It may be a few blocks south of the original neighbourhood, but the site of the former Dominion Glass company on Lloyd Street, now officially named Brightside Park, will finally start to become a reality in the new year. There is money in the capital budget and plans have been developed for a sports field alongside a park with walking paths, splash pad, tennis court, and many other amenities. For a neighbourhood that was all but wiped out more than 50 years ago by industrial and highway expansion, the continuing fierce loyalty by Brightsiders, as they are known, and their descendants is remarkable. John Fioravanti wrote a letter last spring to council as it debated naming Brightside Park, noted that In 1977 a Brightside Reunion was held with over 1,000 attending. In 1983 another Brightside reunion was held with about 800 to 900 people in attendance,“ Incredible for a neighbourhood that at its peak had only 260 homes.
Brightside was laid out in 1910 coinciding with the arrival of steelworks and other heavy industry in Hamilton. Initially it was hoped to attract British industrial workers and the streets were named after Birmingham, Manchester Lancaster and Leeds in the UK industrial midlands. Soon though, the neighbourhood attracted newcomers from Italy and eastern Europe. As Stephen Lechniak wrote, “Brightside was a special neighbourhood. It thrived in the shadows of gritty, belching steel mills and yet managed to produce a bevy of outstanding citizens, not the least of which was Quinto Martini, Member of Parliament. From internationally renowned doctors like Dr. Victor Cecilioni to outstanding lawyers like Roger Yachetti and well known sports figures like John Michaluk, Brightside has proven time and again that an enclave of blue-collar, hard-working citizens can rise up and contribute to this city’s success.”
For his part, John Michaluk recalled, “on Lancaster Street, in Brightside, our next door neighbours on both sides were Italian … two doors down was my best friend of 78 years, John Brodnicki – his family was Polish … across the street, our neighbours came from England …… five homes, four languages, fourteen children, three different religious beliefs, significant cultural differences, and a delightful variety of world foods! We were multicultural before multicultural was a word – or a government program! … we were ethnic, ethical, and guided by a strong work ethic …… we highly valued – family, close friends, trust, and caring for each other …… none of our parents finished high school, most never completed grade school …… but all could walk to work at the steel mills, the chemical company, tractor company, tire company, the toothpaste and detergent company, and the pottery that made the dishes and cups we used at dinner – or, whose rejects were lovingly gifted to our mother on her birthday!”
There are remnants of Brightside that remain—a few houses. But the largest part of the neighbourhood that existed north of Burlington Street is long gone, as are many of the factories that provided employment for Brightsiders. Only Stelco and Dofasco remain. Proctor and Gamble, International Harvester, Firestone and J.I. Case are gone.
Today there is much public debate about colonization—a word that has taken on a negative connotation. But colonization also involved, then as it does now, the flight of ordinary people from places were there was no opportunity or where there was war and tyranny. Once here, many of them seized opportunities or created their own, not with oppression in mind, but simply in search of a better life for themselves and their families.