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Attracting 80 new businesses to Hamilton in Five years! C.W. Kirkpatrick coined the phrase “The Ambitious City”

Attracting 80 new businesses to Hamilton in Five years! C.W. Kirkpatrick coined the phrase “The Ambitious City”

The years immediately following the First World War were a swashbuckling time for industry in Canada. That is when, after a successful career In journalism in Hamilton and Buffalo, Clarence Willoughby Kirkpatrick was appointed industrial commissioner for Hamilton. He came into the position at a time when American manufacturing companies were setting up branch plants in Canada as a way of avoiding the tariff barrier that denied them access to Canadian and British markets

In his first year in the position Kirkpatrick was credited with attracting some 33 businesses representing a capital investment in today’s dollars of $265 Million. All this on an office budget of $4,000. Between 1919 and 1924. Kirkpatrick was credited with attracting more than 80 businesses to Hamilton, many of whom continued operations in Hamilton for decades: Firestone, Fuller Brush Co., Beech Nut, Libbey-Owens and Dominion Glass, Dexter Lock, Hamilton By Products Coke Oven Co., Hoover, Maple Leaf Milling, Quaker City Chemical, and United Gas (now Enbridge) to name but a few. It also must be acknowledged that some of the companies announced, never materialized; such was the haphazard manner in which start-ups were capitalized in an era before strict investor protection legislation was implemented.

The Hamilton Firestone Plant, one of Kirkpatrick’s crowning achievements

The Hamilton Herald of 1919 is filled with articles praising Kirkpatrick’s accomplishments with headlines like, “Another new industry…Kirkpatrick lands it,” or “It’s a poor day when (Kirkpatrick) doesn’t get one now.” Of Quaker City Chemicals’ relocation to Hamilton, the headline, “Industrial Commissioner Kirkpatrick still at it.”

Kirkpatrick produced a handsome 37-page promotional booklet, Hamilton, Canada, the City of Opportunity—745 Diversified Industries in which he extolled the virtues of Hamilton as a place to do business. He coined the phrase “the Ambitious City”. Many of the advantages he described still resonate today—Hamilton’s proximity to US markets, the harbour, rail connections. An advantage then that is not present today was the availability of cheap hydro-electric power. During Kirkpatrick’s time as Industrial Commissioner, Hamilton was ranked third or fourth in industrial output among Canadian cities and number one on a per capita basis. By 1924 nearly 50 percent of the Hamilton workforce was engaged in manufacturing. Kirkpatrick eventually left the industrial post with an unmatched record of success behind him and finished his working career as secretary of the Automobile Club. He died in 1944.

The Spectator obituary describes a man of “cheerfulness, broad sympathies and broad winning smile. If a load of care weighed heavily upon him at any time no one ever knew it.” there is no doubt C.W. Kirkpatrick could take credit in large part for the emergence of Hamilton as an industrial powerhouse.

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