The Hamilton Connection

As the case studies included in this theme make clear, the City of Hamilton, Ontario, was an important centre of industrial production and a transportation hub during both World Wars. Since this website has been developed in that city, it seems only appropriate that we pay some attention to the past contributions of its citizens during wartime. The case studies incorporate materials from our two partner institiutions, the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum and Local History and Archives at Hamilton Public Library, as well as McMaster's own collections.

“Everybody from Grandma to the little tot in the schoolroom ...”: The City of Hamilton during World War I

Located at the western end of Lake Ontario, Hamilton’s port and connections to major roads and railway lines from across Canada and the nearby United States provided ideal facilities for wartime production and the transportation of goods and soldiers. At the beginning of World War I, Hamilton’s population was just over 100,000, many of whom were employed in the city’s manufacturing plants, including its steel mills, Stelco and Dofasco, and the newly-opened Procter & Gamble.

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David Elliott: A Hamilton Casualty Near the End of the First World War

On Tuesday 8 February 1916, in the midst of the Great War, David Elliott stepped up to the doors of the recruiting office in Hamilton, Ontario and entered. The twenty-one-year-old clerk, the youngest of eight children, lived on Young Street with his parents William Elliott, a shoemaker from Scotland, and his wife Elizabeth (neé Ackland). As a teenager, David had worked for a time with a local haberdasher named Charles F. Shields and, playing with the Hamilton Alerts rugby-football team, had won the Grey Cup for the year 1912.

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Socks for the Boys: Marion Simpson and the Knitters of the First World War

Many patriotic women’s organizations emerged during the First World War. Called working “bees”, these groups of women gathered to knit or sew small items which would provide comfort for soldiers in the trenches. This handwork provided the women with a therapeutic distraction and a practical way to help at a time when few women played a role outside the home. In January 1915 Hamilton officers in England sent an S.O.S. call for socks for the first contingent.

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Canada’s First Black Airman: Gerry Bell

Gerald “Gerry” Bell was born in Hamilton, Ontario in 1909. The future pilot’s first chosen career was medicine, but instead he served as a special RCMP constable while at the same time proving himself as a formidable athlete. He became a competitive sprinter, racing against the legendary Jesse Owens, and then a competitive amateur boxer, winning sixty-three of his sixty-seven bouts.

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