Hamilton’s 19th Century Cork-Town – Making a living (Part 2)

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

The majority of the Irish community lived outside Cork-town. Nevertheless, Cork-town became associated with the Irish.

One reason may have been that a critical mass of Irish families that did decide to establish roots in Hamilton chose Cork-town over areas of the town.

In the 19th century, it was quite common for significant portions of the population to move from town to town looking for work. Some reviews of census data suggest that over 1/3 of the population kept no permanent address.

Even for Irish families who decided to make Hamilton home, it was common for the adult males to be away for most of the year, working on construction projects in other parts of the province.

Earning a living

Making a living was a challenge at the best of times. Wages for laborers were low, and people were always looking for a way of making extra money.

In the pre-famine days, the land in the Cork-town area was still open and families have gardens and small farm animals. In addition to providing food for the table, some families open small grocery stores in the front rooms of their homes. There was also the odd, unofficial, saloon in the front parlor.

The Irish Market

In the early days, there was the Irish market, where extra food could be sold. The original town market was located between Hunter and Augusta, where Haymarket Street is now located.

Before to the mid-1840s, the market was the center of Cork-town life. However, once Hamilton became a city, the authorities decided to relocate the market to behind the City Hall (essentially where the market is located today.

Despite the loss of customers, the old market continued as a place to sell firewood taken from the sides of the mountain.

The Big Estates

In the early days of Hamilton’s economic development, business owners usually lived where they worked. However, as a few became very successful, and could afford to build a home separate from work. Starting in the late 1840s and early 1850s, large estates were built just under the mountain. These included: Willows (1840s) for Judge O’Reilly; Arkeldun (1846) for R. Juson; Rock Castle (1850) for Alexander Carpenter; and Undermount (1855) for John Young.

These large masons required large staffs and many young Irish daughters would earn extra income for the family by working as maids and cooks.

Put all together, the Cork-town Irish could support themselves and create informal relationships that built a community.

Next Week: Coming of the Railroads and the decline of Cork-town.

Former Toronto, Hamilton and Buffalo Railway Yard (built 1895) – Hamilton’s Corktown

Former Toronto, Hamilton and Buffalo Railway Yard (built 1895), Hamilton (Ont). Photo by @erskinec
Former Toronto, Hamilton and Buffalo Railway Yard (built 1895), Hamilton (Ont). Photo by @erskinec

Former Dominion Flint Paper Company (Built in 1882), Hamilton’s Corktown

Former Dominion Flint Paper Company (Built in 1882), Hamilton (Ont). Photo by @erskinec
Former Dominion Flint Paper Company (Built in 1882), Hamilton (Ont). Photo by @erskinec

19th Century Entrance to Irish Corktown, Hamilton (Ont)

The 19th Century Entrance to Corktown, Hamilton (Ont). Photo by @erskinec
The 19th Century Entrance to Corktown, Hamilton (Ont). Photo by @erskinec

The Living and the Dead

St. Luke's Anglican Church, built in 1834; Burlington (Ont). Photo by @erskinec
St. Luke’s Anglican Church, built in 1834; Burlington (Ont). Photo by @erskinec

As Catherine Paterson noted in her 2013 Ph.D., thesis entitled The Heritage of Life and death in Historical Family Cemeteries of Niagara, Ontario; graves “create ties to place, people and a sense of a family’s identity over time.”

With the rise of urban churches, the relationship between the living and the dead shifted from the farm to the Church.

People would walk or ride to their local church, sometimes for quite a distance. For example, there are accounts of Lady MacNab attending service in Dundas and organizing wagon rides for local Catholics in the 1840s; they would meet at King and Hess for the 15 km journey to St. Augustine.

Hamilton Graves speak to Us

Jane Ann who died on Feb 23, 1848 at the age of 3 years, Binkley Pioneer Cemetery, Hamilton (Ont). Photo by @erskinec
Jane Ann who died on Feb 23, 1848 at the age of 3 years, Binkley Pioneer Cemetery, Hamilton (Ont). Photo by @erskinec

A grave is a statement about place and family. A grave say that we have roots in this landscape and these are the people who care about me, both in life and in death.

For Hamilton pioneers, the farm cemetery was a physical expression of those values.

In the Binkley 1805 Cemetery, there is statement about a young girl named Jane Ann, who briefly lived and then died on Feb 23, 1848. On the tombstone her family wrote:

“This lovely child, so young and fair,
Called home early by death,
She came to sleep like a flower,
In Paradise the last hour.”

Cemeteries anchor the historic imagination

Hamilton Cemetery is the Oldest Public Cemetery in Canada. Photo by @erskinec
Hamilton Cemetery is the Oldest Public Cemetery in Canada. Photo by @erskinec

“Cemeteries are key elements in the creation of memories, heritage, and attitudes towards the dead and the dying.” Deathscapes, Memory, Heritage and Place in Cemetery by Katherine Cook(2011), M.A. Thesis.

MacNab’s Family Cemetery, Hamilton (Ont).

MacNab's Family Cemetery at Dundurn Castle
MacNab’s Family Cemetery at Dundurn Castle

Like many Hamilton farming families, Allan MacNab had to create his own family cemetery. In the years before his death in 1862, MacNab’s Inchbuie cemetery would have held his first wife Elizabeth, who died in 1825; his only son Robert, who 1834; his second wife Mary, who died in 1846; plus his brother David and two of children.

After 1862, MacNab’s daughter Minnie was also buried at this location.

In 1901, the City of Hamilton purchased the Dundurn Castle property, except for Inchbuie. The photo show Inchbuie in 1901 within today’s landscape. At the time of photo, MacNab and his family would still have been located in the tomb.

As a result of a dispute over the land, Allan MacNab and his wife Mary were re-buried at Holy Sepulchre Cemetery because they were Catholics. Other members of the family were re-burried in the Hamilton Cemetery.

MacNab Family Cemetery, Hamilton (Ont). Photo by @erskinec
MacNab Family Cemetery, Hamilton (Ont). Photo by @erskinec

The source of the 1901 image is the Flickr account of the Hamilton Public Library, Special Collections, while the details regarding dispute over grave locations is from book entitled the Hamiltonians by Margaret Houghton.