You could call Hamilton, Ont. a renaissance city. The last few years have certainly seen revitalized neighbourhoods and a flourishing arts and culture scene. And a growing appreciation for the spectacular nature that cocoons its urban landscape is helping overshadow the steel town typecasting of old.
As a gateway to Niagara’s wine country, and less than an hour from Toronto, Hamilton is rapidly gaining a reputation as a meetings and convention destination.
Here’s a snapshot of the city’s event planning infrastructure:
An impressive roster of historical sites and museums offers tours and distinctive event spaces. Host a gala reception for up to 88 guests in the rustic elegance of the Coach House, part of Dundurn Castle, a majestic mid-19th century villa-style manor surrounded by lavishly landscaped gardens. With the War of 1812 bicentennial looming, The Cellar at Grandview and its outdoor pavilion in Battlefield Park, site of the notorious Battle of Stoney Creek, lends itself well to seated events of up to 90.
Make new meeting history at the Ancaster Old Town Hall, seat of the municipal government circa 1870. With stage and arched windows, the stone-built structure seats up to 120 people. For crews of 10 to full squadrons of 1,500, the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum is a popular gem offering several event spaces surrounded by vintage aircraft and aviation history, including the display hangar and Dofasco Dome.
Sitting pretty on the Niagara Escarpment, Hamilton encompasses a lush greenbelt of woodland, conservation areas and waterfalls. The Royal Botanical Gardens is a natural event option with exquisitely landscaped gardens, nature sanctuaries and trails. Along with featured exhibits and group tours, planners have the choice of several beautiful indoor and outdoor areas for hosting up to 500 guests reception-style.
A campaign is underway to rebrand Hamilton as the “City of Waterfalls” in recognition of the sheer multitude of waterfalls in the area. Check out Hamilton Conservation Authority for cascade sites (100 at last count, with several just minutes from downtown), self-guided walks and coach tour ideas. For adrenaline junkies, Equinox Adventures provides teambuilding rock and ice climbing expeditions around the Escarpment.
Put your group on two wheels from Freewheel Cycle for guided tours along the area’s vast network of off-road nature trails. Or explore the revitalized waterfront trail with a trolley tour, an amphitheatre performance or a dining cruise on the Hamilton Harbour Queen. The waterfront’s Discovery Centre is currently being redeveloped to reopen spring 2012 with two restaurants and a 13,000 sq. ft. patio.
The umbrella organization of Hamilton Entertainment and Convention Facilities operates a triumvirate of versatile venues accommodating huge groups and diverse needs, from trade shows and conferences to sporting events, concerts and theatrical performances. In the heart of downtown, the three-level Hamilton Convention Centre features configurable trade show floor space and 19 multi-purpose meeting rooms for intimate to large gatherings of up to 2,000. Call the centre’s outdoor Commonwealth Plaza into warm-weather event service.
A second-floor walkway connects the centre to Copps Coliseum, home to major sporting and concert events. With seating capacity for up to 19,000, the coliseum’s 117,000 sq. ft. floor space easily converts from ice and athletic court surfaces, to concert and trade show settings. Hamilton Place, the city’s main performance art venue, is a stone’s throw away. Within are the 2,193-seat Great Hall and main stage, and the more intimate setting of The Studio where flexible setups seat 350 cabaret-style to 550 standing.
Wining and Dining
Set in farm and wine country, it’s easy to please foodies with event chow that celebrates local goodness. Quatrefoil is one group gourmet option, a restaurant with several Top 10 accolades under its chef’s toque. The airy white interior of the converted century home matches the menu’s modern twist on French cuisine. Two second-floor rooms lend privacy to groups of 12 and 16 with total restaurant capacity at 70. Tap into several delicious ideas for tasting themes.
Built over a waterfall-fed creek, the historical Ancaster Mill’s rustic setting is a lovely backdrop to six elegantly designed dining and meeting spaces. Rooms feature stone fireplaces and high wood beam ceilings with windows that bring the outdoors in. Capacities range from 32 seated to 225 cocktail-style. Local earth-to-table menus are the culinary specialty.
Sip and savour the tastes of Niagara’s wine country at Puddicombe Estate Farms & Winery and Ridge Road Estate Winery, both a short jaunt from Hamilton’s core. Enjoy Puddicombe’s train tour of the 100-acre farm and vineyards before settling into the tasting boutique (Capacity: 30) or charming Vineyard Room (Capacity: 60) for wine-and-food paired dining.
Ridge Road’s elegant barn-style winery is decidedly upscale with a fashionably designed tasting boutique-cum-event space, dressed in black, tan and orange, for up to 60 guests. With a full gourmet kitchen on site, and some rather unique varietals growing in the vineyard, event groups can indulge in tutored tastings and winemaker dinners.
Ghosts And Art
Add chills and thrills into the event mix with Haunted Hamilton Ghost Walks & Events. Join a public tour or arrange a private meet up with the city’s ghosts, history and legends. Historical buildings and locations include the Custom House where Hamilton’s oldest ghost, the Dark Lady, is said to reside. Period-dressed guides and actors turn dramatic storytelling into experiential theatre in sublimely eerie settings.
Book the hop-on, hop-off Art Bus for a guided tour of Hamilton’s vibrant visual arts scene. Operated by The Pearl Company, a downtown arts and performance facility, the tours are customizable with gallery stops, artist meet-and-greets, lectures, concerts and theatre. Located in a three-storey renovated warehouse, the company also rents out its gallery spaces and 150-seat performance venue.