The year was 1999 when Sigal Balshine and David Earn, postdoctoral fellows living in Cambridge, England, received the news that both had found positions at McMaster University. The couple had made a deal that wherever the first one got an academic job, the other would follow. Neither of them dreamed that they would both end up with faculty positions in the same university.
What did they know about Hamilton at the time?
"Absolutely nothing", said Sigal. "We'd heard about McMaster and we thought of Hamilton as being very industrial and as a blight on the landscape, with lots of polluting smokestacks and steel mills pouring massive amounts of pollution into Lake Ontario."
On their initial arrival they rented a house while searching for a neighbourhood where they could walk to work and to local shops without having to use their car. They found everything they had dreamed of in Westdale Village.
"We loved that we could walk to the cinema, to restaurants, to stores, and to work. And we loved the parks and the gorgeous paths down to Cootes Paradise. When we bought our house we had no idea we were in such close proximity to these paths and it was mind blowing to have that kind of access to wilderness and wildlife. Nobody knows about it outside of Hamilton", said Sigal
Sigal, a professor of animal behaviour in the Department of Psychology, often takes her students into the paths of the Royal Botanical Gardens, as part of their course work.
"I have them do experiments on birds. I also have a student working on fish in Hamilton Harbour. So I'm affiliated research-wise with the Gardens and the work that's done locally on wildlife. So for me it's fantastic to have such easy access to conservation areas", she said.
The neighbourhood is also home to a vibrant Jewish community.
"There are five or six Jewish families within a stone's throw away and they all happen to have children within a year of our child. So there's a real kibbutz feeling. Often in the summer people come to each other's homes to play, after getting home from work, they stay for supper. We've made a lot of friends", Sigal continued.
David, a mathematician who specializes in understanding patterns of epidemics of infectious diseases, and conservation of endangered species, appreciates the accessibility of living in the city.
"You don't have to drive very far to get anywhere in Hamilton and it's only an hour from downtown Toronto", he said.
But the quality of life issues override all its other benefits.
"We couldn't even dream of affording a house like this in Toronto or Vancouver, and the cost of child care is much more reasonable too" he said. "Westdale is a wonderful neighbourhood to live in and McMaster is a great place to work."
Sigal and David are just two among many newcomers to Hamilton who have discovered Canada's best-kept secret.