Hamilton: Richmond’s Forgotten ‘Hood’

Hamilton resident Agnes Shinkarik with local green grocer operator and farmer Susan Ng

Hamilton resident Agnes Shinkarik with local green grocer operator and farmer Susan Ng

This is a follow up to the neighbourhood series I wrote a week before.

Richmond News story – When the Richmond News published a special feature on 17 neighbourhoods in Richmond on Oct. 23, the reaction was largely positive and appreciative. The only problem was the feature didn’t included Hamilton. The neighbourhood may as well have been located in Southern Ontario or some kind of magical land of wizards.

“I opened the newspaper and said, ‘We’re not even on the map!'” exclaimed Agnes Shinkarik, describing her moment of rejection. As Shinkarik noted in her subsequent letter to the editor, she is one of about 5,100 Hamilton residents. But, so what? Well, the News visited this sleepy community last weekend and it turns out there are a lot of nice people living there and, yes, they are Richmondites, tried and-true.

Hamilton is where Westminster Highway is a quiet two-lane road, River Road ends unceremoniously and street signs are their familiar green with white trim. The neighbourhood has two distinct areas: One where relatively new modern homes are tightly packed into a square subdivision and the other where older homes – some still on septic tank services – hide beneath tall trees and large front lawns lined with ditches. Both are served by the recently renovated and expanded Hamilton Community Centre where people meet and play.

Born of homes built under the Veteran’s Land Act, eponymous school board trustee Alexander Hamilton founded the neighbourhood’s first school in 1936, which is now attached to the community centre. But despite the similarities to other parts of Richmond, let’s be honest: It’s still easy to miss Hamilton. Unless, of course, you take a wrong exit from highways 91 or 91A. Even Shinkarik admits this.

“Most people don’t know where it is. I have to say, ‘You know the Walmart in Queensborough.’ “Either you’re here because you’re lost or you live here,” joked the mother of two and Hamilton resident of four years.

Shinkarik cites the area’s quietness and affordability as two major reasons she enjoys living in Hamilton. She also enjoys its accessibility given its central location to several other municipalities.

“My neighbours are really nice. Within two days we knew everyone….We actually talk to our neighbours and know their names,” added Shinkarik.

The one problem Shinkarik said she does encounter is a local place to shop. With so few people living in such a remote area, the local PriceSmart closed two years ago at Bridgeview Centre shopping plaza.

It caused a fury in the community and underscored the city’s desire to densify Hamilton. According to the city’s Official Community Plan, increasing the population to at least 10,000 is required to support a more robust shopping centre. Updated densification proposals could see as many as 17,000 residents within 20 years.

Shinkarik’s favourite local place to shop for produce is, in fact, in Queensborough, Hamilton’s rival community on Lulu Island’s peninsula, but a critical component to its residents’ livability.

At Yin Leong Farms is where Shinkarik met 66-yearold owner Susan Ng, who, after arriving from Hong Kong in 1969, farmed in Hamilton for six years until moving to Queensborough to accommodate her four children in a larger home.

To get to Ng’s produce stand, one must drive underneath the 91A East-West Connector, a strip of road Ng and Hamiltonites are not too fond of.

“It’s a mess,” said Ng before speaking for minutes on end about how complicated the highway interchange is and how its construction has shaped the Hamilton and Queensborough communities.

“You have to be very mindful of traffic. You have to listen to the traffic radio station,” added Shinkarik.

Ng recalls a much simpler time on her three-acre plot, before freeways plowed their way through. “I remember the bushes at the back of the farm and then (after moving) I turned around and I don’t believe it: They built the townhouses,” said Ng, speaking of the major housing developments that replaced family farms like hers in the late 1980s.

Such land was controversially taken from the Agricultural Land Reserve as a so-called exception in order to increase the neighbourhood’s original population so that it could support a school and businesses.

Ergo, between 1991 and 2001, Hamilton’s population ballooned from about 800 to 4,100, according to the city. Ng recalled that in the 1970s Japanese fishermen docked their vessels in Annacis Channel and women fixed nets on a daily basis along Dyke Road.

Today, million-dollar homes with yacht docks can be bought adjacent to the bridge that connects to Annacis Island, and not too far down the road is a unique row of float homes that offers perhaps the most unique living experience in Richmond proper.

While the fishing industry has declined on the river, Annacis Channel remains a bustling venue for industry, which serves as backdoor entertainment for float home residents like Eric Urquhart, who lives with his wife in one of six strata float homes at “Floatville.”

“We’re living on the beach, you can see the seagulls and the swans and we’ve got eagles and a beaver that swims by. We’re living in a park!” bursted Urquhart, who technically has an address on Dyke Road.

“I call this road Number Nine and Three Quarters Road,” he said, alluding to Harry Potter’s platform and his home’s hidden nature.

Not far down the road is Tugboat Annie’s Pub and Restaurant, the neighbourhood’s riverfront watering hole where you can enjoy a pint and a burger and, appropriately enough, watch tugboats go by.