Saturday, 21 January 2012

1903-01-17 Saturday Musings

Saturday Musings
Spectator January 17, 1903
        Fifty years ago, the people of Canada were perfectly happy with the means of travel then existing. There were no railroads, but they had steamboats and stage coaches, and, as there was no rush to get through, everybody plodded along leisurely ; and when they travelled they enjoyed life. However, the only travelling in those days was done by people compelled to do so, and where one took a journey for business or pleasure in the boat or coach, hundreds now go daily by cars. A half dozen times during the summer there would be large excursions by boat to Toronto or Niagara, and, for the remainder of the year, it was only those who had business who travelled. But times have changed, and now we have from ten to fourteen fast trains each day between Toronto and Hamilton, and on the main lines of the Grand Trunk and the T. H. & B. a constant procession of trains going east and west, and every one loaded. The wonder is where is everybody going. In the old days, when Hamiltonians visited the Beach in summer, they rarely went in carriages; they walked to the foot of James street and hired a boat and rowed down the bay to the Beach. No one thought of going there in winter. It was a day’s journey to visit Wellington Square (now Burlington) for one had to go over by the morning boat that went to Toronto or Niagara and then wait until evening for the return of the boat to get home. People were not afflicted with nervous prostration fifty years ago; they took things easily and comfortably, and when the time came to end the journey of life, they laid down and died decently and in order and their remains were peacefully assigned to God’s acre out on the Burlington heights. After all, what is accomplished by the hurly-burly rush through life? As Mr. Montalini said, life is on diminution grind from the beginning to the end; and when we put in our three score and ten worrying and striving to add a few more dollars to the bank account for some graceless scamp to squander on the jackpots and playing the horses or the bucket shops, we pass out like ships in the night and there we are.


        But would we go back to the leisurely times of fifty years ago? Ask that question of the present generation and all will promptly answer, No! What? Give up the fast trains that whirl from Hamilton to Chicago or New York in twelve hours and go back to the stage coaches and steamboats that required half a week or more to make the same journey? Do away with electric street railways and take an hour to walk to some point you could reach in five or more minutes in the cars? Wear one’s self out walking down to the bay and then rowing a boat three or four miles across to the Beach when you can make the trip in comfort in a radial car in half an hour and for less money than the hire of a boat would cost, not counting the labor of rowing and the chances to get upset because of lack of skill in handling a boat? Or if you want to take a trip out through the fruit farms of Grimsby in the spring when the trees are in full bloom and the air is rich with the fragrance of bud and blossom, instead of paying a couple of dollars for a livery team, one can enjoy all the luxury for thirty or forty vents. And there is our ancient neighbor Dundas; it used to take an hour or more to ride out to it from Hamilton in Nelson Able’s uncomfortable stage and pay a quarter for the privilege, and run the risk of being held up by the Townshend gang that infested Beasley’s Hollow. Now you can go out and back in a handsome railcar for a quarter and in perfect security that no knight of the broad will make you hold up your hands, while he rifles your pockets and steals the last nickel with which you intend to wash the dust out of your throat at some inviting caravansary. What! Go back to the old forgotten methods of travel for pleasure or business? It is not to be thought of for the thousandth part of a minute.


        Hamilton is now enjoying the blessings of up-to-date life, but it wants more. The time is near at hand when we can take a trip to the Falls on a trolley line, but that will only be for pleasure; and we will be able to get to Toronto by the same mode of conveyance, but who wants to ride in the electric cars to a city for pastime when there is a more agreeable way by steam in the summer months? What Hamilton does want, from a business point of view, is trolley lines over the hills toward Caledonia and Ancaster, and out through the rich country to Galt and Guelph, and the dozens of villages that lie in a circuit of thirty or forty miles. We have the radial to Burlington, and the lines to Grimsby and Beamsville in the east, and Dundas in the west, and what a wealth of trade these roads have brought here without costing the city or the business interests a dollar save certain concessions in the matter of using the streets. The trolley lines have paid their owners good dividends and the city has benefitted. But there are other territories that must be annexed before the system is complete, and it is now up to the capitalists of Hamilton to reach out and occupy the rich inheritance that by right belongs to this city.


        When Hamilton has trolley lines diverging to every point of the compass, within reaching distance, then it will become the great city that nature intended it to be. It is at the head of navigation and has clear sailing down to the sea. It is the great manufacturing city of the Dominion, and everything worth having is coming this way. It has unlimited electric power to turn every wheel of industry that may be concentrated here. And some men withy money are dreaming of a central heating plant to furnish a cheap hot water system to the principal business houses at lower rates than the buildings can be heated by individual furnaces. It is possible that the promoters may not awake in time, and some more progressive capitalists will get the franchise to dig up the alleys and lay the mains before they get their eyes open. No matter who does it, there’s money in it for both the capitalist and the men who will use the central heating plant. Hamilton is up and coming, and the wheels of industry make merry music. When the Old Boys come back next summer, they will hardly know the town they left ten or twenty years ago.


        Why is it that the churches take the most stormy weeks in the year to hold a series of continuous evening meetings? Many years ago the Evangelical Alliance set apart the first week in the new year as a season for special prayer service, and the earnest ministers who carry out the program are generally disappointed because of small audiences that have courage enough to leave comfortable homes and wade through snow storms to assemble in a cold room where one can see his breath in the frosty air. When a lady invites a party to spend the evening, she has her house well-warmed so as to make her guests comfortable; but usually, when a minister invites his flock to a protracted meeting, the janitor starts the fires a little while before the services begin, and saint and sinner shiver for a couple of hours and then go home wondering why their spiritual strength was not boosted up a notch. Of course, it is not so bad in the towns and cities as it used to be, for in all up-to-date churches the old-fashioned stoves have been discarded and steam or hot air is the heating force; but go out in the country, where Methodists still believe that the winter protracted meetings are necessary as a means of grace, and many of the churches are like barns instead of being warm and pleasant. However, the week of prayer is one of the lost arts in the religious world, and church members have to depend on the stated services in order to keep up a tilt with the man of sin for the salvation of the world. When the Methodist ladies furnish their beloved pastors with beautiful gowns and surplices, and the choirs are dressed up to represent white or black angels, depending on the color of the gowns worn, then we expect the speedy coming of the millennium, for certainly sin ought to get its quietus in the solar plexus and everything will be lovely. Why not have the special services when the springtime comes and nature is throwing off the burden of a long, cold winter? People might be tempted to go out in the evening and spend an hour listening to inspiring singing and to the earnest exhortations of their good pastors, while in the wintry night, the snow gusts and piercing winds are anything but inviting, even to a gospel feast.


        A lady from Port Huron was in Hamilton during the holidays and supposed that her railway ticket was extended to the fourth of January, by special arrangement with the ticket agent at Port Huron, when, in fact, it was stamped for a return date for Jan. 2. She called on Mr. Morgan, the genial and accommodating Grand Trunk agent in this city, and explained the position she was in. She was having a delightful time with her old friends, and the two days more that she supposed were coming to her were necessary to fill her cup of joy to the brim. The ticket agent in Port Huron was wired, and word came back that the ticket should have been stamped for the 4th. The lady remained in Hamilton. Had she returned on the evening of the 2nd, she would have been on the ill-fated train that was wrecked at Wanstead, and being a Port Huron passenger, she would have been in the coach where so many were killed or injured. Mr. Morgan feels happy in the thought that, in accommodating the lady and getting her ticket changed, he was probably the means of saving her life.

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