By Brian Roulston
The Jamesville Social Housing units located between Strachan and Ferrie Streets now sit largely vacant and boarded up as the city contemplates their future role in Hamilton’s North End. For 50 years this 91 unit complex was home to many low income families.
In the beginning, 1854 to be exact, Fred Garner (F.G) Beckett, his father Henry Beckett along with his two brothers Henry Beckett Jr. and Samuel Beckett built a foundry called Atlas Works and they had 120 men and boys working there full-time. Atlas Works originally took up 2 acres and consisted of several red brick buildings, a 3 story machine shop, a 2 story finishing department, a 2 story boiler shop, 2 story wood and pattern shop and a blacksmith shop.
Much of Atlas Works’ early work was manufacturing stationary, wood fired horizontal engines to pump crude oil from the ground in Oil Springs, Ontario originally, then Petrolia after a new oil deposit was discovered. The same engine also saw success as a portable machine to power large radial saws in many lumber mills across the province. Atlas Works was turning out 4 of these engines a week.
F.G Beckett and his men were also successful manufacturers of marine engines and boilers for the many different types of ships that navigated the Great Lakes. GREYHOUND, a passenger ship in service until 1900 was one of many, the NIPPISING, a steamboat was another. Fred Beckett also owned and partly owned several ships of his own. NEW ONTARIO was a fast sailing steamship and was used for excursions and parties. The DAUNTLESS, a ship he co-owned sprang a leak off Braddock’s Point. The ship managed to offload her cargo in her appointed ports then she finished her voyage here in Hamilton with several tons of wet coal still aboard.
In the later years F.G Beckett and a former employee J.H Killey joined forces and renamed the company Killey & Beckett. Together, they produced the pumps that were used at Hamilton Beach and the former Chedoke Asylum on Hamilton Mountain.
Fred Beckett was born March 23,1831 in Middlewich,Cheshire,England. He died on March 21, 1899 at 78 years of age in Englewood New Jersey where he had resided for several years after selling the foundry in 1880. It is also worth noting here that Beckett Drive and the Beckett Trail which is part of the Sawmill trail on the mountain are both named after Fred G. Beckett.
Ontario Cotton Mill Company bought the old foundry in 1880 then later merged into Canadian Colored Cotton Mill Company which owned two other factories in Cornwall Ontario, The Stormont Cotton Manufacturing Company suffered a devastating fire and was rebuilt just before the company purchased the mill. The other was the Dundas Mill.
The company made another name change to Canadian Cottons Company Limited. By 1907 under the Canadian Cottons Company Ltd 500 workers, mostly young, single women were on the payroll. Canadian Cottons Company Ltd was the second largest textile plant in Hamilton behind The Sanford Manufacturing Company at John & King Street. It employed a thousand plus workers.
The original Jamesville area plant was torn down to make way for a much larger plant in 1920. Everything was brought under one roof, the building was 4 stories high and now took up an entire 6 acre block. The Canadian Cottons Company factory had a loud whistle that could be heard several blocks away. North Enders, always knew what time it was by the factory’s whistle which blew at 5:00 am starting time, noon for lunch and at 7:00 pm when it was time to go home.
Increased competition from other countries during the late 1950’s and 60’s saw textile factories across Canada shut down. Nine-hundred textile workers in the Jamesville plant alone lost their jobs when the Canadian Cottons Company Limited plant was shuttered in 1959. Collectively, about 3000 people in Hamilton eventually lost their jobs when all three plants in the city including the Cotton Factory (formally Imperial Cotton Company) located at 270 Sherman were closed. The James Street plant was torn down in 1962.
The property remained vacant and neglected until the Jamesville Social Housing Project, part of the toxic cleanup of the area by the City of Hamilton was done in the late 1970’s.