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.

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.

Fire and Wood Don’t Mix – Early Hamilton Wooden Churches

St. Stephen's Anglican Church built in  year 1837.  Photo by @erskinec
St. Stephen’s Anglican Church built in year 1837. Photo by @erskinec

In years before Hamilton became a city, fire was a constant danger and resulted in the loss of many early buildings. This lead to bylaws being pass around 1846 that encouraged stone or brick construction.

Rare Today, Common Then – Hamilton Wooden Churches

St. Stephen's Anglican Church built in yr1837.  Photo by @erskinec
St. Stephen’s Anglican Church built in yr1837. Photo by @erskinec

Prior to the late 1840s and early 1850s, almost all buildings were constructed of wood. Allan MacNab’s Dundurn Castle (1833-35) and maybe James Durand’s Belle Vue (1805) were the rare examples of stone or brick buildings in the Hamilton.

The Age of Wooden Churches

The Age of Wooden Churches

St. Stephen's Anglican Church yr 1837.  Photo by @erskinec
St. Stephen’s Anglican Church yr 1837. Photo by @erskinec

By the 1820s and early 1830s, the several communities of faith became large enough to support the building of church and graveyard. These early churches were small and made of wood. They were typically surrounded by a small plot of land.

For example, the first church in the future town of Hamilton was the First Methodist Church that was built one acre of land purchased from Robert Hamilton in 1824.

Challenge of Blogging – Part 3

Chris Erskine, Urban Landscape Artist
Chris Erskine, Urban Landscape Artist

Challenge of Blogging – Part Three

The biggest challenge to blogging is feeding the beast.

Just remember, we are not just talking about a few postings, but hundreds of postings over many years.

If you post only once a week then you will need content for 52 postings. In the crowded world of blogs, expect 3-5 years of effort before your audience reaches a critical level of support (however, you define that).

Ask yourself, what topic will give yourself enough content to get to the promise land of brand recognition and then beyond?

I am a big fan of Film Riot on Youtube. Film Riot explores the techniques of film-making, but even these guys have mixed up things to generate new content and to keep things interesting.

Recently, they invited other film-makers to create short films with behind the scenes look at how they did it.

This raises another challenge, the content must be relevant, it must provide value to your audience. You know why you want people to follow you, but why should they?

For example, I love watching artists create their art, but it is a slow process and needs something more to keep me coming back until the project is finished. If all you offer is essays on how it is to be artist, then do you really believe that people will stick around?

My answer to the challenge is to be local. However, not just with a few references to coffee shops and places to shop, but detail studies on the urban landscape and how the past has shaped the places where we live and work. Further, I try and visit these places and create regular written and visual postings. All this being directly or indirectly connected by my art.

The results may be very rough, but it is my hope that the focus on local urban architecture and local landscapes will compensate for the lack of polish.

Next week – defining your audience.