Hamilton’s food industry got a boost in 1870 when local merchant James Williamson built a three-storey vinegar factory on this site. Local grocers William and Michael Doran bought the company in 1875. Vinegar production continued on this site until well after the turn of the 20th century.
“High wines,” the raw material of vinegar production, were brought in casks into the basement of Williamson’s wooden building. There, workers poured the alcohol and other ingredients into a mixing cask and pumped it to a mixing tun (a large beer or wine cask) on the third floor. This liquid was slowly fermented, producing a raw vinegar. The unfinished product was refined by passing it through a series of six filters lined with grapes and grape stalks. The vinegar was then poured into barrels and trundled to the company’s storage shed to await shipping.
The original wooden building, pictured here, burned down in 1912. The vinegar factory then moved into the vacant Custom House next door while its new three-storey brick factory building was erected here. In World War II, it was taken over by the Canadian Navy for use as a training base for HMCS Star. Its upper two floors have since been demolished, but the remaining one-storey brick section still stands.
One Spectator reporter cheerfully noted in 1871 that the products of Williamson’s new factory would aid the health of the community, since vinegar was “a highly beneficial article of food, promoting digestion when used in proper quantities.”