Historic millworks building granted heritage designation in Hamilton
Published November 1, 2023 at 12:50 pm
Hamilton has granted a historic millworks building at 64 Hatt St. a heritage designation, which gives the building new protections.
The millworks were founded in 1850 as one of the earliest and most important industrial centres in Dundas. The town of Dundas had only been founded 36 years prior in 1814. By the time the millwork opened the town, described as a “manufacturing village,” was home to a mere 1,700 people.
Canada would not achieve independence from the British Empire until 1865. By this time, Dundas had grown to about 3,500 people and was a renowned, albeit small, manufacturing centre.
As the millworks pre-date Canadian independence, they serve as unique examples of pre-Confederation architecture. The building’s first owners were investor James Bell Ewart and millwright John Gartshore.
Over time, Ewart and Gartshore built the millworks into, “one of the most innovative manufacturing plants in Canada West and the largest employer in Dundas” according to the Dundas Museum and Archives. At its height, the foundry employed 150 men.
Ewart proved an essential investor in Dundas, helping to fund the Desjardins Canal, the London and Gore Railroad, and the Great Western Railroad. He also served as a justice of the peace, postmaster and president of the town council.
The Dundas Iron Foundry and Machine Shop, as it was known at the time, produced “internationally renowned large machinery,” according to the city. This included steam engines and boilers for the Hamilton Waterworks, the Great Western Railway, and the Toronto Waterworks.
Additionally, the foundry served as an unofficial trade school for countless machinist and mechanic apprentices. “The Dundas Foundry has been to mechanics what a university is to literary men, and at the present day it would be scarcely possible to visit a town where manufacturing in their line is carried on without finding in its workshop one or more of the graduates of this well known old school,” the 1875 Beldon Atlas said.
These graduates included some notable industrialists including John Inglis, founder of the Inglis Washing Machine Company which is now Whirpool Canada.
At its peak in 1848, the foundry imported 410 tons of pig iron and 140 tons of bar iron indicating just how much they producing. However, the foundry soon ran into hard times. It built up massive debt when it developed the steam engine and machinery for the Hamilton Waterworks.
The company was placed in a trusteeship from 1865 to 1870 and completely closed up shop in 1888. The building, however, was bought up by John Pennington and Edgar Baker in 1890. They first used it to build telephone boxes. Alexander Graham Bell had just invented the telephone a few years prior. Seizing the opportunity Pennington and Baker designed a box for Bell to mount his compnents in.
Pennington and Baker was soon renamed Valley City Manufacturing, which largely built church seating, school desks and laboratory equipment. They occupied the building for the next 120 years, even surviving bankruptcy during the Great Depression of the 1930s, according to Historical Hamilton.
The business continued to struggle until the Second World War, when it was contracted to build wooden cases for Bofors anti-aircraft guns. After the war, the business returned to furnitute manufacturing focusing on schools, universities and hospitals amid the post-War baby boom. They later pivoted again to focus on laboratory equipment sold mostly to American universities such as Yale, Harvard, Cornell and Princeton.
The building was put up for sale in May and recomended for a heritage designation in June.
Given its rich history, the city wrote in a report, “The setting of the property defines the historic character of Hatt Street and the community of Dundas, with the north elevation and roofline featuring distinctive architectural details.”
“The property is visually, functionally, and historically linked to its surroundings,comprised of a former industrial complex located along Spencer Creek, which providedpower to the historic foundry, and near historic transportation corridors that were crucial to its early and continued success,” the report continued, “The property is also considered to be a local landmark.”
City council voted to give the site its heritage designation on Oct. 25. The millworks are now owned by Forge and Foster, a property management firm, which leases space to several businessesinthehammer's Editorial Standards and Policies advertising