The Canadian Shield & Niagara Escarpment

Rugged coastline of Lake Superior

The rocks that form the Canadian Shield were formed about four billion years ago during the Archeon Eon of the Precambrian Era. Erosion of this extremely rugged, mountainous landscape deposited enormous quantities of clays, silts, sands and gravels into the surrounding waters. Compressed by their sheer cumulative weight and the heat of the shifting Earth’s crust, sedimentary and metamorphic rocks formed during the Proterozoic Eon of the Precambrian Era.

More recent rocks that were formed above these ancient layers have since been largely removed by the scouring action of glaciers that covered northern North America in the several ice ages in the past 100,000 years.

View from top of Blue Mountain in Collingwood

The last ice age scraped the rocks in a NNE (north-north-east) to SSE (south-south-east) direction. At the end of the last ice age, all the waters in central Ontario (and the great lakes) drained to the east, toward the St Lawrence River. After the weight of the glaciers left this area, the land slowly began to rise.

As the Niagara escarpment rose, the waters to the west flowed to Lake Huron, and the waters to the east into Lake Ontario. The soil on which trees and other vegetation grow in this part of the continent are the result of gradual sediment buildup since the last ice age.

First Nations & Early Explorers

The first humans, the Clovis people, arrived in Niagara Region almost 12,000 years ago, around the time of the birth of the Falls, when the land was tundra with spruce forests. These nomadic hunters camped along the old Lake Erie shoreline, in small dwellings, and left little behind except chipped stones, likely used to hunt caribou, mastodons, moose and elk.

By 9,500 years ago deciduous forest covered southernmost Ontario, supporting wildlife like deer, moose, fish and plants, enabling small groups to hunt in the winter, coming together into larger groups during the summer, to fish at shorelines and at the mouths of rivers.

About 2,000 years ago, the Woodland Period brought Iroquois culture in southern Ontario. These peoples began agriculture based on crops of corn, bean and squash, which supported a boom in population and a rich culture with small palisaded villages in which extended families occupied individual longhouses. They developed ceramics technology and forged strong inter-village alliances.

By the time the European explorers and missionaries arrived in the early 1600s, the Iroquoian villages had elected chiefs and were allied within powerful tribal confederacies. The Neutral Indians were the leaders of a group of ten tribes of the Iroquois Nation. Other tribes included the Seneca, Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, Huron, Petun, Erie and the Susquehannock. The French explorers , gave this Indian tribe the name “Neutrals”, because of their position and status as peace keepers between the warring Hurons and Iroquois. Unfortunately, inter-tribal warfare was made worse by the intrusion of the Europeans.

Niagara Falls
In May 1535, Jacques Cartier left France to explore the New World, and was told by the Indians he met along the St. Lawrence River about Niagara Falls. When Samuel de Champlain visited Canada in 1608, he too heard the stories, but it was Etienne Brule, who in 1615 was the first European to see Hamilton on his explorations of Lakes Ontario, Erie Huron and Superior.
Lasalle also visited the area, a fact commemorated at a park in nearby Burlington. These were followed shortly by the Recollet missionary explorers, and a decade later by the Jesuits

In 1641 the Onguiaahra Indians (also called the “Neutral” Indians) were the predominant tribe along the Niagara River, and The Iroquois Confederacy or Five (later Six) Nations first occupied the land now covered by Hamilton. The French initiated a fur- trade rivalry between the Huron and Iroquois, which turned into a 6 year long Indian war which pushed the Huron Nation to the north and scattered them throughout Ontario. The Iroquois moved into the Niagara area, pushing the Neutral Indians eastward to the area of Albany, New York. The wars also managing to keep Europeans settlers away until after the American Revolution.

To the War of 1812

View of/from the Niagara Escarpment at Hamilton
After the American Revolutionary War, many United Empire Loyalists settled in the fertile region along Lake Ontario’s shores. This boosted the population and economic development of the lands between Upper Canada’s original capital at Newark (now Niagara-on-the-Lake) and the new one at York (now Toronto).

Monument at the Battle of Stoney Creek
These were accompanied by a number of Indians who fought on their side in both the French-Indian Wars and the American Revolution. These Mohawks, of the Six Nations, under Captain (and Chief) Joseph Thayendanegea Brant, settled
in the area around Brantford in 1784 on land reserved for them by the Crown. Captain Brant, for whom the town is named, is buried in Her Majesty’s Royal Chapel in Brantford. This is the first Protestant church built in Ontario and one of only two Royal Chapels outside the United Kingdom.

After simmering treaty and border disputes finally erupted into the War of 1812, the Hamilton area again became a strategic area. While there were many skirmishes on both sides of the Niagara River, the Americans repeatedly attacked British Upper Canada, including one time landing at and burning Fort York. In 1813, the British regulars and Canadian militia defeated invading American troops at the Battle of Stoney Creek, fought in what is now a park in eastern Hamilton. The War between England and the US ended in 1814, and the British resolved the develop Upper Canada with greater haste.

To Confederation

George Hamilton, a settler and local politician, established a town site in the northern portion Barton Township after the war in 1815.
He developed a road grid, using the original Indian Trails, and named original streets for his children, including James, John, Catherine and Mary.
Gore Park, at King and James Streets, became the public square for the new settlement and Gore District of Upper Canada and Wentworth County were created in 1816, and Mr. Hamilton’s settlement was the seat for both.

Gore Park statue of Queen Victoria
During the early 1800s, Hamilton’s settlement in Barton Township steadily grew, and was aided by an 1827 channel linking Burlington Bay to Lake Ontario for marine transportation.
In 1833, the settlement was incorporated as a village. As railway fever raced across North America in the 1830s, there were several false starts but the community got its first rail line in the mid 1850s connecting to Port Dover on Lake Erie.
This line was built by Allan Napier MacNab, who completed Dundurn Castle as his stately home in 1835, and led Gore militia to crush insurgents in the Rebellion of 1837, for which he was knighted the following year.

Ferguson Station
Hamilton received its city charter in 1846. That same year, Robert Smiley and a partner began publishing “The Hamilton Spectator and Journal of Commerce”.
The Great Western Railway had their maintenance and marshalling yards in Hamilton, and the city got its start in the steel industry re-rolling rails imported from Britain.

Expanding from this relatively minor process, several small workshops and craftsmen banded together to begin smelting steel. They had easy access to limestone in the Niagara Escarpment, coal from Appalachia, iron ore mined from the Canadian Shield and export markets (both overseas and to the US) through the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence. Quickly, Hamilton became an important iron and steel producing city. The city also grew as a manufacturer of tobacco, beer, textiles, and other consumer products.

The Irish immigrants created a “Corktown” around John and Hunter Streets. Many early patriotic Britons erected public monuments to honour John A. Macdonald, Queen Victoria and the United Empire Loyalists. These new immigrants encouraged the trade union movement among skilled craftsmen, which gave birth in 1872 the “Nine Hour Movement,” which urged the government to limit working hours to nine per day.

Robert Smiley, the founding publisher of ”The Spectator”, sold the newspaper to William Southam in 1877 as the first link in the Southam newspaper chain.

While staying at his parents’ Brantford home in 1874, Alexander Graham Bell conceived of the idea of the telephone and in 1876 made the first long distance call to Paris, Ontario. In 1878, Hamilton opened the first telephone exchange in the British Empire.

ED Smith Plant, today
Stoney Creek fruit grower Ernest D’Israeli Smith was frustrated by the cost of having his fruit transported, and in 1882 founded a company to market directly to wholesalers and eliminate the middleman. E.D. Smith & Sons Ltd. is today still a top brand for manufactured preserves and jams.

In the 1900s

Escarpment view East to Dofasco Inc
Growing commercial and industrial prosperity attracted large scale immigration from the British Isles,
The steel industry continued to grow and consolidate, resulting in the Steel Company of Canada (Stelco) in 1910 and Dominion Steel Casting Company (Dofasco) in 1912, who located in the city’s north end to be close to the water for both transportation and cooling.

Following the turn of the century, immigration continued, from black Americans, Italians, who sertled along Murray Street (“Corso Raculmuto”), and Austria-Hungary. During World War I, Hamilton sent four battalions of the Royal Hamilton Light Infantry who fought in France as apart of the Canadian Expeditionary Force.

The Hamilton Board of Education continued building new schools, many named for the war veterans: Memorial School, Allenby School and Earl Kitchener School.
Hamilton’s municipal government, civic boosters and ordinary residents lured McMaster University, funded by a bequest of Senator William McMaster in 1887, from Toronto with grants of land and money in 1930.

Ivor Wynn Stadium1
That same year Hamilton hosted the inaugural Empire Games, now the Commonwealth Games, allowing amateur athletes from around the British Empire and Commonwealth to compete at Hamilton Civic Stadium, the current site of Ivor Wynne Stadium.

The Great Depression of the 1930s hit Hamilton hard, affecting the steel industry specifically as well as all other consumer and industrial goods.
Make-work government projects designed to prime the economy, but also began to improve the long-term attractiveness of Hamilton.
Thomas B. McQuesten, a Hamilton lawyer and MLA, who served as minister of transportation and as chairman Niagara Parks Commission starting in 1934
spearheaded the construction of the Queen Elizabeth Way, Canada’s first controlled access highway, to link Fort Erie with Toronto via Hamilton.
He also supported the construction of the Rock Gardens at the Royal Botanical Gardens.

When the Second World War began, Hamilton quickly mobilized to send troops, including a number who took part in , and died in the the fateful raid on Dieppe, as a testing ground for tactics used on D-Day.
Hamilton also played a key role in the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan, with a Royal Canadian Air Force training station at Mount Hope (now the location of its international airport).
The War, with its shortage of men, also led to the introduction of women into the paid industrial workforce.