by Kathy Renwald
Published in the Hamilton Spectator
September 1, 2016
During this steamy, sweaty summer we all look for a place where we won’t get fried. It could be a pool, the lake or a park. The lucky people in the Kirkendall Neighborhood have the HAAA Grounds. The sporting history is deep at the Hamilton Amateur Athletic Association Grounds, home of the old Hamilton Tigers, the site of seven Grey Cup Games, and base for the Hamilton Hurricanes football team for over 30 years.
Beyond the hurtling bodies, the HAAA grounds is a park, and many would say one of the best maintained in the city. It’s a public park with a personal touch.
Drive or walk along Charlton Avenue West and beautiful flowerbeds weave underneath groves of Austrian pines. Begonias, daylilies, ferns and hostas nestle in soil as dark as coffee grounds. You can tell this garden is loved. Even driving by at the posted speed limit it’s obvious these beds are edged by a master. The line is sharp, the soil slants at what seems like an impossible angle, and weeds are forbidden.
For several years I’ve made feeble attempts to find the gardener at the HAAA Grounds, but I searched too late in the day. The gardener, I was told, starts work at 6 a.m. So one sultry morning at 8 a.m. I knock on the door of
the pretty, brick HAAA building and meet Frank Liberatore. I barely have time to introduce myself and say how much I admire the gardens before he grabs a spade. “Let me show you how to edge,” he says
Liberatore has been in charge at HAA for 11 years, and with the City of Hamilton for 36, “I rolled out the sod at Pier 4 Park by hand, he says, remembering the start of the West Harbour development. The HAAA Grounds has a running track, kids play area, and the field for soccer and football, with the intense activity it’s impressive that the gardens are so pristine.
“It was never like this before Frank came here,” Arlene Laframboise says as she strolls through the park with her Basset Hound. Liberatore has popped inside to get treats for her dog. “He so nice to the dogs, and the park is immaculate. If you see litter or broken glass at night, by 7 a.m. it’s gone, we’re so lucky to have him.”
Each spring Liberatore starts the season by putting 10 inches of new loam on top of the flowerbeds. It’s a necessity since the trees suck up so much of the soil and moisture. He cleans up the left over perennials, cultivates and waits for the annuals to arrive from the city greenhouse, before planting about May 24th. Through the summer the watering, weeding, cultivating, sports field maintenance and general cleanup continues. “I can cultivate and weed all the beds in about two-and-a-half hours,” he says. Though he has help from summer students, I could speculate that at age 66 he is working faster than most. “I still play soccer, but it’s in an old guy’s league.”
Sitting on a bench in the shade of a locust tree is the best way to appreciate the HAAA Grounds. Kids laughter bubbles up from the playground, pleasant thunks drift over from the Hamilton Tennis Club, and dogs scuffle by hoping to see Liberatore with an outstretched hand.
“I love my job,” he says looking out over the begonias in their fluffy beds and the Trillium Award he won last year.
In late fall he’ll leave HAAA for winter work, clearing snow at city hall, and shoveling it off the mountain access stairs, doing the physical work he enjoys. Then in February he’ll return with his meticulous ways to the park he loves where his two and four-legged fans wait for signs of spring.