By Sakariya Ahmed ’22
This year’s Action Canada Fellows most recently had the privilege of visiting Hamilton, affectionately known by some as ‘The Hammer’. A city of over 500K, it is by far the most populous place we’ve been to yet, having previously gone to Les Iles-de-la-Madeleine and Yellowknife. Hamilton is a port city and an industrial hub, with deep history as the steel centre of Canada. We were lucky enough to be in Hamilton in the fall, which is famous for its wonderfully colourful foliage across the Niagara Escarpment. At the back end of the trip, we travelled north and spent time in the GTA (Mississauga, Brampton, and Milton specifically).
Discussing housing policy and its impacts with the team from St. Matthew’s House while in Hamilton.
Along with meeting a whole host of accomplished and knowledgeable community members, we were able to learn about the urgency of the housing crisis in growing cities, home supply / real estate, land claims, personal branding, and more! This tour also included the greatest inclusion of Action Canada Alumni to date, which was a valuable opportunity to witness the strength of the network and diverse interests of the alumni. Let’s see if I can organize my thoughts and learnings on a few throughlines that stuck with me.
Housing is multi-faceted and affecting real people
We’ve dedicated a lot of time to discussing and learning about this year’s theme, housing, but hearing from some folks in Hamilton and Brampton felt more tangible / impactful. Specifically, hearing about the inability to find affordable housing for an influx of students in Brampton and young people resorting to renting beds by the hour, known as ‘hot beds’, was particularly alarming.
Additionally, learning more about the relationship between cities and development, and how levers like development charges, zoning, and parking requirements are used to spur or slow development.
Hamilton’s everchanging landscape
Being in Hamilton, and touring through the city with our knowledgeable guide, Joey Coleman, really exposed us to how growth has previously been informed and to the future of Hamilton. Seeing the failure of public private partnerships due to misguided investments or the successful integration of a library and a beautiful market, provided tangible examples of policy conversations on city building.
Seeing the post-war housing in Hamilton not only be very present but make up a large share of the housing supply, also pointed to the need for intensification of communities to relieve outward pressure. In this case the outward pressure in the GTA has created a housing shortage and unaffordable prices in Hamilton.
On tour with local reporter Joey Coleman through downtown Hamilton to understand the impact of policy at the street corner. Joey provided lots of information on community initiatives to be part of decision-making processes that impact them.
Immigrant institutions and community building
On this study tour, we also had the privilege to visit two institutions developed by the Sikh community in the GTA, one a gurdwara and the other a food bank.
At the gurdwara, we were able to see how the Sikh community congregates and practices their faith but also how the building has grown to accommodate their increasing numbers and integration. The community created a park along a creek for families to spread their loved ones’ ashes in a body of water, showing how culturally appropriate solutions to faith can be done easily. It’s a gurdwara and it’s also become a local institution that does much more than religious practice, serving as a vaccine centre, meeting space, wedding hall, congregation space, and more. This is common in immigrant communities, where a single institution is forced to become all-encompassing, and the gurdwara has done so with great ability.
Seva Food Bank has a Sikh name and founding principles, but is otherwise operated as a public food bank for all those in their catchment area in Mississauga. It’s an example of how the foundation of community building fostered in the gurdwara allowed for the community to begin building (in this case renewing) other institutions.
All smiles at Seva Food Bank, co-founded by Action Canada Fellow Kulvir Gill ’10.