It was a poignant irony that respected Hamilton commercial real estate executive Syd Hamber fell ill the day before he was to participate in a colourful Vimy Ridge commemorative service last April at his beloved Tamahaac Club. Sydney Hamber died in September after being diagnosed with a glioblastoma – the same brain tumor that claimed the life of Gord Downie. Syd had been looking forward to the Vimy service that was spearheaded by Tom Johnson, along with the Royal Hamilton Light Infantry for months. Syd’s affinity for Vimy came naturally from both sides of the family. His grandfather, David Thompson had seen action at Vimy, and his Great Grandfather was the redoubtable Sydney Chilton Mewburn, who had been Minister of Militia during the First World War, and who commissioned the construction of the Vimy Ridge memorial that was dedicated in 1936.
Acknowledging that he and Syd enjoyed a happy upbringing, brother David Hamber recalled pleasant days growing up in the upscale Park Street-Chilton Place area, where Mewburn and his extended family occupied three homes. Their father, Eric Hamber was a pilot who flew Halifax Bombers in the Second World War, but as David noted, “not much of a family man.” Syd’s parents divorced and the boys and their mother lived with grandparents David and Helen Thompson around the corner from the Mewburn home until their mother remarried. In his eulogy to Syd, Dave recalled the formation of the Markland Street gang, “a small group of three small, dirty boys, including our oldest friend, Colin Glassco” who engaged in numerous boyish pranks.
Syd and David both went to Hillfield and later Ridley College in St Catharines. Syd then went off to Ryerson to study mechanical engineering. After stints with Trans Canada Pipeline and Crothers Construction equipment, Syd found his true calling in commercial and industrial real estate and began a 30 year career. First with Humphreys McCaw Commercial Real Estate, later with J.J. Barnicke, and finally with Collier’s International. Syd described his specialty as heavy industrial – crane and rail equipped buildings. On his bio he noted “unique solutions to very complicated problems has been my strength after 45 years in sales.”
In the area of commercial real estate a high degree of discretion is required and over the years Syd was involved in delicate projects like the assembly of land for the proposed CN Milton distribution centre. His brother recalls Syd was well known to many mayors in Southern Ontario. He provided counsel to municipalities, including Hamilton, on topics such as brownfield lands (there wasn’t as much as people thought) and the future of the Stelco lands. Syd’s expertise was often sought after by journalists and trade publications. It was Syd in the 1990’s who orchestrated the purchase of the strip of CN land that became the waterfront trail from Bayfront Park to the High Level Bridge.
Syd was active in the Society of Industrial and Office Realtors (SIOR) where he made many friends in Canada and the US. Tom Mancuso, an industrial broker in Batavia New York, says Syd was a creative thinker and problem solver who was quick to share his ideas with his colleagues. He noted that admission to SIOR is only granted after the candidate has a demonstrated track record of proven performance over many years. There are only about 3,000 brokers with the SIOR designation worldwide. “For Syd, it was always about solving problems,” recalls Mancuso, “That’s what made him so effective as an industrial broker.” The Canadian chapter of SIOR is planning to create an award in Syd’s honour.
Syd was a major supporter of the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum. He was an avid skeet shooter and supporter of Ducks Unlimited. The family enjoyed summers at Lake Rosseau. David recalls that even after falling ill Syd never lost his gentlemanly demeanor. His final days were spent at Emanuel House where he received exemplary care until his death September 12. A memorial service was conducted at Central Presbyterian Church, followed by a reception at the Tamahaac club that had been co-founded by Syd’s great grandfather. Sydney Victor Hamber is survived by his wife Jane and son Will.