Hamilton entered the modern era when a number of local businessmen formed the Hamilton Gas Light Company (HGLC) in 1850. The company’s new gasworks was located in the block bounded by Cannon Street West, Mulberry Street, Bay Street North and Park Street North. In its first 10 years of business, the company laid a pipe network through downtown to provide fuel for the city’s 220 new streetlights. Gas light replaced traditional candles and kerosene in over 600 Hamilton households. It was, of course, mainly the city’s well-to-do who could afford to read by gas light.
The HGLC manufactured its gas from coal. At first, coal arriving at bay-front wharves was carted up to the plant. Later, it was hauled up along a rail spur. Hamilton boosters championed new services like gas light as a way of making the Victorian city more livable.
The HGLC lost its monopoly over the local gas supply in 1904, when the Ontario Pipeline Company began piping natural gas into the city from the Haldimand natural gas fields. The HGLC was bought out by its rival in 1913, but the local natural gas supply was limited. The new company opened a large new plant in Hamilton’s East End in 1923 under the name Hamilton By-Product Coke Ovens.
The McIlwraith School (which was converted into condos in 2012), nearby on Murray Street, was named after Thomas McIlwraith, the first general manager of the HGLC.