Canada Screw Company

Dundas has the distinction of having produced the first screws in Canada.  In 1846,  Julius P. Billington, an American born in New York, founded the Wentworth Agricultural Works on Hatt Street, taking on John Forsyth as a partner in 1855.  Together they made farm implements and stoves until 1861, then later on, sewing machines.  In 1864 Billington devised and built machinery which made the first wood screws in Canada.  At that time there were only three other screw factories like it in the world.  By the end of 1865 the factory output was 200 gross (1 gross = 144 units) per day.  That year the partnership was dissolved, and Forsyth along with partner William Aitken started up a machine shop on Sydenham road making machinery for processing wool, cotton and flax.  Billington retained the screw factory and worked on improving the screw making machinery.  In 1866 he formed a $100,000 stock company which he called the Canada Screw Company, with Hugh Moore as President and Billington as Manager.  They leased a thirty year old 4-1/2 storey building on the north-east corner of Hatt and Ogilvie Streets, formerly a Westlayan Girls school, , in which they installed a 35 hp steam engine to supply power for the machinery.  They were soon producing 400,000 screws per week with 40 employees.  The 1870 Guide to the Manufactures of Ontario and Quebec describes business as “The Canada Screw Works … J.P. Billington, manager.  A joint-stock company, doing a large business; employing fifty hands throughout the year.”

About this time Billington left the company to return to the farm implement manufacturing business, and the Canada Screw Company continued with Edward Gurney as President and George Burrows as Treasurer and General Manager.  The production had doubled by that time.  In 1876 the American Screw Company of Providence RI bought control of the business and further increased its screw production.  In 1879 the factory was shut down for a time due to a glut of screws on the North American market.  By 1979 the company was back in business with greatly increased production, including the drawing of its own wire, under the control of Clark Thurston as Manager, Harry Crow as Superintendent and Cyrus Birge as Secretary-Treasurer.  In 1882 they were manufacturing ‘iron and brass screws, bolts and rivets’.  In the winter of 1887, over a minor dispute with the Dundas Town Council, the company officials packed up the machinery and moved to Hamilton, a loss of at least 100 skilled workers for the town.  The move may partly have been due to rising freight rates on the Desjardins Canal, together with new railway and shipping facilities in Hamilton.  The Canada Screw Company continued to operate until 1910, when it became one of five metalworking companies which together formed the Steel Company of Canada.

 

– from an essay by T. Roy Woodhouse

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  1. My Grandpa and I

    From the start of the Second World War to the mid 1950s my maternal grandfather, John Gray, was the night watchman at the Pratt and Whitney Company on Hatt Street, Dundas. Like their sister company, John Bertram and Sons, P&W manufactured shell casings and other munitions for the Canadian, British and Russian military during the First and Second World Wars. At the time 247 factories in 76 communities scattered across the Dominion were engaged in manufacturing shells and other armaments. Unknown to most of our citizens was that during the duration of the war the Russian government had two of their representatives in the Dundas factories to ensure their specific military needs were met. As part of my grandfather’s nightly duties he was required to tour the company manufacturing facility (today’s Mainhattan Condominiums) and the company offices (today’s Dundas Valley School of Art) every two hours. As he made his way through the factory and offices he was required to “punch in” at various time stations scattered throughout the two buildings. On occasion I would join my grandfather has he made his rounds. For an eight or nine year old kid walking through the dimly lit plant with the strong smell of oil wafting in the night air was a scary experience; its a feeling that has remained with me to this day.

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