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Larissa Fenn

Director, Public Affairs, Hamilton Port Authority, Canada

Port of Hamilton: building pride in hamilton’s working waterfront

Located in Ontario, Canada on Lake Ontario, connected to the St. Lawrence Seaway, Hamilton has been a port city for more than a century. The primarily bulk and breakbulk port is administered by the Hamilton Port Authority (HPA). Hamilton is a city in transition. In the last decade, new industries have emerged alongside the traditional industrial economy, and gentrification has accelerated in the city, bringing residential and recreational uses closer to the port lands. The port itself is thriving and responding to growing industrial demand, so displacing port activities elsewhere is not an option. The port had to find a way to move forward, grow and change alongside its city in transition.

Step 1:  Stakeholder Benchmarking
Hamilton Port Authority’s first step was to acknowledge the need to do things differently. Through a research partnership with McMaster University, HPA asked stakeholders to assess HPA’s performance, in order to establish a measurable benchmark. In response, HPA has implemented a grassroots campaign to build pride in Hamilton’s role as a port city, and engage citizens in planning and problem-solving.

Step 2:  Community Involvement in Port Land Use Planning
HPA initiated a comprehensive land use planning process, which included a robust public engagement component. Through this process, the port received feedback and ideas from 250 citizens and community groups. HPA used this feedback to develop an updated Land Use Plan for the Port of Hamilton, as well as a new set of development principles and clear themes for action.

Step 3:  Flagship Initiatives
The port authority implemented a series of quick-win ‘flagship initiatives’ that signaled a new era of change in attitude and approach. These initiatives included:
– improvements to the port-city interface, such as public art, landscaping, and ecological enhancements.
– Addressing a longstanding community environmental issue, by restoring an area of fish habitat;
– Providing access and viewing of Hamilton’s working waterfront from a new viewing platform;
– Creating opportunities to learn about the port and its role in the city through tours, articles in community publications, and outreach at community events.

Step 4:  Long-Term Organizational Change
Building on the momentum of these initial changes, HPA has begun the process of embedding a sustainable approach into everyday business. It has developed a new leasing process that takes key community issues into consideration, and it has developed a new sustainability policy and plan to monitor and report on progress on environmental, social and economic metrics.

The experience of the Port of Hamilton will be familiar and relevant to many ports: a city in transition, and citizens with higher expectations. The lesson from HPA’s experience is that big changes can be introduced quickly, with results that contribute to the port’s long-term success.


Larissa Fenn is Director, Public Affairs at the Hamilton Port Authority. Larissa holds a B.A.(Hons) in Political Science from Queen’s University, as well as the APR designation from the Canadian Public Relations Society. She has close to 20 years’ experience in communications and public policy, and has developed communications and government relations strategies on topics ranging from municipal infrastructure projects, to environmental and financial sector issues.
Larissa’s experience includes progressive responsibility within a range of public, private and association sector organizations, including the Canadian Bankers Association, Credit Valley Conservation Authority, and Regional Municipality of Halton. In her current role with the Hamilton Port Authority, Larissa is responsible for the Port’s external communications, government relations, marketing and community relations, and serves as the organization’s media spokesperson.
Larissa currently serves on the Hamilton Chamber of Commerce Policy Council, and on the Board of Directors of the Royal Botanical Gardens. Her articles on municipal affairs and public policy have appeared in numerous publications, including Municipal World, ExportWise and the Shipper Advocate.