Doors Open Hamilton: 270 Sherman

Friday 10 May 2013

Hamilton’s industrial history may be most closely tied to steel, but my own Hamilton story begins differently, with an industry that is quite literally tied to the fabric of the city — the textile industry.

Around 1940, Hamilton’s booming cotton industry brought my grandparents from Kingston, my grandfather following his brother-in-law (Grandma Rose’s brother Frank) to work at a mill. My grandfather, Arthur Rose, was in his mid twenties, leaving behind many siblings and his parents to find work. My grandfather wasn’t alone. Finding work in the textile industry is what brought many newcomers to Hamilton in the first part of the 20th century.

My grandfather spent his career at the Hamilton Cotton Company, which was located at 304 Mary Street. According to this article from the Hamilton Spectator, the Hamilton Cotton Company was the cotton mill that employed the second-largest amount of employees.

“There are three large cotton mills [in Hamilton] and two knitting factories which send their product to nearly all parts of the civilized world. The Ontario Mill, on James Street North, covers a whole block, and gives employment to the largest number of hands. This mill manufactures tickings, sheetings and denims, and its principal market is in Australia and New Zealand.

The Hamilton Cotton Company is a close second in number of operatives employed, and its product is cottoandes, denims, yards and webbing, all of which finds a market within the Dominion. The Imperial Mill, for the manufacture of duck and twines, which is in the east end of the city, and has only been in operation about one year, gives employment to as many operatives as either of the other mills.

What an army of men, women and boys are dependent upon the success and prosperity of these three cotton mills? …  The three mills are run at their full capacity at all times, and occasionally have to do overtime to fill their orders.”

By the end of my grandfather’s career, the textile industry in Hamilton was no longer booming, prompting him to take early retirement, allowing him to spend time with his family before he died of pancreatic cancer, way too young, in 1976.

Like many industrial complexes in the city, the cotton mill at 304 Mary Street where my grandfather worked was demolished, as, I assume, was the Ontario Mill on James Street North. Luckily, the Imperial Mill at 270 Sherman still stands, and is taking on a new life as a creative industries complex, housing artists, exhibitions, and special events.

I visited 270 Sherman, along with Treble Hall, the Green Cottage, and the Pring House, as part of Doors Open Hamilton, one of my favourite weekends in the city, and it is absolutely stunning. Glorious in red brick, 270 Sherman has stood since 1900 when it was founded by James Mason Young, who later died, along with his wife, aboard the Lusitania. Today, it is one of the most complete historic textile mill complexes still standing.

I wandered 270 Sherman with my dad, who like his father, worked for the Hamilton Cotton Company, though only briefly, and had done some work scrapping machinery at the Sherman mill in the 1960s. Though the rows of machinery that once lined the mill are gone, along with the pigeon poop that once caked the windows, he was amazed not only that the buildings that make up the complex are still very much in tact, but that they’re also taking on new life. We wandered the mill, snapping pictures, and chatting with some of the 50 tenants who work out of 270 Sherman.

Currently, 270 Sherman is housing an exhibit called PLACE and SPACE by the complex’s first artist in residence, C. Wells. In his exhibit, an ode to urbanity, Wells explores the words “place” and “space,” and the individual meaning each carries, utilizing a combination of media. His work, urban and industrial in nature, is perfectly complimented by the wood, brick, and steel of the 3rd floor exhibition space. PLACE and SPACE is on view until June 23rd.

I don’t know if it’s my family’s blue-collar ties, or just my love for Hamilton’s history, but I feel at home, and in awe, when spending time in and around Hamilton’s old industrial buildings, and 270 Sherman is one of the most unique I’ve been lucky enough to see.

My visit to 270 Sherman, and the collection of artifacts still found there, prompted me to do my own digging through the belongings of the grandfather I never got to meet. Among them, I found this gem, a poem he wrote while serving on the safety committee of the Hamilton Cotton Company, and this photograph of him in his office, which apparently overlooked the rows and rows of machinery below.



  1. Hi grandfather had his first job in 1917 with General Manager Mr. Archibald in the T. Eaton Company Mill as an apprentice boy in raw stocks, carding and spinning. I don't know if you know what building he might have done his rag picking. I can't find anything on line about T. Eaton having a mill. He worked his way up into carding and spinning and then into the machine shop. Can you help me with this?

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