No lawn-parking side hustle during Grey Cup, Hamilton tells stadium neighbours. But the party goes on

If he squishes them together just so, Steve Sutherland can fit 12 parked cars on his corner-lot lawn. 

“It’s almost like Tetris,” he says, referring to the puzzle game. “I’m arguing with people, ‘You have to move over another eight inches.’ It’s the only way all 12 will fit.”

Sutherland lives in Hamilton’s Stipley neighbourhood, where the Grey Cup will be held Sunday. He has been selling lawn parking during events at Tim Hortons Field since he moved to the area four years ago.

“It becomes almost a part-time job,” he said sitting in a chair on his front porch, days before the big game between the Tiger-Cats and Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

But the only job he’ll have Sunday is as a Ticat fan, after the city dampened Sutherland’s parking plan by barring the time-honoured practice this weekend. 

“I would probably have cleared $600,” he told CBC Hamilton on Thursday. “It was just going to go to Christmas.”

Parking during regular-season games (the city’s Forge FC soccer club also plays at the stadium) goes for $30 per car on his street, he says. He was expecting to be able to charge $50 for the Grey Cup until the city sent a letter in November saying the four streets immediately adjacent to the field would be closed starting Saturday at 5 p.m. ET. 

The Tiger-Cats gnome of resident Lynda Spencer sits on her porch. Many of the stadium’s neighbours are superfans of the CFL team. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

“Unlike during regular scheduled Hamilton Tiger Cats season home games, parking will NOT be permitted on the front lawns of area homes. Vehicles found parked on front lawns will be tagged or towed,” the letter read.

The news has made the excitement of Grey Cup weekend bittersweet for local residents accustomed to the income stream, said Sutherland. Many had already sold or reserved spots for regular customers, he said. 

The interest in parking is big on the streets immediately surrounding the venue. The stadium, which opened in 2014, replacing the now-demolished Ivor Wynne, looms over the residential area. Life here can’t avoid its presence. 

‘Talk of the neighbourhood’

Kathy Miller, who lives on Leinster Avenue, just north of the stadium, confirms the parking restrictions have been the talk of the neighborhood.

She said hanging out outside on game day to interact with other fans is a big part of the community’s culture, and lawn parking is a way for people from other communities to join the action.

She bought her house 20 years ago specifically because it’s close to the stadium, and has sold parking in the past. She recalls one neighbour paying his home insurance with parking money in her early days there.

“We used to have people who would come, just before the beginning of the season and they’d pay [parking] for the year,” she said, noting her husband was not happy to hear about the restrictions. “He was like, ‘Hold on. How is this fair?’… I said they’re probably not allowing it because they know what people are going to charge.”

City of Hamilton spokesperson Michelle Shantz says “staff are aiming to prevent a significant increase in traffic to the area,” but did not explain why the rules differ from a typical sold-out game, which would host the same number of fans.

Parking beefs aside, many neighbours in the area, a few kilometres east of downtown and just south of Hamilton’s industrial zone, know what they are in for and love the black-and-gold community that was born out of shared fandom. 

Grandmother and grandson Robin and Rob MacPherson pose in their driveway in Hamilton’s Stipley neighbourhood, where the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and Winnipeg Blue Bombers play for the Grey Cup on Sunday. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Miller has been a Ticat fan her whole life, even during 20 years living in British Columbia. On Thursday, her porch and lawn were decked out in so many Ticat and Christmas decorations that it was hard to see the house.

She said despite annoyances like the heavy trucks filling the neighbourhood all week as the stadium prepares, and the road closures, she knows game day will be great.

“Everyone’s going to roll with whatever blips there are along the way,” she said.

She plans to spend Sunday taking it all in from the lawn with her multi-generational family. 

“It’s pretty well the same people we see all the time,” she said, noting a woman in a gold, sequined outfit often passes by, as do the kilt- and hard-hat-wearing members of Ticat fan group The Box J Boys.

“There’s a lot of waving and acknowledging. The odd Toronto fan will come straggling up and if one person says something, then everybody’s heckling them… The Toronto fans have become pretty good about that. They just wave. What can you do? You’re surrounded.”

It’s not for everyone of course, but Miller is happy. 

“Some people can’t understand why you would want to live so close to it. There’s nothing like it on game day… I watch the game on TV and I know there’s a touchdown before the TV tells me there’s a touchdown because I can hear from the crowd, and the cannon goes off as well.”

Little sleep but no trouble expected, say residents

That sonic blast of at least 24,000 screaming fans — and the COVID-19 concerns of having a packed stadium — have nearby resident Jennifer Bennett dreading the big day. She works shifts at a manufacturing plant, and has to get up at 4 a.m. the day after the game.

“I go to bed at 8:30 [p.m.]. It will be keeping me up all night … I try to put pillows on top of my head and I try to sleep.”

Will she be watching the game before bedtime?

“I’ll be watching my Clark Kent show — my Superman show — Smallville,” she said. “I am not a football fan, not a hockey fan. My sport comes out every four years and it’s the running in the Olympics. There, bam, done, then it’s over.”

If the Ticats win, there will definitely be a celebration, but no matter the outcome, most residents who spoke with CBC say they’re not expecting trouble after the game.

Miller said fans these days are tame compared to her early years in the neighbourhood, when she’d regularly have beer cans discarded on her lawn and see police making arrests after “scuffles and that” after the games.

Sutherland said he’s had some people fall in his front hedge, and has seen cars held up by people walking on the street, but hasn’t experienced any major issues with fans in the past.

Lynda Spencer lives a stone’s throw from Hamilton’s Tim Hortons Field. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Lynda Spencer, who lives on nearby Balsam Avenue North, said fans don’t typically mill about once the games are finished.

“I had a couple guys… go down my driveway and urinate against my house, so that’s why my neighbour and I put that fence up,” she said. “Other than that, they clear out very fast.”

Spencer has several Ticat posters in her windows and a large, yellow Stipley flag hanging from a flagpole mounted on the front of her house. A former employee of the team’s box office, she said she’s thrilled to see them in the Grey Cup at home.

“I’ve been a Tiger-Cat fan all my life,” Spencer said. “My parents were Tiger-Cat fans, and so I guess that’s what I was raised with.

“I hope — oh my God — I hope they win. And if they win … holy macaroni.”

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