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July 22, 2014

Hamilton’s Gore Park makeover underway

HAMILTON

The first phase of revamping downtown Hamilton’s historic Gore Park is underway, with the goal of returning the greenspace to its former glory.

For almost two decades, Hamiltonians have been torn between pride and humiliation for the space that was originally slated to be a town square in the early 1800s.

The first steps in the Phase One redevelopment include tree removal to make way for the Gore Park Pedestrian Initiative.

“This phase will undertake work on the south leg of King Street East, and in Gore Park between Hughson and John Streets. This portion of Gore Park is referred to as Veterans’ Place, and is where the Cenotaph resides. Construction activities should be substantially complete by the end of the year, with some finishing work being completed in Spring 2015,” said Le’ Ann Whitehouse-Seely, Hamilton’s park planning and development supervisor.

There are three steps to the project, the first phase coming in at a cost of $2.3 million, beginning with the removal of 11 of 38 trees due to either diseased ash (from the emerald ash borer,) or to get at buried electrical equipment. They will be replaced by a diverse assortment of 14 trees that are less prone to attracting pests.

The two major components of this first phase is to refurbish the cenotaph by rotating it so it faces west instead of east and adding a “Memorial Wall” to commemorate those that served in World War II. A statue of Sir John A. MacDonald will be moved to the next block down.

There is some fear among residents that the project will be a repeat of the July 1983 “Chainsaw Massacre” or “Gore Park fiasco,” that had all trees removed from the park — taken down in a matter of days — of what had taken 100-years to create. At the time, one woman told a Hamilton Police officer of the council-approved project, “the city should be charged with murder to the environment.”

Bob Morrow, who was mayor at the time and is now filling in as Ward 3 councillor following the death of Bernie Morelli, was quick to admit there was “some incompetence at different levels.”

However, flash forward 31 years, city officials are confident that the multi-member stakeholders’ committee, who were the driving force of the Gore Park project, can assure the public that there will not be any surprises.

A strange, but true part of the Phase One project is burying the park’s former washrooms. They were deteriorating and hence closed in 1984 after being used for years as havens for drug dealing and other illicit activity.

According to Whitehouse-Seely, building new public washrooms is not necessary, as there are many facilities nearby. Therefore, the washrooms of yore will be buried in the rubble and covered with the components of a pedestrian-friendly environment.

Following completion of Phase One, which was awarded to the Toronto-based UCC group, Phase Two will begin. This will consist of removing all ash trees among the 55 existing and replacing them with red obelisk beech, Arnold pulp trees and green vase Japanese zelkova’s. This will net a one per cent increase in the number of trees between Houghson and James streets. This phase is expected to get underway in 2016 and the budget is yet to-be-determined.

Phase Three is the final leg of the multi-year, multi-million dollar project. That will consist of removing six ash trees and all oak or locust trees among the existing 29. This is expected to get underway in 2018 and like Phase Two, the budget is undetermined to date.

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