Irish Hamilton

Corktown, Hamilton (Ont). Photo by @erskinec
Corktown, Hamilton (Ont). Photo by @erskinec

When you stand on the mountain and gaze down on Hamilton, it is very hard to imagine what the Irish first saw in the 1830s and 1840s a land that filled with green fields and many small streams.

As commerce replaced farming as the principle industry, other areas of Hamilton developed first.

Port Hamilton, with its access to shipping and trade.

King Street, with its east-west road system for settlers moving out to western frontiers.

Robert Hamilton, who was a major land speculator, own most of what would become Cork-Town.

In 1833, Robert Hamilton successfully campaigned to have Hamilton designated a regional center for government, and the former farming community became the Town of Hamilton.

As a condition for granting this recognition, Robert Hamilton had to promised to establish a courthouse, a jail, and a farmer’s market. Of course, he choose to encourage the building of these facilities on his land.

The log Jail and Court house was located at Main and James, across from today modern court building.

The Market was located where the Go Train and Bus station is now located off Hunter Street.

He tried to build a town square, but a dispute with a fellow land owner resulted in today’s Gore Park.

As economic activity started to pick up in the late 1820s and early 1830s, Robert Hamilton began to sell of pieces of his lands to others, who would in turn, the developed these raw parcels of land in businesses, estates, and rental properties.

Today, many of us may associate the Irish with the famine of the late 1840s, but the story of the Hamilton Irish starts much earlier.

Pre-famine Irish workers were largely the younger sons of Irish farming families who could not establish their own farms back in Ireland. Seeking opportunities overseas, Many Irish labourers arrived in the United States and would follow the trail of constructions projects across the northern eastern portion of United States. Eventually, some of these workers arrived in Southern Ontario.

Starting in the 1820s, many of he Irish arrived in the Hamilton region with via the Erie Canal (1817-1825), and the Wellend Canal (1824-1830); with settlement really beginning with the start of local construction projects: the Burlington Bay Canal (?-1827) , the Desjardins Canal (1827-1837), and Dundurn Castle (1833-1835).

For these early Irish workers, Hamilton became attractive place to establish a family and a home. There is a legend that Hamilton’s Cork-Town was established by Allan MacNab, who paid his workers (who were constructing his Dundurn Castle estate) with lands in the cork-town area.

However, for many land developers, the land beneath the Mountain was considered too poor for anything but cheap housing. The area was hilly and filled with streams that would flood their blanks every spring.

This is the place that many Irish would call home for the next century.

Next time – Most Irish Never Lived in Cork-Town.

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