Who was Sam Lawrence and why is there a park in Hamilton named after him?
It is perhaps the most picturesque vantage point in our city but do we know the man behind the name of Sam Lawrence Park?
Samuel Lawrence was born in Somerset, England and, as the son of a stonemason, was raised and apprenticed to his father’s profession.
Influenced by his father’s politics and involvement with the labour movement, Lawrence also became active in politics when he was elected shop steward of a trade union as a teenager, according to the Hamilton Public Library’s local history and archives.
In the early 1900s, Lawrence followed in the footsteps of some of his siblings (of which there were 10) and immigrated to Canada.
In 1912, he and his family settled in Hamilton. He joined the Journeymen Stonecutters’ Association of North America and found work as a stonemason.
He soon became involved in the local labour movement and was elected to Hamilton City Council as an Independent Labour Party alderman in 1922.
The next phase in the Sam Lawrence Park master plan is to hear from you about proposed design concepts! Review concepts and let us know what you think: https://t.co/IoXO480rV7 #HamOnt pic.twitter.com/c34U2510wo— City of Hamilton (@cityofhamilton) October 29, 2019
He was elected to Hamilton’s Board of Control in 1929 and retained his seat until 1934 when he was elected to the Legislative Assembly of Ontario as the Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) for Hamilton East, the first Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF) MLA ever elected in Ontario.
In 1944, he was elected mayor of Hamilton and became the city’s first Labour mayor. He served as mayor until 1949.
Lawrence presided over the city as mayor during a very contentious steelworkers’ strike in the mid-1940s. He publicly and actively supported the workers and refused calls from the provincial and federal governments to call in police or military support to put an end to the drawn-out illegal strike.
The strike was a turning point in labour relations as it helped establish the United Steel Workers of America and Canadian workers’ right to collective bargaining.
Lawrence died in 1959 at the age of 80 but his influence on Canada, and particularly Hamilton, can still be felt today.
The park along the mountain brow at the end of Concession Street was named in Honour of Lawrence in 1960.
Today, the park remains an incredibly popular vantage point from which to survey the city and there are currently ambitious plans in the works to see the park updated.
The city says the park’s existing features are in decline due to age, weathering, slope movements and vandalism so efforts are underway to ensure the park’s status as a popular Hamilton destination remains safely intact.