General Articles


Here’s a snapshot of a workshop — Hamilton, the chesty bustling town that turns out almost everything from layettes to caskets

EVA-LIS WUORIO July 15 1948
General Articles


Here’s a snapshot of a workshop — Hamilton, the chesty bustling town that turns out almost everything from layettes to caskets

EVA-LIS WUORIO July 15 1948


Here’s a snapshot of a workshop — Hamilton, the chesty bustling town that turns out almost everything from layettes to caskets


THE battering ram smashed against the coke oven door and the flaming mass of coal, transformed into blast-furnace coke, poured

in a glowing stream into the waiting quenching car. A pillar of bursting flame and red smoke jumped toward the night sky.

On the high platform masked workers, dwarfed by the huge ovens, bent to shovel the driblets of blazing fire back into the oven. The car moved to the quenching station. Tons of water deluged it. And then a huge tower of steam rose to hide the stars.

Down the rails where the reclaimed land was growing by acres, molten slag hit the bay waters and a hissing high flame lit weirdly the men and the towering furnaces, bridges and smokestacks.

On Lake Ontario, in a freighter low-slung with the weight of its cargo of raw ore, men watched the

glow in the darkness and steered their way toward it, as Moses had once steered b}' the pillar of fire. On the hill above the city the couples in the parked cars paused to stare at the blossoms of flame. Travelers on the great Queen Elizabeth Way, approaching Hamilton, said, “We’re getting close. See the red in the sky.”

To those who know Hamilton, the high flames in the night have become the symbol of the city. They are the proof of her proud, ceaseless industry. Ever wakeful, ever watchful, in the hot bright blaze, men, mighty midgets, tend the giant machines, directing fantastic amounts of power with a flick of a firm wrist and alert mind.

The results of this ceaseless labor are plain. In the 170 years since the first settlers turned up, the gentle brooding valley by a land-locked bay has become Canada’s most industrialized city and one of the busiest Great Lakes ports.

The face of Hamilton is distinctive from that of any other city in Canada. But you must search for it. Here is no historic beauty that catches you quickly as in Quebec, nor the mountain backdrop of Vancouver. No sea-free ease as in Halifax. No cosmopolitan verve as in Montreal, nor a sense of prairie vast ness as in Winnipeg. No political consciousness tinged with protocol as in Ottawa. Here is a city given over to making money not by speculation (except at the race track) but by work.

There is still almost a pioneering vitality to her 180,000 people. They rise in mighty, vociferous, strong-lunged mobs to strike, attend tires, tight on wharf streets, or enlist in Canada’s wars. There is little evidence of calm detachment from life. Hamilt onians like to show their feelings by mobbing civic officials (as they did Controller Nora Frances Henderson when she got. into a row with the unions), rallying to

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Masonic banners, breaking up an Orange parade and getting excited over one or another of the city’s famous criminal trials. Even at night, fire reels will bring out the spectators a hundred strong.

When the true Hamiltonian talks about his city, its “Mountain,” its industries, its achievements and its history, he’ll glibly string off “the best,” “the first,” “the greatest,” “the wealthiest,” “the most beautiful,” “the largest.” If you point out these repetitive superlatives to him he’ll look surprised. “But that’s the way it is,” he’ll say seriously. “We do have the best . . .” And the reference might be to anything from rock gardens to steel mills.

In a way it’s true that Hamilton has its hand in the daily chores of every Canadian. Much of the raw material used in her 500 industries comes from sources scattered across Canada. And whether he’s buying an ice-cream cone or an automobile, the Canadian consumer every day is apt to pay tribute to Hamilton.

With $220 millions (many millions of them American dollars) invested in Hamilton’s industries, and about 36,000 people working for an annual payroll of over $50 millions, these and many other things roll out by rail, truck, ship and plane: chewing gum, thread, paper containers, building products, machine tools, spices (which come here from the world over for refining, sorting, and packaging), refrigerator cars, clothing, silk stockings, aluminum equipment, tin cans, typewriters, blankets, brushes, brooms, jewelry, tires, automobiles, farming equipment, pot tery, and porcelain door knobs. In fact just about everything from layettes to caskets— except shoesis made in Hamilton and sold from Prince Rupert to Glace Bay. And to cap the picture, at t he moment there is a $75 million industrial expansion program going on.

Who Was First?

The competitive spirit that has carried this surge of progress on through the years was evident even among the first white settlers. There were a number of claimants for the honor of being first and there still is some coldness among some of the descendants when the subject comes up.

However, before this problem of the first “first” came up, Rene-Robert Cavalier, Sieur de la Salle, was paddled to the head of Lake Ontario by friendly Indians who didn’t realize they were about to sign over a very valuable piece of property. Standing there on a wellwooded height that sunny August day of 1669, shielding his eyes in the accepter! manner of explorers, if you can believe paintings, De la Salle passed down to history his opinion that it was a very pleasant spot and quite gome harbor. The Indians told him they called it Ma cassa, “beautiful water;” we now know it. as Hamilton Bay (though some people persist in calling it by its older name—Burlington Bay).

Then Beasley and Land turned up in 1778 and began to tie the Gordian knot of who really settled there first. In the graveyard of Christ’s Church Cathedral, Richard Beasley lies under a stone “In Memory of Richard Beasley who departed this life on the 16th of February, 1842, aged 80 years and seven months. The First Settler at the Head of the Lake.”

in the Hamilton Cemetery on Burlington Heights there is another

tombstone with a memorial plate: “Robert Land, Died July 1818, aged 82 years. The First Settler in Hamilton.”

The Bartons, the Hamiltons, the Durands, all turned up in the encircled valley with their pioneer effects and the claim to be first settlers. The Scottish influence began with the early Loyalists and is still very present, even in such local witticisms as the oft-repeated description, “This is a town where a man keeps his money in the bank, not on his wife’s back.” (This might be the reason for the comparative lack of the New Look on Hamilton streets.)

Today, despite later immigration, Hamilton is a good three-fourths British. The second largest racial group is Italian. As to religious denominations, the largest group is the Anglicans, with some 50,000, then come the 34,200 adherents of the United Church and nearly 30,000

Presbyterians. There are 31,000 Roman Catholics and 3,000 Jews.

Although Hamilton’s a labor town, in the City Council only Mayor Sam Lawrence and two aldermen are CCF. Some 57% of Hamiltonians own their own homes. There was a time not long ago when you could say that south of King Street people owned the town, north of King Street, people worked for them. Now the boundary line is fuzzier.

To a Hamiltonian, “The Mountain” is nearly synonymous with “home.” Within minutes of meeting a patriotic citizen, an unwary visitor will find himself being wished up this hill. It’s mainly remarkable for having a reputation much higher than its actual elevation—450 feet above the lake. On it young couples park, newly rich build their homes, unidentified torsos or recognizable corpses occasionally turn up and trilliums bloom in the early spring.

Speaking geographically, but only when a safe distance from Hamilton, the Mountain is not really a mountain at all but merely a part of the Niagara Escarpment. From here you have a box seat on Hamilton’s odd juxtaposition to heavy industry and rural peace.

“A Hot Little Handful”

The city itself is a narrow island, eight miles long and three miles wide, wedged firmly between the escarpment and the land-locked Hamilton Bay. High land on the north, west and south and the wind-sheltered bay to the east make Hamilton a hot little handful, devoid of breezes on humid summer days. At other seasons it attracts rain and fog and the marshlands of Coote’s Paradise, a fen at the upper end of the bay, send their wisps of mist into the city. The Queen Elizabeth Way from Toronto to

Niagara Falls arrows across Burlington Beach, a four-mile long sandspit closing off the bay. To most Hamiltonians, this is an unforgivable piece of shortcutting.

From the hill the city dribbles down the mountainside through green, treeroofed streets to a small downtown business section and a sprawling waterfront silhouette of blast furnaces and smokestacks, sharply etched against a background of the harbor waters. Fingering the street ends and the outskirts of the industrial plants, lush fields and. market gardens throw a girdle of green.

Through the jackknife-bridged channel cutting through Burlington Bead:, heavy freighters glide in, bringing cargoes amounting to well over 3,000,000 tons annually. Yet not many miles inland, up the Desjardins Canal, in the Dundas Marsh, wild birds call as in days before De la Salle. And while immense plants turn out cans, chemi-

cals, electric motors and cigarettes, fathers and brothers of the workers, descendants of the Scots, English and Palatine farmers, Mennonites, Ukrainians and Italians, come in their colorful caravans to the wide sunny market place that has stood at the centre of the city for the past 111 years.

In a way the Central Market is as typical of Hamilton as the blast furnaces. And it’s older. Somewhere thriving Hamilton has lost that definite character which some cities have; in her eagerness to grow rich she has become like a bland face without eyebrows. Yet she has the traditions that could make for a picturesque present. Like the Market.

It was just a small, muddy triangular strip of land at York and James Streets when Andrew Miller deeded it to the city in 1837 for use as a market place.

Still, today, many names over the market stalls are the same as in the early days. There are Gage, Land, Stipe, Buttram, Syer of Bartonville, Tait, McGowan, De Lottin ville, House, Jerome, Nugent, Gompf and Crosthwaite. Some of these families at one time operated market gardens on property that has since been incorporated by the city.

It’s a cheery place, these days. The shaded isles of stalls are green and bright with vegetables and fruit. Flowers throw blazing color on sidewalks. Judges attending the County Assizes, people motoring from Toronto, 40 miles distant, even visitors from Niagara Falls (45 miles) and Buffalo (80 miles) are all steady customers. So are local restaurateurs and hotel owners. Hamiltonians themselves— though they don’t have to wade ankledeep through muddy streets to market as their ancestors did—-prefer in many cases to go direct to the farms.

Hamilton’s prosperity began with the coming of the railways and continued with the bringing of power first from Decew Falls, later from Niagara. Today it is still fostered by the combination of these things; power close to source, in many cases piped directly into the mills in quantities that could keep a sizeable city serviced; good railway facilities—the CPR, CNR and Toronto, Hamilton and Buffalo lines enter the city; and what Hamilton boasts are the best harbor facilities on the Great Lakes.

Hamilton’s first great decade was from 1846 to 1856, when the Great Western Railway was completed, linking the city with Niagara Falls and Buffalo to the east and Detroit to the west, thus making Hamilton something of a hub of the province’s commerce. The new railway gave rise to new industries. All locomotives had previously been imported from England. Now D. C. Gunn set up a manufactory in Hamilton and built the country’s first locomotives, the famous Shem, Ham, Japhet, Bacchus and Achilles.

The Hidden Documents

The boom decade over, matters went from bad to worse for the struggling, ambitious city. Large amounts had been guaranteed for the Great Western. The city fathers found themselves facing an impoverished citizenry unable to meet any further taxation.

There is a story of this period about Thomas Beasley, the city clerk who sat bitterly watching the city-hall furniture being sold piece by piece at an auction to satisfy judgments against the municipality. Even the heavy safes were sold and stored in Hon. Isaac Buchanan’s warehouse.

Mr. Beasley girded himself for desperate action. The city must be saved from panicky creditors, he decided. He got hold of the city asseasment rolls,

locked them, unbeknownst to anyone, in the auctioned safes in the Buchanan warehouse, and fled to the United States. There he enjoyed a holiday with Mrs. Beasley until elapse of the legal time within which a special tax assessment for the satisfaction of creditors could be made. The city was saved.

Today a large amount of Hamilton’s revenue comes from the harbor, under the direction of Hamilton Harbor Commissioners. Tonnage handled during the 1947 season amounted to 3)'2 million and included imports of coal, gasoline, fuel oil, iron ore, phosphate rock, sand, scrap steel (parts of the Steel Company of Canada grounds look like the graveyard of the Canadian Navy), sugar and general freight, and exports of general freight, machinery, tar and twine. Extensive plans for the further development of the harbor are on the way.

In later years Hamilton’s national notoriety has been boosted by reports on her big and warlike strikes, her fantastic murder cases and her reputed importance in white-slave and bootlegging traffic with the States. Evelyn Dick, convicted of cementing a baby in a suitcase, but not of the murder of her husband, whose torso was found on the Mountain, got her native town into papers across the Dominion. There was the Barton murder—a corpse found in Barton stone quarries is unidentified to thisday. Rocco Perri, “king of the bootleggers,” disappeared and Bessie Perri was shot in a garage by an unknown

murderer. And there was the Kinrade Case which involved some of the city’s four hundred and remains unsolved. Hamilton murders have seldom been hole-in-the-corner affairs.

There is plenty of loveliness to this city in the pocket of the lake. She has magnificent rock gardens and botanical gardens, a university—McMasterthat rises in a pleasant, grey-towered heap from green fields, and sturdy churches and homes. But still mainly the talk is only of money, of business, of competitive coups.

Along the Mohawk Trail on the brim of the Escarpment handsome clubs and homes go up in increasing profusion. Debutantes come out at the Tamahac Club and some of the richest men in Canada take time off for play at Hamilton Golf and Country Club. Sometimes, crowded in the homes on the flat streets of the city below, brother still refuses to greet brother—one was a striker and the other “stayed in.” A bootlegger disappears from his home and everybody in the town knew where he lived. As in any city, cars are stolen nightly. The old clerk drowses in his high, dark chair when the Wentworth County Court sits in the old courthouse on a square owned by King George. Dark-eyed women speaking foreign tongues, whose private lives are ruled by the shift hours of 3 p.m.. 11 p.m. and 7 a.m., wheel their babies to Gore Park to feed the pigeons.

And around the dock, the workshops hum and the smoky beacons of industry reach to the sky. ★