Last summer I had the pleasure of visiting Montreal. When I was there, I stumbled upon Tam Tams, a weekly event that takes place at Mont. Royal Park, the top of Montreal. The park was alive! A drum circle hosted an assortment of instruments from djembes to Tupperware, and guitars to saxophones. Dancers indulged in the rhythms and the noise. Vendors sold crafts and jewellery. “L’hacky”, hacky sack over mini volley ball nets, took place in sand pits. Further into the park, circus-folk somersaulted on slacklines and twirled in aerial silks that hung from the tallest trees. Deeper into the forest on a dusty dirt field, LARPers (Live Action Role Players) epically battled—wearing chain mail and with foam swords—to defend their titles as knights, lords, and kings.
Everyone in the park was having an incredible time and what moved me the most was the sheer diversity of the people. Parents and families, teenagers and students, elderly and middle-aged, even homeless and drug dealers all share in an experience of creativity and joy on Sundays in Montréal. Clearly, I was enamoured by Tam Tams.
I sought to bring an event similar to this to the city of Hamilton. And so was born Ham Jams. In association with 100in1Day, an international festival of civic engagement, I tried to re-create the feeling of complete acceptance that each and every person has at Tam Tams. During planning, I reached out to many groups who are involved in the activities that took place at Tam Tams. There were two groups that whole-heartedly agreed to collaborate for this project. The Naked Beat, a local drum circle group, promoted the event to their members. Play Project, an organization dedicated to educating the community about the benefits of parkour, was so enthusiastic with helping that the organizer, Trevor de Groot, offered to run a workshop. Trevor has an extraordinary passion for parkour because his life was changed by the sport. It changed not only his physical health, but also his career, as he will be opening a parkour gym in Burlington next year. Play Project’s enthusiasm was incredibly appreciated and you can check out more information on this wonderful organization here.
The purpose of 100in1Day is to show people that anyone is capable of implementing a change within their communities. It is not just policy makers and politicians that make a difference in cities. In fact it is the combined efforts of community members that impact the environmental, social, and political climates of our cities. This festival shows the average person that anyone can make a positive difference if they choose to. Except in the city of Hamilton, this isn’t as easy as it may seem.
A week before Ham Jams, I received an e-mail from the city asking for a description of the event in case it qualified as a special event. I had been guaranteed by 100in1Day organizers that I wouldn’t need to file a SEAT application (Hamilton’s Special Event Advisory Team). Days before the event and in response to my description, I was told by a city employee I would need to submit this application. Days later while waiting for clarification from 100in1Day organizers, I got an e-mail from a different city employee at facility bookings indicating in fact, I did not need to fill out an application; however, I needed to fill out some other forms. The city wanted my credit card information to book space at Bayfront Park and to pay for insurance, but no price was listed and minimal details were given. Frustrated, I again contacted 100in1Day organizers, who also have day jobs and 100+ other events they are helping to coordinate. They told me that they would work with the City of Hamilton staff they’ve been in contact with and in the meantime to continue with promoting and planning the event.
At this point I was imagining that if I ran the event, a best case scenario involved getting arrested, which would be excellent publicity for Ham Jams. A worst case scenario involved receiving a fine for having a get together with some friends at a park. On the day of the event, sadly no one came to arrest me and luckily no one came to deliver a fine. The time lost in waiting to hear from the city and organizers was time I had lost in promoting the event. Despite the smaller than anticipated scale of the event, overall I felt satisfied. My favourite moment of the day was when we were by the boat launch, dancing to the rhythms from the drum circle, and playing catch with several children, some friends, and a grandmother who had been walking by. In this moment, Ham Jams had become the diverse, inclusive community I had been hoping to create.