David Fernandes
Producer, Director, Writer

One-Way Streets Are Holding Hamilton Back

     Posted on Tue ,10/07/2012 by djfern

I officially moved to Hamilton on February 1 of this year. On that auspicious day, with a friend in the passenger seat and a VW station wagon full of stuff, I got into the first car accident of my life. A rear-ender on Main Street near Wentworth.

I was traveling eastbound at a pretty healthy clip when the traffic ahead of me suddenly and unexpectedly stopped. I slammed on my brakes, felt the ABS stutter in, and probably because I don’t tailgate, I had enough room to avoid hitting the car in front of me… barely.

A split second later I checked the rear-view and braced myself as an Acura sedan pummelled the back of my car. It was a loud, violent, solid hit. I heard glass break. After screaming a bunch of profanities, and ensuring my passenger and I were intact, I shakily stepped out of the car to check the damage.

The man driving the Acura was immediately apologetic and unnervingly calm. The whole front end of his car was badly bruised, losing both of its eyes and most of its teeth, but incredibly, my wagon seemed to have only a little nick on the bumper. German engineering or fantastic luck, I don’t know which, but thankfully no one was seriously injured.

Welcome to Hamilton, I thought.

Scary Downtown Driving

I have driven some 250,000 km in the ten years I’ve been driving. I’ve driven in New York City, Los Angeles, Montreal and in Portugal as well. All of these places are infamous for aggressive, fast-paced driving. So when friends warned me of the crazy driving in Hamilton, I thought, yeah yeah, been there, done that.

Hamilton, let me tell you: if there is a prize for fastest, most dangerous, scariest downtown driving – you most certainly take the cake.

I live on a residential street between Main and King near Sherman Avenue. In the five months I’ve lived here I have seen about 15 traffic accidents (most of them T-bones) and witnessed two, including my own.

I’ve seen young parents scramble for their lives pushing a baby carriage trying to cross Main Street while a wall of traffic barreled down on them without slowing.

I’ve been tailgated more times than I can ever remember, cut-off constantly, honked at for going the speed limit, screamed at for slowing down to make a freaking turn, and had several more near misses with drivers going way too fast, not signalling lane changes and generally being douche bags.

If you’ve driven in Hamilton, you know exactly what I’m talking about. It is downright scary at times.

Cab drivers just laugh. “Oh yeah, why do you think they call it the Hammer?” one boasted to me.

Walk Beside the Mayhem

Great. Now, let’s talk about how fun it is to walk alongside this mayhem. Or cross it without running. Or, god forbid, ride your bike along it. I’ve tried all three. There is no fun to be had.

Hamilton’s one-way downtown freeways of King Street and Main Street are dangerous to drive on, awful to walk beside, scary and unsafe to cross and suicidal to cycle on. Of all the users of streets in Hamilton, only one group actually gets what they want out of this scenario: douchebags. And because of this, you can see the effect it’s had on the economic life of these major streets.

Let me tell you about some of the closest places of business to my house. Out of the storefronts within two blocks of me on both sides of King East, there is a rub and tug, a gas station, a car wash, a coin and stamp collecting store (which incredibly still looks open), a closing or closed reptile store, a computer store, lawyers offices, and a specialized surgery clinic.

There are also at least five boarded storefronts and another five or so that seem to be turned into residential, which is against zoning, but no one seems to give a crap.

The closest place to get groceries is a Big Bear Convenience a few blocks further. The closest place to get vegetables is a No Frills ten blocks away.

There are no restaurants, no cafés, few retail stores, no flower shops, book shops, bakeries, hardware stores, clothing stores, doctor’s offices, libraries, post offices, or anything else that might be useful and convenient to local residents of all income levels. Not even a beer or liquor store. If I want a blow job and a lizard, however, I’m in luck.

Dismal Picture

And it’s not just my stretch of King East I’m talking about. The picture on Main Street near my house is similarly dismal. In a span of two blocks, there are no less than three Pizza and Wing fast food joints, in addition to a KFC.

Go east or west in either direction and you will get block after block of the same thing. Boarded storefronts, illegal residences, drive-in one-floor office buildings with massive parking lots, struggling fast food joints and more auto garages than there seem to be cars to need them.

This is the scene along Hamilton’s most prominent east and west thoroughfares: high speed, aggressive and dangerous roads to drive, walk or cycle on. Why on earth would anyone open a business there?

Are one-way streets solely to blame for the economic assassination of King and Main? Obviously not. Suburban sprawl is probably most guilty – with cheap, big box stores littering the Mountain, small business everywhere in lower town have suffered.

Another culprit is the fact that large swaths of King and Main don’t have active BIAs, so it’s basically a free-for all for any land owner to break zoning without any repercussions. Who’s paying attention?

And let’s not forget the decline of the steel industry and the massive effect that had on incomes in Hamilton. So with too much big box competition, too few BIAs, declining incomes and two incredibly hostile, unfriendly main streets, there really is no mystery to why King and Main suck so much.

But it actually doesn’t have to be this way.


I moved to Hamilton from Toronto, where I had lived for most of my adult life, minus a five year stint in Ottawa. In the late ’90s I had a friend who had moved out to Leslie Street and Queen Street East – the east end of Toronto, sandwiched between Riverdale and the Beach.

At that time, having only lived in the well-developed west end of the city, I thought my friend had moved to another country. I went out to visit him one day for breakfast at a brand new restaurant that had opened and I just couldn’t figure it out.

The area seemed really depressed. Lots of boarded up store fronts, struggling mom & pop diners, fledgling convenience stores… it just wasn’t the picture of urban living that I was used to in the west downtown.

That run-down little stretch of Queen East, fifteen years later, is now the beautiful, walkable, drivable, cyclable main street of what became known as Leslieville. I even bought a home and lived in the neighbourhood for five years.

I can’t think of a single illegal residential storefront, and where there isn’t a business, there is a for lease sign and a line-up to get a coveted spot. These are two lane streets, shared with streetcars, trees on both sides, parking on both sides and bicycle ring posts everywhere along the sidewalks.

And although there is some congestion at rush hours, during the day and weekends it mostly moves very well. It is a model for what a healthy street looks like.

A Theory

So how did this happen? I have a theory.

1) Not so unlike Hamilton, Toronto’s east-end fifteen years ago was a bargain compared to the over-priced west end. So, younger folks moving out of condos or rentals and looking to start families started buying up the homes. Average prices at the time? About $150-$225k. Over time, an influx of new people and new money flowed into the neighbourhood.

2) Some smart entrepreneurs started to take notice of the flux of new people and rightly figured out that these folks would eventually want to eat and shop in their neighbourhood. So they took advantage of the rock-bottom leases and building prices and started opening businesses on Queen East.

Eventually, some big names in the restaurant biz took note and started opening new places. Within six years, Queen East had become a hot spot for foodies. Then in 2007, a Starbucks moved in and the rest of the street exploded with new, locally run shops and restaurants.

3) With new residents and new businesses came re-invigorated BIAs and resident’s associations. This lead to some much needed resources to fix up parks, move a community health clinic, put up some street banners and generally improve the street presence.

It also led to the forming of the powerful East Toronto Community Coalition, which to this day has stopped the all powerful Smart Centres and Walmart from colonizing some former industrial land on Eastern Ave. That’s right, they stopped a Walmart. Seriously.

4) I’m not sure how or when it happened, but real estate agents started branding the neighbourhoods with nice names like Riverside and Leslieville to compliment already existing, well-branded hoods like Riverdale, Danforth and The Beach.

So, what used to be a nameless stretch of Queen East suddenly became a place. And it became a place associated with affordable homes, nice restaurants, great parks all within spitting distance of downtown Toronto and two major highways.

Repeated Formula

This basic formula has been repeated many times successfully in Toronto. New residents, new business, active associations, and new names for undefined neighbourhoods. It’s exactly what happened on Queen West in the ’80s and ’90s and then again on Queen West West in the 2000s.

Same with Ossington Avenue. Same with Kingston Road, St. Clair, strips of Yonge, Bayview, Eglinton, Dundas West, and on and on. And not one of these streets is one-way (and to be fair, never were).

So while this scale of gentrification definitely has deleterious effects for lower-income residents – rents increase, homes get converted back to single family, smaller, more affordable establishments die out – it’s not all Starbucks and designer baby carriages.

In Leslieville in particular, there are to date twenty-one social housing units with frontage on to Queen Street East from Broadview to the Beach that pre-date gentrification. These are mostly city owned and run but there are some private ones as well. In addition, there are dozens more homes on almost every residential side street that are run as social housing. I lived beside one for five years.

So in the midst of all these changes, the city still made sure there continued to be space for lower-income families to live in the nice revitalized neighbourhood that sprung up. And as a result, there are better streets, better parks, better transit service, and much better access to community-based health than ever before – for everyone.

So, with proper safeguards, and the right intentions, Leslieville continues to be a vibrant community with very mixed incomes and an eclectic mix of businesses and services that meet a broad range of needs (and notably, there’s no Walmart). It’s not to say there aren’t tensions – there are jerks who would love to close every social housing unit in the city, the mayor included – but for now, it’s a balance that for the most part works and works well.

Where is Hamilton?

So, back to Hamilton. Where are we at on my four part list? I’d say it really depends on where you live. Clearly Locke Street and James Street North have seen a revival and Ottawa Street is certainly up and coming. Barton is trying.

Thinking about my hood, I’d say we’re at number one – there’s incredibly beautiful homes here that compared to Toronto are a fantastic bargain, and there are a hell of a lot of people moving over here every month. On just the short block of street I live on, I can count six of my neighbours who’ve moved here from Toronto and several others from other parts of Hamilton.

So we have the influx of new people – but smart entrepreneurs have to look no further than the one-way dodgeball of Main and King streets and it’s game over. These awful one-way streets are keeping us stuck.

There aren’t any new businesses out this way yet, and not surprisingly, there’s also no BIA, and no residents’ association (although I hear rumours one has started).

And what the heck is this area called anyway? My neighbours have no clue. Google Maps puts us in the middle of Gibson and Stipley, but real estate agents call it St. Claire (though I’m pretty sure that only covers the part of my hood south of Main, and we are north.)

It Has to Start Somewhere

Obviously it’s going to take some time for Hamilton to become a healthier city with healthy, vibrant, multi-use streets. The transition from primarily a resource processing and manufacturing city to whatever it is becoming now has not been quick or easy, and it’s not ever going to be quick and easy.

It’s taken Toronto the last twenty plus years. And that’s been twenty years of hard fought council battles, energized, progressive councillors and mayors, active citizens coalitions and a whole hell of a lot of economic development that has transformed the downtown and all surrounding neighbourhoods into lovely, livable places.

This simply can’t and won’t happen overnight. But it does have to start somewhere.

I think we should start with converting Main and King streets – from Dundurn all the way to Gage park – into two-way streets with parking and shared bike lanes. Doing so will not solve all the zoning and economic development challenges these streets face, but at a minimum, it will make them safe to drive on, walk along and cycle.

And until that happens – until Hamilton’s main east-west streets are returned to even a modicum of livability – there’s really no point in talking about inviting new business or slapping up snazzy banners and calling it something-ville, it would be dooming the project to failure, and there’s been enough of that already.

Originally published in Raise the Hammer – Edited by Ryan McGreal

Re-published in the July 2012 issues of Urbanicity.

Remembering Jack

     Posted on Mon ,22/08/2011 by djfern

My father was diagnosed with prostate cancer back in 2006 and it was a terrifying revelation for me as I had lost my brother to pancreatic cancer when I was thirteen. My brother always told me he’d beat it. There’d be a day when he was better again and he’d take me to Disneyland.

Over months of incomprehensible discomfort and pain, I watched my larger than life brother evaporate before my eyes. He became so weak, so emaciated that he was barely skin and bones by the time he finally passed. Danny fought tooth and nail, but in the end, we never got to go to Disneyland.

Dad was a fighter too. He soldiered through months of radiation treatments. All the while he looked and sounded healthy. Every visit to his house was met with a glass of homemade red wine and a lung crushing hug. By early 2007, all signs where that the cancer was in remission. He’d beat it.

But on what would turn out to be our last trip to Portugal together, dad started noticing a black spot growing on his arm. He was soon diagnosed with melanoma and within a year and a half, the cancer had spread across all his major organs. Like with my brother before him, our family could do nothing but wait for the inevitable. In spite of his strength and his resolve, the cancer just couldn’t be beat. On April 6, 2009 – my birthday – he passed away.

Last year on a sleepy February evening, I got a text message from a friend at NDP federal office in Ottawa. They wanted someone to go to Jack Layton’s house and videotape his Chinese New Year’s greeting for 2010. It seemed kind of last minute, but a lot of political requests are, so we didn’t think much more of it.

The next day we got the camera and lights set up but not realising they needed a teleprompter, I struggled with one of Jack and Olivia’s many laptops to try and get the software working. Wrong password on one, not enough permissions on another. Finally Olivia came down and in about two minutes had everything working.

I loaded the script and literally felt my heart sink into my stomach. This wasn’t a new year’s greeting. Jack had cancer: prostate cancer. And he was going to tell everyone about it. Right now…

Greg Bennett and I worked silently getting the microphone adjusted while we waited for Jack. Twenty or so awkward minutes passed and then finally he came downstairs and took his seat.

He looked amazing. He cracked a couple of jokes, answered a few questions from his assistant and then got right into his message. If I hadn’t read the script ahead of time, I would have just assumed it was business as usual. Another day in politics, another greeting, another policy announcement. Nothing out of the ordinary. Which is what made it all so surreal for me. This guy has cancer… and he was smiling.

I fought back tears as he spoke. My own dad’s fight with cancer ended tragically and I was acutely aware of the gravity of what Jack faced. And yet there he was, sitting in front of me, speaking to camera with the energy and hopefulness he always did. He could have been talking about pensions…

Jack read his statement a few times until he felt he got it right. And without a tear or even a deep breath, we were changing the shot to record the Chinese New Year’s greeting. And even though he was already running late for a press conference where he would tell the nation about his struggle with cancer, Jack went over the greetings in Mandarin and Cantonese again and again until he got it right. Until he got it just about perfect actually.

That turned out to be the last time I saw Jack Layton before election night back in May 2011. Like thousands of others in the room of the NDP victory party in downtown Toronto, I was just stunned. Harper got his damn majority, but Jack Layton – the guy with cancer – beat all the odds and brought the NDP to its greatest electoral victory, demolishing the Liberals and making himself Leader of the Official Opposition. It was momentous. People were crying, screaming, chanting his name. And then he came on, passed his cane on to an aide, thanked the crowd and said, “Spring is here my friends, and a new chapter begins…”

It’s now the end of summer and in what felt like the blink of an eye Jack Layton is gone. It’s hard not to feel the vaccuum of this moment. Like some enormous bright light has been snuffed out and we’re standing in the darkness waiting for our eyes to adjust.

I found out on my way to work this morning. I pulled over my car and cried on the side of the road.

Like thousands of others who had known him in any way, if you’ve met Jack Layton you know he was the real deal, and chances are good that he left a lasting impression.

The very first time I can remember meeting Jack was shortly after Audrey Mclachlan stepped down as federal NDP leader. A small group of us – then NDP youth wingers -sat with Jack over beers brainstorming about who could run for leader. “It’s gotta be somebody young,” Jack said. “Like that Jian Ghomeshi.” Jack loved Moxy Frvous and thought Ghomeshi would be the next leader of the NDP. If Jack had any inkling that it might one day be him, he certainly didn’t let on. I took an instant liking to him. Here was the politician that you could literally have a beer with. He was as comfortable with a group of awkward youths as he was standing in front of a convention of thousands.

And speaking of beer, the second time I met him was while cleaning beer that I spilled off his kitchen floor. Jack had recently bought a beer fridge that had a keg inside and a spout on the front door. It was the damned coolest thing I’d ever seen. He instantly filled my glass back up and made sure everyone else had a full glass too.

I met him again at a fundraiser for Svend Robinson’s campaign to become federal NDP leader. It was the first time that I bore witness to Jack’s incredible skills as a fundraiser. Like some laser-tongued auctioneer from an old movie, in a mere two hours Jack had milked the room for tens of thousands of dollars, and when anyone claimed they couldn’t give more, Jack proved them differently.

In the late 90′s I lived in a small rental apartment across the street from Jack and Olivia. I can’t tell you how many times I would be sitting out on my balcony at night, weary eyed, finishing a smoke and there would be Jack, just riding his bike home from some meeting or event. I was half his age and falling asleep and this guy is jumping off his bike after a 16 hour work day. What the hell… If we all had resolve like that, there is no doubt the world would be a much better place.

I think like so many others I’m just stunned. When I saw the news clips from Jack’s July statement, I could tell that things were going badly. I’ve seen those gaunt cheeks in the face of my father and my brother. I knew at that moment that despite his unrelenting optimism, that this was his final fight – a fight for his very life.

When Jack said back on election night that spring was here, he was right. His own chapter may have closed, but what he helped create is a new kind of politics in this country that will grow deep and strong through his memory. It’s a politics of hope, of optimism and of the unassailable truth that when we work together for a common vision, we can and do change the world.

There are millions of people who have been touched by Jack. Touched by his unbelievably brave and public fight against cancer. Inspired by his bottomless well of energy, his positivity and his relentless fight for so many good causes.

I personally will remember him fondly as the rarest of politicians: ambitious, but humble; visionary, but practical; strong, but never afraid to talk about the power of love.

I’m gonna have a beer in your honour tonight Jack.

Rest in peace.

RE-WIRE to screen at BUFF

     Posted on Mon ,07/03/2011 by djfern

Boston Underground Film Festival

RE-WIRE will have a screening at the Boston Underground Film Festival between March 24-31. You can grab your tickets here.

RE-WIRE to screen @ Flickers

     Posted on Mon ,27/09/2010 by djfern

RE-WIRE has been accepted to the 11th annual Flickers: Rhode Island International Horror Film Festival, Saturday, October 23rd. LOCATION: Bell Street Chapel Theatre, 5 Bell Street , Providence. 7:30pm.


RE-WIRE to screen at Toronto After Dark

     Posted on Thu ,29/07/2010 by djfern

Toronto After Dark Film Festival

So, hot on the heels of a screening at Fantasia, RE-WIRE is now getting some proper hometown love from the Toronto After Dark Festival – they’ve made it the opening film for the closing night gala presentation of the very twisted, cult-hit, “The Human Centipede.”

The screening will be at the Bloor Cinema, 9:45pm on Friday, August 20th.

Tickets go on sale today and can be bought here:

RE-WIRE to screen at Fantasia 2010

     Posted on Wed ,30/06/2010 by djfern

Fantasia International Film Festival banner

Well, it’s official. RE-WIRE will have its North American premiere at the Fantasia International Film Festival in Montreal on July 19 and 20.

July 19th, 2010 • 7:40 pm • J.A. De Seve Theater
July 20th, 2010 • 1:00 pm • J.A. De Seve Theater


Re-Wire Nominated for an award from the Canadian Society of Cinematographers

     Posted on Mon ,01/03/2010 by djfern

Canadian Society of Cinematographers

Canadian Society of Cinematographers

Gregory Bennett has been nominated for a prestigious award from his peers, recognizing the phenomenal camera and lighting work he crafted as Director of Photography for Re-Wire.

The award is in the category of Short Dramatic Fiction for 2010, and interestingly enough, the only other film that was nominated was shot in 2007! It seems that the CSC allows films to be entered based on their calendar year of completion – which makes sense – but also allows films which have been exhibited or broadcast in the previous year…

Does that strike you as a bit odd? It does to me…

The film that Re-Wire is up against for the award is called, “Next Floor” and it one of my favourite short films – probably ever. I saw it at TIFF in 2008 and again at WWSFF in 2009. It’s a great film with stunning visuals, great special effects, great acting, great writing, great directing, great art design and definitely great cinematography. I read an interview with the director where he talked about how great it was to work without financial constraints.

“Next Floor was made with total freedom; there were no worries about money. It became about the total pleasure of cinema.”

How lovely!

Along comes our film – furnished with found furniture and trash carpets, rented computers, hacked interfaces, nintendo DS remote-controlled projections and a hand-made helmet of Active Surplus parts. The film was completed ONLY with the incredible generosity of the 50+ people that worked on it, all for little or no money.

While it might sound like I’m griping (and yeah ok, I am for sure… a teeny bit… itsy, teeny weeny) it is at the same time a huge honour to have our film in competition for a cinematography award against a film of such calibre! It’s a testament to the raw talent and skill of Greg, who will hopefully get a huge career boost from all this.

The award winners will be officially announced at a gala event on March 27th in Toronto.

Here’s hoping for a little underdog upset on March 27th! ;)

Re-Wire trailer online

     Posted on Mon ,14/12/2009 by djfern

So the Re-Wire trailer is done. I cut it over the weekend. Thanks to Tim Kirkwood for the inspiration and Greg Bennett for the aspect ratio purism.


Re-Wire (2009) Trailer from David Fernandes on Vimeo.

This is the trailer for Re-Wire, a new 14-minute psych-fi film and the directorial debut of Toronto filmmaker, David-James Fernandes.

The film follows Harley, a late 30's man suffering from severe, debilitating anxiety. On a tip from his psychiatrist, Harley seeks out the help of Dr. Adrian Vanuz, a renown but disgraced neuroscientist whose experimental equipment has allegedly been used to cure epilepsy, Alzheimer's and possibly even mental health issues. Harley is determined to get better, whether or not the doctor is ready to see him. And at any risk....


The film was shot digitally in 4K resolution (4X HD) on the RED camera in Toronto last August by Director of Photography, Gregory Bennett.

The film has been submitted to ten film festivals so far and the filmmakers are waiting for responses.

Please see the website for more information about the cast and crew:


Please also see our IMDB page for more information:


Also, Twitch Film did a little piece on the trailer:


Re-Wire final cut is done

     Posted on Sat ,28/11/2009 by djfern

Re-Wire is finally done! yay! We held a private screening with cast, crew and friends on Thursday night and are just totally overwhelmed with all the great feedback!

Thanks so much to Corby Luke, Paul Shikata, Gregory Bennett, Nic Murray, Tim Kirkwood and Steve Munro for helping get the final done in time for the screening. It looks and sounds fantastic and we can’t wait to start doing official screenings in film festivals.

Thanks also to all the great local business who donated items for our raffle and auction, as well as all the friends who donated services and pieces of art. We had a fantastic turnout. Thanks for making it such a great night!

We hear back from Sundance on December 7th and will let you all know ASAP as to our status.


Re-Wire enters the final stretch

     Posted on Wed ,23/09/2009 by djfern

So, in record time, Re-Wire was edited, composed, sound designed, animated, colour corrected and mixed and a copy sent off to Sundance for consideration in the 2010 festival. We managed to get it in on the LAST day for shorts submissions. Woo!

The next step for us is to take our very near final copy of the film around to some key folks for feedback. Based on that, we’re going to make a few tweaks and enhancements and have a new exhibition ready copy by November.

The website is nearing completion and the trailer should be done next week sometime, so look out for a new update about those.

Congratulations to everyone involved for making it all come together in time to enter Sundance. Best of luck!

Here are some more screen grabs to wet your appetite:

Down the Hallway

Hallway wall

First impressions

The lab

Reading the fine print



Checking the connections

Re-Wire in progress

Re-Wire in progress2


Re-Wire in progress3

Uh oh