History vs Highrises – the battle of Durand by Paul Wilson

Photo of Diane Dent

Diane Dent didn't want to move to Hamilton in the 1960's. But she stayed, and the Durand neighborhood is a better place for it. (Paul Wilson/CBC)

Durand — James to Queen, Main to the Escarpment — is Hamilton’s densest neighbourhood. City Hall is here. And CHCH, in the old Southam house. There are the stone shops that line James South. And corner stores. And Central School, the first proper grade school in English Canada.

But mostly, Durand is a place to live. It’s home to 12,000 people.

There are new Canadians. And seniors for whom Hamilton has always been home. And young professionals who like living in old brick homes built before the car. And at the southern fringe of Durand, in mansions as fine as you’ll find anywhere, there is old Hamilton money.

This neighbourhood is another reason why Hamilton is such an interesting place. But we nearly lost it, and that brings us to Diane Dent. Without her and a sturdy band of like-minded citizens, Durand would be but a shadow of what exists today.

Didn’t want to come here

Dent didn’t know Hamilton, let alone Durand, when she reluctantly moved here in the late 1960s. She was raised in Toronto. Husband Peter was lured to the city by the opportunity to get in on the ground floor at the new McMaster Hospital, and he eventually became chair of the Department of Pediatrics.

They bought a house on Park Street South. Dent, who had trained as a pediatric nurse, set to raising her pre-school daughters.

They went to a dinner party one night in Durand and met lawyer Herman Turkstra, then a young politician on the Hamilton board of control. And the next day he called and told Dent that Durand needed to organize. It needed to come together to protect the neighbourhood. Though she had a third daughter on the way, Dent agreed to take up the cause.

That was 40 years ago this summer. The other night, at the Dent house, old allies and new had an anniversary party for the Durand Neighbourhood Association.

Desirable backdrop

The challenge for the DNA in 1972 was unbridled development. It’s said that at the new City Hall, some thought a wall of pristine white apartment towers would be a desirable backdrop. So those highrises went up. And many more too.

There was blockbusting underway. Houses got bought up, knocked down, and more towers filled the skies of Durand. If someone didn’t get the situation under control, the unique neighbourhood would be just another urban jungle.

Hamilton had won an award for its neighbourhood planning. “But they didn’t want to plan Durand, because it was ripe for development,” Dent says. She was green, went alone to a meeting at City Hall, and said, “Excuse me, I would like to have our neighbourhood planned too.”

Not right now, they said. But that did come. And in 1974 the DNA scored another big victory. They convinced the city to expropriate a parcel just south of Charlton, where developers had knocked down a block of homes to build another highrise.

Instead, the people got Durand Park — the only green space in the neighbourhood.

Movie crews like it

Photo of Sandyford Place

Sandyford Place, now a National Historic Site, nearly got knocked down. The 18-storey Concord apartment tower is right next door. (Paul Wilson/CBC)

There were other battles. A developer wanted to tear down Duke Street’s Sandyford Place, a row of stone terrace houses from the mid-1800s. It’s condos today, and a National Historic Site. Movie crews like shooting there. Indeed, they like all of Durand. Most cities don’t have streets like this.

Dent knew how to work the phones, talk to the right people. Sometimes it was a call to ward councillors Bill McCulloch and Vince Agro. Or maybe to a contact in Montreal, who had influence in high places.

Dent enlisted the help of Toronto mayors John Sewell and David Crombie, who believed development needed rules. At Dent’s request, both helped Hamilton.

The job’s not done. Dent worries about demolition by neglect. “Where’s the political will? Why isn’t council proactive?”

When council doesn’t take the lead, the people must. “If you care about your city,” Dent says, “you have to step forward and make a contribution. And you have to work in a group.”

Heart in Durand

And so there was the anniversary celebration on a fine night a couple of weeks ago. It must be said — the party was not held in Durand.

Years ago, Dent moved to the Mountain Brow. She wanted more room to grow her roses. They looked for that big lot in Durand, but found a place on the Brow at half the price.

“I do miss the community,” Dent says. “There’s no community here. My heart is still in Durand.”

But her focus had become the whole city. She joined LACAC, now the Hamilton Municipal Heritage Committee, the city’s architectural watchdog. She headed it for some 20 years. Along the way, they worked to save landmarks like the Hamilton Carnegie Library, the Bank of Montreal, the Pigott building.

“If you keep your old buildings,” Dent says, “you have a past, a present and a future.”

This article reposted courtesy of CBC Hamilton and Paul Wilson

You can read more CBC Hamilton stories by Paul Wilson here.

The Durand Neighbourhood Association is 40 years strong! Learn more about the history of our very active neighbourhood association here on our Durand Neighbourhood Association’s History Page. And please be sure to visit our website often (or subscribe to our mailing list) to keep up-to-date with all that is happening in the Durand Neighbourhood.

4 Responses to History vs Highrises – the battle of Durand by Paul Wilson

  1. A beautiful article for a beautiful Durand ! We moved to the Durand on Duke Street three years ago and love all four seasons. Richard

  2. Linda Miocinovich

    Thanks Paul, great article. Diane is an inspiration and wonderful woman. I have been a member of the Durand and on the Board of Directors for the DNA. I love my neighbourhood, thanks to her efforts it still exists. It brings a tear to my eye whenever someone speaks so passionately about fitting for a worthy cause.

  3. sarah pierson

    I am very proud of the work that Diane Dent and the DNA has done over the years. I grew up at 41 Inglewood and then later 17 Ravenscliffe. I was thrilled to hear that 41 was saved by the DNA. I remember going to meetings with my Mom in the 70’s and believe that Durand would be a different place today without the association. I moved to Toronto over 20 years ago but have finally just convinced my born and raised in Toronto husband that Hamilton, specifically Durand, is the best place to be for our young family to grow. Our search continues and we hope to be there soon. When we do arrive back in Durand, I look forward to getting involved with you. Keep up the great work and thank you Diane etc.!

    • Hello Sarah,

      We look forward to your return and in the meantime you can stay in touch through the website.

      Please join us for the ongoing celebrations for the Community -at- large on Saturday September 22nd in the Durand Park. We are having a Dinner and Movie night….details on the website….another save for the DNA as our one and only park was slated for highrise apartments….Janice Brown

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