Walking west from Sherman Avenue North to Milton Street
Joyce Yakmalian moved to Princess Street in 1928; she remembers the neighbourhood.
West along Princess Street was a small community of Armenian workers who almost all worked at International Harvester. They were part of the first wave of immigrants who settled in Hamilton in the two decades before World War I. They came to Canada to escape poor agricultural conditions, high taxes, forced labour and conscription in their homeland. Most came for short periods and took their earnings back with them. Many of the Armenians in Hamilton were from the Keghi district, in the western part of that country. Princess Street was an ideal place for these sojourners to live, since it was within easy walking distance of the plants. A new arrival could easily find lodgings in an Armenian boardinghouse and would hear about job openings from fellow Keghetzis.
These men worked at some of the heaviest, dirtiest jobs in Canadian industry. Many Armenians in Hamilton found employment as moulders, shake-out men, sand cutters and core-makers in the malleable and grey iron foundries of International Harvester. “There was a standing order to give jobs to Armenians,” remembers one former Harvester employee, because “the foundries were hot and not so desirable. But the Armenians were industrious and prepared to work there.”
After 1915, this group was joined by waves of refugees fleeing the Turkish massacre in their homeland. Hundreds of thousands of Armenian peasants were murdered or dispossessed of their land. Virtually every Armenian family in Hamilton lost at least one close relative. With nothing left to return to, these transient labourers began to establish roots as Canadian citizens. Many Armenian men living in the city married the women who arrived as refugees.
These immigrants rebuilt their lives bit by bit. Their community was well-situated for young families. It was a short walk to the shops on Barton Street East, Gibson Public School, St. Philips Anglican Church, the All People’s Mission and public transit.
Families worked together to earn a living and fit into their new community. All family members pitched in with vegetable gardens. Some families were able to open small businesses. The neighbourhood was dotted with Armenian boardinghouses, coffee shops and food stores. Women looked after some of these businesses as well as their households. Some women made extra cash by selling needlepoint or knitted items at the nearby All People’s Mission.
By 1935, the Armenian community was well-established in Hamilton. On the northeast corner of Gibson and Princess Streets stood the N. Mooradian grocery store. On the southwest corner were the Korkoian Apartments. Up on Barton Street East, you could find the A. Moukborian and J. Kaprielian barbershops, the J. Abrahamian shoemaker and the P. Ohanian restaurant.