Historical Hamilton

In 2001, the name Hamilton became applied, politically and in terms of municipal administration, to a wide variety of communities, which have grown and developed at the west end of Lake Ontario. One of the oldest and most distinctive regions in eastern Canada, the city of Hamilton’s history has been defined by its geographic footprint and its key location as a transportation hub. The earliest settlements and commercial centres after the arrival of the Loyalists were located to take advantage of the transportation routes and one of the area’s key geographic formations, the Niagara Escarpment. The communities of Ancaster and Dundas grew rapidly because of the many mills built where they were located near major streams flowing over the escarpment and because they were on important transportation routes established in the beginning years of Upper Canada’s history. The community of Stoney Creek, and Saltfleet Township, also benefited for similar reasons by its location near the Red Hill Creek and the Lake Ontario shoreline. Stoney Creek would gain great local and national fame because of the battle during the War of 1812 which marked the end of the deepest penetration of invading American forces into Upper Canadian territory.

Hamilton itself was well behind other settlements in the region in terms of development until the opening of the canal through the sandstrip which separates Lake Ontario from Hamilton harbour. With the canal, completed in the early 1830’s, Hamilton became a lake port and the transhipment of goods necessitated the building of wharves, warehouses and other dock facilities in the area which came to be known as Port Hamilton. Following the completion of the Great Western Railway, Hamilton became a dominant population and commercial centre at the Head of the Lake.

Rural communities within the Townships of East Beverly Townships developed throughout the 19th century becoming important economic drivers for the local economy in terms of agriculture. By the twentieth century, the Head of the Lake became a mix of a large industrial based urban centre surrounded by Wentworth County containing a richly productive agricultural region, and a variety of distinctive small towns and villages which helped give the community its character and identity. In the early 1970’s, the creation of the Regional Municipality of Hamilton-Wentworth pulled all of the communities at the Head of the Lake together in terms of political and municipal administration of some aspects of their interdependency. While the amalgamation completed that process in 2001, the result has been that the name Hamilton is applied to all the former areas of Wentworth County. But as a prime example of a community of communities, the names and identities of all the historic communities within the new city are both retained and celebrated.

Content provided by Hamilton historian Brian Henley