The history of the Westinghouse HQ building touched the lives of many people in Hamilton. We had the opportunity to interview four women who all worked at the 286 Sanford Ave building together between the 1970-1980’s.
These ladies grew their friendship by sharing lunch together on the 7th floor, which was unofficially the “Ladies lunch room”. 40 years later, these women are still friends and gather together to share their lives and memories of the former Canadian Westinghouse head office.
The Canadian Westinghouse Company was a very large operation, with many different divisions. The graphic below shows the departments of Westinghouse that existed from the 1970’s till the close of the building in 1987.
The east side of the basement was used as the mailroom and the west side was used for many different things over the years, including I.T.
The bridge, located on the third floor, was a contained walkway that connected the Head Office, HO as they called it, and the “HO Annex” where Payroll was and access to the manufacturing buildings. There were secret passages behind the manufacturing plant to the graphics department and stationary. The HR department was in a separate building called The Works Office, which was on Milton St.
The building never had central air conditioning. Every summer they had portable units installed and then removed when the weather cooled down. With windows lining every wall of the building, the temperature could quickly rise, so air conditioning was essential.
The architectural grandeur of the building and the attention to detail in the interior finishes make this building memorable for many. This Canadian Westinghouse head office represented all of Canada and as such attracted a lot of foreign customers, so it had to be stunning.
The executive offices on the second floor were beautifully designed, with stunning wood details and plasterwork.
Executive offices had their own washroom's attached with embroidered hand towels.
We were surprised to learn that one of the most stunning areas of the building, the auditorium, was closed off during for at least the last 18 years of the building. The women commented that they never used the space and some had never even seen inside it.
Westinghouse HQ Culture
The culture and work environment at Westinghouse HQ was innovative and ahead of its time in terms of their work procedures and operations, which, in hindsight, became more apparent when they were bought by Siemens and moved to downtown Hamilton. Westinghouse HQ also offered great opportunities for women to advance in their careers. The Women shared the trajectory of their own career paths, which took them from support roles into management. Things started to change for women at Westinghouse when Edward "Ted" B. Priestner became President in 1985 . He started the Women in Business initiative, created to train and encourage women to advance in their careers
Roberta Harman, pictured on the left, started working as an elevator operator in 1972 and became a Project Manager by the end of her time at Westinghouse in 2012.
Roberta Harman’s mom also worked in the factory during the First World War assembling airplane parts, she is turning 90 this year.
Westinghouse HQ Neighbourhood and Community
The employees of Westinghouse were deeply integrated into the Barton Village community. The women shared memories of local hot spots such as Trocadero’s restaurant (which is still there today), the Waverly Pub, and a Chinese restaurant nearby where employees often ate their lunch.
Westinghouse also gave back to the community. The Westinghouse Charitable Contributions Committee collected funds to support community initiatives and partnered with the United Way. There was a company baseball team for many years and Westinghouse would host Family Day once a year for all the employees and their families to enjoy.
It is this impressive legacy that we are so eager and excited to continue as we make plans to create our own Westinghouse HQ culture, community initiatives and business opportunities for those who call Westinghouse HQ home.