Hamilton, 1859

Bird's-eye view of Hamilton, Ontario in 1859

From the escarpment to the bay, the steel mills to McMaster Children’s Hospital, and everywhere in between, the city of Hamilton tells a story of innovation, adversity, and resiliency.

But the story of a city is founded upon the stories of its people, places, and practices, spanning from the pre-colonial period, through the eras of industrial development and deterioration, and continuing onward to this day. Moreover, Hamilton is perpetually shaped by its position within the larger socio-political landscape of Canada.

Since its establishment in 1889, the Hamilton Public Library has strived to uplift and facilitate public access to Canadian and local history. By 1914, thanks to generous donations from Hamiltonian bibliophiles and community organizations, which augmented the library’s own acquisitions, the library established its first special collection of books, pamphlets, and periodicals regarding Canada, dubbed the Canadiana Collection. As the years went by, the library formed the Local History Collection, the Archives, and the Rare Books Collection, in addition to the Canadiana Collection, to accommodate its ever-growing corpus of reference materials. By the 1970s, the library boasted books, photographs, scrapbooks, clipping files, pamphlets, microfilm, periodicals, historical memorabilia, and archives.

In 2008, the Special Collections department—which amalgamated the Local History Collection, the Canadiana Collection, the Archives, and the Rare Books Collection—acquired several large archival collections pertaining specifically to the city of Hamilton, resulting in the department being renamed Local History and Archives.

LHA Room

The Local History and Archives department, located on the third floor of the Central branch

Now, Local History and Archives has over 18,000 catalogued items covering a wide range of local history topics, including sports events, places of worship, notable local people, heritage buildings, and landmarks. Many of these items were acquired through voluntary or solicited donations from individuals of the general public and local community groups. The collections are currently located on the third floor of the Hamilton Public Library’s Central branch, located at 55 York Boulevard, and are always accessible during the branch’s open hours.

Instead of reducing Local History and Archives to a mere compilation of historical artifacts, this exhibit focuses on the collection as an entity in itself. Through this lens, its formation and growth over the past century reveals a common desire among Hamiltonians to actively participate in preserving their own stories. Furthermore, as an institutional local archive, the collection can be seen as a tool to project a specific vision of the city of Hamilton. With that in mind, we might ask: whose stories are included in the archive and whose are missing from the record? And what can that tell us about Hamilton’s past and the legacy we hope to leave for the future?