If you’ve seen the Hamilton General Hospital, the library and central police station, then you have seen the work of architect Tony Butler.
He died March 28, at the age of 88.
Butler’s long history in Hamilton included a determined effort to keep the city’s architectural heritage intact.
I interviewed him many times as a news reporter for CHCH-TV. In the 1980’s Hamilton had a cluster of people devoted to protecting important buildings. Some of them even worked at city hall. Nina Chapple was the steely heritage planner for the city, Diane Dent ran the Local Architectural Conservation Advisory Committee meetings, and Tony Butler was a source of practical wisdom on matters of preservation.
It was really in the 1970’s when grand buildings in the Durand Neighbourhood were smashed down to make way for mundane highrises, that this group rallied supporters to stop the dizzying demolition.
North End activist Gil Simmons was part of this group, and that’s where I remember Tony Butler best, sitting at the Simmons big table, pencils and paper at the ready, discussing the assault on the city.
Often Tony’s wife Peggy would be there, and the conversation over good food and wine would carry on for hours.
Tony Butler was quiet, thoughtful and a considerate listener. In an interview for TV or print, he took his time answering questions and offered balanced, insightful opinions on the state of heritage, architecture and planning in this city.
He was the force behind a wonderful book called Made in Hamilton 20th Century Industrial Trail. It detailed and celebrated the factories along Burlington Street, the office buildings, and suburbs that were so important in the formation of Hamilton’s identity.
Those old buildings were so far from the faceless, corrugated metal, windowless manufacturing buildings of today. The careful brickwork, handsome windows, sturdy chimneys projected a pride in the work that took place inside.
Butler wrote wonderful descriptions about the companies that anchored Hamilton’s waterfront sector, and stretches of Barton Street.
Companies such as Oliver Chilled Plow, Brown Boggs, Proctor and Gamble, and Hamilton Bridge Works made a diverse range of products, before such production would move out of Hamilton and out of North America.
Drive along the industrial routes of Hamilton, and remnants of that era remain, a ghostly sign, a curious embellishment, visuals overlooked by many, but documented by Butler, a man who saw dignity in working buildings.
The book included a map, and even instructions on how to follow the trail on the HSR. Metal signs were added to mark the route.
We who value the city, are all poorer for the loss of Tony Butler, an architect who championed working buildings and told the story of the many who worked in them and built Hamilton’s prosperity with their hands.
It appears the Hamilton Public Library has a few copies of Butler’s book. It should be in all the schools. We should all read it.
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