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Around the Bay race shows us what Hamilton is capable of — evolving, for the better

This column is an opinion by Mohamad Bsat, a staff lawyer practising at the Hamilton Community Legal Clinic and founder of the running crew Air Up There. For more information about CBC’s Opinion section, please see the FAQ.

Last weekend, I stood in the corrals in between thousands of hopefuls, vying to conquer the 30-kilometre Around the Bay route that runs through Hamilton. 

It was my third time running Around the Bay and my second as a resident of Hamilton. Each year, this race brings me immense joy and feeds my soul. 

What is so special about the race? It’s older than the Boston Marathon and everyone in Hamilton knows what it is, but to the faithful, we know there is more. 

Anyone inside the running community knows the power and pull of Around the Bay, and ultimately the healing power a community race can have on an individual. 

It is that understanding that makes this race so special. The race is beautiful and communal, but the real draw, the true stardust, is in the process. 

Collaboration over competition

Since at least 2017, Hamilton has been quietly and steadily building out its running community; a community not just for fast, white, middle-class men, but a community that reflects our city and its roots. 

This city was built on blue collar work, union strength, and counter-culture ideology. Today, it’s a community supported by the likes of Hamilton Students 4 Justice, young and old Indigenous activists, Queer culture, newcomers, good coffee, unions, great subs, tasty breweries, a burgeoning ramen scene and of course doughnuts. 

Take a run through the lower city, and you quickly see how the running community in Hamilton has shifted and evolved — just like the city itself. 

Three people with medals on smile, standing together.
Thousands took part in last weekend’s road race, which is considered to be North America’s oldest. (André Morgan/submitted by Mohamad Bsat)

There are at least half a dozen running groups, getting together on different days of the week, in different parts of the city.

Each group offers something different and occupies its own unique social location, but they staunchly support other groups’s initiatives, from the BIPOC-exclusive run to the Every Body initiative. It is collaboration over competition. It is communal power. 

An antidote we need right now

What does this have to do with Around the Bay? Around the Bay has always been made special by the people involved. It’s not just one day on the last weekend of March, but a commitment to each other to endure the harshness of winter and, over the past few years, it has also been an antidote to intense social division. 

From December through March, there is an opportunity to meet over shared values and communal joy in the form of group runs. Every year, each group pulls in individuals from around the city to take the plunge of running the race. Whether it be your 10th time or your first, there is a place for you in each group. 

Running groups aren’t new in Hamilton; there have been legacy groups meeting weekly to prepare for Around the Bay for decades. What we have seen is the push for equity and anti-oppression has made its way into running groups because running does not exist in a vacuum. It is with that sense of a more just Hamilton, we are seeing a more robust running scene in the city. 

The view from the downtown streets, with runners in both sides of the streets.
As Mohamad Bsat writes, a community race has healing power on an individual. (André Morgan/submitted by Mohamad Bsat)

This collective spirit is what ultimately has made Around the Bay so special. The race is a parade of the great people in this city. For six hours on a Sunday, a flourish of people run along the streets and are joined by the community, lining the course to celebrate everything Hamilton has to offer. 

We take pride in our ability to endure the black-tipped smoke stacks on Burlington Street, the undulating wealth gap between the lower city and North Shore Blvd., and the ever-changing and resilient small businesses lining James Street. 

We trot and we huff our way through it all, united in the belief that we can make it in this city if we stick together. And for a collective moment, just as I felt last Sunday, we are suspended from the pressures of life so that we may run together in peace, around the bay.

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