Across Kenilworth Avenue, nestled among a number of shorter buildings and set well back from the north side of Burlington Street East, was the Firestone Tire & Rubber Company factory.
In 1919, the Firestone Tire & Rubber Company of Akron, Ohio, chose Hamilton as the site of its first plant outside the United States. The company bought 124 acres fronting on Hamilton Harbour and constructed what was thought to be one of the strongest buildings in Canada. The first tire rolled off the line in 1922.
In the beginning, over 150 workers built tires here. After World War II, the Hamilton plant doubled its productive capacity, and then expanded to Calgary, Alberta and Joliette, Quebec. By the 1970s, though, production had fallen. The company and the federal government tried to boost sagging profits by investing heavily in the plant in the 1970s and early 1980s. But it was not enough. The plant closed in early 1988.
Hamilton Firestone workers formed one of the city’s most active industrial unions. Local 113 of the United Rubber Workers of America was one of the main forces in the strike wave that gripped Hamilton in 1946. Many striking rubber workers were war veterans who, after fighting overseas, were determined to win the battle for industrial democracy at home.
Firestone hired the prominent Hamilton architectural form of Hutton and Souter to design the original plant. The firm’s design used a reinforced concrete grid structure exposed on the exterior with curtain walls of brick and large, multi-paned windows, which made the plant strong, spacious and bright by the standards of the day.