By: Jack Jackowetz
Brantford was no longer a city in transition. Change was well underway. New suburban housing and commercial developments were being built, primarily in the north end. The downtown began its rapid decline as the commercial centre of the City, it would be supplanted by Lynden Park Mall and strip mall developments along King George Road. The manufacturing sector was humming along nicely; there were well paying jobs available for young men right out of high school. The optimism of the decade did not foresee economic events that would culminate in the 1980s that would forever change the City.
As the 1970s began the local economy was stagnant. Population growth was slow and unemployment levels were high. Brantford was added to the provincial government’s list of slow growth areas making it eligible for provincial loans for new businesses and local business expansion. The City also became eligible for federal Local Initiative Programme grants. These programmes had the desired effect. Massey-Ferguson bought 187 acres between Henry Street and Highway 403 to double their land holdings. Keep Rite, G.W.G., Sonoco, S.C. Johnson, Gates Rubber, Hussman, and Crown Electric all undertook major plant expansions. By 1973, the unemployment rate had been reduced to 5 percent from 10 percent in 1970, one of the best rates in the country.
Massey-Ferguson announced an expansion in late 1973 that would create 600 new jobs and announced another expansion in 1975. White Farm announced an expansion in 1974 which demonstrated its commitment to the City. In 1977, Harding Carpets and Inmont announced increases to their plant’s capacities.
The growth created demand for more land for housing and industry. The Easton Road, Copernicus Boulevard, Dalkeith Drive area was set aside for industry rather than housing in 1975, because the City’s supply of available vacant industrial lands was virtually used up.
Offsetting some of the employment gains were factory closures. Canadian Westinghouse closed their television plant on Greenwich Street in 1971 costing 250 jobs. Strikes in 1969 and 1970 and a rising Canadian dollar were cited as the reasons for the closure. Sterling Action and Keys also closed in 1971 because of Japanese competition. In 1972, National Grocers closed their Brantford operation. Brantford Cordage, Canada’s largest rope and twine maker also closed in 1972 after 70 years in business because of tariff reductions on incoming rope and twine. In 1975, Weston Foods closed the Paterson candy factory on Colborne Street because the factory was obsolete, resulting in 165 jobs lost.
Labour unrest continued into the 1970s. The Texpack strike, which began on 16-July-1971, when 200 Canadian Textile and Chemical Union workers set up picket lines, was the most notorious. Texpack was a manufacturer of hospital supplies. The union was seeking a 35 cents-an-hour wage increase, a cost of living allowance, improved welfare provisions and vacation and statutory holiday pay improvements. The plant continued production, bringing in replacement workers from Hamilton. The strikers attempted to stop the shipment of goods into and out of the plant and prevent the replacement workers from entering the property. Windshields were shattered, factory windows broken, fire bombs were thrown, threats were made against the replacement workers, and gun shots were fired. The Police were called to escort office workers into the plant. Determined to break the strike, the company resorted to recalling laid off workers and advertising for permanent replacement workers. Violence on the picket line escalated. An injunction was issued to limit the number of picketers. The struggle and violence by the strikers against the company was reported daily by The Expositor and CHCH-TV in Hamilton. On 25-August-1971, what started out as a peaceful demonstration of 700 people turned ugly, with even firefighters being pelted with stones when they tried to put out a fire started by the demonstrators. The next day the police’s riot squad was called out for the first time ever because of continuing violence at the plant. On 3-September the Police ended their escort protection for buses entering the plant citing escalating costs and the diversion of police from elsewhere in the City. On 18-October the workers voted 102 to 19 to accept a new contract.
In 1971 there was a two-month strike at Watson Manufacturing, a six-week strike at Trailmobile, and a five-week walk out at Gates Rubber.
Workers at Massey-Ferguson struck four times in six years between 1968 and 1974; a seven-week strike in 1972 was followed by another strike in 1974. White Farm workers went on a six-day strike in 1977, the first strike at the company since it opened in 1877.
In November 1979, elementary teachers of the Brant County Board of Education went on strike, claiming they were the lowest paid teachers in the province. This was the first time teachers went on strike in the county. Parents pressured the two sides to negotiate and the strike ended after 21 days.
In 1972, the Brant County Board of Education decided to close a number of aging elementary schools because of the high cost of renovations to bring them up to contemporary standards. New schools in the north end were built but there was still an imbalance regarding enrollment and overcrowding. Portable classrooms were added to the most overcrowded schools and children were bused to other areas of town where schools were below capacity. Cedarland Public School, 60 Ashgrove Avenue, opened in 1977 and was immediately over capacity.
A mini theatre and new classrooms were added to North Park Collegiate in 1971. A new library and resource centre was added to Brantford Collegiate Institute in 1973. In 1974, the semester system was introduced to North Park Collegiate and Pauline Johnson Collegiate. This meant students took up to four courses for a semester rather than up to eight courses all year long. North Park Collegiate introduced an innovative twist; rather than four 75 minute periods a day, North Park had five periods a day, a 75 minute period in the morning, followed by a 45 minute period, and then a 60 minute period. After lunch there was a 75 minute period and a 45 minute period, which was the same subject as the morning 45 minute period. Every day the subjects moved by one period so each week a student experienced each course at a different time of the day for different lengths of time each day.
In 1978 French immersion was introduced by the Brant County Board of Education. French immersion started with kindergarten and grade 1 at Dufferin School. By 1987, the school was completely French immersion and was renamed École Dufferin.
The Andrew Donaldson Development Centre opened in 1973; a facility for children with cognitive and physical disabilities. The Lansdowne Children Centre also opened in 1973 with the move of the Brant County Cerebral Palsy Centre to Lansdowne School. It was designed to assist in the integration of physically disabled children into local schools.
A study commissioned in 1970 by the Brantford Regional Board of Trade confirmed the need for both a university and college of applied arts and technology in the City. The lack of higher education opportunities was a factor in the slowing of economic growth in the area. In 1971, the provincial commission on post-secondary education recommended a satellite university campus be established in the City. A local committee looked at establishing a variety of courses in town offered by a consortium of area universities. The consortium idea proved unworkable when trying to reconcile all the requirements of each institution regarding fees, course content, and transfer of credits. Mohawk established a satellite campus in the Braneida Industrial Park in 1973. This campus was closed in 2013 and Mohawk withdrew all programming in Brantford in 2014.
The Ontario School for the Blinded celebrated its 100th anniversary in 1972. The new senior school complex was opened in 1973. In 1974, the school was renamed the W. Ross Macdonald School. Macdonald was a long time Liberal Member of Parliament and Senator.
The Mohawk Institute, an Indian residential school, closed in 1970. In 1973, the Woodland Cultural Centre was created at the former school to be a resource and research facility for the heritage and culture of the Woodlands people. The Centre also included a museum that would collect and display Indigenous artefacts.
Health and Wellness
The Brantford General Hospital’s School of Nursing, established in 1912, was transferred to Mohawk College in 1973. The hospital turned four floors of the nurses’ residence into a community centre for mental health patients.
The Fire Department transferred operation of the ambulance service, a service it had operated for 60 years, to a private operator from Hamilton.
In 1979, the Minister of Health asked the Brantford General Hospital and St. Joseph Hospital to submit plans to rationalise services and reduce costs; this included cutting the number of active care beds. The hospital rationalisation committee recommended transforming St. Joseph Hospital into a chronic care and rehabilitative centre and closing the Emergency Department. The St. Joseph Board rejected this proposal. Both hospitals did agree to reduce the number of active care beds. As negotiations between the two hospitals dragged on, the Ministry of Health moved to impose its preferred solution on the hospitals, and the community.