Knights of Labor Co-operative Store/Larkin Hall

12 John St. N.

Knights of Labor Procession, King Street, Hamilton

In the mid-1880s, you might have come here to do your shopping. The Noble and Holy Order of the Knights of Labor ran its Co-operative Grocery and Provision Store here. The leaders of the Knights were firm believers in co-operation, rather than competition. In 1884, they acted on their principles and opened a co-op grocery.

One of their first managers was a young metalworker who had been blacklisted in a recent stovemounters’ strike. His name was Allan Studholme, future labour representative in the Ontario government.

The store was just one project run by the Knights of Labor. It also mounted very effective educational campaigns. Around the corner from this spot, William Rowe published the Order’s regional newspaper, The Palladium of Labor. A Palladium columnist once asked, “WHAT MIGHT BE if the World’s Workers were only Educated and Organized?” His answer: “SOCIAL REORGANIZATION, Universal Democracy and Co-operation.”

The Knights sponsored a number of public events. Hamiltonians attended the group’s summer picnics in large numbers. More than 2,000 workers came to the 1885 picnic in Dundurn Park to show solidarity with striking cigar makers. The day’s highlight was a grand championship game between the Primrose and Clippers baseball clubs. Professor Makins’s String Band provided music late into the evening.

Huge crowds turned out to hear public lectures put on by the Order. Many were held in Larkin Hall, at the rear of this building. A prominent Michigan Knight of Labor, Richard Trevellick, came to speak about the “secret work” of the Order in February 1885. The hall “was crowded to the doors” with Hamilton Knights, and Trevellick got “frequent outbursts of applause.” Terence V. Powderly, the North American leader of the Knights throughout the 1880s, spoke at Larkin Hall in October 1889.

The secrecy of the Order fostered solidarity among its members. Weekly meetings began and ended with elaborate rituals. New members had to be initiated in a special ceremony. Knights identified each other in public with coded signs and handshakes.

By 1890, there were no more local assemblies of the Hamilton Knights. The Order was gone, but not forgotten. Hamilton workers had been deeply affected by the Knight’s vision for collective working-class action.