and his partisans, Gore should serve primarily as a monument to the dangers of war, or else as a memorial to Canada’s greatest politicians. “I think the Gore Park extension should be devoted entirely as a memorial to the veterans of Two World War [sic]”[46] The furor over Ross’s comments, however, was intense. Political partisanship was intense during the 1950s, and Ross’s suggestion “seems sure to arouse anger among local Conservatives,” according to the Hamilton Spectator.[47] When informed of Ross’s plan, Hamilton city controller John A. Macdonald passionately argued, “over my dead body….Sir John A is staying right where he is.”[48]

            Ultimately, the Macdonald statue would move again from its location in the 1950s. Ross, however, was evidently not primarily motivated by nationalist patriotic sentiments. Instead, as a Liberal, he took issue with the prominent placing of a Conservative politician. In his application to the Parks Board to move the statue, Ross “added that two similar busts of Sir Wilfred Laurier and Lord Bennett [oddly] would add considerably to the collection of national leaders’ monuments in Gore Park.” In addition to nine foot statues of Laurier and Bennett, Ross also proposed the erection of a nine foot statue of former prime minister William Lyon Mackenzie King. For Ross, “Conservative and Liberal Prime Ministers respective of Two World War” should join Macdonald in the Gore.[49] While nothing would come of Ross’s proposal, other values, like commemorating the war, had begun to replace Victorian ideals in the Gore.

            The twentieth century provides a particularly striking example of both the antagonism between government and citizens, with respect to not only commemoration and public spaces, but to the disconnect between the government and the people. As noted above, from Hamilton’s first council’s attempts to develop the land, citizens had vehemently protested the development and erection of buildings on the land. Nineteenth century efforts to protect the park, however, would ultimately pale in comparison to the battles fought between Hamilton City Council and Hamiltonians over the latter half of the twentieth century.

            By the 1950s, as Hamilton experienced suburbanization and an explosion in motor vehicle traffic, Hamilton City Council proposed radical changes to Gore Park. Proposals to drastically reduce the size of the park, or eliminate entirely, were reminiscent of nineteenth century city council proposals to develop the park. In June 1950, Alderman Mac Cline proposed paving over the park, and building shops and restaurants. Below ground, Cline proposed to construct a “3 or 4 level subterranean parking ramp underneath Gore Park to accommodate 1000 cars.”[50] As in the nineteenth century, public opposition was vocal and widespread, and by 1954, the plan was abandoned.

            In 1951, Hamilton Alderman Jack MacDonald proposed an equally radical plan; this plan, too, was vehemently opposed by the public. MacDonald proposed the complete elimination of the western half of the park, to make room for a new Hamilton Street Railway (HSR) terminal.[51] MacDonald argued

I don’t want the citizens of Hamilton to get the idea that I am some kind of  ‘young destroyer’. Everybody talks about how serious our traffic problem is becoming. This is a chance to do something about it. I believe that I have an appreciation of the value of trees and green space in a city and would not ask for the removal of these if I did not think it absolutely necessary.[52]

            Opposition to the MacDonald plan was fierce, and indicative of the prominence that Gore Park had attained in the Hamilton psyche. Local Hamilton judge William Schwenger, a member of the Parks Board, expressed his opposition to MacDonald’s plan, stating “I am definitely opposed and I feel all other members of the [parks] board will feel the same way. Gore Park is typical of Hamilton in the minds of thousands of people. It is known all over America [emphasis added]. I am definitely opposed.”[53] In a similar, and perhaps exaggerated, vein, then-mayor Lloyd Jackson stated that “opposition to such a plan would be immense…Gore Park is one of three local landmarks, along with the Mountain and the Market. They are known wherever one travels.”[54]

            In October 1970, Hamilton felt the need to replace the original, and broken down, Gore fountain, inaugurated by the Prince of Wales himself, in 1860. The inauguration of the new fountain was highly dependent upon the context of the times. Just as Victorian memorial commemorations reflected senses of Victorian values, so did the 1970 inauguration reflect the newly modern ideals of 1970s Hamilton. A significant crowd had gathered for the occasion, attracted not by the commemoration itself, but by “the sounds of the Messengers, a teen-age rock and roll group.”[55] Between the “antique [emphasis added] statue” of Queen Victoria, and the “futuristic [emphasis added] fountain, Mayor [Vic] Copps told the crowd they were standing in ‘a jewel in the hearth of the city.’”[56] When Mayor Copps pushed the button, activating the fountain for the first time, “magic streams of water, colors changing like a million diamonds, jetted 35 feet into the air.”[57] Onlookers were evidently astonished and amazed at the futuristic display. One elderly attendee, “intoxicated with the wonder of it all,” noted “I tell ya, they should call it The Second Niagara Falls…if they did that it would really make Hamilton famous.”[58]

            The 1980s, for Hamiltonians who still revered the park as a place of reverence, were a particularly disastrous period. As early as May 1921, the Gore was firmly entrenched in the minds of Hamiltonians as a place of natural beauty within the city, and as a place of commemoration. This reverence was solidified by a 1921 decision by the Hamilton Parks Board to remove a tree planted in honour of the Prince of Wales’s 1860 visit to Hamilton. Alfred J. Wright, chairman of the board, noted with regret that “the tree in question was hollow and dangerous to those frequenting the park. While the board takes the stand that all such historic relics should be carefully preserved, it was regretfully obliged to safeguard citizens by removing it.”[59] There was a reluctant acceptance of the tree’s removal; Hamilton was well aware that the park was not only a place of commemoration- it was a park as well. The Spectator noted that “when the board has finished its landscape work in the Gore, the quaint old spot will take on new beauties. Lilacs, snowballs, and other favourite trees and shrubs from 8 to 10 feet high, will break the flat monotony of the little breathing spot; and flower discriminatingly chosen and artistically displayed will further make it attractive.”[60] Nevertheless, an outcry developed among concerned citizens.[61] The Spectator’s description of the tree’s removal as “butchered,” is telling. Government changes to the public square would not come easily.

            The 1921 skirmish was but a minor annoyance compared to the widespread cutting of Gore trees in the 1980s. 1980s Hamilton, firmly entrenched within an ethos of public transit, placed a priority on moving citizens throughout the city. As such, the City argued that the Gore, as an “empty space,” could be better utilized. In July 1983, city crews began mass-cutting trees from the Gore. According to the Spectator, “the graceful maple tree in Gore Park provided the only real shade downtown. It gave respite to exhausted shoppers and the elderly. It was also a perfect place to read a book during lunch hour. This afternoon city work crews started to undo in a few hours what nature took more than 100 years to create.”[62] Similarly to 1921, and indeed, every other occasion throughout history when the Hamilton municipal government made changes to the sacred space at Gore without public consultation, the public reacted with shock and outrage. One woman told the Spectator that “the city should be charged with murder to the environment.”[63] This outcry only intensified when the city began construction of two concrete buildings on park lands, the first time since the 1850s plan to build Hamilton’s post office there that building had been proposed in Gore Park. When the 1980s redevelopment was finally completed in November 1984, the results were, according to one city alderman, “a hell of a mess.”[64] Outside consultants determined that “undersized interlocking bricks were used, sub-drains were never installed, contract drawings failed to show needed work, road design was inadequate, road slope was inadequate, inferior materials were used for a road base and the road was opened before it was ready to bear traffic”[65] Thanks to the bungled renovation, Gore ceased to be a beautiful physical place for Hamiltonians to meet and gather. In many ways, it truly became an eyesore, in the midst of a crumbling downtown of a city in the midst of an economic recession.

            As of 2015, Gore Park is the midst of extensive renovations that will restore a sense of solemnity, commemoration, and provide a new meeting place for a new meeting place for a new generation of Hamiltonians. Over the course of the twentieth century, Gore has lost much of its significance as both a place of memory, and as a jewel in the heart of the city. Its natural beauty, (flowers, trees, etc.) pales in comparison to its glory days of trees and natural colour in the late nineteenth century. Aside from annual Remembrance Day ceremonies at cenotaph, Gore monuments have lost their prominent place in the heart and memory of Hamilton. For many people, they are simply stone obstacles they must walk around as they pass through the park on their way to work or school.

            The newest round of Gore renovations, produced in collaboration with the broader community- a first in the history of the Gore- seek to reinvigorate the tired park, and restore the monuments to their prior prominence, all while maintaining the public nature of the park that has existed since the nineteenth century. Significantly, according to Kathy Drewitt, Executive Director of the Downtown Hamilton Business Improvement Area, the city has “chosen to continue to have the old Victorian style of park that dates back to the 1800s…it really is a tribute to the past and I think it will cement the style of Gore Park as they remember it”[66]

            While the physical space of Gore will be enhanced, and made more inviting to pedestrians, and people seeking simply to enjoy the park, the monuments will be returned to their former prominence. Each monument will be given prominent public spaces: “Victoria Square” will include Queen Victoria’s statue, among kiosks and benches; the fountain will provide the focus of the new “Cultural Garden,” while also including spaces for cultural pursuits like festivals, and a skating rink; “Veterans Place” will not only include the restored cenotaph, but also a number of memorial and reflective spaces, like the poppy garden and lily garden; finally, Macdonald Square will feature Sir John A. Macdonald’s monument, while also including a number of park benches and other gathering and meeting spaces.[67]

            New monuments will be added to the park in the coming years, as renovations continue. The current generation, just as Victorian Hamiltonians shaped the park, will have the opportunity to imprint their own values, and significant memories and ideals into the Park. For example, a new “public art piece, which will eventually stand where Sir John A Macdonald currently resides, will have a smaller footprint and will be a symbol of peace and hope for the future.”[68] Canada’s efforts and contributions to global peacekeeping will also hold a prominent role in the new Veterans Place.[69] Ward 2 Councillor Jason Farr, in a statement that could be from the mouth of any Hamilton politician over the last two centuries, noted “we’re talking about the nerve centre, the focal point, the heart of the city. It’s a very unique space and always has been and one that we all treasure on council”[70]. Time will tell how effective the current renovations are, and if the final Gore will remain true to its history.

            Sir John A Macdonald’s statue is the oldest permanent monument in Gore Park. Designed as a monument to the greatest Victorian Canadian statesman, his statue has constantly moved around the park, and has even caused fatal accidents. As Hamilton changes, however, so does the meaning of this monument. In modern times, Aboriginals in Canada have drastically increased their presence in the public sphere. Articulating demands for historical recognition of treaty rights, and their sovereignty as nations, Aboriginal concerns have been at the forefront of Canadian public affairs for a number of years. As discussed previously, public historic monuments in the Gore have often undergone a radical transformation of public opinion throughout their century of existence. The Aboriginal issue provides an efficient example of this concept. There has been a groundswell of support in recent years among the Aboriginal community for a re-examination of the legacy of Canada’s first prime minister, Sir John A. Macdonald. On January 11, 2015, the 200th anniversary of Macdonald’s birth, at least 30 members of the Sir John A Macdonald Society planned to lay a wreath at the foot of his statue in Gore Park. Instead, “a group of protesters gathered at a Hamilton statue of the first prime minister to talk about what they called the ‘true history’ of the man.”[71] Protesters taped a sign, “father of native genocide,” to the statue as protesters “chanted, sang, held signs and waved a Mohawk warrior flag.” One protester pointed to “the abuses faced by Chinese Canadian Pacific Railway workers and mistreatment of aboriginal people as examples of the seldom talked about ‘true history.’”[72] For the first time in the history of Gore Park, it has ceased to be exclusively a place of meeting and commemoration; Aboriginal criticisms of Macdonald have raised the prospect of a critical re-examination of the Victorian ideals the monuments were originally designed to portray.


            There is nothing physically remarkable about Gore Park. It is, essentially, a narrow strip of land in the middle of downtown Hamilton. Yet, Hamiltonians have given the park meaning. Gore Park is not just a public space within downtown Hamilton. As a physical space in the heart of the city, it has represented the dreams, aspirations, values, and ideologies of generations of Hamiltonians. From its beginnings as a dump and merchant area, citizens realized the potential of the space, resisting any government attempts to develop the property. The Gore became a place of meeting, a jewel within the heart of the city. The latter half of the nineteenth century, and first half of the twentieth saw the development of four major monuments: the water fountain, Sir John A. Macdonald, Queen Victoria, and the War Cenotaph. Within these monuments are contained the ideals of Hamilton’s first generations of citizens. They represent strength, courage, loyalty to the British Empire, and Victorian respectability and progress. Over the course of the often chaotic twentieth century, as city government again attempted to develop and re-develop the park, Gore itself took an increasingly significant role as a place of history and memory. Regardless of the original intentions of monument-building, or the best intentions of government, it is people, of all ages, ethnicities, and historical eras that give monuments and places meaning. The Hamilton Spectator argued that witnesses of the Victoria monument unveiling

Will not have to tell their children why the statue was erected, why unveiled, because from their infancy they will hear of the power for good wielded by Victoria-wife, mother, and queen. The remarkable reign of that still more remarkable queen will not, to them, be history to be learned by heart and forgotten in the carelessness of childhood. Rather they will have to their childish fancies, the sweet allurement of the legend of the fairy tale known without   the effort of study, and remembered. Then will they know, too, that there were others before them, who lived the mother queen-the ladies of Hamilton, their own native city.[73]

These memories were, indeed, forgotten by subsequent generations, the monument’s significance to Victorians remained with the Victorians. While Gore Park shall continue to be a place of commemoration, historical meaning changes over time. Future generations will no doubt value the park, and its monuments, in different ways than those of the past.


Primary Sources

Globe and Mail. ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The Globe and Mail. Various.

Hamilton. Public Works. The Gore Master Plan. [Hamilton].2009-2015.             http://www.hamilton.ca/CityDepartments/PublicWorks/Environment_Sustainable_Infrastructure/OpenSpace/The+Gore+Master+Plan.htm?                   WT.mc_id=gore&WT.hamilton_redirect_friendly=1 (Accessed March 2015).


Hamilton Spectator & Hamilton Daily Spectator and Journal.  [Microfilm]. Hamilton, ON: Mills Memorial  Library, McMaster University, various.


Secondary Sources

 Burkholder, Mabel. The Story of Hamilton. Hamilton: Davis-Lisson Limited, 1938.

 Campbell, Marjorie Freeman. A Mountain and a City: The Story of Hamilton. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart Limited., 1966.

 Hamilton Public Library. “History of Gore Park.” Accessed January 2015.                 http://www.hpl.ca/articles/history-gore-park.

 Houghton, Margaret. The Hamiltonians: 100 Fascinating Lives. Toronto: James Lorimer & Co., 2003.

 Radforth, Ian. Royal Spectacle: The 1860 Visit of the Prince of Wales to Canada and  the United States. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2004.

Weaver, John C. Hamilton: An Illustrated History. Toronto: James Lorimer & Co., 1982.

[1] Veronica Strong-Boag, “Experts on Our Own Lives: Commemorating Canada at the Beginning of the 21st Century,” Public Historian 31, no. 1 (Winter 2009): 46.

[2] Margaret Houghton,  The Hamiltonians: 100 Fascinating Lives, (Toronto: James Lorimer & Co., 2003), 72.

[3] Marjorie Freeman Campbell, A Mountain and a City: The Story of Hamilton, (Toronto: McClelland and Stewart Limited., 1966), 52.

[4] As quoted in ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Hamilton Public Library (HPL), History of Gore Park.

[7] Campbell, A Mountain and a City, 53.

[8] HPL.

[9] HPL.

[10] As quoted in HPL.

[11] HPL.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Mabel Burkholder, The Story of Hamilton, (Hamilton: Davis-Lisson Limited, 1938), 134.

[15] As quoted in ibid. 78.

[16] Ibid. 117.

[17] “Prospectus of the Hamilton Water Works Company,Hamilton Daily Spectator and Journal, 5 June 1853.

[18] Burkholder, Story of Hamilton, 135.

[19] “The Prince in Hamilton,” Hamilton Spectator, 19 September 1860.

[20] Ibid.

[21] HPL.

[22] “Monument to Sir John Macdonald,” Hamilton Spectator, 4 December 1891.

[23] HPL.

[24] “Monument to Sir John Macdonald,” Hamilton Spectator, 1 November 1893.

[25] Hamilton Spectator, May 25, 1908

[26] Ibid.

[27] Hamilton Spectator, 25 May 1908.

[28] Ibid.

[29] Ibid.

[30] Ibid.

[31] Ibid.

[32] The Cataract Power Company would come to play a prominent role in the history of Hamilton. It would come to achieve a near-monopoly status in Hamilton, controlling public transit, electricity, and other communications in the early years of the twentieth century.

[33] “Hamilton: Proposal to Illuminate Gore Park During the Summer,” The Globe, 3 May 1899.

[34] “Hamilton: Miscellaneous Notes From the Ambitious City,” The Globe, 17 June 1884.

[35] “Musical and Dramatic: 13th Batt, Band Concerts,” The Globe, 28 August 1886.

[36] Ibid.

[37] HPL.

[38] “Full Tribute Paid Our Glorious Dead,” Hamilton Spectator, 22 May 1923.

[39] Ibid.

[40] “Mystery of Gore Park Time Capsule is Revealed,” CBC Hamilton, 11 September 2014.

[41] John C. Weaver, Hamilton: An Illustrated History, (Toronto: James Lorimer & Co., 1982), 64.

[42] Ibid.

[43] “Killed While Responding to An Alarm of Fire,” Hamilton Spectator, 5 April 1905.

[44] Ibid.

[45] HPL.

[46] “Would Move Macdonald Monument in Gore Park,” Hamilton Spectator, 20 July 1954.

[47] Ibid.

[48] “Would Move Macdonald Monument in Gore Park,” Hamilton Spectator, 20 July 1954.

[49] “Would Move Macdonald Monument in Gore Park,” Hamilton Spectator, 20 July 1954.

[50] HPL.

[51] “Macdonald Plan Quickly Opposed,” Hamilton Spectator, 7 April 1951.

[52] Ibid.

[53] Ibid.

[54] Ibid.

[55] “Gore Park ‘Turned On’ in Psychedelic Glory,” Hamilton Spectator, 24 October 1970.

[56] Ibid.

[57] Ibid.

[58] Ibid.

[59] “Parks Board Explains Why Historic Tree Was Butchered,” Hamilton Spectator, 7 May 1921.

[60] “Park Board Explains Why Historic Tree Was Butchered,” Hamilton Spectator, 7 May 1921.

[61] HPL.

[62] “Tree Clearing Called Cruel Cut to Park,” Hamilton Spectator, 19 July 1983.

[63] Ibid.

[64] As quoted in HPL.

[65] Hamilton Spectator, 2 May 1985.

[66] “A Facelift for Gore Park,” Hamilton Spectator, 18 May 2012.

[67] Hamilton. Public Works. The Gore Master Plan. [Hamilton].2009-2015.

[68] Ibid.

[69] “A Facelift for Gore Park,” Hamilton Spectator, 18 May 2012.

[70] Ibid.

[71] “Sir John A. Macdonald’s 200th Celebrated, Protested Downtown Hamilton,” Hamilton Spectator, 11 January 2015.

[72] Ibid.

[73] Hamilton Spectator, 25 May 1908.