BRITISH PIONEERS, the strategic position on Lake Ontario, but handy to Lake Erie, the rich farm and fruit country surrounding it, the knifelike ridge of the Niagara escarpment behind it, the wide, landlocked harbor before it, and the prevailing winds blowing across it—these elements, fused in time’s crucible for more than a hundred and fifty years, have combined to produce the Hamilton of today; an unusual city, resembling in part many other Canadian cities, yet in the whole differing from them all.
Scenically, with sharply precipitous cliffs rising behind it and the waters of Lake Ontario at its feet, Hamilton is reminiscent of Montreal. The harbor makes one think of Bedford Basin, the inner half of the hourglass anchorage of Halifax. Off in the northeast corner lies a cluster of heavy industries, belching smoke like another Sudbury; but up around the other end of town are parks and gardens to rival those of Vancouver and Victoria.
Because the surrounding country is so generously fertile, Hamilton has the largest open-air market in Canada, giving it stature as an agricultural clearinghouse. For good measure, add a municipal airport, a university, and the finest athletic stadium in the Dominion, and there you have an amazing alloyage of a city that is at one and the same time a busy port, a tranquil cultural centre, a hustling factory metropolis, a thriving market town and a serene beauty spot. No other community in Canada is quite like it.
In population, Hamilton, with better than 155,000, ranks as the fifth city of the Dominion, outpaced only by Montreal, Toronto, Vancouver and Winnipeg. That is a remarkable thing in itself. Our geography does not favor large concentrations of people in such closely connected communities. Think of the considerable number of miles separating Halifax from Saint John. Saint John from Quebec, Quebec from Montreal. Montreal from Ottawa and Toronto; and so on across the continent. But only forty-three miles lie between Toronto and Hamilton. About an hour by fast train or car. Practically a hedge hop for a plane. In all the Dominion no other two cities of comparable size snuggle so cosily together.
Back in the days when a kaiser instead of a corporal rated as the world’s worst pest, Toronto’s attitude toward Hamilton was one of amused disdain. Sharply pointed pens in the nimble fingers of scornful commentators wrote acidulous paragraphs constantly for Toronto newspapers, poking fun at Hamilton’s proud slogan: “The Ambitious City;” at the native Hamiltonian’s passionate insistence that the high land above his town was entitled to be called Mount Hamilton, and referred to as “the Mountain;” at the city’s claim to be a port, and at anything else that lay handy at the moment. Condescending salesmen from the Queen City used to saunter into Hamilton as though making a wayside stop because they had time on their hands, then hurry away leaving behind them the impression that they would be mighty glad to get back to civilization again. If you let Toronto tell it, Hamilton was a hick town.
That doesn’t happen any more. Perhaps journalists and businessmen have grown up, gaining broader vision through the years. Certainly there is a less bitter taste to the natural rivalry between cities than there used to be; but in the case of Hamilton her achievements over the past thirty years have been so great as to compel not only attention, but a proper respect from every other urban community in the land. She’s shown ’em. Today editors are polite, even flattering to Hamilton, and salesmen take off their hats and say “Please, sir,” when they go after orders in that man’s town.
Once in a while the old “Ambitious City” aphorism bobs up, but not often. You say to a Hamiltonian: “Didn’t this used to be the ‘Ambitious City’?” and he replies. “It still is;” but he doesn’t harp on it. He feels that a whole lot of those early ambitions have been richly attained. Official Hamilton has turned to newer phrases. The Industrial Commission is strong for: “The City of Opportunity,” and that has a bright encouraging sound. The Chamber of Commerce, on the other hand, stands by: “A Panorama of Beauty and Industry,” having at least one eye on the tourist, who is likely to spurn the opportunist smokestacks of the southeast to seek out instead the beauties of the Rock Garden in the northwest.
Hamilton still insists upon calling the hump on its back a mountain. “Scenic Drive to the Mountain” arrow-headed signs on north-south streets advise the stranger. Actually Mount Hamilton is several hundred feet short of meeting the geographical specifications for a mountain; but so, for that matter, is Mount Royal, although Montreal's famous crag comes closer to the mark than Hamilton’s. Well, what odds? The truth is that there are very few real mountains in Eastern Canada, none at all in the sense that the Rockies are mountains, and if it is the pleasure of Hamilton or Montreal to refer affectionately to their comparative molehills as mountains, no harm can come of it. In both cases the view from the summit repays the traveller, many times over, for the effort of getting there.
Mecca of Industry
SINCE the turn of the century Hamilton has tripled its population and the value of its assessed property. It has attracted a greater number of United States industries than any other Canadian city. Sixty branch factories of American firms have moved in on Hamilton during the last thirty years. On the basis of the latest 1939 figures available as this report is written, Hamilton contains 479 manufacturing establishments, and 322 of its places of business employ fifteen people or over. There are 32,616 employees in those manufacturing establishments. The total of salaries and wages paid them is $40,255,040 annually. The value of their products is $168,351,205. They represent a capital investment of $182,730,036. These are Dominion Government figures.
Dominion statistics break down Hamilton’s principal industries into ten production groups; iron and steel, electrical appliances, food products, wire and wire goods, hosiery and knitted goods, agricultural implements, textiles, rubber tires, coke and gas, soaps and washing compounds. Beyond these, important Hamilton products include tobacco, silverware, wax paper, blankets, hams, aluminum, household equipment, jewellery and shoe polish.
Hamilton’s Industrial Department is operated as a branch of the municipal government and managed by an appointed Industrial Commissioner. The department further classifies the city’s manufactured products under 239 headings, ranging from abrasives to zinc. Among them are such exotic incidentals as: willow ware, escalators, vacuum cleaners, salad dressings, pickles, macaroni, leather jackets, ice cream cones (minus the ice cream), ink, horseshoe caulks, fly poison pads, glycerine, goggles, chewing gum, clay targets and chamois (the soft leather, not the mountain goat). If you don’t see what you want, ask for it!
There is no evidence that any such experiment was ever attempted, but it would appear entirely possible for an ultra-loyal Hamiltonian who so desired, to go through a lifetime subsisting entirely on products of his home town; and live comfortably, too.
The Hamilton Chamber of Commerce estimates that industries of international fame have invested approximately $80,000,000 of capital in Hamilton branch factories. Altogether there are close to one hundred of these, and the names of many of them are household words. For example: Westinghouse electrical appliances, International Harvester products, Fuller brushes, Hoover vacuum cleaners, Otis-Fensom elevators, Procter and Gamble's soaps, Beech-Nut and Life Savers gum and candy, Firestone tires, International silver plate, Tuckett’s tobaccos, Duro aluminum ware, Aylmer canned goods, Two-in-One shoe polishes and Norton Abrasives. The head office of the American Can Company in Canada has a Hamilton address.
Seven Hamilton textile companies weave underwear and knit goods; six make yarns. Twelve companies produce wire and wire goods, eighteen firms process oil or blend lubricants, seven turn out polishes of various sorts. There are five canning firms, four spinning mills and four tobacco factories. Seven iron works (plain and ornamental) are listed and eight machine manufacturers. Two companies make washing machines, five manufacture jewellery. Five companies produce art glass and mirror plate, nine fashion tools, and no less than fourteen plants mix soft drinks of one sort or another. There are four wineries and two breweries. That presents a sketchy outline of Hamilton's intricate industrial design.
Steel, of course, and those manufactures allied with steel provide the broad base of the town’s commercial activities. Thirteen steel and steel products plants dominate the Hamilton scene, most of them located along the city’s northeast water front. The Steel Company of Canada has three plants. The other companies are: Dominion Foundries and Steel, Burlington Steel, Canadian Drawn Steel, Frost Steel and Wire, W. Gordon Steel Products, Hamilton Bridge Company, Hammant Steel Car, Lysaght Dominion Sheet Metal, National Steel Car, Stanley Steel and Union Drawn Steel.
The. International Harvester factory, a voracious consumer of steel, sprawls, neighborly, beside the Steel Company of Canada’s main plant. Otis-Fensom, SawyerMassey and Canadian Westinghouse are just a block or so away. Procter and Gamble’s and the Firestone Tire Company lie near by. So does the city’s incinerating plant, located in an excellent spot for it; nor is that intended to be facetious. C.I.L. has a chemical plant around the corner.
ORDINARILY it doesn’t matter much to a city of a hundred and fifty-five thousand people what sort of weather it gets, short of catastrophic extremes. An average winter and an average summer are good enough for one and all. Some are colder, some are warmer, some drier, some wetter, and some are foggier. But Hamilton could not have become the pretty, amiable pleasant city it is with different meteorological conditions. Especially wind. Occasionally some overly enthusiastic rhetorician proclaims Hamilton to be “the Pittsburgh of Canada,” and at once becomes most unpopular with a large majority of Hamilton residents.
True enough, Hamilton has the same industrial excitements churning daily within its borders as has Pittsburgh. Not quite so many of them, nor quite so large, but of the same type and structure and performing the same essential services. How then does it happen that Pittsburgh is internationally known as a city of dreadful smoke, while Hamilton is, quite literally, a garden city, presenting a washed and smiling face to each morning’s sun, where roses bloom beside the open hearths, with never a speck of soot to mar the bright shining whiteness of their petals?
The answer is, prevailing winds.
Although Hamiltonians are prone to look upon the Niagara escarpment of which their mountain forms a small section, as something special and peculiar to Hamilton, the fact is that the ridge runs for many miles west and east of the city, almost in a straight line. From the foot of the bluff to the shore of Lake Ontario, a level and amazingly fertile plain is spread, and across that plain brisk breezes blow from the southwest for better than two thirds of the time. These are the “prevailing winds” every Hamiltonian will urge you to notice after a few minutes conversation. Because of them, the tons of smoke, soot, fumes and general molecular debris thrown up by the furnaces and factories of heavy industry, do not hover above the city and descend again to make a streaky mess of the wash on suburban clotheslines or fresh white paint on houses and store fronts. Instead those eruptions are picked up at their chimney tops by those providential prevailing winds from the southwest and brushed away out over Lake Ontario, where there is plenty of room for them to float harmlessly as clouds—cirrus, stratus, cumulus, or what have you?
That may sound like a press agent’s pipe dream. It is the simple truth. Almost all Hamilton’s heavy industries are grouped together in the northeast. The municipal incinerator is there, too, as stated. You can live for a week in the heart of Hamilton, not two miles from that district, and never know there was a coke oven or an incinerator nearer than Birmingham, England, unless someone so informs you. We know. We did it.
EIGHT Canadian banks are represented by forty-three branch establishments in Hamilton. Two railways—the Canadian National and the Toronto, Hamilton and Buffalo—have direct connections with the city, and the T. H. and B., owned jointly by the Canadian Pacific and the New York Central, links those systems with the district. Three steamship lines—Canada Steamships, Tree Line Navigation Company, and Calvin Shipping Company—run regular schedules into the harbor; but that is by no means the limit of the water-borne traffic. In 1938, ships of twenty-five lines docked at Hamilton, and two of those were ocean-going freighters. Bus routes from all parts of the province converge on the Hamilton terminal. Eight King’s Highways reach the middle of the city.
It is no trouble at all to start a debate in Hamilton on whether the city’s heavy industries or its harbor is the more valuable asset. This is one of those futile, interminable arguments that gets nowhere fast, but leads to a lot of interesting talk. Without the port, the shipping men stoutly contend, the heavy industries would not be there. Without the heavy industries, the manufacturers logically aver, there would be no call for the port, and the harbor would be just another bay on Lake Ontario.
The result is a tie; but that does not detract at all from the tremendous contribution made by Hamilton’s harbor to the city’s rapid growth and its continuing prosperity. The claim is made that it is Canada’s greatest landlocked harbor. That may be a fair statement. Certainly it is landlocked, and we can find no other landlocked Canadian harbor handling anything like Hamilton’s volume of tonnage.
Triangular in shape, Hamilton harbor covers approximately ten square miles of water. It is five miles long and four miles wide at its greatest reaches. A natural sand strip, four miles long and about eight hundred feet wide, acts as a breakwater against high waves on Lake Ontario. This is Burlington Beach, for the most part built up with summer cottages and cabin camps. A Canadian National line crosses the strip, as does Ontario’s King’s Highway Twenty. Passage between lake and harbor is through the two-way Burlington Canal, recently widened and deepened to accommodate the largest Great Lakes and St. Lawrence shipping.
The harbor, first reported by geographers as Macassa Bay, was known to the early French explorers. La Salle established his winter camp on the north shore of the bay in 1669, an event perpetuated by La Salle Park. Old Indian trails converged on Macassa Bay, notably the Mohawk Trail from Niagara Falls, and the pioneer settlers followed those same paths. During the unpleasantness of 1812-14, British naval vessels operating on Lake Ontario sought shelter in the bay from heavy gales. In 1938 the transatlantic seaplane Cambria anchored in the harbor on one of her trial flights, providing an interesting contrast covering a century and a quarter of British naval progress.
The port has achieved its present eminence by giant strides over the past twelve years. Total tonnage in 1927 was only 299,737 tons. In 1937, the all-time peak, it reached 2,747,830 tons. There was a slight decline of around 400,000 tons in 1938 from the record high. For 1939 the figure is up again. Passenger traffic also registered its best season in 1937, with 25,476 travellers using the steamship accommodation. The normal navigation season runs from April 15 to December 15. The usable depth of the harbor is sixteen to twenty-four feet.
Inward freight far exceeds in volume the outward at Hamilton, the most recent complete figures showing 2,174,145 tons inward and 119,602 tons outward for the season of 1938. Coal is the largest single item, iron ore the second, gasoline third and fuel oil fourth on the inward list. Package freight tops the outward list, with tar next, agricultural implements third and coke fourth.
From 1847, when the City of Hamilton was incorporated, until 1912, administration of harbor affairs was the responsibility of a city council committee. In the latter year, following a public petition to the Dominion Government, a Harbor Commission was established. Since then a three-man commission, one member appointed by the city and two by the Federal authority, have handled things. The present commission personnel is: C. V. Langs, K.C., chairman; A. C. Gaul and E. H. Corman. The Port Manager is Captain A. R. Bell, who also serves as secretary of the commission.
Hamilton harbor as it now stands represents a capital investment of $2,100,000 by the commission, and $4,500,000 by private industries. The commission paid wages and salaries in 1938 amounting to $34,687.22.
Four modern warehouses owned by the commission provide a total space of 70,000 square feet, and a new marine railway, for which the claim is made that it is the best on the Great Lakes, was built in 1938. The commission has extensive works now under way and nearing completion, involving expenditures of $1,500,000 to provide an additional 4,428 feet of dockage, the reclamation of more than fifty acres of land east of the commission’s docks, for more warehouses and industrial sites, and the construction of a municipal dock for passenger vessels.
Leading industries using water transportation have considerable dockage of their own, much of it of recent construction. Canada Steamship Lines have built a large modern terminal, Steel Company of Canada have put in a huge coal and ore dock, admired as one of the world’s finest, Hamilton By-Product Coke Ovens, Canadian Industries Limited, and International Harvester have all found cause to extend their own water-front facilities.
Here one sees the geographical factor in the development of modern Hamilton. Through the Welland Canal, access to Buffalo and other Lake Erie ports is easy. For traffic from the east by way of the Great Lakes, Hamilton is the first port of call, and the course across Lake Ontario to the St. Lawrence ports is plain sailing. Volume of annual traffic through the Port of Hamilton has more than doubled since the new Welland Canal opened in 1932. Much of Hamilton’s recent prosperity derives from the elemental fact that the city is where it is.
Hamilton is rather longer, east to west, than-it is broad, from north to south, and here again the Niagara escarpment has been a controlling factor. The tendency of construction to follow the line of least resistance directed the city’s early development along the east-west plane. Old Hamilton simply sat down at the foot of its mountain and built itself toward the lakefront, then spread out on either side. In the horse-and-buggy days many fine Victorian mansions were constructed on the ridge or immediately below it. Some of these remain today in the hands of descendants of the pioneer families. Automobiles have made a difference in the topographical shape of Hamilton, will undoubtedly make greater differences in the future. A charming suburb—Mount Hamilton—has been developed in recent years behind the escarpment.
City of Homes
WEST AND south, on the lake side of Main Street—the thoroughfare linking Highways Two and Eight with the city—is famed McMaster University, and here is Westdale, another comparatively new suburban development, carefully planned around a series of crescents. Much of the best in modern home architecture may be found in Westdale. Streets are lined with trees, broad lawns are emerald in the sun, flowers and blooming shrubs make bright splotches of color. As is the case with other communities along the Niagara Peninsula, Hamilton likes to think of itself as a city of homes. Sixty-five per cent of the residences are owned by their occupants, and almost all of them have gardens. In this generous soil gardening grants lavish returns for comparatively small effort, and the season is long. The last roses of summer were blooming in Hamilton gardens in November.
It would seem that the great bulk of Hamilton’s retail and professional business is transacted in a tight little area around Gore Park in the heart of the city. This plaza, hardly more than a widening of King Street, runs east and west for six or eight blocks. The Royal Connaught Hotel, chief of the city’s inns, is on the south side, at the southeast corner of John Street. The handsome new million-dollar Dominion Government Building occupies the southwest corner.
Many familiar names shine from Gore Park store fronts, identifying Hamilton branches of retail establishments famous across Canada. The shops overflow into the side streets. City Hall is on James Street, a block north of the west side of Gore Square, a solid-appearing gay nineties type of City Hall of brownstone, displaying a “Welcome” sign in red, white and blue lights every night, presumably to make the visiting firemen feel at home. The famous open-air market—Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday—flanks City Hall.
On both sides of Gore Park adjacent streets accommodate office buildings, some of them meriting intermediate skyscraper ranking. Wentworth County Courthouse is a block away, south of Main Street, with Prince’s Square and the really noteworthy United Empire Loyalists Memorial in front of it. The memorial, a four-figure pioneer family group in bronze, is vividly alive. Gore Square itself holds three monuments. At the west end, Queen Victoria gazes up King Street in a pose familiar to those who can remember portraits of the Good Queen at the time of her 1887 Jubilee. On the statue’s base is engraved in true Victorian phrase the eulogy: “A Model Wife and Mother.” At the east end of the park, Sir John A. Macdonald stands straightly in a frock coat and a statesmanlike attitude above a pedestal bearing the names of the Confederated provinces. Between the Queen and her Prime Minister, in the middle of the narrow grass plot, is Hamilton’s Cenotaph of the familiar simple design.
Half a dozen theatres display current attractions within a few blocks of Gore Park. The bus terminal, an important item of Hamilton’s transportation facilities, lies between King and Main streets, on the south side. The railway stations are less conveniently located. They are a dozen blocks apart, the C.N.R. station on the north side of town, the Union Depot accommodating C.P.R., Toronto, Hamilton and Buffalo, and New York Central lines, on the south beyond Prince’s Square. Both stations are comparatively new, modernly appointed and a credit to the dignity of the city.
Municipal administration in Hamilton follows a familiar Canadian pattern. Civic affairs are directed by a city council composed of sixteen aldermen—two from each of eight wards—four controllers and the mayor, who is chief magistrate and presides over city council and Board of Control meetings. All these are elective offices. Broadly speaking, the Board of Control operates as the administrative body, the city council, as the legislative authority.
Departments of the municipal government directed by permanently appointed officials include: assessment, auditor, city clerk, finance, purchase, city solicitor, city engineer, and tax collection. There is a municipal Hospital Board, Welfare Board, Property Committee, Works Committee, and a Fire and Police Commission. These are departments of the civic administration. Members of the Board of School Trustees are elected by the taxpayers, but management of the parks, public playgrounds, libraries, cemeteries and public health is in the hands of boards largely appointed by the city council.
Solely on the visible record of things accomplished for the good of the community, Hamilton’s various successive civic administrations have established a national reputation for their city over a long period of years. Notable among Hamilton's unusual municipal enterprises are these:
Parks. An extensive program, progressively carried out for years, has to date established a chain of beauty spots practically encircling the city, containing about 2,000 acres of landscape. The natural park area, including the Mountain Brow, extends for five miles across the entire length of the city to Burlington Heights at the northwest entrance. The Royal Botanical Gardens, begun in 1926, now includes four hundred acres of meadow, woodlands and marsh. Here is a bird sanctuary and the famous rock garden stocked with over live hundred varieties of rock and alpine plants. The grounds of McMaster University are a part of the parks system, and include a sunken garden of formal design adjoining the rock garden. These mark the western entrance to the city; a beautifully pastoral gateway to what is essentially an industrial borough.
Gage Park, of seventy acres, runs from Main Street south to the foot of the Mountain. This is in the east end, hardly more than a mile from the heart of the heavy industries area. Gage Park is especially celebrated for its rose garden. For this reporter, Gage Park has a special fascination. There is something so magnificently incongruous in the idea of a rose garden cuddling up to a battery of blast furnaces. Those prevailing winds again.
Canada’s Finest Stadium
AVIATION. When Hamilton’s Municipal Airport was first opened about seven years ago, it was rated by flying men as second in Canada only to the Dominion Government’s field at St. Hubert, Que. This may not hold good now, having in mind the concentrated activities of the past five years in a number of other cities, but the Hamilton field is still tops in at least one important feature. It is conveniently located. The airport is only about three miles from City Hall. You don’t have to ride in an automobile for an hour in order to reach a final destination. The plant was built and is owned by the city, and operated by the Hamilton Aero Club. With the further development of a seaplane base on Hamilton’s water front, now being planned by the Harbor Commission, the city must take a high position among Canadian communities for the facilities it offers to air traffic. The airport is only about a mile from the water. It would be a fairly simple matter to consolidate land and water air bases. One thing worth remembering is that, whereas many of our cities have become keenly air-conscious in the last year or so, Hamilton has been keenly air-conscious for the past ten years; so keenly air-conscious that the people did something about it.
Playgrounds. Hamilton has gone in for public recreation on a scale no other Canadian community has dared to dream of. There are seventeen supervised playgrounds where something like 7,000 happy children romp daily during the summer months, nine recreational parks, an eighteen-hole municipal golf course, and a municipal bathing beach. Those things one might expect in any pert and progressive community; but, take notice of Hamilton’s municipal athletic field, Scott Stadium, completed ten years ago in time to handle the British Empire Games of 1930. Here is a broad expanse of turf, with a track, stands, dressing rooms and the rest of it, together with a huge indoor all-the-year-round swimming pool. You’ll not even tie that layout anywhere else in Canada.
Keep it in mind that these are all municipal enterprises, bought and paid for and maintained out of public revenues. A reasonable deduction by a cynical mind would be that some time or other the city must have gone on a monumental spending jag and must now be suffering from the resultant economic hangover. The reverse is true in Hamilton’s case. Although the town had a pretty sticky financial time of it in the early years of the depression, it has produced a balanced budget for the past four years, and has reduced the tax rate steadily by one-quarter mill a year through 1936, 1937, 1938 and 1939. In 1939 Hamilton lopped a neat $2,000,000 off its debenture debt, bringing the total debt reductions over the past four years to around eight and a half million dollars. That, we submit, is achievement.
Always a red-hot sports town, Hamilton’s recreation facilities are by no means restricted to its tax-supported enterprises. There are five private golf clubs within easy reach. The Jockey Club, among the best of the country’s racing plants, is located within easy walking distance of City Hall. Hamilton Tigers didn’t have a very good football season this year, but the boys have heaps of laurels to rest on, and they’ll be back again next fall. Hamilton’s entry in the O.H.A.’s Senior Group is going along nicely as this is written. Leanders, the Olympic oarsmen from Hamilton, anticipate further triumphs in 1940, and the Royal Hamilton Yacht Club (sail and power) built itself a new clubhouse in 1938. If sports your dish, Hamilton’s a good place to be.
Culturally, Hamilton has just about everything any Canadian city has, and here again geography lends a hand. As a convenient stopover between Toronto and Buffalo, Hamilton catches the road shows, even grand opera, in the season. First-run motion pictures are seen as early in Hamilton as anywhere. With McMaster University to set the pace, Hamilton folks attend lectures and musicales, take a deep interest in art and literature. Besides McMaster, there are three collegiate institutes, two technical institutes and two high schools of commerce. The city has thirty-two primary schools. Separate schools include primary and high schools. Counting regular and evening sessions, something like forty thousand young people attend classes in Hamilton every school day.
Altogether there are a hundred and nineteen churches in Hamilton. The town is traditionally a religious community, and many of the structures add materially to the architectural beauties of the city. There are three public libraries and four hospitals. Hamilton covers a total area of 8,334 acres, has two hundred miles of streets and around thirty thousand telephones.
Colorful Early History
IT IS authentic history that the first white man to reach Macassa Bay—now Hamilton Harbor—was Etienne Brûlé, guide to Samuel de Champlain. That was in 1615. Brûlé’s reports on the Niagara Peninsula brought missionaries from Quebec, but the hostile Iroquois dealt cruelly with them, and the tragic end of that adventure came with the torture killing of the famous martyrs, Brébeuf and Lalemant. From then until La Salle’s visit in 1669, there is no record of any exploration of the district.
Between La Salle’s journey and the next known white penetration of the Hamilton area is a lapse of more than a century. Robert Land and Richard Beasley, United Empire Loyalists, staked out claims in 1791, and became the first settlers on the shores of Macassa Bay. They were followed by other Loyalists; but the land appeared coarse and unproductive, and many of the pioneer families preferred to settle on the higher land behind the escarpment. Dundas and Ancaster were thriving villages when Hamilton was no more than a fistful of log cabins.
On the plain below the escarpment only the Durand family held land in any amount. Then, in 1810, George Hamilton, a son of the Hon. Robert Hamilton, of Niagara-on-the-Lake, came to look the country over. Robert Hamilton, a leading statesman of his time, was a native of Dumfries, Scotland. His son, George, had been born at Queenston. He was an educated man, something of an engineer, a business executive lather than a farmer.
George Hamilton’s thought when he came inland from the Niagara border was to locate a safe settlement to which he might bring his growing family. Already there was the threat of another war between England and the United States. He bought the Durand farm for $3,000. Today the stores, hotels and office buildings in the heart of the City of Hamilton stand on the land George Hamilton purchased in 1810.
Hamilton moved his family on horseback, over the Indian trails, to their new home. It was his deliberate design to establish a new town and so perpetuate the family name. He succeeded, not only in making the name Hamilton world famous, but in raising permanent monuments to individual members of the Hamilton clan. He laid out streets and named them after his sons, daughters and other relatives; John, James, Catharine, Hannah, Maria and Augusta. The Grand River Indian trail he named for his king, and Hunter Street for his half-brother, Peter Hunter Hamilton. He also laid out and named Main Street. In those days a town just wasn’t a town without a Main Street.
The new village of Hamilton remained aloof from the War of 1812, although the fighting came as close as Stoney Creek, ten miles to the southeast of the settlement. Dundas was now the principal town of the district, and when one Peter Desjardins promoted and built the Desjardins Canal through the marshes west of Hamilton in 1826, connecting Dundas with the head of Lake Ontario, it seemed that Dundas was destined to become even greater. Hamilton, at this stage of its history, was no more than a brief stop for refreshments at the entrance of the new canal.
George Hamilton’s counterthrust was the promotion of a canal of his own. He cut the first Burlington Canal through the Burlington sand strip, at about the same point where the present canal carries traffic to and from Hamilton.
That was the real beginning of Hamilton’s progress. The village, when the new canal opened in 1830, had a population of only 633, and there were hard times immediately ahead, for an epidemic of cholera, followed by a disastrous fire, came close to wiping the place out completely two years later. But those pioneer Canadians were a sturdy lot, and determined. In spite of pestilence and flame they stuck by the enterprise. By 1838 the town boasted a population of 2,800, and had a real estate boom on its hands.
George Hamilton did not live to see the days of his town’s greatest early prosperity. He died in 1836, just when the railroad era that was to bring so much wealth and so much grief to Hamilton was beginning.
ALLAN MACNAB, a huge, lusty lawyer, succeeded to George Hamilton’s place as the Big Man of the community. MacNab had invested heavily in Hamilton property. He had purchased the estate known as Dundurn Castle on the western edge of the town—now maintained as a museum—for his residence. He wanted a railroad for Hamilton, and he worked furiously to obtain a charter for the construction of a railway to connect London with a city on “the harbor at Burlington Bay.” There remains a belief in some quarters that the authorities granting the charter had Dundas in mind. MacNab was thinking of Hamilton.
When his plans became known, the whole community around Dundas rose in arms at once. MacNab had to battle all Dundas and Ancaster singlehanded. He was a man who loved a fight, and usually won. He won this one. The railroad was built to Hamilton, and the town thrived exceedingly. On January 1, 1847, Hamilton, with a population of 6,832, was incorporated as a city.
Already the place was showing signs of becoming an industrial community. Gradually the farmlands were being pushed back to make way for planing mills, tinsmiths, brickyards, iron foundries and a glass factory. The Welland Canal was widened. The Burlington Canal followed suit. Came 1850, and Hamilton, with 10,240 inhabitants, had definitely superseded Dundas as the city at the head of Lake Ontario.
Allan MacNab’s railway—now the Great Western—was in time extended to Niagara Falls. Its headquarters, general offices and machine shops, were located in Hamilton. The great railway boom of the middle nineteenth century was on. From 1854 to 1857 Hamilton went through a period of frenzied finance comparable, for its day and age, with the years immediately preceding 1929.
In 1857 the balloon went up. The Great Western suffered a disastrous accident with tragic loss of life. There was a depression in the United States. Railroad bonds held by Hamilton citizens were suddenly worthless. Firms went bankrupt. Two of the main railroad shops closed. Instead of flocking into Hamilton, people flocked out of the place. Whole rows of houses were empty and deserted. By 1863 the population had fallen from 27,000 to 17,000.
By the time the American Civil War had ended, things began to pick up again. The City of Hamilton, having successfully sold an overseas debenture issue of £600,000, began to consider the possibilities of steel. The railroad situation was settling down. There was a steady demand for steel and steel products. On December 30, 1895, Hamilton’s first blast furnace flamed. There has been no serious setback since.
Any enquiring reporter attempting a study of Hamilton’s past, will sooner or later be handed a list of Hamilton’s “firsts.” It makes quite a tally, vouched for by the Hamilton Chamber of Commerce and the Industrial Department of the City of Hamilton.
Hamilton produced the first sulphur matches made in Canada.
Ditto the first Canadian threshing machine.
The first iron steamboat to sail fresh water in America was built in Hamilton.
Hamilton folks organized the first Canadian life insurance company.
The first Canadian-built railroad locomotives, passenger cars and freight cars were built in Hamilton shops.
A chap named Samuel Sharpe, master mechanic of the Great Western shops, designed and built the first railroad sleeping car in the world.
Canada’s first sewing machine was put together in Hamilton.
And the first coal-oil lamp burner made in Canada. Also the first cloth-covered casket.
Hamilton electricians made the first experiments in lighting by electricity attempted in Canada. They used carbon pencils. Results were only so-so.
Acetylene gas was a discovery of Charles Willson, a native-born Hamilton chemist.
The first telephone exchange in the Dominion was operated in Hamilton. The operator was male.
The first long-distance power transmission line in the world was built in Hamilton. Now the darn things are all over the place.
This is Hamilton, Ontario. An amazingly compact city. A smoke and soot defying city. A city living in luxury on a balanced budget. A remarkable city, with favorable prevailing winds.
Wine From Milk
BECAUSE the great dairy industry in Denmark has whey as a by-product of its operations, earnest efforts have been made to find uses for the quantities of this liquid wasted. One of the latest results of these researches is the manufacture of an excellent “wine” from whey. So far only in the large-scale experimental stage, the process may yield as much as a million and a half Danish kroner annually, if results as proved to date can be realized on a nation-wide scale.—Scientific American.