Royal Oak was the cream at the top

Plan was to cre­ate re­tail space, artist stu­dios in ren­o­vated 1929 build­ing

The Hamilton Spectator - - FRONT PAGE - PAUL WIL­SON

The story of Hamil­ton’s last dairy will see its fi­nal chap­ter writ­ten

IT’S A QUAR­TER-CEN­TURY since the fi­nal batch of milk came off the line at Hamil­ton’s last dairy, but the red-brick Royal Oak build­ing still stands.

That could change soon, be­cause the man who had a dream for that old dairy is ready to call it a day.

“I bit off more than I can chew,” says James Branigan.

Royal Oak be­gan in 1898. At that time, farm­ers in the Hamil­ton hin­ter­lands would load up their wag­ons with cans of milk. On their routes in town, they ladled milk into the housewives’ pitch­ers.

Then Ge­orge A. Hamil­ton set up a dairy in the base­ment of a rented house on East Av­enue North, with farm­ers bring­ing their milk to him.

He built up a fleet of horse-drawn wag­ons to serve the whole city. And in 1929, he erected the dairy build­ing that stands to­day near Bar­ton and Vic­to­ria.

In the 1930s, Hamil­ton had 23 dairies. But one by one they closed, as large plants in Toronto took over much of the busi­ness.

Royal Oak was the last lo­cal dairy, and the last to use horses for de­liv­ery. A mare named Flo made a cer­e­mo­nial fi­nal de­liv­ery to City Hall on June 10, 1960.

In 1976, Royal Oak was swal­lowed by a sub­sidiary of Sil­ver­wood’s. And in 1991, head of­fice said the plant was ob­so­lete and shut it down.

The build­ing soon sold for $500,000.

The fam­ily be­lieves we should just count our bless­ings and sell. JAMES BRANIGAN ROYAL OAK DAIRY BUILD­ING OWNER

The owner for years has been Bernie Os­balde­ston, an in­vestor with en­durance.

He’s in his mid-90s, and as far as we know is en­joy­ing this win­ter some­where in Florida.

He’s owned old things be­fore. Diane Dent, pres­i­dent of the Her­itage Hamil­ton Foun­da­tion, told a great story a cou­ple of years ago in ur­ban­ic­ity mag­a­zine about how Os­balde­ston had ac­quired the vin­tage stained glass win­dows from the en­trance of the Pig­ott Build­ing, the city’s first sky­scraper, on James near Main.

In 1988 he of­fered to sell them to the city for $12,000. Sev­eral city staffers showed up at his east-end ap­pli­ance store with a cheque. He wanted cash, and it had to be small bills. After some scur­ry­ing around, the deal was done.

As for the dairy, Os­balde­ston seems to have made lim­ited use of it over the years. And in 2012, he sold it to James Branigan for about $1 mil­lion.

Branigan’s part­ners in this en­ter­prise were his wife Maria and his mother Jikky. Their plan was the Royal Oak Stu­dios, with re­tail at ground level and space for lo­cal artists above.

Branigan, 40, North End born and bred, is in con­struc­tion and planned to do the work him­self.

The dairy sits on a large par­cel of land. The milk tanks are still in place in a build­ing out back. So are some of the sta­bles.

In the main build­ing, there are half a dozen ten­ants in rooms that are rough.

The job of bring­ing this prop­erty back would have been huge. And two years ago, Branigan’s mother died. Now the rest of the fam­ily would like to see the dairy lands sold.

When Branigan bought the prop­erty, most of the mort­gage was pro­vided by Os­balde­ston him­self. Branigan does not want to have to turn the dairy back to him.

So vet­eran com­mer­cial agent Don My­ers has just taken on the job of try­ing to sell the old dairy. He’s putting to­gether a pack­age to present to a se­lect group of de­vel­op­ers.

Though his­tory abounds, there is no of­fi­cial her­itage sta­tus for this prop­erty. The most likely sce­nario is a tear­down, mak­ing way for a mix of new af­ford­able and mar­ket-rent apart­ments. The project might ap­peal to some who work at the Hamil­ton Gen­eral, just a block away.

Real es­tate val­ues all over Hamil­ton have climbed in re­cent years.

“The fam­ily be­lieves we should just count our bless­ings and sell,” Branigan says.

List price for the sto­ried Royal Oak lands: $3 mil­lion.

LO­CAL HIS­TORY AND AR­CHIVES, HPL

The Royal Oak Dairy head­quar­ters on East Av­enue North in the 1940s. The dairy, es­tab­lished in 1898, lasted nearly a cen­tury.

GARY YOKOYAMA, THE HAMIL­TON SPEC­TA­TOR

James and Maria Branigan have put the Royal Oak Dairy prop­erty up for sale. List price: $3 mil­lion.

LO­CAL HIS­TORY AND AR­CHIVES, HPL

Mayor Lloyd Jack­son was pre­sented with the last quart of milk de­liv­ered by horse-drawn wagon on June 10, 1960. “Flo” had worked for the dairy for 15 years.

It was the be­gin­ning of the end for horse­power when Royal Oak took de­liv­ery of an elec­tric-pow­ered truck in March of 1960.

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