E. & C. Gurney Foundry

(1860) Formerly located in the block bounded by John Street, Rebecca Street, Catharine Street North and King William Street

E. & C. Gurney Foundry

The E. & C. Gurney foundry once covered the whole block bounded by John Street, Rebecca Street, Catharine Street North and King William Street. Inside this hot, smoky complex, highly skilled workers moulded and assembled a wide array of iron products, including stoves, fireplace grates, hot air furnaces and registers. All that remains of this historic foundry today is the one-storey stone building at the northwest corner of Catharine Street North and King William Street.

The growth of the Gurney’s business was typical of many Hamilton industries in the mid-19th century. Brothers Edward and Charles Gurney spent their youth learning the iron-moulding trade at a Utica, New York, foundry. They struck out on their own in 1842, setting up a small shop in the promising frontier community of Hamilton. At first, the brothers did all the work themselves, producing only “a couple of stoves a day.” They slowly added to their operations as demand increased. The elegant four-storey Second Empire building, designed by Hamilton architect William Leith, was built in 1875 to accommodate the company’s office and showroom. It was attached to the company’s foundry and shops, which took up much of the rest of this block. By the 1890s, the company had established branches in Dundas, Toronto, Montreal and Winnipeg.

Gurney’s was well-known to members of Hamilton’s moulders’ union. The company helped break the union in 1866 and led the city-wide lockout of 1874. Gurney’s didn’t always have the upper hand, however. The moulders’ union asked for and received wage increases almost every year in the 1880s. It even re-established control over hiring. The union helped finance Hamilton’s Knights of Labor newspaper The Palladium of Labor in 1885.

In January, 1892, city foundry-men cut wages across the board by 10 per cent and threatened to employ only non-union men. The moulders walked out on strike. The street around the factory became a battleground. Unionists tried to keep strikebreakers from taking their jobs, offering them up to $50 to leave town.

Gurney’s sent an agent to Montreal to recruit men to fill the foundries. Huge crowds heckled these non-unionists as they left work for company-run boardinghouses. City courts were busy with assault cases involving unionists. The heat rose when arsonists set fire to part of the D. Moore Foundry.

Union hopes brightened with a victory at the Laidlaw Foundry in August 1892. But there was no more good news, and the stalemate dragged on into 1893.

In the end, employer resistance and a deepening recession proved too much for the union. But the struggle wasn’t over. The shopfloor control that Hamilton moulders fought for was not forgotten. By the end of the decade, union shops were strong again and workers enjoyed substantial wage increases. The moulders were determined men. Theirs was one of two Hamilton unions to enter the 20th century with its own meeting hall.