Dundas was named after the military road built in 1794-95 from the head of navigation at Cootes Paradise on Lake Ontario to the upper forks of the Thames River. Lieutenant-Governor John Graves SIMCOE ordered that a small piece of land be set aside at Cootes Paradise, and it was this land that became the town of Dundas. The road, and hence the town, was named in honour of Henry Dundas, the Secretary of State for War and the Colonies.
The first settlers began to come to the area in 1787. Thanks to the fertile river valley and swiftly running streams tumbling down the Niagara Escarpment, Dundas quickly emerged as an important agricultural trading and milling centre. The opening of the Desjardins Canal in 1832 gave Dundas a leg up on its neighbour and rival, Ancaster. Dundas's role as a trading centre, however, was eclipsed by Hamilton when the Great Western Railway chose to locate its roundhouses, manufacturing and maintenance facilities there.
In spite of this setback, Dundas benefited from the railway. A foundry built machine tools, boilers and marine steam engines for the Great Western. Beginning in 1863, the firm John Bertram and Sons Company Ltd began to produce high-quality woodworking equipment and machine tools used by railways and other industrial enterprises. Other factories, including a cotton textile mill, ensured that Dundas would thrive in the industrial era. For more than a century, the machine tool industry made this small town a critical engine of Canadian manufacturing growth. The Bertram company passed out of control of the family in 1951, but continued to be operated by different owners until the 1980s.
Housing and apartment complexes have replaced the machine tool and cotton factories, however, the legacy of the industrial era remains in many fine examples of Victorian elite homes and workers' cottages. The former Town Hall (1849) is one of Ontario's oldest surviving municipal buildings. Dundas is known for its many local greenhouses and its extensive green space. The Cactus Festival is held every August. Dundas was the boyhood town of Sir William OSLER.
Author KEN CRUIKSHANK
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