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The oldest building in Dundas faces an uncertain future

January 2021

There is a small, unassuming stone building on Hatt Street, next to Dundas Town Hall. While it certainly looks old, what’s not obvious is that it’s the oldest building in this small southern Ontario town.

Built in 1804 by Richard Hatt, the historic building was originally as a storage and office building next to his business, Dundas Mills, which was the name picked for the small village.

During the War of 1812, it served as a temporary barracks for some of the 7,000 British soldiers and their native warrior allies who descended upon the town in the fall of 1813. Hatt had served as a major in the 5th Lincoln Militia. He saw action throughout the conflict and was severely wounded at the battle of Lundy’s Lane on 25 July 1814. 

Hatt has previously hosted Major-General Sir Isaac Brock, commander of British Forces in Upper Canada, who stayed in the building on 9 August 1812, while en route to Queenston Heights, two months before he was killed in the Battle of Queenston Heights.

During his life, Hatt was a very successful businessman, with his business holdings becoming the dominant enterprises of the area. They included Hatt’s business holdings would go on to include distillery, a potashery, a general store, two sawmills, a coopery, a blacksmith shop, several farms, and numerous houses, storehouses, and a local newspaper.

Hatt also served as a Justice of the Peace, a road commissioner, judge of the Gore District, and a politician in the Legislative Assembly of Upper Canada from 1817 until his death in 1819.

Dundas Mills merged with the Village of Dundas in 1814, which grew to become a town in 1847, and in 2000, was merged with the other municipalities of Hamilton-Wentworth to become the City of Hamilton.

Hatt’s grist-mill stood on the north-east corner of of Governor’s Road and Ogilvie Street until it was demolished in 1968. A Metro supermarket now occupies the site. Some of the stone foundation remains, and was uncovered by a construction crew working on the property.

Hatt’s stone building was used as the first post office in Dundas from 1818 until 1943, then a private residence until 1961, when it became a lighting store, Folkes Lighting, until 2004. In its transformation to a lighting store, most of the east wall and part of the north wall were removed and replaced by display windows.

It was then sold to Andrew and Barbara Galbreath of Chelsea, Quebec, who operated an art studio in the building until 2013.

The building has been vacant since 2013, and the was forced into sale for tax arrears owing. The tax bill has since been paid, but the building is still vacant.

Richard Hatt’s old building is now on the “Hamilton Municipal Heritage Committee’s list of endangered buildings and landscapes because it faces ‘immediate threat … through demolition; neglect; vacancy; alterations and/or redevelopment.’” there have been concerns for the structural integrity of the building since the early 1990s, when the south wall began to curve and the roof bowed.

Sources: https://www.mississauga.com/news-story/3873755-historic-dundas-building-sits-vacant, https://www.heritagetrust.on.ca/en/index.php/plaques/dundas-mills, https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/hamilton/hatt-building-1.4214778, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/hatt_richard_5E.html, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_Hatt, https://www.ancestry.com/sharing/13925642?h=2e6b9c, https://www.facebook.com/DundasMuseum/posts/the-dundas-grist-mill-built-in-1804-by-richard-hatt-it-is-pictured-here-as-it-ap/10158804271503275, https://map.dundasmuseum.ca/listings/2-hatt-street, https://www.hamiltonnews.com/news-story/9112315-dundas-2-hatt-st-heritage-assessment-delayed-six-months, https://www.hamiltonnews.com/news-story/10281665-dundas-oldest-building-heritage-assessment-delayed-again.

About the author

Bruce Forsyth

Bruce Forsyth served in the Royal Canadian Navy Reserve for 13 years (1987-2000). He served with units in Toronto, Hamilton & Windsor and worked or trained at CFB Esquimalt, CFB Halifax, CFB Petawawa, CFB Kingston, CFB Toronto, Camp Borden, The Burwash Training Area and LFCA Training Centre Meaford.

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