A city of innovation: 5 Hamilton firsts


Hamilton is a breeding ground for invention and innovation and a quick look back through our history offers up some pretty significant examples of that.

From science to movie stars and telecommunications and traffic, this city has set the scene for a lot of firsts.

Here we look at 5 significant firsts to have happened in Hamilton.

5. 'Hollywood's first movie star'

Florence Lawrence, or Flolaw if she were around today, is the first actor to receive a film credit in a silent picture in which she starred in 1910. Lawrence was born Florence Annie Bridgwood in Hamilton on January 2, 1886. Lawrence was the first actor whose name was used to promote a movie. She went from making $25 a week to more than $600 in a very short time after the studio she worked for concocted an elaborate story which they planted in the press. With the 'fake news' Lawrence went from an anonymous silent picture actress to a 'celebrity' virtually overnight. This publicity stunt is basically the spark that ignites the cult of celebrity.

4. First telephone company in Canada

Hamilton was the site of the first telephone transmissions and first long-distance telephone line in Canada, thanks to legendary Hamiltonian Hugh Cossart Baker Jr. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that the first charter to build a national phone company was given to Baker. He formed the Hamilton Telephone Company. This was the charter that enabled the creation of the Bell Telephone Company. (I didn't say all of the firsts to come out of Hamilton were good).

3. First city in Canada to have AC electricity

For a time, Hamilton was known as 'The Electric City' because we were the first city in Canada to have AC electricity. Hamilton's 'Five Johns' — John Patterson, John Dickenson, John Morison Gibson, John Moodie Sr. and John Sutherland, introduced electric power to Hamilton on August 25, 1898, when power was sent 43.5 kilometres from DeCew Falls, St. Catharines, using water from the old Welland Canal. This capability put Hamilton on the map as a booming industrial city, particularly for steel producers. It's also the reason a portion of Burlington Street was renamed after Nikola Tesla, the Serbian scientist and inventor who was a pioneer in electricity.

2. Canada's first traffic lights
On June 11, 1925, the first traffic lights in Canada start directing traffic around the Delta in East Hamilton. In the beginning, this seemed like as good a place as any to try out this American traffic light thing but at the time, it seemed motorists, given the weird angles at that intersection where King and Main cross, could get confused as to which set of lights applied to whom.

1. Tim Hortons

You didn't think I'd let a 'Hamilton firsts' list go by without mentioning our claim to fame, did you? That's right, the first-ever Tim Hortons was born on Ottawa Street in East Hamilton. It's still there today and doubles as a museum for the brand. Tim Horton opened the first store in 1964 and back then a coffee and a doughnut cost 10 cents. Ron Joyce became a partner in 1967. Today, there are nearly 5,000 locations across the world.

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