Saskatoon Stories: Picasso Birdhouses & Gory Puppets 

Everywhere we go, it’s “eyes wide open!”  We are always on the lookout for something different, something off-the-beaten path, something you won’t find (at least not easily) online. Saskatoon didn’t disappoint. 

  You will find these two colourful birdhouses outside of JR's birdhouse workshop at the corner of Spadina Cr. and 20th St. E.

You will find these two colourful birdhouses outside of JR's birdhouse workshop at the corner of Spadina Cr. and 20th St. E.

  The Stumped Productions workshop on the UofS campus was a fun even if somewhat gory surprise.  

The Stumped Productions workshop on the UofS campus was a fun even if somewhat gory surprise. 

Picasso Birdhouses

On our first evening, we were invited to a friends’ house for dinner where we enjoyed a great evening, highlighted by their quirky art collection and great backyard.  Yes, the one with the amazing pavilion! But what impressed us most were the Picasso-inspired birdhouses.  We had to have one. Well, maybe two.

Turns out we could – and did. And so can you!

They are made by John Remai (if the surname sounds familiar, it could be because his brother’s wife donated big bucks for Saskatoon’s controversial new Remai Art Museum, but that is another story) and he makes them in his parking garage studio in the downtown Saskatoon riverside residential tower where he lives.  

  John Remai's (JR to his friends) garage/workshop.

John Remai's (JR to his friends) garage/workshop.

Once a builder always a builder?

Remai, now in his ‘80s, was one Saskatoon’s biggest developers before retiring a few years ago. As a philanthropist, Remai has been a big supporter of various Saskatoon charities, as well as the local Children’s Hospital.  However, he wanted to not only make personal donations but help encourage others to also give back to their community.  As a result, he decided in retirement to design and build birdhouses to sell to the public with all proceeds going to the Saskatoon’s Children’s Hospital.  Who could resist buying one or perhaps four (our host now has four) birdhouses, three at home and one at work?   

The public can buy a Remai birdhouse Monday through Thursday in the basement of the office building at the corner of Spadina and 20thStreet.  Depending on design, the birdhouses sell for $75 to $100, which is great value given the craftsmanship and complexity of designs.  

Given we were in town on a weekend, we were fortunate our host knew Remai and was able to arrange a downtown studio visit to see the birdhouses actually being built and meet Mr. Remai, a very cordial host and unassuming gentleman.

Indeed, the Remai’s huge workshop (probably the size of quadruple car garage) is located in the underground parkade of a residential tower.  It is neatly divided up into three spaces, one with all the While we were there, two volunteers from the building were painting pieces of his latest design, a “parrot birdhouse” in preparation for assembly.

A lovely sense of order and calmness filled this windowless, grotto-like studio.  Here are some photos, which I hope will convey the scale of the operations and the diversity of the birdhouses being produced.  

  JR with three of his most popular birdhouses.

JR with three of his most popular birdhouses.

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  Volunteers from the building help JR with the painting and assembling. Note other birdhouse designs on the shelves in the background.

Volunteers from the building help JR with the painting and assembling. Note other birdhouse designs on the shelves in the background.

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  The Assante building is where you can get your own birdhouse. 

The Assante building is where you can get your own birdhouse. 

  JR has a binder with the different birdhouses and other items for sale. 

JR has a binder with the different birdhouses and other items for sale. 

For more information: JR's Designer Birdhouses 

U of S: Timeless

  The Douglas Cardinal designed Gordon Oakes-Red Bear Student Centre is just one of many new buildings that are synergistic to the older buildings on campus. 

The Douglas Cardinal designed Gordon Oakes-Red Bear Student Centre is just one of many new buildings that are synergistic to the older buildings on campus. 

Whenever we are in a new city we make a point of exploring the postsecondary campuses.  They are often full of interesting, under-the-radar places.

The University of Saskatchewan (U of S) is no exception as it is home to an Antiquities Museum, a Natural History Museum and three art galleries.  

The campus is an architectural gem as the facades of almost all of the buildings have been built with sandstone or Tyndall stone facades giving it a timeless quality I have not experienced anywhere else. 

From a design perspective, it may well be the best campus in Canada! 

  The Bowl is the heart of the campus. 

The Bowl is the heart of the campus. 

A-Mazing Campus

The U of S, like most campuses, is a maze of seemingly randomly placed buildings.  Note: I often wonder why postsecondary campuses never used the grid street system, which is so much easier to navigate. The grid street design has been around since before Christ for heaven’s sake, you’d think one or more universities would have used it. However, the good thing about the maze system is you often get lost and in doing so, you see things you might not have if you knew where you were going.  For us, getting lost lead to finding artisans making puppets for this summer’s Shakespeare on the Saskatchewan (River). 

  The U of S a-mazing campus is huge at almost 3,000 acres or 12 square kilometres. It is home to 25,000 students. 

The U of S a-mazing campus is huge at almost 3,000 acres or 12 square kilometres. It is home to 25,000 students. 

Gory Puppets 

While trying to find our bearings, we noticed some quirky-looking objects in the basement windows of a building we had no intention of going into. However, they became the impetus for us to head in. Once inside, we immediately peeked into a large studio with three people working away making puppets. We were invited in come in dozens of puppets at various stages of completion.  Turns out they were making all of the 44 puppets for this summer’s production of TITUS A. Puppet Revenge, July 12 to August 19th.

Backstory: TITUS A. Puppet Revenge will tell the story of the most violent and bloody tragedy ever performed at the Shakespeare on the Saskatchewan festival.  Dismemberment, disembowelment and cannibalism will all play out with an amazing set of carefully crafted rod puppets in a small tent tucked into a corner of the site.  It is billed as a delightfully disturbing romp for mature audiences. Due to the detailed nature of puppets, I recommend attendees bring opera glasses or binoculars. 

Turns out we were welcomed by Kristi Friday of Stumped Productions who along with some hired hands were building all of the puppets. After looking around and chatting a bit, she asked if we wanted to come with her to the basement where they had set up a small rehearsal stage to test out the puppets and we could see the finished puppets.  We said “Hell Yes!” It was fun to get a behind the scene tour and an up close and personal look at the puppets.  

  Puppets in various stages of completion.  

Puppets in various stages of completion. 

  An up close and personal view of the inner workings of the puppets. 

An up close and personal view of the inner workings of the puppets. 

  The handmade puppet are glued, stitched and clamped together. 

The handmade puppet are glued, stitched and clamped together. 

  Taking a break....

Taking a break....

  Hanging out....

Hanging out....

  The rehearsal stage...

The rehearsal stage...

Secret UofS Museum

Next door to the rehearsal stage, was the basement room that attracted us to go inside the building in the first place. Here we were rewarded with the opportunity to see some of the fun stage costumes other production from bubble wrap dresses to vintage hat boxes.

It was like finding a buried treasure or an unknown museum. 

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Lessons Learned

#1 Always travel with your eyes and mind wide open.  

#2 Always leave extra time to explore unexpected opportunities. 

#3 Don't be shy!

If you like this blog, you will like these links:

Birdhouse vs Nest Box

Footnotes: University of Arizona 

University of New Mexico: A-Mazing 

Hamilton: Atelier Vsaint A Timeless Hidden Gem

We were just walking along minding our own business, when for some unknown reason we noticed the sign in the window said “OPEN.”  We could have easily walked by this tired two storey brick building in downtown Hamilton with its modest window display in an otherwise dark-looking interior.

But there was something intriguing about the surrealistic-looking poster in the Atelier Vsaint shop window saying watch repair that drew us in, despite not having a watch needing repair.  

Perhaps it was the curiosity of being an everyday tourist calling?

  Was it the poster or the red door that made us want to go in?

Was it the poster or the red door that made us want to go in?

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Time Machine

As we opened the bright red door into the dimly lite space a bell rang and a friendly voice said “Come in.”  Quickly looking around the minimalist space, it looked as if it hadn’t changed for over a 100 years.  The well-dressed man behind the antique counter introduced himself as Vincent Cino, asking, “How can I help you?” 

We must have looked a bit puzzled as he quickly began to explain us that in addition to fixing watches he also makes custom watches and began showing us some of his impressive work.   

Really! Who knew there are people who actually still make watches by hand? It was like we were in a time machine that had taken us back 100+ years. 

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Backstory:  The first wristwatch was made for a woman, Countess Koscowicz of Hungary, by Swiss watch manufacturer Patek Philippe in 1868. Although it was the first timekeeping device to be designed specifically for use on the wrist, it was intended primarily as a piece of decorative jewelry.
It has been claimed that pocket watches were adapted to be worn on wrist bracelets prior to 1868, perhaps as early as the 1570s, though there is no concrete evidence to support this. Wristwatches were a natural progression from pocket watches, but men did not initially take to the idea, preferring to rely on the larger, more traditional and “masculine” timepiece.
The practicalities of the wristwatch, which could be operated with one hand rather than two, eventually won over popular opinion, appealing especially to those in the military, who needed to be able to monitor the time while also operating machinery and weaponry. Consequently, the first wristwatches to be produced in large quantities were those manufactured specifically for the German military in the 1880s by Swiss watchmaker Girard-Perregaux. (Source: Guinness World Records)
  Vincent explaining to me how he will put my watch back together. He  takes photos of every step as he takes it apart.  

Vincent explaining to me how he will put my watch back together. He  takes photos of every step as he takes it apart.  

Putting It Back Together

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Back to our adventure

Vincent then told us the story of the building. It dates back to the 1820s and has been home to a watchmaker since the 1870s when Edwin K. Pass first leased the store and later bought the building. The Pass family operated their watchmaking business out of the building for 100+ years. At one time they were so busy they employed five full-time watchmakers.

He still uses the original 18th century safe to lock up the watchers and materials every night.

That was in April of 2017. Fast forward to February 2018.  

As I was planning my trip to visit my Mom, I began thinking  about my Hamilton Automatic Estoril watch that wasn’t keeping good time and wondering if Vincent could fix it. 

I did a Google search - his shop didn’t come up. I checked Google Maps - it wasn’t there.  Wondering if he was still in business, I asked my Mom to check and she said she went by on the bus and it looked like he was.

So I took my watch with me and on the first morning I headed to his shop. Sure enough, he was there.  I showed him my watch and he assured me he could fix it.  Said he have a look and see what the problem was and give me a call.  He called the next day saying it just needed a good cleaning, so I gave the “go ahead” and was to pick it up three days later before I left for home.

By chance, on next the next morning I happen to be walking by and the “Open” sign was on so I tried the door and sure enough he was there. Vincent asked, “Do you want to see your watch?” Sure….so he pulls out a small, Tupperware-like container with various compartments with all of the tiny pieces of my watch sorted. I didn’t say anything but I was thinking “I sure hope he knows how to put this back together.” 

Tuesday morning the watch is waiting for me and he says it is keeping good time.  As I am leaving he says, “it might lose a few seconds a day!” I smiled and said, “that would be OK.”

It has been keeping perfect time ever since.

  Custom Vsaint watch, with the cool logo integrated into the face.

Custom Vsaint watch, with the cool logo integrated into the face.

About Vincent Cino

Born in Hamilton, Vincent became interested in watchmaking in 1974 when visiting family in Turin, Italy. There a he saw his cousin working away at his watchmaker’s bench fixing watches and became fascinated with the world of micro-mechanics and horology – the science of watchmaking.  Upon returning home, he signed up for the British Horological Institute’s online learning program and as they say, the rest is history.

Today, Vincent is an expert at building Swiss chronograph watches.  He sources all of his materials for creating custom Vsaint Timepieces from Switzerland, so one could say “there are Swiss watches made in Canada.” As well, all of the parts he needs for watch repairs are also Swiss. 

I had to ask…Vincent himself owns only two watches - one is his own creation and the other is a Rolex Submariner. 

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Last Word

I also learned my Hamilton Estoril watch was from the late 1960s. It wasn’t until 1964 that Seiko invented the automatic (self winding) chronograph and unveiled it at the Tokyo Olympics.  Later Heuer, Breitling and Hamilton and movement specialist Dubois Depraz developed the technology for the first automatic chromatics like mine. 

Now the dilemma is, do I want him to make me a custom watch?  He showed me one I really like that he was working on that was $1,250.  Really isn’t that expensive considering the cost of a watch battery these days. 

Full Disclosure: I paid full price for the cleaning of my watch, it was only afterwards that I decided to do this blog. 

If you like this blog, you will like these links:

Calgary: Art of Vintage: A hidden gem

Hamilton's James Street North is a hidden gem

Turner Valley Gas Plant: A Hidden Gem

Flaneuring Fun in Hamilton!

Regular readers of the Everyday Tourist blog know I love to flaneur i.e. wander aimlessly the streets, alleys, parks and pathways of Calgary or any other city where I might be.  

Recently I was in Hamilton, visiting my Mom and found some time everyday  to flaneur the streets of what use to be Steel Town but is now affectionally known as The Hammer.  

As I wandered, I was surprised at how often I felt like I was back in Dublin, Nashville, Memphis, Leipzig (Germany) or Kreuzber (Berlin).

  I love shop owners who extend their stores out onto the street. Kudos to Vintage Soul Geek, International Village. 

I love shop owners who extend their stores out onto the street. Kudos to Vintage Soul Geek, International Village. 

Streets of Hamilton 

While visually you couldn't get two City Centres more different than Calgary with its glittering glass office and condo towers and Hamilton with its redbrick low-rise buildings, surprisingly there were lots of similarities. 

  • Hamilton's Locke Street had many of the elements of Calgary's Inglewood, before it became gentrified.  
  • Hamilton's Durand with is charming brick mansions reminded me of Calgary's Mount Royal, without the new mega homes.  
  • Hamilton's Corktown with all of its live music venues had many elements of Calgary's Inglewood.  
  • Hamilton's International Village with its colourful storefronts reminded me of colourful facades and a doors in Dublin.
  • Hamilton's James Street North had elements of Calgary's 4th Street and  Kensington Village, as well as urban grit of Kreuzberg. 

I thought since I had so much flaneuring fun I would share it with you as a photo essay.  

Streetscapes 

  Fun sandwich boards are a great way to enhance the pedestrian experience. Kudos to House of Java on James St. S.

Fun sandwich boards are a great way to enhance the pedestrian experience. Kudos to House of Java on James St. S.

  There should be awards for stores with the best names and signage. Into the Abyss is a record store on Locke Street. 

There should be awards for stores with the best names and signage. Into the Abyss is a record store on Locke Street. 

  Dr. Disc was a great find...loved the fun display in the stairwell...be sure to leave some time to search the 3 for $1 records. 

Dr. Disc was a great find...loved the fun display in the stairwell...be sure to leave some time to search the 3 for $1 records. 

  Empty storefront becomes an exhibition space on James St. N. Why doesn't every landlord with an empty window space do this? 

Empty storefront becomes an exhibition space on James St. N. Why doesn't every landlord with an empty window space do this? 

  Jane Jacobs would love the urban clutter along Locke St.

Jane Jacobs would love the urban clutter along Locke St.

  One of the strangest things about Hamilton's City Centre is the number of scooters you encounte r.   They replace the mega strollers of cities like Calgary. 

One of the strangest things about Hamilton's City Centre is the number of scooters you encounter.  They replace the mega strollers of cities like Calgary. 

  Somehow it seemed ironic that there were all these signs saying "Stop For Pedestrians" but there wasn't a pedestrian (other than me) anywhere in sight. 

Somehow it seemed ironic that there were all these signs saying "Stop For Pedestrians" but there wasn't a pedestrian (other than me) anywhere in sight. 

Window Wonderland 

  I was surprised at how many great window displays there were in downtown Hamilton stores.  

I was surprised at how many great window displays there were in downtown Hamilton stores.  

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  I was also surprised at the number of independent used bookstores in Hamilton's City Centre -  another sign of a healthy community.

I was also surprised at the number of independent used bookstores in Hamilton's City Centre -  another sign of a healthy community.

  Inside I found intriguing vignettes. 

Inside I found intriguing vignettes. 

  Hamilton's City Centre is full of funky coffee shops with great windows for people watching.  

Hamilton's City Centre is full of funky coffee shops with great windows for people watching.  

  This could easily be in Dublin or Berlin.

This could easily be in Dublin or Berlin.

  I want a craft beer kitchen in my neighbourhood. 

I want a craft beer kitchen in my neighbourhood. 

  Hamilton's City Centre is full of small boutiques.

Hamilton's City Centre is full of small boutiques.

Corktown: Hamilton's Music District

  If you are in Hamilton on a Tuesday night, be sure to check out the Irish Jam at the Corktown Pub. It was as good as anything I experienced in Dublin. At one point I counted 23 musician jamming at the same time.

If you are in Hamilton on a Tuesday night, be sure to check out the Irish Jam at the Corktown Pub. It was as good as anything I experienced in Dublin. At one point I counted 23 musician jamming at the same time.

 The Corktown pub also has great blues jam on Sunday afternoons. It reminded me of being back in Memphis at the International Blues Competition.  

The Corktown pub also has great blues jam on Sunday afternoons. It reminded me of being back in Memphis at the International Blues Competition.  

  Hamilton's Mississippi Queen aka Connie (FYI: she owns the Mississippi Queen restaurant in Hamilton and is from the delta) was at the Blues Jam entertaining everyone with her dancing. 

Hamilton's Mississippi Queen aka Connie (FYI: she owns the Mississippi Queen restaurant in Hamilton and is from the delta) was at the Blues Jam entertaining everyone with her dancing. 

  If you are into guitars you will want to check out The Acoustic Room on James St. N, near St. Joe's Hospital.  Yes, they only sell acoustic guitars.  It is like an art gallery for guitars. 

If you are into guitars you will want to check out The Acoustic Room on James St. N, near St. Joe's Hospital.  Yes, they only sell acoustic guitars.  It is like an art gallery for guitars. 

  The Cat "N" Fiddle reminded me both of Dublin and Nashville. Dublin because of the architecture and colours, Nashville because the bands playing in the front window.

The Cat "N" Fiddle reminded me both of Dublin and Nashville. Dublin because of the architecture and colours, Nashville because the bands playing in the front window.

  I am thinking Hamilton must be the neighbourhood pub capital of Canada.  

I am thinking Hamilton must be the neighbourhood pub capital of Canada.  

  In Hamilton any house can become a pub. 

In Hamilton any house can become a pub. 

Night Walks

  Ever since the two-year old new door introduced me to the joy of "night walks" I make a point of flaneuring at night when I am in a new city.  

Ever since the two-year old new door introduced me to the joy of "night walks" I make a point of flaneuring at night when I am in a new city.  

  Brightly coloured rooms are all the rage at trendy contemporary art galleries today.  In the past year I have seen "Colour Room" exhibitions at the Esker Gallery, Calgary; Palm Springs Art Museum and one of the galleries at Leipzig's Spinnerei.  In Hamilton, you don't need to go to an art museum to see contemporary art just wander the streets.  

Brightly coloured rooms are all the rage at trendy contemporary art galleries today.  In the past year I have seen "Colour Room" exhibitions at the Esker Gallery, Calgary; Palm Springs Art Museum and one of the galleries at Leipzig's Spinnerei.  In Hamilton, you don't need to go to an art museum to see contemporary art just wander the streets.  

  There is an interesting narrative here, as all of the chairs are faced to look out onto the street. It is as if they are starring at you.  

There is an interesting narrative here, as all of the chairs are faced to look out onto the street. It is as if they are starring at you. 

  Hommage to Edward Hopper.

Hommage to Edward Hopper.

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  I passed by this alley many times during my stay. Something about it fascinated me. 

I passed by this alley many times during my stay. Something about it fascinated me. 

Colourful Store Fronts

   The note on the door says "you won't know unless you come it." Inside, you will meet Pat who sells everything from vintage typewriters to books, from pens to rubber stamps.  It is a hidden gem.  

 The note on the door says "you won't know unless you come it." Inside, you will meet Pat who sells everything from vintage typewriters to books, from pens to rubber stamps.  It is a hidden gem. 

  Perhaps Hamilton's best one two combination...a great bookstore beside funky cafe...it doesn't get any better. 

Perhaps Hamilton's best one two combination...a great bookstore beside funky cafe...it doesn't get any better. 

  Unless it is the Thrifty Designer and a flower shop.

Unless it is the Thrifty Designer and a flower shop.

  The Burnt Tongue has great soups (as well as a great name). Next door is Smalls cafe (it has just one seat to sit at the window).  

The Burnt Tongue has great soups (as well as a great name). Next door is Smalls cafe (it has just one seat to sit at the window).  

 Choises Musicales aka Musical Chairs is a fun vintage boutique. 

Choises Musicales aka Musical Chairs is a fun vintage boutique. 

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Art & Architecture 

  All along the sidewalks of Lock Street are fun word plaques that make you stop and think.   Wow -  fun, clever and inexpensive - public art! 

All along the sidewalks of Lock Street are fun word plaques that make you stop and think.   Wow -  fun, clever and inexpensive - public art! 

  Thought Hamilton's downtown there are amazing relief artworks form the early to mid-20th Century. I am thinking we need to bring this kind of public art back. 

Thought Hamilton's downtown there are amazing relief artworks form the early to mid-20th Century. I am thinking we need to bring this kind of public art back. 

  This brutalist parkade comes alive at night with light and colour.  How simple, effective and affordable is that.  

This brutalist parkade comes alive at night with light and colour.  How simple, effective and affordable is that. 

  Love this collage of old and new architecture. 

Love this collage of old and new architecture. 

  Hamilton's Gore Park is an eerie spot at night. This artwork/signage seems surreal in the deserted space.

Hamilton's Gore Park is an eerie spot at night. This artwork/signage seems surreal in the deserted space.

 This barn-like sculpture outside of the Hamilton's Farmers' Market adds a sense of playfulness to the pedestrian experience. I love contrast between the chaotic lines of artwork and the ordered linear lines of the market windows.  A nice metaphor for entropy of urban living.

This barn-like sculpture outside of the Hamilton's Farmers' Market adds a sense of playfulness to the pedestrian experience. I love contrast between the chaotic lines of artwork and the ordered linear lines of the market windows.  A nice metaphor for entropy of urban living.

  I don't know if it is true, but it seemed to me that there are more churches per block Hamilton's City Centre than an other city I have visited. 

I don't know if it is true, but it seemed to me that there are more churches per block Hamilton's City Centre than an other city I have visited. 

  When I first saw this piece I thought it was a real person sleeping on the bench. This is outside St. Patrick's Roman Catholic Church.  

When I first saw this piece I thought it was a real person sleeping on the bench. This is outside St. Patrick's Roman Catholic Church. 

Hamilton vs Kreuzberg & Leipzig 

  This could easily be in Kreuzberg a neighbourhood in Berlin that has been called the best hipster community in the world even though it is the dirtiest community (graffiti and litter everywhere) I have ever visited, that wasn't a slum.  It is a haven for artists from around the world who love the bohemian lifestyle. The same is true for parts of Leipzig, two hours from Berlin that is also a haven for artists.  

This could easily be in Kreuzberg a neighbourhood in Berlin that has been called the best hipster community in the world even though it is the dirtiest community (graffiti and litter everywhere) I have ever visited, that wasn't a slum.  It is a haven for artists from around the world who love the bohemian lifestyle. The same is true for parts of Leipzig, two hours from Berlin that is also a haven for artists.  

 Found this on the window of a door along James St N.  How cool is this as an artwork?

Found this on the window of a door along James St N.  How cool is this as an artwork?

  Found this on the hoarding (plywood walls) at construction site, it too could be in a contemporary art gallery exhibition.  

Found this on the hoarding (plywood walls) at construction site, it too could be in a contemporary art gallery exhibition.  

 Another doorway artwork that would be at home in Kreuzberg or in a contemporary art exhibition.  

Another doorway artwork that would be at home in Kreuzberg or in a contemporary art exhibition.  

  I wonder what is the connection between Hamilton and Franz Liszt? 

I wonder what is the connection between Hamilton and Franz Liszt? 

Last Photos

  This looks like a checklist of what any urban planner would tell you a City Centre needs to be vibrant place. And yet, Hamilton's City Centre struggles to attract the right mix of live, work and play elements to foster urban vitality. It is obviously not for a lack of trying. 

This looks like a checklist of what any urban planner would tell you a City Centre needs to be vibrant place. And yet, Hamilton's City Centre struggles to attract the right mix of live, work and play elements to foster urban vitality. It is obviously not for a lack of trying. 

  And yes, Hamilton (home to Tim Hortons) has a trendy boutique donut maker. Monster is located at the south end of Locke Street. 

And yes, Hamilton (home to Tim Hortons) has a trendy boutique donut maker. Monster is located at the south end of Locke Street.