At the southwest corner of Bay Street North and Barton Street West stands an impressive building erected in the early 20th century as offices for the Hamilton Bridge Company. The two-storey upper façade, rising from the sloping stone foundation, has intricate brick detailing and a bold crowning cornice with paired brackets, in the Renaissance Revival style. The company’s works once covered the whole block bounded by Barton Street West, Tiffany Street, Caroline Street North and Stuart Street.
Until the 1870s, most city industries were owned by individuals or organized as simple partnerships. The Hamilton Bridge Company, originally the Hamilton Tool Manufacturing Company, was part of a new form of business, the “joint-stock” company. A number of local financiers, merchants and foundry-men scrambled to buy shares in this new enterprise. These were many of the same individuals who founded the local metal companies that merged to become Stelco.
Early machine-tool production was not profitable. Fortunes revived when the company won a contract to build a new railway swing bridge over the Burlington Canal in 1876. After this, bridge fabrication became the core business of the newly renamed Hamilton Bridge Company. The company began moving its production to a large, new facility in east Hamilton in 1910.
After 1900, many of the workers were Italians who had recently settled in the surrounding neighbourhood. A number of them came to Hamilton after the sulphur mines near their hometown of Racalmuto, in Sicily closed down. They endured long hours of exhausting work for low pay and faced dangerous working conditions. Organizing in the anonymous work environment of Hamilton’s factories was difficult, but Italian labourers at Stelco’s Queen Street Rolling Mills did stage a disruptive strike in 1910.