In my experience, the financial census of Hamilton, Ontario ranges anywhere from multi-millionaire retirees all the way to penniless students. Unfortunately for me, I fell into the latter category when I took up residence there for a year. In this time, my diet consisted mostly of Mr Noodles (seriously, 40 cents for a whole meal – can you beat that???) and tap water. Additionally, my sources of entertainment included binge watching Netflix (paid for by my dear mother – I can’t afford that, are you kidding me?) and bouts of stress-crying over upcoming assignments. However, I eventually adjusted to my newfound bankruptcy and compiled a list of awesome things to do, see and eat if you ever find yourself broke AF in Hamilton. To save you from a prison-like diet, drowning in your own tears and having to suffer through the heartbreaking ending of Thirteen Reasons Why, I am here to share these alternative options with you.
1. Visit Hamilton’s abundance of beautiful waterfalls.
While the city holds a large population of over 500 000 people, it is the opposite of a concrete jungle. In fact, there are numerous natural waterfalls littered throughout the city which are a big hit if you are low on money and looking to get high on nature. Some personal favorites include Albion Falls, Tiffany Falls and the Devil’s Punch Bowl. Not only do these waterfalls make for a peaceful afternoon in solitude, they are also an ideal place to get that perfect Instagram photo with your friends. After all, your feed has been looking a little drab and I promise it won’t cost you a cent.
2. Make like a painter and Gogh (*cue collective sigh*) to an art museum.
Hamilton is home to the spectacular Art Gallery of Hamilton (AGH), the oldest and largest art museum in Southwestern Ontario. It features over 10 000 works and is the perfect place if you are looking to be immersed in culture for little to no money. The AGH features Friday Free Night, an event that takes place each week and provides the opportunity for anyone to visit the gallery free of charge. Additionally, high school students receive free admission after three 0’clock throughout the week and post-secondary students at multiple schools (McMaster University, Mohawk College, Brock University, etc.) receive the same incentive at any time during the day. Perfect for folks who are low on Monet (okay, I’m done now).
3. Appreciate what nature has to offer at Gage Park.
Calling all flower children, nature lovers or just people who can appreciate a nice tree when they see one – this gem is plunked in the heart of downtown Hamilton, serving some definite New York City’s Central Park vibes. Whether you are just looking to surround yourself with nature, spend some time in the greenhouse, listen to some local musicians or embrace your inner child at the splash pad, Gage Park is the place for you. Host to a myriad of festivals, events and permanent attractions that cost little to no money, your wallet will thank you for checking this place out.
4. Get active on a QR Fitness Trail.
Not all of us can afford an overpriced membership at a mediocre gym that locks you into a one-year contract whether you like it or not (no hard feelings, but I’m looking at you Goodlife Fitness). If you’re with me, then this one is for you. There are many locations in Hamilton where you can utilize one of Canada’s QR Fitness Trails. These trails are littered with “fitness stops” where one can use their smartphone to scan each sign, watch an instructional video and perform the given exercise. It’s basically a home gym and a personal trainer for free, plus the views are better. I don’t know about you, but I wish my broke AF self had known about this earlier.
5. Opt for a local pub instead of a bar.
I like hanging out in dark, smelly buildings filled with people groping each other and paying too much to drink what is essentially glorified water as much as the next person, but even I can admit that going to the bar every weekend is tough on the bank account. Luckily, Hamilton is filled with a number of local pubs that are not only less expensive than the bar, they play better music, serve great food and stronger drinks and always provide a place to sit. Two of my favorite Hamilton pubs are the West End Pub and the Snooty Fox which both feature awesome daily deals on food and drinks. Eventually, these inexpensive pubs completely replaced the expensive downtown bars to which I used to go. Just trust me on this one, my little money-less friends.
6. Exercise your creativity at the Hamilton Poetry Center.
The Hamilton Poetry Center offers memberships for only twenty dollars a year (that’s less than two dollars a month!!). With this membership, you can attend workshops to improve your writing and connect with other local poets. However, the center also offers open readings for anyone interested in sharing their writing with the community at absolutely no charge. If you’re reading this article, I’m assuming you’re broke and therefore – halfway to becoming a poet already! Go forth and pursue your destiny.
7. Volunteer at one of Hamilton’s organizations.
Many volunteer opportunities presented themselves to me while I lived in Hamilton. Consider spending an afternoon at the Ronald McDonald House, Mission Services or the Children’s International Learning Center. I promise nothing will make you feel more rich than donating your time to those who need it. Come on, I know you’re not doing anything important right now anyways.
8. Escape from the noise of the city at Cootes Paradise Sanctuary.
Home to eighteen kilometers of hiking trails, ten lookouts, five boardwalks, and twelve creek crossings, Cootes Paradise Sanctuary is the perfect getaway for residents of Hamilton. If hiking isn’t your style, there are always a variety of events, open houses and fundraisers taking place here as well. Why pay to go to a zoo when you can experience a vast selection of birds, fish, and forest life for free? Nature is like the most obvious life hack available.
9. Drop in for some free activities at Tim Horton’s Field.
The Tim Horton’s Field is a multi-purpose stadium in Hamilton. While the outdoor portion is typically known for football and soccer, there is a less-known indoor institution that hosts free “drop-in programs” for anyone who wishes to take part. These programs include activities like yoga, hip hop, cartoon art and much more. With such a wide range of offerings, Tim Horton’s Field truly has something for everyone, but hurry – all programs are capped at twenty participants each and they fill up fast.
10. Scope out a ‘Little Free Library’.
Meant to inspire a communal love for reading and promote literacy, Little Free Library is a nonprofit organization with over 2500 locations worldwide. The “owner” fills a mailbox-esque vestibule with a variety of books in an accessible place and anyone can stop by and pick out a book that interests them. I know what you’re thinking – how is that any different from a regular library? To that, I must inform you that no money is needed for a membership and no late fees will ever apply with Little Free Library. (Just don’t be an asshole and ensure you return the books when you’re done with them, alright? Seriously.) Additionally, one can donate books from their own collections whenever they want. As for Hamilton, it is home to multiple locations so combine your love for adventure with your passion for reading and get out there.