Today, a modern high school and its grounds cover the block stretching back from the northwest corner of York and Bay Streets. In the 19th century, though, one of the city’s largest iron foundries stood on this corner. Brothers Anthony and William Copp were old hands at the metal industry by the time they set up their Empire Foundry here in 1864.
The Copp brothers opened a small tin shop on John Street in 1849. Eight years later, they branched out into stove manufacturing, opening a small foundry in Woodstock. They moved the foundry operations to Hamilton in 1864, after the Woodstock shop failed.
The Empire Foundry was an immediate success. By 1871, close to 60 men worked at the Foundry, moulding and assembling stoves and agricultural equipment. The Empire Foundry remained one of the city’s largest stove shops until the Copp brothers faced financial ruin in 1899. The McClary Manufacturing Company purchased the buildings, patterns and equipment from the bankrupt company and moved factory operations to London, Ontario, around 1912.
A number of companies were associated with the Empire Foundry over the years. F.G. Beckett moved his engine and boiler business here in the 1870s after partnering with the Copp brothers. This part of the company remained separate from the stove business, and operated out of the western end of the plant along York Street.
The Empire Foundry was well known to members of Hamilton’s Iron Molders’ International Union No. 26. They staged one of the earliest strikes in the history of the city’s metal industry here in 1864 when they walked off the job to protest the erosion of the apprenticeship system at the plant. The Copp brothers were still battling with the union close to 30 years later. In 1882, the Copp brothers installed new pumps at the original Hamilton Waterworks, now preserved as the Hamilton Museum of Steam and Technology.