Hamilton’s Alleyway Hero

There are more than 700 alleys in Hamilton. In its oldest neighbourhoods, these alleys gave horse-drawn carriages access to homes and businesses. Today they are transportation corridors and impromptu playgrounds, bike paths and shortcuts to school or work. Some are gang-tagged and littered with drug paraphernalia. Increasingly, they are leafy, flower-lined and bordered by public art. Brenda Duke, is determined to make every one safe and beautiful. 

Brenda started cleaning the alley behind her Gibson Landsdale home in 2011. The idea caught on, and she engaged more and more local residents in caring for their local alleys – spaces that accumulate garbage and blight neighbourhoods when neglected, but generate pride and healthy activity when reclaimed.

Brenda expanded her effort into Beautiful Alleys in 2015. Since then, the group has transformed roughly 200 alleys. Some 150 volunteers do twice-annual cleanups with support from the City of Hamilton, area BIAs, businesses and community organizations, supplies from Hamilton Clean & Green, McMaster University researchers cataloguing progress, and HCF small grants.

Brenda credits some of her success to HCF’s Neighbourhood Leadership Institute (NLI). Through her 10-week course in 2015, Brenda says she “refined her skills” and made her work more effective. She built networks and learned more about dealing with conflict. She remains a valued NLI alumni, mentoring other community leaders. “NLI is always there for you,” she says. “It’s continual learning. I recommend it to other leaders and help in any way I can.”

As she gears up for the next cleanup, Brenda has an ambitious goal – to put Beautiful Alleys out of business. “When residents take over the care of their alleys, you don’t need our group to come in,” she explains. Already, the number of “new” alleys needing help is going down – a sure sign her leadership is making a difference.

Excerpt from 2017 Fall Legacy newsletter