Royal Oak was the cream at the top
Plan was to create retail space, artist studios in renovated 1929 building
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.
The Royal Oak Dairy headquarters on East Avenue North in the 1940s. The dairy, established in 1898, lasted nearly a century.
James and Maria Branigan have put the Royal Oak Dairy property up for sale. List price: $3 million.
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.