We like to joke that we don’t get to travel, so we travel vicariously through our guests. By that metric, we have “visited” more than half the countries on earth, on every inhabited continent and a great many islands, too. When we first opened, the majority of our guests were from Europe and Asia, with a few Australians and Canadians. However, over the last 10 years, this has changed. But it isn’t only that North Americans have figured out hosteling. We are also seeing more and more guests from Africa and South America. And these guests come for every reason you can imagine – vacation, work, school, special events.
There are too many stories to recount them all, but I will try to give you a sense of the atmosphere we enjoy so much. A young man from Japan wrote to us to request a dormitory bed, in the hopes that staying with others would help him improve his English. Unfortunately for him, for the days he was staying there were no English-speaking guests in the dorm! However, we enjoyed chatting with him and, in any case, his command of English was already excellent.
I enjoy watching new friendships begin at the hostel. This often happens when we have a group of like-minded people all thrown together for a big event. An older man cheerfully gave tips to younger runners when they were all staying for the Around the Bay Race – and runners from Nigeria, Mexico, Indonesia and Canada all went out for dinner together to stock up on carbs the night before the race. When the K-pop band BTS had a series of concerts in Hamilton, the whole hostel became a fandom headquarters, with guests from all over North America – and some from even further off – bonding over their love for music.
Another time, a trio of young women all stayed together in our women’s dormitory. They didn’t know each other beforehand and each was in Hamilton for a separate reason. All three came from different continents and had different religions and life experiences – one Saudi Arabian, one German and one Chinese. One a student, one a backpacker just travelling through, and one a medical intern. None spoke English as a first language, but they persevered and in the three days that they shared a room they discussed history, politics, sexuality, religion and more.
Sometimes, the evils of the world seem to be everywhere. Some years ago, I overheard a conversation between two guests, one from Ireland and one from India, commiserating about their historical colonial occupation. An Indigenous Canadian woman stayed with us while tracking down her missing cousin. And we have offered compassionate rates to refugees from war-torn parts of the globe, while they wait for permanent housing here in Canada. The world is not always a kind place, and it can be filled with danger. Bigotry and violence is an ever-present threat.
What we have to offer is not much, not enough to fix a broken world. A home away from home for all races, all religions, all sexualities and all identities. A place to share each other’s food and laugh at each other’s jokes. We like to believe that we have a welcoming place of calm and peace, where people can leave the cruelty of the world outside.