Hamilton gets a bad rap, much of it based on the only view of the city most Torontonians get: overlooking the steel factories from the Skyway Bridge. While Toronto sometimes bills itself as a “City Within a Park,” the moniker is actually more apt to our Steeltown neighbour to the west, which repeatedly kicks Toronto’s ass when looking for ways to get back to nature. Seriously.
Hamiltonians are also proud and resourceful, and while we pretty much sit around and complain at the sorry state of Toronto’s tourism ads, Hammer residents are often the city’s best ambassadors—and marketing CEO Chris Eckland is no exception. Waterfall aficionado Eckland’s home-made tourism campaign is completely strange and unexpected, and features one of the most grating-yet-catchy jingles in advertising history. Yet despite the sketchy production values and bizarre concept, the City of Waterfalls campaign probably works better than any of Toronto’s high-priced disasters.
Bisected by the Niagara Escarpment (also colloquially known as Hamilton Mountain) and cradling Burlington Bay, Hamilton boasts more than a hundred waterfalls, many scenic enough to pass for more exotic locales. This largely unknown fact spurred Eckland to dub the city the Waterfall Capital of the World and dump about a hundred thousand bucks into a branding campaign, which included vinyl vehicle wraps and weekend waterfall tours.
One of four wrapped vehicles. Photo courtesy of cityofwaterfalls.ca.
The brilliance of the campaign is its laser-focus on an aspect that is not only largely unfamiliar, but is also counter to the primary stereotype that plagues the city. A previous, city-sanctioned movement aimed to have Hamilton known as “The Best Place to Raise a Child,” but the execution was clunky and insular, especially given Hamilton’s issues with family poverty (one in five residents live at or below the poverty line).
Today, the image of the Hammer as a poor, polluted city isn’t really valid—the steel mills are a shadow of their former selves, whereas the city is now a leader in health care education and research. Hamilton has successfully invested in beautifying much of its extensive waterfront—some of which was encouraged by the relocation of the H.M.C.S. Haida from its mooring at Ontario Place to Hamilton’s Catherine Street pier—and the greater Hamilton geography encompasses a myriad of conservation areas, wherein many of these waterfalls can be found.
Webster’s Falls in the winter. Photo by Derek Purdy.
The City of Waterfalls campaign has also struck the fancy of Hamiltonians. The Facebook group has almost twelve thousand members, the Sheraton hotel is offering a special “waterfall rate,” and the whole thing has even inspired amateur fan songs.
At first glance, the concept, website, and super-cheesy promo song may seem to be a target of easy mockery, but the City of Waterfalls idea is one that makes more sense the more you sit with it. Hamilton’s stuffy “Together Aspire, Together Achieve” motto doesn’t say much, but “Waterfall Capital of the World” is memorable, positive, and appealing, even if the metrics are subjective. The jingle is truly horrible, but we can’t get it out of our heads, and that can be a great thing (remember the Buck-A-Day computer ads?). The slogan is also perfect for getting nature-loving Toronto tourists to make a detour on their way to Niagara Falls.
We’ve experienced the Hamilton natural landscape first-hand and can vouch for its beauty, so we’re all for the City of Hamilton making the campaign official, but what we’re truly impressed by is how a single resident put his money where his mouth is to create a viable promotional movement, and how fellow citizens are stepping up in grassroots support.
Torontonians, quit whining and take note.