The area now called Hamilton was first occupied by the Iroquois Confederacy of Five (later Six) Nations. It wasn’t until around the American Revolution and the War of 1812 that the first Europeans came and settled here, although there is some record of French explorers making transient visits to the area.
It was after the war that George Hamilton settled, creating a town site in 1815. Hamilton was incorporated as a police village in 1833 and as a city in 1846.
In the second half of the 1800s, Hamilton became known as a city with heavy industry, billing itself as the “Ambitious City” and the “Birmingham of Canada.” It became the hotbed of working-class activism; and in 1872 was the leading voice to urge the universal maximum nine-hour working day.
Hamilton became an important iron- and steel-producing city because of its easy access to product: limestone came from the Niagara Escarpment; coal was mined in Appalachia; and iron ore was mined from the Canadian Shield. Diverse steel works combined to form the Steel Company of Canada in 1910 and the Dominion Steel Casting Company in 1912.
During the First World War heavy industry boomed as the Canadian and British governments increased the demand for steel, arms, munitions and textiles. This brought on a period of a building boom, where schools, apartments and high-rise buildings were built. However, The Great Depression of the 1930s hit Hamilton hard.
When the Second World War began, Hamiltonians – like most Canadians – welcomed the spike of economic demand but not its cause. In this war, the Canadian Army mobilized its territorially recruited militia units. As a consequence, Hamilton lost hundreds of its young men on a single day in 1942 at Dieppe.
Its nicknames — all relating to its days as a major industrial center and location to Canada’s principal steel-producing companies, Dofasco and Stelco — include the:
- Ambitious City
- the Hammer
- the Lunchbucket City
Today, however, health care has outstripped heavy industry as the largest employer. Education, government, services and technology sectors have all dramatically developed as heavy industry has declined. Because of this, and the fact that the city’s waterfront is in the middle of a re-birth, there is currently a movement to re-brand Hamilton as The Bay City.