Wednesday, 22 February 2012


Saturday Musings Spectator October 28, 1905
On the 26th day of July, 1859, the good ship Union set sail from the port of Hamilton, laden with a cargo of staves for Liverpool. The Union was built in James Little’s shipyard, down at the foot of Bay street, and was as trim a little vessel as ever unfurled a sail to the breeze on a Canadian lake. Hamilton was quite an important shipping point, there being a dozen or more vessels at the docks taking in cargoes of staves and lumber on the day the Union set sail, and a number of lake steamers called at this port everyday with passengers and freight. Ah! those were the days when travel was a pleasure; and while people might run the risk of a steamboat explosion or the vessel going to the bottom they went out of the decently and in order, not like when smashed out of all shape in a railway accident. But let us get back to the Union and to Capt. Zealand, her young commander, and her brave of ten brave sailors, nearly all of whom were Hamiltonians by birth. Mr. White, the builder of the Union, went as the only passenger. Just before the Union set sail, the Belle, another Hamilton vessel laden with lumber, scudded past from the railway wharf toward the canal. The wind was blowing what the seaman call half a gale, and the Belle was making from ten to twelve knots an hour. Then the Union was ready to unfurl her sails and start out on her long voyage across the big pond. Capt. Zealand and his passenger and crew were all in the best of spirits, and as they pulled aboard with a cheer, all rejoicing that within a month, they would float into Liverpool, the first vessel that ever made the trip direct from the port of Hamilton. The Union Jack, which had been floating down from the peak, was hauled down, and the Union, turning her prow to the east, was soon running down the bay toward the canal at a lively rate. Hamilton vessel owners looked upon the Union’s trip as the opening of direct trade between this port and the world beyond the sea. The great difficulty in the way was in getting return freight to make the voyage profitable; but the dream was that our lake craft would get cargoes in England for the Mediterranean or the West Indies, and from those countries get cargoes of raisins, figs and sugars for Canada. Then would hundreds of vessels sail not only from Hamilton, but from other ports on Lake Ontario to Europe every year, and Hamilton would become the great receiving port for all of Western Canada. The dream was never realized, for Canada had the railroad building fever about that time, and steam was being used as the motive power instead of sails to do the carrying trade across the Atlantic. Hamilton was quite a ship building town half a century or more ago, and down the bay front was a scene of activity with the arrival and departure of vessels. One of the finest excursion steamers in the Niagara river fleet was built in the ship yards of the Hamilton Bridge company, but now when a Hamilton company wants a new steamer for the lake trade, it goes to Scotland to have it built. Loyalty to Hamilton might build up a shipyard.


Thirty-eight years ago Hamilton, with less than half its present population, had three times as many drinking saloons as it has now, of which, less than one-third were licensed to make drunkards. The chief of police reported upwards of 200 places where liquor was sold without a license, and many of them were the lowest dives in the city. The police were powerless to put a stop to the illicit sale, not having the legal right to enter unlicensed groggeries; and whenever a conviction was had against the liquor sellers, through private citizens causing arrests, they were invariably annulled on appeal to the recorder’s court, and generally the prosecutor had to pay the costs. Things have changed for the better in this respect, for the thirsty must now get their drinks from about 100 licensed boozeries.


When the machinery in the waterworks power house, down at the beach, are completed and in running order, John Gartshore, in whose foundry in Dundas the engines were built, invited a large number of his gentlemen and lady friends to visit the works. The party sailed from Dundas to the Beach and the band played during the trip, adding to the enjoyment of the occasion. The Dundas artillery company, under the command of Major Notman, accompanied the party, and on arriving at the wharf fired a salute in honour of Mr. Gartshore. Isaac Buchanan, M. L. A., and Mayor McKinstry went down from Hamilton to meet the party. Among the distinguished guests from Dundas were Mayor McKenzie, T. Roberttson, Mr. Begue, Mr. Taylor, Mr. Quarry and Mr. Thornton. That was only 46 years ago, yet if the roll was called of those who were present, how many would answer “Here?”


The old landmarks are giving way to twentieth century enterprise, and the business centre of Hamilton is benefited by the change. For nearly seventy years a frame block of houses stood on the northwest corner of James and Main streets, and it has been torn down this week to make place for a skyscraper office building to be erected by the Federal Life Assurance company. It will be a grand change in the appearance of that corner. The old building had no history connected with it that will cause a pang of regret that it has been blotted out, and merely as an event of the day is it worthy of mention. The oldest inhabitant cannot tell when it was built or by whom, but the first information we can get is that it was owned between sixty and seventy years ago by a man named Hiram F. Clark. Some say he was a tailor by trade; others that he was a tinsmith. The preponderance of evidence favours the tinsmith, for we find in the first directory of Hamilton, printed in 1853, that Clark and Whitney had a tinsmith shop in the room on the corner of James and Main streets, and that Hiram Clark’s residence was on Main street, where the public library stands. The Clark family, of which Hiram F. was a member, came from the other side of the line early in the thirties and located in Hamilton; and it was about that time the block of frame buildings was erected. One old citizen gives it as his best recollection that the buildings stood on the north side of King street, opposite the Gore park, was moved to make place for the stone edifice in which A. Murray & Co. so long carried on the dry goods business; but this must be a mistake, for somewhere about 1846-47 a fire cleaned out all the frame buildings in that King street block, and all between the Stanley Mills & Co. and the Thomas C. Watkins building were erected of stone before 1850. The businessmen who occupied the west side of James street, from King to Main, as late as the year 1850 have long since passed to that bourne from whence no traveler returns to tell the story of the land beyond. Beginning at the Bank of Hamilton corner and going southward we give the names of the firms: A. A. & A. Wyllie, dry goods; J. Osbourne, grocer; R. & J. Roy, dry goods; R. Osbourne, watchmaker; and in the building over R. Osbourne were R. Milne, daguerrean; J. R. Holder, C. G. Crickmore and W. Craigie, attorneys; George Sterling, shoe store; Samuel & Co., commission merchants. Where the Spectator building is was the site of the Commercial bank and the residence of Henry McKinstry, the cashier of the bank. The Albion tavern, kept by Owen Nowlan, came next and was torn down for the Commercial Center, erected by the Canada Life company.


There were four separate storerooms in the frame building. J. H. Bland, the barber occupied the one next to Nowlan’s tavern, and it was there that William Pease, the venerable barber who now does business on Hughson street, learned his trade. Mr. Pease came to Hamilton in 1854 and, next to Charles Dallyn, is the oldest barber in the city. Archibald McClary occupied the next room for a broom factory; and next to him came James Peacock, a watchmaker and an umbrella mender. Peacock was a man of good ability, sang a good Irish song, told a good story, and was no mean orator. He used to speak from the court house steps on social and other occasions, and was to some extent a leader among workingmen. In the early days the practice of paying workingmen one half their wages by orders on stores prevailed in every branch of business to the great detriment of the men, who had to pay higher prices for everything they used because of the trading system. Peacock made this a text for his speeches, and in the course of time succeeded in educating the people to demand cash for their labor. The merchants made a good thing out of the order system, for the employers gave their notes, with big interest, for the accommodation and then the merchants had a second pull by adding a large profit on the goods. Peacock was a typical Irishman – big, warm-hearted, careless, laughing and good-natured; he was as genial a soul as ever
“with a frolic fortune took
the thunder and the sunshine.”
Soon after the Great Western railway was opened, he obtained a position with the company; was appointed station master at Dundas, then at St. Catharines, and afterward became a purchasing agent for the company with headquarters at London, where he died. He was the life and soul of a debating club, in which many Hamilton young men took their first degrees in debate.


The corner building was occupied by Clark & Whitney as a tin shop. William McDonald who “fit” at the Battle of Ridgeway when Canada was invaded by the Fenians, has a dim recollection that in his youth he attended a school that was kept in the second story of a room in the block. However, we have given all the history that we have been able to dig out of the old building, and if anybody can tell more, the columns of the Spectator are open for facts. The new building that is to be erected by the Federal Life company will be an ornament to the corner, and probably suggest to other moneyed institutions that fine office buildings are a good investment.


Mr. Clark, a Buffalo lawyer, was in Hamilton one day this week in search of someone who knew a printer named Pearson, who was said to have worked in the Times office sometime during the ‘50’s. A. T. Freed is probably the only old printer who had any acquaintance with Pearson, though two or three of the old-timers remember there was such a printer. When Robert Spence, who afterward became postmaster-general of Canada, owned the Dundas Warder, about 1847-1848, Pearson worked for him, and lost his job for marrying Miss Lizzie Spence, the daughter of the editor. She was a bright, well-educated girl, and her father’s social position in Dundas gave her entrĂ©e to the most select circles; but love in those days counterbalanced society, and although her father declared that she would be no more a daughter of his if she married the poor printer, yet like Ruth, the Moabitess, she gave up home and friends and said to her lover, “Whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God.” Pearson worked in several places after he left Dundas, among others in Paris on the Star, then owned by Blackburn. This was about 1853-1854. If he ever worked in Hamilton, it was only for a short time. A son was born to Pearson, and his wife, and he also learned the printer’s art. The son worked for R. R. Donnellyin Chicago in 1878-1879. It may be that the woman who is now hunting for Pearson is the daughter of the younger Pearson. She is about 33 years old. About the time she was born, her father and mother separated. Recently her mother died in Buffalo leaving an estate of $4,000 in cash, valuable diamonds and some real estate. The mother and daughter, it seems, did not live together, and when the mother died, she willed her estate to a sister. It is to break this will that the girl and the lawyer are interested in, and the father becomes an important factor in the litigation. This is why Mr. Clark visited Hamilton. If this girl is the daughter of the younger Pearson, then she is the great grand-daughter of the Hon. Robert Spence. Mrs. Pearson, the daughter of Mr. Spence, died some years ago.


But there was another John Pearson, a bookbinder, who worked in the Banner bindery in 1856 and afterward. He was initiated in the Barton lodge, No. 6, A. F. and A. M. in the year 1858. As the time of this Pearson being in Hamilton tallies somewhat with the age of the Buffalo girl, it may be possible that in the confusion of names, they have got the printer and the bookbinder mixed up.

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