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Architecture General

Unbuilt Hamilton

by (author) Mark Osbaldeston

Dundurn Press
Initial publish date
Sep 2016
General, Public, Commercial & Industrial, Landmarks & Monuments
  • eBook

    Publish Date
    Sep 2016
    List Price
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Sep 2016
    List Price

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Finalist for a 2017 Hamilton Literary Award, the Kerry Schooley Award

Unbuilt Hamilton presents the Ambitious City at its most ambitious, exploring the origins and fates of unrealized building, planning, and transportation proposals from the early nineteenth century to the early twenty-first.

Marvel at the sweeping vista down Hamilton’s own version of the Champs-Élysées as you enjoy a concert in the escarpment amphitheatre. Drive up the Gage Avenue tunnel, or ride down the Ottawa Street incline railway. Take in the sites at the King’s Forest Zoo, see the stars in the planetarium, or catch a game at Commonwealth Stadium before returning to your island home in Bay Shore Village.

Featuring more than 150 illustrations, plans, and photographs, Unbuilt Hamilton gives life to the Hamilton that might have been.

About the author

Mark Osbaldeston has written and spoken extensively on Toronto's architectural and planning history. His first book, Unbuilt Toronto: A History of the City That Might Have Been, was the subject of an exhibition at the Royal Ontario Museum, was a finalist for the Toronto Book Awards, and received a Heritage Toronto Award of Merit. He lives in Toronto.

Mark Osbaldeston's profile page


  • Short-listed, Hamilton Literary Awards, the Kerry Schooley Award

Excerpt: Unbuilt Hamilton (by (author) Mark Osbaldeston)

King’s Forest Zoo 1963/Unbuilt
There was a time in the 1960s when bison, bears, moose, and mountain lions roamed the wilderness of the Red Hill Valley — at least in the dreams and paper plans of the Hamilton Zoological Park Committee. The idea of a zoo for Hamilton had been kicked around since at least the 1950s, but the city’s board of control moved it significantly closer to reality in September 1961, when they authorized the creation of a zoo committee. Four months later, Mayor Lloyd Jackson appointed members to the sixteen-person panel. He would sit on it himself as one of three council members (along with controller Archie McCoy, the chair), but the other thirteen members were chosen from various private and public bodies that could provide support and expertise, such as the board of education, the parks board, and the junior and senior chambers of commerce. The committee met, conducted research, and visited existing North American zoos throughout 1962 and into 1963. They not only concluded that a zoo would be a feasible and desirable attraction in Hamilton, they identified the perfect spot for it: a two-hundred-acre site in King’s Forest. David Brown, the board of education’s representative on the committee, chaired a subcommittee in charge of the zoo’s physical design. Significant progress was made on that front when local architect Charles Lenz prepared preliminary plans for the King’s Forest site in January 1963, even before the city’s board of parks management had agreed to make the King’s Forest land available. He would refine his plans over the course of the year (Figs. 29-1, 29-2, 29-3, 29-4). After conducting his own independent research and visiting zoos across eastern North America, Lenz developed his vision for the King’s Forest Zoo (or as it was labelled in his early drawings, the “Proposed Royal Zoological Park in the King’s Forest”). He planned a park that would meld the necessary structures with the natural beauty of Red Hill Valley, aiming not only to preserve as much of the existing forest as possible, but to augment it. Eschewing concepts from the Victorian and pre-war eras, where zoo animals sulked behind bars in formal garden settings, Lenz envisioned a modern, “playful” plan with a minimum of cages and obvious barriers. Moats and rustic rail fences would provide the necessary enclosures, which would be located on the peripheral, hilly portions of the site. These enclosures would surround large, central ponds for water birds. Buildings would be simple, kept to a small scale, and constructed of natural materials. A ring road would encircle the site, which could have a motor train running along it. Narrower paths would lead from the central ring road to allow visitors to get up close to the animals. Lenz’s plans seemed practically certain to be built when, in April 1963, the board of parks management agreed to designate the King’s Forest land as officially reserved for the new zoo. The committee’s ultimate goal was a full-scale, world-class attraction with animals from all continents, sprawling across the full site. They determined, however, that that end would best be achieved in stages. In their plan, the first phase of development would cover twenty-five acres, and be limited to fifteen types of North American animals, a farmyard exhibit, and a restaurant and administration building. As the committee saw it, North American animals would be easier to get and less expensive to keep, but would still be popular enough to make the attraction financially viable from the beginning. With an estimated cost of some $372,896, the first phase would have three permanent staff members plus a director. The committee’s decision to initially limit the zoo to North American animals didn’t stop overtures from animal dealers around the world with exotic livestock to sell. One dealer offered a Japanese deer and an olive baboon for what the Spectator noted was “less than the price of a single poodle.” The offers were unsolicited, presumably arising from the fact that the City of Hamilton was now a member of the American Association of Zoological Parks and Aquaria. Clearly, Hamilton’s zoo was close to becoming reality. Not everyone was excited about that. People who considered zoos essentially cruel wrote letters to the press against the proposal, and a group called Citizens Against a Hamilton Zoo actively lobbied council. Undoubtedly in an effort to head off such sentiment, the zoo committee had incorporated into their plans a new headquarters for the SPCA, underscoring their commitment to the welfare of animals. But there was another threat to contend with, more dangerous than any animal the new zoo might house: councillors concerned about cost. In February 1964, the city’s capital budget committee cut $20 million from the city’s budget, including a new main library and the zoo. The board of control reversed the decision on the zoo two days later, but recommended against proceeding with the first phase (now estimated at $405,000) in one swoop. Instead, they allocated $100,000 a year to the zoo project for each of 1964, 1965, and 1966. It was a setback to be sure, but worse news was to come. The following month, the zoological park committee was informed that, based on revised plans, the proposed Red Hill Creek Freeway would now run through the designated zoo site. The committee was still hopeful that the board of parks management could augment what was left of their original site with additional land that wouldn’t be affected by the highway. They held on to this hope for several months, until September 1964, when the board of parks management officially informed them that they were unwilling to expand what was left of the zoo site. Not only was land in the valley already being sacrificed for the new highway, hydroelectric towers were also being proposed. The board was unwilling to cede any additional parkland for a zoo. As a consolation, the board did say that they would be willing to give forty-five acres on the east side of Mount Albion Road, on the mountain. Controller McCoy was unimpressed, calling this rocky, small, unserviced parcel “totally unsuitable.” A new site was needed, and the zoological park committee lost no time in forming a subcommittee to find one. It was going to be a tall order, since the committee was insistent that the site be within the city limits. After a seven-month search, they admitted defeat. With no site available, council pulled the final installment of the zoological park committee’s $100,000 yearly funding in February 1966. The dream of a world-class zoo in Hamilton was dead. The zoological park committee had anticipated that possibility it seems, and was already focusing on a new project. In October 1965, the city’s beach committee had approached them about a model farm they were proposing at the new Confederation Park. They asked if the zoological park committee would be interested in taking over the planning. The zoological park committee dived in with gusto, immediately arranging a visit to the farm attraction on Toronto Island to get ideas. The Confederation Park Model Farm opened the next year, in time for the 1966 summer season. With a budget of $48,000; an old, transplanted barn; and borrowed cows, pigs, horses, chickens, and other farm animals confined to seven acres, it was a far cry from the Royal Zoological Park at King’s Forest. But to their credit, the zoological park committee had accepted political reality and worked within the confines of the possible. The result was an attraction that was a hit from the beginning, even producing its own undisputed star that first season: Smokey, the prize-winning steer.

Editorial Reviews

Rich with illustrations, the book tells the story of the journey taken from conception to realization, or in a number of cases, non-realization … The book is written in a reader-friendly style, but is nonetheless meticulously researched.

Bay Observer

A pleasure to read.