Just received an email from a childhood friend with a link to a 1940s promotional film "Portrait of a City" about Hamilton, Ontario (our hometown) that sent shivers up my spine.
It was a 20-minute marketing film that talked about Hamilton as the "City of Opportunity" with an ambitious and enterprising spirit. How the City was the "United States Industry in Canada." here were shots of Hamilton's amazing parks, recreation and sports activities.
It painted a picture of Hamilton as a place of incredible beauty, with bustling streets, shops and the largest open-air farmer's market in Canada. Hamilton was a city on the rise both a tourist destination and one of heavy industry. A proud city! What a difference 60 years can make?
Moving to Calgary
I couldn't help but compare Hamilton in the '40s to Calgary, Alberta today. A city that is currently Canada's "City of Opportunity" as evidenced by recently being called the #1 destination for U-haul vehicles in Canada (Annual National U-Haul Migration Trend Report). "We're moving to Calgary" has been heard by parents across Canada from their children looking for opportunities to pursue their careers.
Today, Calgary is often referred to as the most American of Canadian cities with heavy investment from the US oil and gas industry. It also has the most expats of any city in Canada. Just this week, the Investment Property Bank ranked Calgary #1 for commercial real estate performance in 2012, beating out San Francisco, Houston, Perth and 28 other cities.
It is ironic that early this month, Calgary Tourism and Economic Development released its promotional video linking tourism and economic development in much the same manner as the 1940s Hamilton film "Portrait of City." The only difference being it is shorter and faster paced - a reflection of the times.
It is interesting to look at where Hamilton ranked with regard to the top 10 ten cities, population-wise, in Canada over the past 60 years (Source: Urban Canada, 2nd Edition, Harry H. Hiller).
In the 1930s, Hamilton was #5, dropping to #7 in the 40s and 50s, then up to #6 in the 60s and 70s, then down to #9, where it has been ever since.
At the same time, Calgary moved from #7 in the 30s, wasn't even in the top 10 in the 40s, then #10 in the 50s, #9 in the 60s and 70s, jumping to #6 in the 80s and 90s and then #5 in the 00s and #4 in the 10s.
The other winners in the "Cities of Opportunity" in Canada over the past 60 years are Ottawa, Edmonton and Mississauga, the losers are Windsor and London.
Calgary the new Hamilton?
In many ways, Calgary has replaced Hamilton as Canada's "City of Opportunity" since the mid-20th century. It is Calgary that now has the strong, ambitious enterprising spirit. I had coffee just this week with a young professional (creative class) who moved from Hamilton to Calgary. She liked Hamilton and thought there was lots of potential, but their wasn't the collective ambition, nor the enterprising spirit needed to capitalize on the opportunities. She commented on how many former Hamiltonians she had met in Calgary since moving here only a month ago.
I remember attending an International Downtown Association conference in the 90s and one of the senior Downtown managers saying, "every city has its heyday." Those words have stuck with me.
While I don't believe Calgary has had its heyday yet, we should realize that we need to continue to adapt to an ever-changing world if we are going to remain Canada's "City of Opportunity." Nobody stays on top forever!
Ironically this blog was originally written in 2013, now in 2017 Calgary has fallen into hard times and some are wondering if its heyday was in fact in the early 21st century.