T.W. Hand Firework Company, Limited

Location: 584 King Street West

An illustration of fireworks at Gore Park.

A Handbill for the First Canadian Fireworks ShowThe founder of the first Canadian fireworks company came to Canada in 1873. Professor William Hand was born in Hereford, England and received pyrotechnics training at the famous Woolwich arsenal. In 1872 he moved across the ocean to Newark, New Jersey but went to Thorold, Ontario a year later, preferring to live under British rule. It was there that he produced the first fireworks ever made in Canada, marking him as the only Canadian fireworks manufacturer for several years. It was also during 1873 that the Professor put on his first show. Held in St. Catherines, the fireworks spectacle produced a lot of publicity, eventually landing him a second show for the fireman's tournament in Hamilton. Due to the success of this show, William Hand decided to move to Hamilton in 1874. In 1877, William set up a small factory at 20 Head Street. A few years later he moved to 584 King Street West to accommodate his expanding business.

Thomas William HandOne of the company's most popular types of fireworks performances involved huge scenic paintings as a background for a show which combined fireworks and actors. Called Spectacular Dramas, these were started in 1893 and went by such names as: "The Burning of Moscow," "The Siege of Santiago," and "The Relief of Lucknow." It was this type of show that convinced the Toronto Exhibition to let the company handle all their fireworks displays from that point on. This can be seen as a testament to the skill of the company, as a large English firm previously held that role.

Fireworks at the Crystal Palace Grounds, 1874To minimize any damage that could occur due to the explosive nature of this business, William and his workers made their fireworks in 40 small huts as opposed to one large building. This proved to be a wise decision as the company suffered several explosions during its time in Hamilton. The first two, though they destroyed property, did not harm any people. However, a certain Mrs. Oliver was quite upset about the experience: "I thought it would come to this. I was entertaining some company and had just gone out to feed the pigs, when ker-slam went the powder and knocked my spectacles off...Many a time last summer, when I was hoeing potatoes in my garden have I heard the ker-swish of the rockets into the air, when they'd be sending them up on their trial trip, but it's mighty exhausting for one of my years to be dodging the ugly sticks as they come down, bad cess to them." Unfortunately the third explosion, which occurred in 1900, blew Walter Teale (a partner in the company) to pieces. The fourth explosion, in 1901, claimed the life of the Professor himself. About a decade earlier however, William had retired, leaving the operation of the business to his son Thomas William (who began helping his father at the age of nine) and Walter. Thomas William went on to marry his secretary and have two sons, Hugh and Bill. They became directors in the company in 1931, ensuring that the business would remain family owned.

Women Making Roman CandlesAfter acquiring control of the Dominion Fireworks Company (its major competitor) in 1930, the company moved out of Hamilton to a 25 acre site in Cooksville. Though several citizens petitioned for them to remain, a city bylaw had been passed banning the manufacture of explosives within the city limits.

Eventually the company would diversify its product line. Opening a factory in Papineauville, Québec in 1953, the company transferred all their fireworks production there, leaving the Cooksville plant to focus on new products such as kitchenware, wall tiles, and disposable utensils. In 1976 the recently renamed Hand Chemical Industries was sold to Lorcon by Hugh Hand (the grandson of the founder).



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