In January 1815 George Hamilton, son of Robert HAMILTON (one of the wealthiest and most influential men in UPPER CANADA), purchased 104 ha of land in Barton Township, laid out a townsite and successfully promoted its selection as the seat of administration for the newly created Gore District (1816). Because of the concentration of streams descending the NIAGARA ESCARPMENT and the area's location at the head of navigation on Lake Ontario, the site had been developed as a milling and transportation centre even before the establishment of Hamilton.
Hamilton's townsite grew slowly until the late 1820s when a newly constructed canal through Burlington Beach permitted schooners and steamers entry into Burlington Bay. With the access points for roads ascending the Niagara Escarpment, the canal transformed the fledgling community into a significant transshipment point. With enormous migration from the United Kingdom during the 1830s, its fortunes grew; its situation made it an ideal location for mercantile houses and manufacturing establishments that could serve the surrounding region. Plans were made for a steamboat company, a bank and a railway to LONDON.
An economic panic and the REBELLIONS OF 1837 delayed the railway's construction until the early 1850s. Led by land agent and lawyer Sir Allan MACNAB and others, the city bought into the GREAT WESTERN RAILWAY and other lines. Though the railway boom collapsed in 1857, it had attracted stove and farm-implement foundries. Ready-made clothing and sewing-machine manufacture developed during the American Civil War.
The city's industries prospered from the mid-1880s to the early 1890s. In the early 1900s, national railway construction and American branch plants serving the prairie market touched off a factory and residential construction boom that lasted until 1913. The Hamilton Blast Furnace Company began to produce pig iron in the 1890s. During both world wars, Hamilton industries concentrated on the production of war material, converting successfully after 1945 to serve the strong market for appliances, automobiles and houses.
With the closing of textile mills and knit-wear plants in the 1950s and 1960s, Hamilton became increasingly dependent on steel and related industries. During the final 2 decades of the 20th century, manufacturers had to respond to increasing continental and global competition. Three of the region's oldest firms and largest employers, Otis Elevator, Firestone and International Harvester (later J.I. Case), did not survive, and others were forced to dramatically restructure their workplaces. The 2 Hamilton steel plants reduced their number of employees by nearly one-half. In spite of restructuring of the manufacturing sector in the 1980s and 1990s, Hamilton did not become a decaying "rust belt" city. Traditional manufacturing continues to play an important if declining role in the Hamilton economy, and, as elsewhere, the service sectors have continued to grow, as have some new recycling and waste disposal industries.
Hamilton Harbour (Burlington Bay) extends 8 km west from the channel at Burlington Beach to the steep embankment of Burlington Heights. Until the end of World War II, the harbour and escarpment squeezed urban development along an east-west axis and the 100 m limestone face of the escarpment posed a considerable transportation obstacle to suburban development. Though a series of expressways were constructed during the 1960s and 1970s, the division between the "mountain," as the escarpment is known locally, and the older city below plagues planning.
The city's older industries are clustered along the waterfront and CN tracks. Laboratories, parts distribution centres and light industries have been locating outside the city and along the highway corridors since the late 1960s. The cultural, financial and administrative core has remained near the corner of James and King at Gore Park, extending recently to the west. Residential areas include the old elite Durand District between James and Queen; the innovative west-end middle-class community of Westdale; a combination of older village and newer developer subdivision communities in Ancaster, Dundas and Waterdown; and extensive working-class areas to the east and northeast. Ethnic neighbourhoods abound, usually in association with parish churches and small-business districts.
During the 1960s and 1970s, the skyline changed as a few high-rise dwellings began to appear near the city's core and spread to adjacent areas. Though many handsome stone structures were lost in the construction boom, 19th-century structures such as the town halls in Dundas (1849) and Ancaster (1871), the Custom House (1860), Commercial Block (1858), residential Sandyford Place (1858) and the renowned St Paul's Church (1857) remain. Beginning in the 1970s, Hamilton's city council and harbour commission struggled to improve the harbour's water quality, and to balance the needs of an industrial port with public demands for better environment and waterfront recreational areas. In July 2000, Bayfront Park, which opened in 1993, became the anchor for a spectacular 3.4 km Waterfront Trail around the harbour's southwestern shore. Both the waterfront park and trail have been carefully designed to help restore fish and wildlife to the harbour. A new Parks Canada complex, the Canada Discovery Centre on Marine Conservation, will attract more people to Hamilton's revitalized waterfront.
The city's population growth has paralleled its economic cycles. After the Great Western Railway plan failed, Hamilton is estimated to have lost 20-25% of its population between 1857 and 1864. Immigration from the United Kingdom brought increases in the rest of that century. The phenomenal industrial expansion from 1900 to 1913 led to territory annexations and attracted industrial and construction workers from the United Kingdom, US, Italy and Poland. Refugees from central Europe and the Baltic States arrived during the 1920s. Natural increase was blunted by the economic hardship of the 1930s.
During World War II, workers from Quebec, the Maritimes and the West came to labour in the war industries. After the war, immigration (Dutch, German, Italian, Polish) reached a peak in 1954. In the final quarter of the century, immigration slowed, although people from Portugal, eastern European nations such as Poland and Yugoslavia, the West Indies, and South Asian nations, including India and more recently the Philippines, continued to make Hamilton their home. Overall, industrial restructuring during the final quarter of the 20th century slowed the population growth of Hamilton. The 6 surrounding municipalities incorporated into the new city continued to grow much faster than the core of the city.
Economy and Labour Force
Two of Canada's largest steel firms (STELCO and DOFASCO) are located in Hamilton. In spite of significant restructuring and job losses in the final decades of the 20th century, the steel industry continues to provide work for more than 20 000 Hamiltonians, whether with Stelco, Dofasco or some 500 related firms. Camco, a manufacturer of appliances, and Westinghouse Canada also have large plants. About 20% of Hamilton workers continue to work in the manufacturing sector. Notwithstanding the importance of the manufacturing sector, three-quarters of the city's workforce are employed in the service sector. Retail trade is the second largest sector of the economy, followed closely by health and social services. A hospital services organization, the Hamilton Health Sciences Corporation, is the city's largest employer.
Hamilton is thought of as a workingman's city, highly unionized. The NINE-HOUR MOVEMENT began in Hamilton in 1872 and the KNIGHTS OF LABOR and the American Federation of Labour (AFL) actively recruited in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) campaigned in the 1930s and 1940s for unions that would represent all men in a plant, and after serious strikes at Westinghouse, Firestone and Stelco in 1946 it concluded agreements ensuring higher pay and increased benefits. The newly formed industrial unions and older craft unions merged in 1956 to form the Hamilton and District Trades and Labour Council. During the 1950s and 1960s, the unions secured wage increases, job security and vacations with pay for their members, As elsewhere, the city's labour movement gained new strength in the 1960s and 1970s when municipal, provincial and federal workers became union members, but was weakened by the industrial restructuring and slower growth of public sector work during the final decades of the century.
Hamilton's location at the western end of Lake Ontario has ensured it a strategic position within Ontario's transportation network. Southeast of the lake lie the NIAGARA PENINSULA and the northeastern United States via Buffalo; northeast of the lake are Toronto and eastern Ontario; and to the west lie southwestern Ontario and the American Midwest via Detroit.
During the 19th century, rail lines and canals transformed the city into an important wholesale and immigrant distribution centre. Beginning in 1912, the Hamilton Harbour Commission sought to transform Hamilton into a major Great Lakes port. Business at the port grew steadily throughout the 20th century, owing to the growth of the steel industry, the enlargement of the WELLAND CANAL in the 1930s and the opening of the ST LAWRENCE SEAWAY in 1959. In terms of tonnes of cargo handled, the port ranks in the top 10 of the some 200 ports in Canada.
While Hamilton's railway connections have declined in importance, CN maintains industrial freight facilities in the city. An increasing number of Hamilton residents commute to work in TORONTO using a limited rail or more extensive bus transit system. Manufacturers have come to rely on trucks rather than trains, using an ever-expanding system of expressways that connect Hamilton to the Golden Horseshoe industrial district and the United States via Buffalo or Detroit. Hamilton's small international airport has taken advantage of the growing business use of air services. Since 1996 a local land development company, a construction trade union and an airport management firm have joined forces to transform the airport into one of Canada's largest in terms of cargo and courier operations. The arrival of WestJet has also ensured passenger connections to a limited but growing number of Canadian destinations.
Government and Politics
The principles of Hamilton urban politics were established at the time of the incorporation of the city in 1846. Aldermen elected to represent wards in the community conducted business together at regular council meetings and in special committees. Mayors were appointed annually by the council until 1876, and thereafter were elected by voters in the city. Similar political systems were in place in the towns and townships surrounding the city. By the 1960s, however, the geographic expansion of the city of Hamilton to the edges of settled towns and villages, the growth of suburbs in the surrounding regions, and the demand for a high level of police, fire, road maintenance and sewer services in all of these areas led to a reconsideration of the political system.
In 1974, the government of Ontario created a regional level of government to co-ordinate many services in Wentworth County and amalgamated several rural townships to create 6 municipal governments within the county: Ancaster, Dundas, Flamborough (formerly Beverly, East and West Flamborough), Glanbrook (formerly Glanford and Binbrook), Hamilton and Stoney Creek (including Stoney Creek and Saltfleet). This two-tier urban political system remained in place until January 2001, when the provincial government, seeking to reduce costs and restructure the delivery of municipal services, merged the 6 municipalities into a single unit, the new city of Hamilton. A mayor and 15 councillors, 9 from the old city and 6 from the former suburban and rural municipalities, govern the city.
Since the 1930s, Hamilton's mayors have served long terms. Party machines with federal and provincial party connections have remained an important aspect of local elections. Though organized labour has endorsed a few candidates, unions and the parties of the left have not always had a forceful presence on city council.
MCMASTER UNIVERSITY has been an important city institution since 1930. Mohawk College, established in 1967, evolved from the Provincial Institute of Textiles, which later became the Hamilton Institute of Technology. Hamilton's central library was opened atop the new civic market in 1980. The city operates an extensive park system, the famous Royal BOTANICAL GARDENS (1941) and 7 museums, including 4 national historic sites, Battlefield House (1796), Dundurn Castle (1835), Whitehern (1848) and the Hamilton Waterworks (1859). The Museum of Steam and Technology, built around the 1859 waterworks, and the Workers Arts and Heritage Centre, which presents exhibitions in the Custom House (1860), provide the anchors for 2 heritage industrial trails. Hamilton's substantial Art Gallery includes works by Cornelius KRIEGHOFF and William KURELEK. The Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra, Mohawk College Singers, McMaster Chamber Orchestra and Opera Hamilton continue the city's music traditions. Theatre Aquarius and dramatic productions at McMaster and by small theatre groups maintain long association with the stage. Touring companies perform in the attractive Hamilton Place complex.
The Hamilton Spectator, the SOUTHAM chain's first newspaper (1846), is now owned by Torstar Incorporated, but continues to be the city's leading daily newspaper. Various ethnic and weekly suburban newspapers add variety to the print media available. Until the late 1990s, the television station CHCH remained one of the country's few independent and unaffiliated television operations by focusing on a Hamilton audience. In reaching out to a province-wide audience, the company attracted the attention of, and was acquired by, Canadian media giant CanWest Global Communications.
In sports, the city has shown a special interest in running, with the annual race around the bay and regular track meets. The city lost its NATIONAL HOCKEY LEAGUE team in 1924, and has been unable to attract a franchise since, although Copps Coliseum was constructed in the hopes of doing so. In professional sport, the city has one team - its beloved HAMILTON TIGER-CATS - and is home to the Canadian Football Hall of Fame.
Author JOHN C. WEAVER Revised: KEN CRUIKSHANK
Links to Other Sites
The website for the Historica-Dominion Institute, parent organization of The Canadian Encyclopedia and the Encyclopedia of Music in Canada. Check out their extensive online feature about the War of 1812, the "Heritage Minutes" video collection, and many other interactive resources concerning Canadian history, culture, and heritage.
Hamilton Chamber of Commerce
The website for the Hamilton Chamber of Commerce.
Art Gallery of Hamilton
The website for the Art Gallery of Hamilton. See images from current and upcoming exhibitions, program information, and more.
Royal Botanical Garden
The official website of the Royal Botanical Garden in Hamilton.
Vintage Postcards of Hamilton
This website features postcards that depict old Hamilton.
The City of Hamilton website offers information about municipal services, local attractions, and community events.
Cultural Landmarks of Hamilton-Wentworth
Dedicated to Hamilton’s history and cultural landmarks. From Library and Archives Canada.
Industrial Hamilton -- A Trail To The Future
This website chronicles the history of Hamilton's industrial sector. From Library and Archives Canada.
Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra
Check out the latest concert calendar for the orchestra. Also features a profile of the orchestra’s artistic director, a historical overview and news about educational programs.
Mohawk College of Applied Arts and Technology
This website features a comprehensive guide to the many applied arts and technology programs offered at Mohawk College in Hamilton, Ontario.
Hamilton — the City of Waterfalls
View an online slide show depicting Hamilton's scenic waterfalls in all four seasons. Additional information about local waterfalls is available on the City of Hamilton and Hamilton Conservation Authority websites. From the Hamilton Naturalists' Club.
Hamilton Conservation Authority
Explore Hamilton’s picturesque conservation lands, botanical gardens, waterfalls, and long-distance trails.
Brott Music Festival
The website for Hamilton’s Brott Music Festival. Features video clips, the latest concert calendar, and much more.
Four Directions Teachings
Elders and traditional teachers representing the Blackfoot, Cree, Ojibwe, Mohawk, and Mi’kmaq share teachings about their history and culture. Animated graphics visualize each of the oral teachings. This website also provides biographies of participants, transcripts, and an extensive array of learning resources for students and their teachers. In English with French subtitles.
Search for historical maps of specific locations in Canada at this website from Research Collections, McMaster University Library.
Ronald V. Joyce Centre for the Performing Arts at Hamilton Place
The official website for the Ronald V. Joyce Centre for the Performing Arts at Hamilton Place.
Hamilton Music Awards Festival
The official website for the Hamilton Music Awards Festival.
Association of Canadian Map Libraries and Archives
Check out the digitized archival images of Canadian cities and more at this website for the Association of Canadian Map Libraries and Archives.
Stelco's Hamilton and Lake Erie plants idled
A 2009 news story about the shutdown of U.S. Steel Canada facilities in Ontario. From thestar.com website.
Panoramic Maps: Canadian
Click on the map to select historical panoramic maps of various Canadian locations. Use the "zoom" function for close-up views. From The Library of Congress in the US.
A biography of Robert Land, pioneer, farmer, militia officer, and public servant. From the Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online.
On suburban streets, fresh graves from the War of 1812
A CBC News article about reinterring the remains of soldiers buried at the site of the War of 1812 Battle of Stoney Creek, located in present day Hamilton.
Peter Smith Associates Inc.
Click on the building names to view illustrated descriptions of theatres and galleries designed by Canadian architectural firm Peter Smith Associates Inc.
Project Bookmark Q and A: John Terpstra
In this interview, author John Terpstra talks about the best places in Ontario for reading and writing, creative challenges, and why Hamilton is so ubiquitous in his writing. From openbookontario.com.
The website for Jane’s Walk, a network of free walking tours that explore the quality and livability of local neighbourhoods based on ideas espoused by Jane Jacobs. Click on "The Community" to access the latest news and photos on their blog and more. Also, check out "Find Your Walk" for maps and descriptions of local walks throughout the country.