Hands was invited to provide the fireworks at the 2008 Beijing Olympics

With Canada’s 150th birthday just past, with its many celebrations—most involving fireworks–it’s a good time to contemplate the pivotal role Hamilton played in Canadian pyrotechnic history. We refer, of course to the pioneering careers of William Hand and his son Thomas in taking fireworks to new hights, so to speak in Canada. The elder Hand was born in England in 1838 and apparently learned about explosives at the Royal Artillery arsenal. He brought his young family to Canada in 1872 and soon after started a fireworks business in Thorold with five employees. He immediately gained a reputation as a creative showman creating fireworks extravaganzas depicting all sorts of tableaux, including animals and birds. He also offered balloon ascensions. Two years later Hand had relocated in Hamilton and put on a display at the Crystal Palace grounds (now Victoria Park). “Professor” Hand as he was now dubbed, presented a lavish fireworks display that concluded as was reported in the Spectator, with a triumphal arch “in the centre of which was (Gov. General) Lord Dufferin’s coat of arms arranged in brilliant and imposing colours.”
Hand’s Hamilton plant was on King Street West near Strathcona. In the ensuing years the company was engaged to produce fireworks displays before every governor-general and royal visitor as well as re-enacting major historical events in hundreds of shows that were seen across North America. Tragedy struck around the turn of the last century however, when in 1900 an explosion killed two men—one Hand’s partner in the business, Walter Teale. As T Melville Bailey wrote in the Dictionary of Hamilton Biography Volume III, “The blast blew him to pieces. Bits of his clothing hung from a nearby tree.” The Spectator added, “All the parts were gathered together and put in a keg and removed to Dodsworth’s undertaking establishment.” Two years later it was the senior Hand himself who perished while mixing explosives. Again as Bailey described it, “not a hair remained on his head. The flesh on his face and hands hung in shreds.” Again the arrangements were entrusted to Dodsworth.
The business carried on with Hand’s son, Thomas William at the helm and the company continued to prosper. Things reached a peak in 1927 with Canada’s Diamond Jubilee. That year, T.W. Hand and company ran 250 major attractions. But not long after, the more than half-century presence of Hand Fireworks in Hamilton came to an end. Hand maintained a storage facility for fireworks in what is now Westdale. As Hamilton’s growth pushed westward, plans were advanced to build what is now Westdale Collegiate. Fears were expressed that the proximity of the explosives could result in the devastation of the west end. It was time to move the operation. The company purchased a major competitor and relocated to a new facility in Cooksville, now Mississauga. T.W. Hand turned the business over to his sons and retired to the family home on Aberdeen Avenue where he continued to stage annual Victoria Day fireworks shows for the neighbourhood, until his death in 1945.
A Google Search shows the company still exists, now located in Eastern Ontario. On its website, Hands acknowledges its 1873 roots and in a nod to the founder William Hand, offers a line of consumer fireworks called the “Professor” line which includes boxed assortments with names like “the Omen,” and “Dragon Spawn.” And Hands, as it is now dubbed, adding the “s”; is still very much in show business with a division that does nothing but stage fireworks displays. Ironically the company was tapped to provide a fireworks display for the 2008 Olympics in Beijing China—the country where fireworks were first invented.

Providing a Fresh Perspective for Burlington and Hamilton.

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