Port Hope, Canada – Industrial History

THE capabilities of the Ganaraska River as a powerstream were early recognized by the settlers of the Newcastle District, and Smith’s mills erected on its banks in 1797 were the first of their kind in a large section of the country. Supplied with its waters from perennial springs, the stream possesses the uncommon characteristic of maintaining an almost uniform flow of water all the year around, with the exception of brief periods when floods are prevalent. In addition it has a fall of some sixty-four feet within the Town limits which at present develops six hundred and fifty horse-power.

Viewed from the industrial standpoint Port Hope’s life divides itself into three periods ; the first when the ‘Town was rendered famous by the output of its numerous distilleries ; the second when it became equally important as a railway terminus and port and the third and present period when it is striving to maintain itself at its former level, though suffering from severe losses over which it has had no control.

It was in 1802 that Elias Smith built the first distillery near the site of the skating rink and began the manufacture of the famous Port Hope brand of whiskey. Within a few years other distilleries started operations and by 1826 no fewer than eight were in existence in the Town, while during the thirties even a larger number were kept busy supplying the world with its favorite beverage. A large proportion of this production was shipped to Montreal, where it was transformed into brandy, rum and gin and returned to its native town under the guise of a genune foreign article.

Port Hope’s busiest years were from about 1850 to 1880 when many important public works were in the course of construction. The building of the harbor, viaduct and railroads employed hundreds of men ; the Railroad Shops and Car Works were kept at full blast supplying and repairing rolling-stock ; Helm’s Foundry and Hayden’s Foundry turned out all manner of machinery; Robertson’s Tannery (est. 1820) and Craig’s Tannery (est. 1852) both did large businesses and Molson’s, Barrett’s and Peplow’s Mills manufactured flour for shipment. Besides these there were carriage-works, saw mills, carding mills and numerous other industries in operation, supplying the needs of the newly opened-up country to the North.

In 187.3 Port Hope’s greatest manufacturing enterprise—the Car Works—was set on foot by Messrs. N. Kirchhoffer, G. M. Furby, J. G. Williams, R. O’Neill, L. Ross, J. Hayden, and A. T. H. Williams, with a capital stock of $50,000. Hardly had the Company’s Charter been obtained than an order for 400 cars came in from the Intercolonial Railway, and other orders followed in rapid succession. For about three years the Company flourished. Extensive shops on both sides of the railway were erected on Ontario street, long sidings were put in and two hundred mechanics were kept busy day and night. But unfortunately financial difficulties set in, followed by a suit in Chancery, which terminated in the sale of the plant to Mr. Helm. For some years the buildings stood idle and finally they were destroyed by fire in August 1880.

Since the Car Works were closed down several manufactories of some note have served to maintain a small industrial population in Port Hope, though other industries of long standing have dwindled down to very small proportions. The white stone mill at Helm’s dam, erected in 1853, was used for many years as a flour mill and store-house. In 1887 Mr. J. Dyer opened it as a woollen mill and continued to manufacture there till the building was destroyed by fire in April 1889.

In 1888 Mr. F. Outram established the File Works at Beamish’s dam. At first twenty-six men were employed. Now much larger buildings and three times the number of hands render this Factory of much importance to the Town. (A recent deal has placed it in the hands of the Nicholson File Company of New Jersey.) At the same time that this Factory came to Port Hope, a Twine Factory was also established near the Harbor by W. A. Morris & Company of Montreal. Shortly after it became the property of the Consumers’ Cordage Company of the same place. For several years the works were operated but after having been closed down for lengthy periods they were finally removed in 1898. Its former building was reoccupied in the present year by the Dominion Radiator Company, which bids fair to become a flourishing institution.