Steeltown, Slag Glass and Heirlooms

What I remember most about Hamilton was the smell that greeted visitors as they motored along the QEW (Queen Elizabeth Way) and over the old Skyway bridge toward Hamilton.  A pungent, suffocating odor emanated from the huge smoke stacks that dominated the skyline, shrouding the bay area in a greenish/yellow cloud.  Enormous slag piles lined the shores.

My godmother and her husband owned a bakery that serviced the men of steel and their families.  We rarely visited them and when we did, I’d hold my nose as we passed by the industrial sector of the city. That is where the worst stench seemed to congregate.

This was Steeltown, a town that for a century was dominated by two giant steel companies – Stelco and Dofasco.

While the name will no doubt stick, the city itself has changed.  Healthcare and related industries are becoming the largest employment sectors in the city, bringing with them new high-tech buildings and a changing workforce.

Meanwhile Stelco was bought by U.S. Steele in 2007 and endured layoffs and ultimately stopped producing steel in 2011.  At the end of last year, U.S. Steele separated the Canadian arm from its parent, repatriating the name Stelco for the Canadian steel operation.  They are currently in negotiations with a new buyer.

Dofasco had a different journey.  In 2007 it became a subsidiary of the world wide steel conglomerate ArcelorMittal. Today ArcelorMittal Dofasco in Hamilton is viewed as a technology driven advanced manufacturing company, of which steel production using an automated oxygen steelmaking furnace is only part of what they do.  The slag piles still occupy the shoreline of the bay.  They are sold to LaFarge Canada Inc. who crush the slag into pellets and sell it to customers for making cement or for use as an aggregate.

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Charli Mills’ March 2nd Carrot Ranch Flash Fiction Challenge was to include slag in our 99 word (no more, no less) story.  As always, she suggests we go where the prompt leads us.

The prompt immediately reminded me of Steeltown since I used to live in the Golden Horseshoe region of Southern Ontario.  However, while doing research, I discovered that a century ago, some iron mills in England ground their silicate slag by-product into a powder and sold it to glass manufacturers.  These companies used it as part of their pressed glass processing, resulting in an opaque glass of various colours with white or cream streaks. It was also known as ‘Marble glass’ or ‘Malachite glass’.  Manufactures made kitchen ware, decorative vases, bowls and figurines out of it.  George Davidson produced items in North East England in the 1890’s through the early years of the 20th century along with other glassworks companies like Sowerby and Greeners.  Any of their items that still exist today are considered collectors’ pieces.  I found this photo of a lovely rare Sowerby bowl with diving dolphins as its legs.  This became the inspiration for my story.  And at the request of my Hubby, Jim and Gladys have returned.

The Heirloom

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Jim wiped droplets of sweat from his forehead. He and Gladys were spending their Saturday cleaning out the attic and reminiscing over silly items they’d found in boxes.

“Looky here Jim.  It’s my great-grandmother’s Diving Dolphins bowl,” said Gladys holding up a purple dish. “I remember my Granny loved it.  She always had gumdrops in it.” 

Jim reached for the artefact. “Wonder how much it’s worth.”

“Looks like a rare piece of slag glass to me. I’d like to keep it. I’m thinking that some ol’ things are worth keeping around.”

“Like me?”

“Just like you, you ol’ goon.” 

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