Thursday, 23 February 2012

1903-04-11 Saturday Musings

Saturday Musings
Spectator April 11, 1903
        The first locomotive works in Canada were established in Hamilton in the year 1856 by Daniel C. Gunn. Prior to that time, he built stationary engines and the machinery for steamboats in a small way, but when the Great Western and the Grand Trunk railways were built, he naturally thought they would patronize a Canadian manufacturer if he could turn them out as good engines, and as cheap, as could be had elsewhere. His shops were at the north end of Wentworth street, at the head of Land’s inlet, and comprised a range of stone buildings. They were built on sixteen acres of ground, just outside of the city limits, and constituted the first manufacturing enterprise established in the northeast part of the city. The people of Hamilton were very much interested in the building of the Gunn shops, for it was one of the pioneer industries in a city that is now the manufacturing center of the Dominion of Canada. We are accustomed to greater things now, and can look calmly upon the immense buildings that are in the course of construction for the Deering company, into any one of which all the factories and workshops of the Hamilton of 1856 could easily be put and still leave room for more. Just think of it; the Gunn works were going to give steady work to a large company of 150 skilled mechanics, and to drive the machinery there was to be installed an immense engine of forty-five horse power. Don’t laugh at the old Hamiltonians because of their simplicity in thinking that the locomotive were such a big thing. They were big for those days. The superintendent was from Dundee, Scotland, and he was a thorough mechanic from the ground up. As most of the men employed in the works were married and had families of young children, they built their homes in that vicinity, and so interested was the city in the prosperity of the new settlement  that a day school was established with one teacher to conduct it. The Presbyterians built a mission church where services were held every Sunday. It was a great day for Hamilton and for the Gunn works when the first locomotive was finished for the Great Western railway. During the next sixteen months, the Gunn works turned out two large first-class freight engines for the Grand Trunk and it looked as though there was to be sunshine and perpetual prosperity upon the northeast corner of Hamilton.


          And there was a dream of the future for the Gunn works, when steamboats from all parts of Lake Ontario would make Hamilton their winter quarters, for where was a better haven of safety than in the beautiful land-locked bay where storms would be mere zephyrs. Docks were to be built close to the works for the steamboats, and the boats could have their engines and machinery overhauled for the summer’s business, and new vessels were to be built here and Gunn put in the outfit of machinery. It was one of those dream castles in Spain that filled the mind with beautiful imagery, but fell short of realization. They had a steam hammer in the shops, that was said to be a marvel in its way in those days,  that would break the crystal of a watch without doing any injury to the watch. More than one doubting Thomas submitted his watch to the test to find that he had to buy new crystal for it when he came up town.


          In those days neither Canada nor the United States had a protective tariff, only sufficient revenue being collected at the frontiers to pay current expenses of the governments. The Gunn works were a large financial undertaking, for it took a deal of money to pay on the skilled workmen though the wages fell far short of what such men would get today; and then it took time to build a locomotive, and the builder had to wait for his money till the job was completed and thoroughly tested. While there was a Canadian duty of only 16 per cent on engines manufactured in the United States, our American cousins were wiser in their day and generation, and levied a duty of 30 per cent on engines entering that country, and the result was that the United States manufacturers had the bulge on Canada’s infant industry, and poor Gunn exploded early in the fight. Canada learned better later in life, but too late to help Gunn, and put a tariff of 35 per cent on locomotives.


          It was an unfortunate day for Hamilton and for Canada when Mr. Gunn was forced out of the building of locomotives. His market as well as capital was limited. Instead of the Great Western and the Grand Trunk helping to build up that industry in Canada, even when they were getting as good engines and at as low a price, they transferred their contracts to manufacturers in Great Britain and the united States, and the fires went out in the Gunn furnaces and the hum of machinery was stilled forever.  The settlement of happy homes in the neighborhood of the works was broken up and many of the houses went to decay because there were no tenants to occupy them, for the workmen who built them, expecting that they were going to have a permanent job, were compelled to seek work elsewhere. The sun had set on locomotive building in Hamilton. Will it ever rise again? At present, there is not a glimmer of the dawn in that direction. With a good, healthy protective tariff, Hamilton may be able to hold what it now has. Let us pray for the conversion of the anti-tariff party that Canada may yet be a power in the manufacturing world.


          Before Mr. Gunn went into the building of engines, he owned a wharf down on the bay front, and in that way became interested in steamboat machinery. In the year 1856, he was in the real estate business, and from that graduated into the building of machinery. His capital was limited, but he made up for the shortage of cash with native pluck and industry. There was a demand for such a factory in this city at that time it was started, and had he kept out of the locomotive business, he might have prospered; but to build locomotives required a large capital and it also needed the loyalty of Canadian railroads to Canadian workmen. There was no protective tariff in those days to back up Canadian expertise and home industries, so he yielded to fate and dropped out of the fight. Hamilton lost a good citizen when D. C. Gunn died. One of his sons is a resident of Hamilton now.


          The Great Western railway shops were a big factor in Hamilton prosperity in the early days of that road, for all the principal repair work for the entire line from the Falls to Detroit, was done In the locomotive department were 86 engines to be kept in order, and a force of 300machinists, and assistants was constantly employed to keep up repairs. About half of the engines were of English make and half of American. Usually there were from 20 to 30 engines in the shops for repairs, which made business brisk. In this department the pay roll amounted to $200,000 a year, which was quite a bit of money to be handed out in a small community as Hamilton was in those days. In the car department were 76 first-class coaches and 50 second-class, and 1,576 freight cars of all kinds. The shops and yards were built on made ground, by filling in the bay front.


          Hamilton got a black eye when the main part of the railway shops were moved from here to London – while it was a good thing for the latter city, giving it a start from a small town that has now developed into a handsome and progressive city. It was the same in Canada and the United States, the towns along the proposed railway lines gave the companies everything asked for on the promise that the shops would be located there. When the Great Western was first talked of, and the route surveyed through Hamilton, the promoters could have had the city for the asking, so anxious were the people to have the road; and as it was the first road of importance in Canada, much benefit was expected from it.


          Do you know that Hamilton, away back in the fifties, aspired to the building of railroad passenger coaches.  A Yankee named Foster, who was skilled in the art of making fine cabinet work, conceived the notion that this city was going to be the great railroad center of Canada, because the Great Western was about completing a line or road from the Falls to Detroit, and it was one of his dreams that there would be an endless demand for palatial coaches; and what better place than Hamilton to concentrate the business? He built one coach, and it was a beauty. Every joint and seam was as artistically put together as though it were some rare bit of cabinet ware. He spent months in its construction, for so anxious was he that the first coach should be a perfect sample of what he would build thereafter should he succeed in getting any railroad contracts. The interior of each coach was a delight to the eye, both in the woodwork and in the upholstering. The provincial fair was held in Hamilton that year, and Mr. Foster took advantage of the occasion to exhibit the first fine passenger coach made in Canada. Of course, every Hamiltonian visited the exhibit, took off his hat to it, and proclaimed the greatness and skillfulness of Mr. Foster, the builder. Railroad officials examined it and passed favorable judgment but that was the end of poor Foster’s dream. To manufacture passenger coaches to supply the demand of even the Great Western required a large capital, and in those days, men of heavy bank accounts willing to invest in new enterprises were very scarce. The car builders in the United States furnished nearly all the coaches. There are a great many things to be learned about Hamilton when it was a small city.

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