Dundas Axe Works

It is believed that the first axe factory in Dundas was begun by George Leavitt around 1842 as the George Levitt & Co., also known as The Dundas Axe Factory. Robert Holt may have financed the operation. George came to Canada from Massachusetts or New York about 1834 and lived in Tillsonburg for a time. He moved to Dundas and worked at the Gartshore Foundry, getting his apprenticeship papers in 1839 and went into business for himself shortly thereafter. The axe factory was located on the north side of Spenser Creek, just downstream of Main Street. Two years later Leavitt built and operated for Robert Holt and Co the Wentworth Iron Foundry, later to be called the Globe foundry, next to his axe factory. In 1848 Leavitt and Holt were co-owners of the two properties which included a blacksmith shop, grinding shop and the foundry, but in 1849 Leavitt became sole owner of both works. Jeremiah Hourigan, who arrived in Canada West from Ireland in 1842, was employed as a blacksmith at the axe factory and eventually became foreman and then superintendent. In the 1852 Provincial Trade Fair their narrow axes won first prize.

In 1859 the facilities were damaged by a severe fire which destroyed the adjacent foundry. This was probably the reason that Leavitt left Canada for Illinois about this time and started up a manufacturing business in Bloomington. Joseph Wright was looking for a location along Spencer Creek to establish a cotton mill and purchased the damaged axe factory buildings. Jeremiah Hourigan, who was the Sheriff of Wentworth at about that time, purchased what remained of the axe making equipment and moved the operations to a building located on Hatt Street, which had previously housed a planing mill. Hourigan (probably with financial backing from others) added the manufacture of other edge tools including adzes and machine knives, and renamed his new operation the Dundas Edge Tool Works.  An 1862 article mentions the works as equipped with a trip hammer, (grind)stones, and furnace blasts, all run by water from Ewart’s dam just upstream. Later, a 30 Hp steam boiler and a 25 HP steam engine were added as the Spencer Creek flow became less reliable.  Pig iron, steel (for the edges), and other supplies were brought through the Desjardins Canal. Records show that 13.9 tons of grindstones arrived in Dundas in 1968!

Jeremiah brought his sons James, Jeremiah, Michael, William and Joseph into the business, and around 1866 his son Jeremiah took over the operation of it. The father passed away in 1878, but the Hourigan family carried on the operations. The business was a very noisy and dangerous one: huge grindstones which were known to fly apart, trip hammers pounding the metal into shape, air filled with smoke and particulates. It was said that those living near the factory didn’t need alarm clocks, as the pounding of the trip hammers woke them up at 7AM, six days out of seven.

During its years of operation from 1859 to 1910 various other partners were involved. In the early 1870s Timothy Cosgriff joined the company, and its name was changed to The Dundas Edge Tool Co. The next partner was R.T. Wilson, from 1878 to 1887, who had a large brick factory building built after an 1882 fire. In 1887, Peter Bertram, a hardware merchant from Orillia, purchased the factory from Wilson. During this time production increased with the output of axes reaching 30,000 per annum. In 1874 there was another major fire, but the factory was rebuilt quite rapidly and continued to be run by Jeremiah. The business continued until 1910, quite possibly with one or more of the other sons running it with Peter Bertram as the owner. From 1910 until it was destroyed by fire in 1922, the 2-1/2 storey front portion of the factory building was used as a feed mill downstairs (Calowell Feed Co), and a roller rink and dance hall upstairs. From 1945 to about 1990, other buildings on the property were used by McMaster Pottery Ltd.

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