Before Dundas Street, there was Dundas

Before Dundas Street, there was Dundas

A Journey into Dundas, Ontario

These days Dundas is a famous street name and subway stop in Toronto. Less known is that Dundas was once a major Canadian city.

Dundas is a formerly independent town and now constituent community in the city of Hamilton, Ontario, Canada.

The town of Dundas was named by John Graves Simcoe, Lieutenant Governor of Upper Canada [until 1798], for his friend Henry Dundas, 1st Viscount Melville, a Scottish lawyer and politician who never visited North America. Prior to being called "Dundas" the town was called Coote's Paradise, and renamed after 1814 to Dundas. Dundas was then incorporated in 1847 as part of Wentworth County.

The Great Western Railway (GWR) put their line through Dundas in 1853, but it wasn't until 1864 that the first Dundas station was built.

In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, Dundas enjoyed considerable economic prosperity through its access to Lake Ontario via the Desjardins Canal, and was an important town in Upper Canada and Canada West. It was later surpassed as the economic powerhouse of the area by Hamilton, but for decades it led in importance. A number of Ontario cities (including Toronto) retain streets named Dundas Street, which serve as evidence of its one-time importance. Dundas was once the terminus of Toronto's Dundas Street (also known as Highway 5), one of the earliest routes used by Ontario's first settlers.

With the establishment of McMaster University in nearby west Hamilton in 1930, Dundas gradually became a bedroom community of the university faculty and students, with a thriving arts community. Dundas has a large community of potters and several studio shows/walking tours of the town feature their work each year.

Nowadays, in downtown one finds that most of buildings east of the Collins Hotel are built after 1881, due to a fire that destroyed all wooden structures east of the Collins to Cross Street. While most of the ground floors have been altered throughout the decades, the downtown’s building’s facade from the 2nd floor up and skyline remains very well-preserved from Victorian times.

King Street West runs from Cross / Main to Head Street. Originally owned by Ann Morden, the site of today’s King Street was purchased by William Hare in 1808, and he cut a fifty-foot swath that was eventually named Hare Street and ran to Market Square. In 1820, it was renamed King Street, after the death of King George III of Great Britain. Extended to John Street in 1832, it was widened to sixty-six feet in 1837, and remains the same today. It was paved for the first time in 1921.

In 1958, Dundas was one of the first communities in Ontario to install fluorescent street lighting, but these were replaced in the mid-1980s for the current heritage-style standards.

Today, Dundas is often the set for films and television programs, as well as a cultural hub. Though part of the city of Hamilton, it distinguishes itself with its own flavor defined in part by its separate past.