Hamilton was a boot and shoe manufacturing centre for much of the 19th century. John McPherson’s large factory, which once stood at this site, was said to be the largest producer of high-quality footwear in the province by 1897.
The origins of this company can be traced back to Robert Nisbet, who was originally from Auburn, New York. He opened a small downtown shop in 1852 and, in the early years of his business, toiled long hours at the shoemaker’s bench.
By the early 1860s, Nisbet’s operation used the most modern boot- and shoemaking machinery, all driven by his factory’s central steam engine. His workforce had swollen to almost 150 workers. Nisbet and his partners sold the company to John McPherson from London, Ontario, in 1867.
Business expansion forced McPherson to move production from Nisbet’s original King Street East location to a large, new building on this site around 1884. The company vacated the factory in the early 20th century. The building was then used at different times to house the city’s post office, the Amity (a community service organization) and, more recently, the Dare candy factory. The building was demolished in the early 1990s.
Hamilton shoe worker Katie McVicar used her organizing talents to help establish one of the first union locals in Canada that included women: Local Assembly 3040 of the Knights of Labor in January 1884. The U.S.-based Knights was the first union to break free of craft union traditions and attempt to organize all workers, including women and the unskilled. Later that year, McVicar led female shoe workers into forming Knights of Labour Local Assembly 3179, which was perhaps the first all-female union local in Canada.