But now, Terry Lacorte can't imagine living anywhere but Victoria Avenue North.
"I've learned so much about Hamilton, about how welcoming it is," she says sitting in the backyard with her dog Ted on her lap, and her mother Betty Bradley at her side.
Though she grew up in the east end, she lost touch with Hamilton during a busy career in finance and raising a family. By 2016 though she was retired, divorced and an empty nester. She no longer needed a 4,000-square-foot house in Ancaster.
Lacorte floated the idea of sharing a place with her mom. Her mom said yes, as long as they stayed downtown.
Betty Bradley was living in an apartment in the Durand Neighbourhood. The 84-year-old loved the core. When she was working she walked to St. Joseph's Hospital everyday, and still walks to the library and her church.
"My mom wanted us to find a little brick cottage," Lacorte says.
After losing a couple of places in bidding wars, Lacorte found the petite century cottage for sale online. She saw it in the morning and owned it by nightfall. It was $190,000.
"I learned a lot about investing, especially working for Mike DeGroote for 15 years, but this was the best investment I've ever made," Lacorte says.
The 1,100-square-foot cottage had good bones but was in rough shape. Beaten up inside, and, outside, the big backyard had the usual debris that collects over 120 years.
Mother and daughter went to work. Lacorte learned how to garden with a pickaxe and her mother, carrying bags of rubble, wore a new path to the dumpster.
Whenever they could they hired people from the neighbourhood for the heaviest work.
"I tried to hire people who needed the work and wanted to work," Lacorte says.
It took about four solid months to get the house and garden into shape. Now, though the brick cottage retains its heritage look outside, the interior is sleek, modern and efficient. Neutral colours unite the open space of the living room, dining area and kitchen. Two bedrooms and a bath complete the ground floor living space.
Losing thousands of square feet of living and storage space was the hardest adjustment according to Lacorte.
"But we're both neat freaks," Bradley says. "We have to be." Luckily the big backyard doubles the living space during the summer. The deck off the kitchen was expanded to make more room for dining with friends and family. In the lower part of the yard, another sitting area is perfect for cocktails.
After excavating debris and replacing it with good soil, Lacorte and Bradley created more distinct garden areas. Shady zones are planted with hosta and ferns, and sunny spots filled with roses, clematis boxwood and cedars. A flagstone path is the only remnant that remains of the old yard.
Living in an old neighbourhood, one often gets borrowed features to enjoy. A lovely brick wall from a neighbour's garage borders one side of the property and becomes a feature wall with a mirror, mantel and solar lights. At the very back facing a laneway is a curious two-storey brick building that may have been a shop at one time. It's empty but its potential is intriguing.
Now with a pretty garden and a perfect sized nest, Lacorte and Bradley reflect on a move that some thought was chancy.
"We have such good neighbours here. They've encouraged us, liked what we've done, they look out for my mom if I'm not here," says Lacorte, who has a condo in Florida. "Even the ones who seem to have so little, they've been supportive." Since moving in two years ago, Lacorte says young people from Toronto have moved to Victoria Avenue North, six that she can count within blocks of their cottage.
The newcomers, like Lacorte and Bradley can see beyond the four lanes of one-way traffic. It's a street of solid and elegant homes and a place where a brick cottage can beckon those who have vision.