Steeltown

Heavy Industry

Retired steel workers, Jake Isbistor, Louis Fiori, Bert McClure and Ken O’Neill, began working at Stelco in the 1930s before the union came in. They remember long hours, low pay, dangerous conditions, and hard work in the early days of Stelco.


Look across Burlington Street East at the foot of Sherman Avenue North. The large factories that filled this area in the early 20th century employed thousands of workers and gave Hamilton its nickname, “Steeltown.” The former Deering Harvester plant sites stretched north from Burlington Street East along the east side of Sherman Avenue North. Looming behind it was part of the huge Stelco complex (now U.S. Steel Canada). The western portion of the giant Deering Harvester site was once home to the Oliver Chilled Plow Company. Some of the Oliver buildings still stand and are best viewed at the foot of Hillyard Street.

Brown Boggs began as a small machine shop at the south-east corner of Bay Street and York Street. John Mootry Brown and Nathaniel Glass Boggs had learned the trade as apprentices in the Hamilton shop of Samuel J. Moore, Canada’s first manufacturer of tinsmith’s tools. In 1893, the partners bought out their former employer and moved into his larger shop at the corner of Victoria Avenue and King William Street. This served as their main plant for the next 61 years. In 1954, all operations were consolidated here on the east end site.

The work required moulders, tool fitters, welders, coremakers, shake-out men and operators of drills, milling machines, grinder cutters and lathes. Like Westinghouse and other metalworking firms, Brown Boggs faced the unionization efforts of their most skilled moulders and machinists in the early 20th century. These unions did not survive, but by 1946 all of Brown Boggs’ production workers were organized as Local 520 of the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America.