By Brian Roulston
Where Bay Street meets Burlington, a foot path slopes down in a zig zag fashion to Leander Drive. A modest red bricked, single-story Victorian style building appears directly below the historic Sail Loft (1869) which prominently overlooks both Hamilton Bay and the former Gartshore-Thomson Office Building.
This old building was originally built around the turn of the 19th century by Alexander Gartshore and once had its own commanding view of Hamilton Bay when it stood on the southwest corner of Stuart and Caroline Streets. The building was donated to the City of Hamilton in 1992 by the Fracassi Family and is used today for meeting spaces and public washrooms.
The Gartshore name goes way back to 1838 to a time when Alexander’s father, John Gartshore, a millwright by trade, started the Dundas Iron Foundry & Machine Shop on Hatt St. in Dundas with the financial help of James Bell Ewart then 24 yrs. old from Surrey, England.
Ewart worked as a store clerk and a postmaster in Niagara-on-The-Lake and opened a general store in Cootes Paradise as a teenager, he worked between the two places for 5 years. Ewart owned several mills in Kitchener-Waterloo, Chatham-Kent, Ayr, and St. George areas. He heavily invested in wheat and traded with other mills. James owned shares in the Desjardins Canal System and founded two road building companies the Guelph & Dundas 1847 and Dundas & Paris in 1850. Ewart also operated as a land agent and held a considerable amount of property in Hamilton and Dundas. He owned 3 banks in Dundas and held prominent positions at others over the years.
John Gartshore a former native of Lanarkshire, Scotland moved to Fergus, Ontario in 1829 where he built the first grist (flour) mill in Canada. Unfortunately, it burnt down a short time later.
When Gartshore and Ewart joined forces, they started out by making steam engines and retrofitting many of the passenger ships and freighters that travelled through the newly created Desjardins Canal.
Soon the Dundas Iron Foundry & Machine Shop with its 110 employees were building grist and lumber mills alongside lakes, rivers, and streams around the countryside.
In 1845 Sir Allan Napier Macnab and James Ewart travelled to England and secured financing for the Great Western Railway (Now Canadian National,C.N) which travelled through Hamilton’s North End.
A year later the Dundas foundry suffered a catastrophic fire and at the same time one of J.B Ewart’s mills, the Galt Mill went up in flames. Because of Ewart’s financial status he was able to refinance the mill in Galt and the Dundas foundry. However, he paid a heavy price for that and with the wheat market in a virtual tailspin at the time, he suffered heavy losses and carried a considerable debt load for the rest of his life. Ewart’s final project was his dream of building a major port on the western shore of Lake Simcoe. The town of Belle Ewart was named in his honor. James Bell Ewart died in 1853.
John Gartshore’s foundry now at its peak with 150 men on the company payroll won the contract to build stone crushers, steel tracks and other related equipment used to build the Great Western Railway.
Between 1856 and 1859 the Dundas Iron Foundry & Machine Shop manufactured the original steam engines among other things needed for the Hamilton Water Works on Woodward Ave. Tap water would soon be available in every household in Hamilton.
In the mid 1860’s the Dundas Iron Foundry & Machine Shop manufactured a 17.5-ton anvil for the Great Rolling Mills in Hamilton.
Alexander Gartshore was born in Dundas on November 18, 1839 and was well educated at Dr. Tassie’s School in Galt which was famous across Canada, the U.S and Europe for its no nonsense approach to the core subjects of languages, math, geography, physics, and biology. Up to 40 boys would stay at the school during the semester. They were prepared for competitive exams into the some of the best colleges and universities, medical and law schools.
At 15 Alexander went to West Point Foundry in Cold Springs, N.Y, located just across the Hudson River from the famous West Point Academy where he learned the machinist trade. A few years later Alex returned to Dundas and worked in his father’s foundry before being made a partner in 1865.
By the 1860s the town of Dundas was losing its status as an important financial hub. The dredging of the Burlington/Hamilton Bay and the building of the Great Western Railway opened Hamilton up to new commerce. However, with the introduction of The Hamilton-Dundas Street Railway (HSR today) Dundas became popular as a residential or bedroom community.
With this and with the popularity of mills and steam engines on the decline, the writing was on the wall for the Dundas foundry, it entered receivership in 1869. The foundry was leased to former Scottish immigrant Thomas Wilson a 25-year employee and General Manager. Thomas Wilson ran the company until his death in 1891,after foundry was permanently shut down. Thomas Wilson served as town councilor for several years and was voted in as Mayor of Dundas twice; initially in 1876 and again in 1885.
John Gartshore retired from the foundry in 1870 and moved to Toronto where he started a small-scale operation called Toronto Car Wheel Company which specialized in chilled iron car and locomotive wheels. Three years later Mr. Gartshore returned to his native Scotland where he suffered a stroke and died a few days later. John Gartshore was remembered as a kind-hearted philanthropist.
Alexander and his new business partner Thomas Cowie, who lived at 171 John St. in Hamilton’s North End and former supervisor at his father’s old Dundas foundry for the last 10 years, formed the Gartshore-Cowie Foundry at Stuart & Caroline.
In 1896, Alexander incorporated the former Gartshore-Cowie company as Gartshore-Thomson Pipe and Foundry Ltd. James C. Thomson was then named Vice President and General Manager. His son James A. Thomson became a Supervisor for the company.
Alexander then specialized in making water, gas, and sewer pipes. They supplied every major city from Quebec to British Columbia with most of the equipment needed to build their initial water, sewer, and natural gas infrastructures.
Alexander died on July 13th,1904,he married Isobel King Kendrie in June 1866. They had four children Margaret Jean, Isobel Maude, Elizabeth Strathearn and John Gartshore Jr.
In 1940 the Hamilton foundry was sold to Canada Iron Foundries. The factory continued to operate until the 1980’s. Phillip Environmental used one of the offices in the old Gartshore-Thomson office building during the area’s clean up and before it was moved to its present day location.
On a final note ,in case you are wondering, Dundas was named after the military road built in 1794-95 from Cootes Paradise on Lake Ontario to the Thames River. Lieutenant-Governor John Graves Simcoe ordered a small piece of land be set aside at Cootes Paradise. It was this land that became the town of Dundas named in honor of Henry Dundas, the Secretary of State for War and the Colonies.