Hamilton Cotton Company

Location: 1880-1971, Mary Street; 1971-1973, Sherman Avenue North, Hamilton, Ontario; 1973-1984, South Service Road, Burlington, Ontario; 1984-present, Toronto, Ontario

The Dundas Cotton Mill building on Main Street in Dundas, Ontario, around the turn of the century (click for a closer look)In 1860 a man named Joseph Wright established the Dundas Cotton Mill on Main Street in Dundas, Ontario, the very first mill in Canada to spin cotton yarn. In July, 1866, the company was taken over by a dry goods importing firm called Young, Law, and Company (Y.L.C.), but Wright was kept on as manager. Later, Wright retired, and the company was entirely in the hands of Y.L.C., with a young man named John Young as manager. The company, by this time known as Dundas Cotton Manufacturing Company, provided employment for 200 workers, including John Young's two sons, James M. and Hamilton Young.

In 1880 the two Young brothers formed their own cotton manufacturing company, Hamilton Cotton Company (H.C.C.), with their brother-in-law, R.A. Lucas. A building was erected on Mary Street, just north of Barton Street East, in Hamilton, Ontario. Over the next several years the company bought up more of the surrounding property and erected structures such as a small warehouse and a boiler shop. In 1897 Lucas retired, leaving James M. Young sole proprietor. By 1910 the factory covered The Hamilton Cotton Company building on Mary Street, circa 1893 (click for a closer look)170,000 square feet of floor space and provided work for 550 men, women, and children. There were H.C.C. selling agencies in Montreal (Quebec), Toronto (Ontario), Winnipeg (Manitoba), Calgary (Alberta), and Vancouver (British Columbia). The company went public in 1928, and in the same year started Trent Cotton Company in Trenton, Ontario, for the manufacture of cotton and blend yarns.

Meanwhile, the sudden presence of new competition in the cotton-making industry (several such companies had cropped up over the decade) pushed the Dundas Cotton Manufacturing Company out of business in 1891. The building on Main Street was home to various companies in the years between 1891 and 1941, but none stayed for very long periods. During World War II, H.C.C. was in the business of manufacturing webbing material for military parachutes and harnesses. Since the volume of raw cotton required for such an operation was so large, H.C.C. rented the old D.C.M. building for storage purposes. When the war ended, H.C.C. bought the mill from the Town of Dundas, installed new machinery, and hired a new group of employees to manufacture cordage and yarns.

On October 1, 1952, five hundred employees walked out of the Mary Street plant on a wildcat strike, demanding a pay raise. The situation was complicated by the fact that there were two unions claiming to represent the workers: the United Textile Workers of America (U.T.W.), and the Textile Workers' Union of America (T.W.U.). The management recognized only the latter as the official bargaining agent for its employees, but supporters of the U.T.W. were persistent in having their own demands heard. When the T.W.U. negotiated a settlement on November 11, three hundred U.T.W. supporters blocked the entrance to the plant, in a sense striking against their own coworkers. When T.W.U.-represented employees attempted to return to work, they were met with violence and name-calling. At quitting time, the scene was repeated. It was only on November 17, almost a week after the official end of the strike, that the U.T.W. supporters finally went back to work.

A 1913 ad for the Hamilton Cotton Company (click for a closer look)During the 1950s, an increase in the importation of inexpensive cotton textiles from the United States and Japan threatened H.C.C.'s bottom line. Profits dipped and soared from one year to the next. However, the directors were confident enough to authorize the purchase of the International Braid Company of Canada Limited of Ste. Rose de Laval, Quebec (which manufactured elastic and plain cotton braids) and the construction of a new branch mill in Marysville, New Brunswick. The Marysville plant, a spinning and weaving division of H.C.C., was completed in late 1957 at a cost of $2 million. Two years later, a dyeing and finishing mill in Woodbridge was opened. One by one, other textile companies closed in the face of intense competition from inexpensive imports. By 1960, H.C.C. was the sole representative of the primary textile industry in Hamilton, but even it was beginning to consider other options.

Over the next several years, H.C.C. instituted a major diversification program. It began to finance small leasing companies and sell of some its own holdings, such as International Braid and the mill in Woodbridge. It formed a wholly-owned leasing company in the United Kingdom, increased its interest in an overseas trading company, and bought a substantial share of North America Business Equipment Limited (NABEL), which leased office equipment. Little by little, cotton manufacturing was phased out, until 1969 when H.C.C. sold its entire textile business (except for the narrow fabrics operation) to Cosmos Imperial Mills Limited (C.I.M.), which also leased the Hamilton, Trenton, and Marysville plants. (C.I.M. was a subsidiary of H.C.C.) In May of the following year, Hamilton Cotton Company changed its name to Hamilton Group Limited (H.G.L.), a company mainly engaged in leasing office and medical-dental equipment.

In 1971 the renamed company moved its head offices to Sherman Avenue North, and two years later to South Service Road in Burlington, Ontario. Also in 1973, Cosmos Imperial Mills closed all of its Ontario operations in order to consolidate manufacturing in Yarmouth (Nova Scotia) and Marysville (New Brunswick). In 1974, Hamilton Group Limited formed a new corporation with Citicorp Leasing International Limited of Toronto, called Citicorp Leasing of Canada Limited (C.L.C.). The new company acquired all the shares from NABEL, Medi-Dent Service Limited, and Directing Leasing Limited (another two of H.G.L.'s holdings) to consolidate H.G.L.'s Canadian equipment financing businesses. By the beginning of the 1980s, H.G.L. sold off most of its European interests, with the notable exception of its share in a British IBM typewriter leasing company.

A family tree showing some members of the Young family involved with Hamilton Cotton Company, Hamilton Group Limited, and Hamilton Computer Rentals and SalesAs IBM moved from the typewriter business to the computer business, H.G.L. followed. In the mid-80s, other aspects of the leasing company were gradually phased out in favour of its computer leasing company, Hamilton Computer Rentals and Sales (H.C.R.S.). It's interesting to note here that although the company itself experienced a major change in direction over its 104-year history to this point, it was still under the control of the Young family. In 1984, the president of H.G.L. was A.B. (Ben) Young, a great-grandson of John Young, who was manager of the Dundas Cotton Manufacturing Company from the 1860s to the 1890s. However, the company's only remaining link to the textile industry was Cancord, a mill that manufactured rope and sash cords on Ferguson Avenue in Hamilton.

In 1984, Hamilton Group Limited sold its 40% share in C.L.C. to Citibank (formerly Citicorp) Leasing International, and the head offices of H.G.L. and H.C.R.S. moved from Burlington to Toronto. In July, 1993, H.G.L. and all of its divisions merged with a unit of General Electric Capital Canada Incorporated to become GE Hamilton Technology Services. A year later, the new company acquired Crowntek Business Centres Incorporated and was called GE Capital Technology Services Incorporated This year (2000), the company has been renamed GE Capital Information Technology Solutions Incorporated, a division of the General Electric Corporation.

One of the Young family members, Robert Young (John Young's great-great-grandson), has found fame and fortune as a developer and distributor of Red Hat Linux, a computer operating system. He had worked at Hamilton Computer Rentals and Sales until the early 1990s, when he set off to co-found Red Hat Incorporated, the world's largest seller of the Linux operating system.




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