Whether you are a professional civic planner, architect or just a history buff interested in how Hamilton came to look like it does, Mark Osbaldeston’s Unbuilt Hamilton is a must read. Osbaldeston had previously authored Unbuilt Toronto, and in both works he seeks to point out the gap between some of the grandiose plans that architects and designers had envisioned for an array of city landmarks and the finished product, which pretty much always fell short of the original vision.
Rich with illustrations the book tells the story of the journey taken from conception to realization, or in a number of cases, non-realization of a variety of Hamilton’s famous sights. Perhaps the most significant, is the comprehensive reconfiguration of Hamilton proposed by civic planner Noulan Cauchon after the First World War. Actually Cauchon was involved in three planning projects for Hamilton. The first was a plan to consolidate all rail lines entering Hamilton and have them converge in a Union Station in the King William-Ferguson area. At that time multiple railways had sprung up much as the internet would eighty years later and the result was that Hamilton was beset by proposals for new steam and electric lines. While that scheme was doomed form the beginning as the railways saw no need to invest in new infrastructure, it led to Cauchon (whose work was actively promoted by T.B. McQuesten) getting a commission to develop an ambitious city plan for Hamilton. The result was a visionary document that would have seen an amphitheatre on the mountain brow at the top of Ferguson Avenue, with the latter becoming a triumphal boulevard to the bay. Needless to say this vision was not realized. A third project, the development of a system of mountain access roads did actually come to fruition although many years later and after much modification.
Osbaldeston tells similar stories of the gap between vision and execution about the development of the McMaster Campus, the Northwestern Entrance, downtown redevelopment, city halls, parks, transportation and hospitals. The book is written in a reader-friendly style, but is nonetheless meticulously researched. Dundurn Press, $26.99
Written by: Carl LaFong