Wallace Barnes & Company

(1921) Wallace Barnes & Company Ltd.

The Wallace Barnes Company of Bristol, Connecticut, opened its first Canadian branch plant in Hamilton in 1921, in leased space near the West End of the city. Five years later it moved into this plant on Sherman Avenue North. In its heyday, over 300 men and women worked here. In 1964, the company opened a second plant in Burlington, after space at the Sherman Avenue North plant became cramped. Later, all production was moved to Burlington, where the company operated as Associated Spring-Barnes Group of Canada.

Workers at this plant produced valves and springs for the automotive industry. They also produced springs for stoves, refrigerators, agricultural tools and other products. Much of the steel for this production came from Hamilton mills. Over the years, the company’s main customers have included the Big Three auto makers and such Hamilton plants as International Harvester and Canadian Westinghouse.

Wallace Barnes was a hard plant to unionize. Workers in this plant organized as Local 520 of the United Electrical Workers (UE) and won their first contract in 1951. Only a few years later, however, the union was under attack from all sides for the radical policies of many of its national leaders. The country had plunged deep into the Cold War, and left-wingers were denounced by business, government and the media. They were also hounded out of the mainstream labour movement. When the Wallace Barnes contract expired in 1953, a company union appeared — the Canadian Spring Makers’ Association. The company president announced, “I will never deal with communists.”

A strike began that dragged on into late October. It was punctuated with violence, red-baiting, a large police presence and the arrest of more than 20 picketers. The state’s disapproval of the union was made clear when picket marshal Tom Davidson received an unprecedented two-month jail term for obstructing police. In the end, the UE was beaten. Workers in this plant were organized some years later as Local 8761 of the United Steelworkers (USW).