Dundas Cotton Mills

In 1860 Joseph Wright, acting for an English company, purchased the ruins of the burned-out Globe Foundry and established a cotton factory.  The old stone building just downstream of the Main Street bridge on the north side of Spencer Creek was renovated and four batting machines, together with ‘whipper’, ‘scutcher’, and carding machines to clean and card the raw wool, were installed.  Sales of the first cotton batts exceeded expectations, and within a year the company ordered the much more elaborate equipment for making cotton yarn.  For yarn, the cleaned and carded cotton is drawn out into a ‘sliver’ in several operations, and then drawn and twisted in a multi-spindled ‘mule’ similar to that invented by Crompton in 1779.  Soon, three tons of cotton yarn, the first to be produced in Canada, and two tons of batts were being produced per week.  Power for the machines was provided by a huge 30 horsepower water wheel fed from Robert Holt’s earthen dam just upstream of the Main Street bridge and the mill race and square wooden flume running under Main Street, all of which had been constructed for the defunct Globe Foundry.  By 1862 Wright was producing 70,000 (7,000?) lb of cotton yarn and had begun making seamless cotton bags.  With the help of factories such as this one, from 1850 to 1860 British North America progressed from importing twice the cotton products that it exported to a slight increase in exports over imports.

In 1864, Joseph Wright wrote a monograph: “Self Reliance, or a Plea for the Protection of Canadian Industry”, which was published by the Dundas “True Banner”.  Perhaps optimistically, that same year he built a large addition to the front of his factory building, making it the largest for miles around.  It was 240 ft. in length, built of light grey brick, 2-1/2 to 4-1/2 stories high with a slate roof.  This elegant structure gave a striking first impression of the town as one approached down the Hamilton Road (now Osler Drive).  To end the reliance on the flow of Spencer Creek for power, two one-hundred horsepower condensing steam engines were purchased from the Gartshore Foundry down the street.

These additions may have overextended Wright’s credit because around 1866-67 he was forced to go public by making an offering of 5000 shares at $100 each.  A majority of the shares were taken up by Young, Law & Co. of Hamilton, who took possession of the company but retained Wright as manager.  Six months later Wright sold out and the company became The Dundas Cotton Manufacturing Co. Ltd. with John Young as the manager.  At the time the factory contained 108 looms and 7000 spindles, with a weekly production of 25,000 yds. of grey cotton cloth and 6,000 lb. of yarn.  From 60 to 70 hands were employed there throughout the year.

Under the leadership of John Young, by 1878 over 400 workers were employed, with a payroll of $3,000 every two weeks.  Young girls and women were employed, the first company in Dundas to do so.  The working day was from 6 AM to 6 PM, with a 1 PM closing on Saturdays, an innovation for that time.

During the 1880s competition in the industry became keen as larger mills sprang up in Hamilton, together with those in the two largest milling centers of Montreal and Toronto.  The Canadian Coloured Cottons Co. was formed to merge most of the mills into one large syndicate.  The Dundas plant was not included in the merger and was shut down in 1894.  It sat empty for many years, except for several small short-lived companies that rented space in the complex.  During the 1920s the Town took ownership of the property for taxes owing.

The Hamilton Cotton Co. was established in the late 1800s by James M. Young and Hamilton Young, the sons of John Young.  In an expansionary period after the Second World War, this company purchased the Dundas Cotton building in 1940 and during the war used the space for storage.  In 1946, however, new spinning equipment was installed and cordage and yarns were manufactured there for a few years until it was closed down for good.  In 1948 the two tall chimneys were taken down, and in 1974 the buildings were demolished, to be replaced with condominiums.

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