Great Western Rolling Mill

(1864)

1906 photo of rolling mill crew


The Great Western Railway (GWR) increased Hamilton’s reputation as the country’s premier iron centre when it erected a rolling mill near this site in 1864. At one time, this site was a thriving centre of iron and steel production in the city.

By re-rolling its own rails, the Great Western Railway (GWR) hoped to realize substantial savings. Shortly after it opened, over 130 men worked in this part of Great Western’s industrial complex. The mill was closed in 1872 after foreign-produced steel began to replace wrought iron as the preferred material for rails.

A group of Ohio businessmen leased the idle mill in 1879 to take advantage of a new government tariff policy aimed at protecting Canadian manufacturers. The new Ontario Rolling Mill Company re-rolled old rails into iron bars and nails. Inside, scores of men employed as rollers, puddlers and heaters were often paid by the piece. The company’s directors helped form the Ontario Tack Company and the Hamilton Forge Company a few years later. These industries located themselves close to the rolling mill and used its products.

The rolling mill amalgamated with the Hamilton Blast Furnace Company in 1899 to become the Hamilton Iron and Steel Company (HISC). The HISC became the core of the new Steel Company of Canada (Stelco) following a series of mergers in 1910.

Benjamin Danforth started working in the rolling mill’s nail plant in the early 1880s. He made nails and tacks from nail plate provided by the rolling mills. Nailers worked 10-hour days. Their wages were based on the number of kegs of nails they produced. As was the custom, Danforth hired boys to help him with his work and paid them out of his wages.