The day after they moved to Hamilton, a neighbour stopped by Ralph Benmergui and wife Cortney Pasternak’s home with a gift of strawberry marshmallows from a local bakery.

Benmergui says he remembers looking around to see if he was being punked.

A little over a year later, the marshmallow woman’s kids and his boys, 10 and 7, play at one another’s houses. A retired couple bring over butter tarts for the children.

“It’s like I entered the twilight zone. . . the way you think you should live your life,” says the former broadcaster, now executive director of strategic initiatives and partnerships at Sheridan College in Oakville.

“With Hamilton a lot of people come up the east side and it looks like Blade Runner,” said Benmergui.

But there are visually stunning neighbourhoods, natural areas and landmarks wrapped around a lot of heart in the city of 500,000.

“There’s a combination of grit and kindness I really enjoy, a hard-earned work ethic that comes from being what it was, a good working town that also has a really good art gallery.”

Benmergui and Pasternak bought a three-level, Victorian near Locke St., a neighbourhood that has led Hamilton’s downtown revitalization and bears some resemblance to Toronto’s Annex.

It’s not a palace, just a nice house, he said. Like a lot of houses there, the basement is unfinished but the attic functions as an 800-sq. ft. office. It cost a little more than a third of what the same home would cost in Toronto.

The move had been building for five years. Long before they sold their home near St. Clair Ave. and Christie St. in Toronto, the family would get up on Sundays and head out to the waterfall-dotted escarpment trails.

“I really felt Toronto is full. The scale had created an anonymity that didn’t breed kindness. It bred competition for space and time and resources.

“A person can’t afford to let you in at traffic because they’ve already been out there for 45 minutes themselves. In Hamilton, the person sees you need to make a right and they just stop and let you in,” said the former CBC TV and radio host and Jazz FM broadcaster.

“I used to say Hamilton is Toronto’s Brooklyn. The art crawls that happen every month, the musicians — some of whom I knew in Toronto, who can actually afford to live in a decent house in the east end of the city — all that stuff was very attractive to me,” he said.

“Hamilton has great bones and it has a history so it’s a really lovely scene.”

Article is courtesy of Tess Kalinowski with The Star


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