Walking west from Lottridge Street to Sherman Avenue North
Benni Ferri lived on Clinton Street. His father came from Abruzzi in Central Italy to find work to support his family and settled in Hamilton’s East End. Listen to Benni’s memories of the East End in the 1930s.
Anyone taking a stroll down the residential streets off of Sherman Avenue in the first decades of the 20th century would likely have noticed the houses of Ukrainian, Polish, Bulgarian, Italian and Hungarian workers, which were all on the same street. Hamilton’s “foreign colony” was not yet big enough to boast many streets that were home to just one ethnic community, but Clinton Street was an exception. It was this street that many Italian immigrants to Hamilton first called home.
Many of the first newcomers on this street were men from Italy’s Abruzzi region. Underemployment, overpopulation and agricultural depression at home forced them to seek migrant work in Canada. They came every year to earn cash for their families. Many of these men found employment in Stelco’s blast furnaces or in other heavy industries in the East End. A worker’s identity could be lost in this seasonal flow of men. When a falling steel girder killed one Italian worker in 1912, no one knew his name. One reporter summed up the tragedy: “He was timed by the number, paid by the number and lost in the great plant like one of the numbered pieces of machinery.”
Work was only a short walk from Clinton Street. Families on the street often took in sojourning men as boarders. They were typically from the same villages and towns back home. Their common background fostered a sense of security and community among street residents.
St. Anthony’s of Padua Roman Catholic Church opened its doors on Clinton Street in 1912, cementing the community. It was the first Italian-national parish in the city. Here, Italian workers could be ministered to in their own language. The church grounds and the street were also the site of the giant St. Anthony Day parade and feast. In 1954, the church moved to larger quarters at the corner of Barton Street East and Leinster Avenue North.
The small park near the corner of Clinton and Ruth Streets was once the site of the Hamilton Foundry Company. It was started by eight striking Hamilton iron moulders in 1909, in defiance of their employers. The company operated in the heart of this predominantly Italian working-class neighbourhood for 78 years. When it closed in 1987, area residents petitioned the city to level the site and turn it into a park. The city agreed, and named it Lucy Day Park. Until her death in 1966, Mrs. Day, a widow, lived across the street from the foundry company and devoted herself to the neighbourhood’s children. She had pushed for a park from the 1940s. An alderman expressed the community’s wishes: “The park was named not after a high-profile politician, but after an ordinary person who just cared about children.”