A. Laidlaw Manufacturing Co./Chipman-Holton Knitting Co.

East side of Mary Street between Cannon Street East and Kelly Street

This fine old building has housed both of Hamilton’s leading industries — metals and textiles. Brothers William and James Turnbull established their first foundry here in 1854. It was known as the Mary Street Foundry and was well known for its stoves, parlour grates, wagon boxes, kettles and farm implements. It was renamed the A. Laidlaw Manuafacturing Company in 1874. It was the only employer to grant union demands in Hamilton’s huge moulders’ strike of 1892.

Chipman-Holton Knitting converted the building to textile production in 1902. Workers here produced wool, cashmere and cotton hosiery. It was best known for its “Buster Brown” stockings for boys.

This was one of Hamilton’s first knitting mills. A primary textile industry was already in place to supply yarns. Many young women from the city’s North End found work in the textile industry. Textile mills were among the few places women could find paid work in the late 19th century. Hamilton girls and women often chose work in the mills before they got married. Their income was crucial to their families’ survival.

Once women married and began having children, waged work was rarely possible. One social investigator declared in 1892 that married women “will not go out as long as they have children at home to care for.” The culture of the day relegated women to the home. If they did work for wages, they were most likely to take in work, such as sewing. If they had to work outside the home, they took jobs that fit into their family schedule, such as charwoman or cook.

Few women spent their whole working lives in textile mills, so they formed unions less often than did male workers. No women marched in the Nine-Hour Movement parade. Hamilton labour pioneer Katie McVicar did organize female cotton operatives into Local Assembly 3040 of the Knights of Labor in 1884. The organization fell apart soon after her death two years later, though. Some members of the Knights of Labor proclaimed that women were “the best men we have,” but most believed that women’s place was in the home.

Women didn’t always wait for a union to organize them. Sometimes they went out on strike spontaneously. A long, bitter strike at Ontario Cottons in 1890 saw women fighting in the streets. Hamilton’s female textile operatives staged at least 19 strikes between 1899 and 1930. Women workers at Chipman-Holton walked out on May 13, 1910. They were protesting the system of fines imposed on them for spoiled work. After standing firm for a few days, management agreed to look into the issue.