Tuesday, 31 July 2012


In the years 1849 and 1850, when the building of the Great Western railroad was under discussion, Hamilton had to fight for its life to prevent the changing of the route. Strong effort was made by the Michigan Central railway to have the road diverge from its present route and reach Buffalo by way of Brantford, and along the shore of Lake Erie, crossing at Fort Erie. The engineers of the Michigan Central estimated that the road could be built on the route laid by them from Detroit to Buffalo for $3,000,000, and over this sum the Central agreed to take one-third of its stock. It was all important to the Michigan Central to control the building of the road through Canada, as it would give that company the exclusive benefit of the freight and passenger traffic to the west. The Michigan Central at that time was almost bankrupt, and this was used as an argument by the friends of the Great Western to prevent London, Woodstock, Ingersoll and other towns along the proposed route from giving it encouragement and substantial aid. One of the strongest arguments used the friends of the Great Western was that should the Michigan Central get control, all of the freight would be shipping from Western Canada to the seaboard instead of passing through Canadian waterways in Canadian vessels, and be carried to Buffalo, thence shipped by the Erie canal to New York. Even with this patriotic line of argument, it was hard work to hold the western country between this city and Detroit in line for the Great Western, as there was considerable dissatisfaction with the men managing the proposed route of the Great Western. And then money was very scarce and the promise of the Michigan Central to finance the construction of the line it proposed was a great temptation to the inland towns to get away from stage coaches and wagon freighting and secure an outlet at some important distributing point. In the end, the advocates of the Great Western carried the day and Hamilton was destined to become the great railway center of all the western country. It was many years later before the Michigan Central succeeded in getting control of a line through Canada from Detroit to Buffalo; and only a few years ago, by the construction of the T. H. and B. road, it got connection with Hamilton, and is now one of our important east and west lines.


          When P. T. Barnum, the prince of showmen, proposed to bring Jenny Lind, the Swedish nightingale, to the United States to sing in 150 concerts, there was great rejoicing in musical circles for the fame of the sweet singer has spread in all lands. The contract between the agent of Jenny Lind and Mr. Barnum was so carefully drawn that no loophole was left for either to back out. The amount of the salary the singer was to receive was not made public, but all other details were given. It was specified that Mr. Barnum should pay for all expenses and for the professional services of Mr. Benedict and Signor Beletti, the musical director and the vocalist whom Jenny Lind had particularly selected, and also to pay the expenses of a lady travelling companion, of a waiting maid, and of a servant to superintend the baggage of the party. The singer was to have full control as to the number of concerts to be given in a week and the number of pieces in each concert, and she was not to be required to sing in opera. It was further a part of the contract that the lives of Jenny Lind and Mr. Benedict and Signor Beletti be insured for the full amount of their engagements, and in the case of death, half the amount to be paid to their heirs, and half to P. T. Barnum. Of course, everybody was on tiptoe of expectancy for the arrival of the party, which was to leave for America, the last week in August, 1850. If we remember alright, only two cities in Canada were honored by a visit of the celebrated singer, Montreal and Toronto. The price of admission tickets was $5. Hamilton was left out because at that time, it had no hall, except the town hall over the market house, and though the tickets were twice $5, the accommodations were so limited that, even with a crowded house, it would not pay expenses. However, Hamilton sent a large delegation to Toronto who could afford to pay $5 for a ticket, besides the steamboat and hotel expenses, for in those days there were no railroads. Probably, there are not half a dozen Hamiltonians living who had the pleasure of hearing the celebrated Swedish nightingale.

          The editors half a century ago, like Silas Wegg, were poetical in their natures, and many a dry editorial on politics would be brightened up by a quotation from some favorite bard. Especially was the poetic habit cultivated in writing up social events. The St. Catherines Constitutional of February 14, 1850, briefly describes a ball given in that time by the Masonic fraternity to celebrate the opening of the new town hall in that village. The lady patronesses of the occasion were Mrs. Rykert and Mrs. Adams, and “a more brilliant assemblage had never before been seen in St. Catherines.” The number of guests was estimated at between five and six hundred. “Several parties from Toronto, Hamilton and Niagara attended, and expressed delight with the whole arrangements.”
                   “Music arose with its voluptuous swell,
                    Soft eyes look’d love to eyes that spake again,
                    And all went merry as a marriage bell.
          Indeed, said the society reporter of the occasion, the company seemed to verify the words of the poet that there should be
                    “No sleep till morn when youth and pleasure meet,
                    To chase the glowing hours with fleeting feet

                    For the rattling of homeward bound carriages on the frosted roads continued long after the rays of the rising sun had shown themselves in the west”

          If the society reporter of the present day were to try that style of description, with what fiendish delight the managing editor would sharpen up his blue pencil and knock the poetic fancies into a cocked hat.


          The population of Hamilton has always been a favorite them with the jealous little penny-whistle country newspapers published in towns where the advent of a new family, and even the birth of a child, is made the occasion of half a column of glorification of the town’s growth. Fifty-three years ago, when Hamilton was making its great effort to secure the building of the Great Western railway through this city, the newspapers in the western towns that favored the route projected by the Michigan Central company, kept up a constant attack on Hamilton and the men promoting the Great Western. The London papers were particularly hostile to Hamilton. At that time, the village on the banks of the Thames had a population of less than 3,000, and the people up there got an idea that their future growth and prosperity depended solely on having Hamilton sidetracked by the building of the proposed railroad along the shores of Lake Erie, with Detroit at one end and Buffalo at the other. The London Free Press was then owned by William Sutherland and edited by Peter Murtagh, an Irish schoolmaster; and the Times was managed by a lady who had a husband, but was edited on the quiet by a man who kept in the background. The times said : “It is useless to attempt such a silly plan as the building of the road from Hamilton – the directors will only be laughed at for their pains.” The Free Press not only attacked the Hamilton route, but also attempted to belittle the town because it had not increased in population during the years 1848-1849, to which the Spectator replied “The story is totally destitute of foundation; and the ignorance of the person who penned it is the only excuse for its publication. We shall take the trouble ere long, to convince our readers, from irrefutable data, that Hamilton has made equal progress, in business, population, and substantial prosperity with any place in Canada. In the meantime, our western contemporaries will perhaps tell us frankly whether they desire – whether they are so utterly selfish and unpatriotic to permit – their produce to be carried through the United States, when they have a cheaper and better route of their own.” Those were the days when the spirit of annexation was rife, and loyalty to Canada and the mother country hung by a slender thread. The editorial writer of the Free Press, Peter Mutagh, was an Irishman who had been educated in the school that any flag was preferable to the Union Jack.


          As one’s thoughts go back half a century, when it was considered very funny to speak disparagingly of Hamilton’s growth and prosperity, we are reminded that even in the twentieth century, there are wits in the newspaper profession who sharpened their pencils when they read the assessors’ recent returns of the population of this city. Large populations in cities are anything but desirable; better have smaller numbers and work for everybody than to run up into the hundred thousand and half the people be idle. Hamilton has been particularly fortunate in this respect in the past fifty years, and while its growth has not been phenomenal, its increase of population has been steady and in keeping with the growth of its manufactories. This is a city of workers, not of idlers, and no man or woman, or even child, need be idle for a day if they have health and strength. There is always a class of loafers in every village or city, and Hamilton has its share in common with its neighbors, and these are not taken into account. You can see them in the streets; there is no danger of mistaking them, for their bloated faces, bleary eyes and untidy dress are unfailing marks of the gin-mill graduate. Their wives or their mothers provide a place for them to sleep in and furnish them with food, and the money they beg is spent for liquor. What a blessing it would be were there no gin-mills or loafers!


          But speaking of the reports of the assessors, those officials have given a careful and honest return of the population. There is no padding in the figures, for if the roll of the inhabitants were called, there would be a response of “Here” to the names of the 55,000 and over reported. The best evidence of the growth and prosperity of Hamilton is in the increase and enlargement of manufacturing industries and the demand for men and women to fill the places in the workshops. There is work for everybody, and the cry of employers is for more hands. It is a healthy condition of affairs in any city when there are more jobs than workers. That is Hamilton’s condition today, and from present indications, it is likely to continue for a long time to come. New industries are seeking a location here, and, fortunately, every one of them requires skilled labor and must pay good wages to procure it. That tariff wall built along 3,000 miles or more of the frontier of Canada, even as low as it is, is having its good effects in part making Hamilton a city of manufactories. So long as the growth in population keeps pace with the demand for labor, what more is required?

Monday, 30 July 2012


It is altogether too absurd, said an old-time Hamilton newspaper reporter, to say that man is not perfect. Who is there who has not met with perfect strangers, some who were perfect rascals, and not a few who were perfect fools. The world has not changed much in this matter of perfection since the writer of the above gave vent to his feelings. The perfection most desired is never attained in this world, for it would be contrary to human nature when a man smites you on one cheek to turn unto him the other that he may swat you a second time; and until we can get up to that condition, perfection is impossible. But of perfect rascals and perfect fools, there is no end, the world is full of them, and each one of us must be mighty careful in our daily life if we are not placed in one of the lists. Charity suffereth long and in kind, but one never gets over the idea that he ought to be placed in the list of angelic beings.


          There was a suspicion in the long ago that now and then some man of business who was pulling against the tide would dispose of his stock of goods to a fire insurance company, and thus get out of his financial difficulties. In looking over an old Hamilton newspaper, a suggestive item shows up. A merchant engaged in the rag business was about to remove, and as he had $1,000 insurance on his stock, the night before he was to give up possession, the building and stock were consumed by fire. There had been no fire in the premises and the only way to account for the conflagration was to charge it up to some wicked incendiary who wanted to see rags go up in smoke. The rag merchant got his insurance, but the owner of the building, not having it insured, had a total loss. Such things have often happened since insurance companies were first organized, and were likely to continue to the end of the chapter.


          When Colin C. Ferrie was mayor of Hamilton in the year 1847, the City Council appropriated $400 as pay for his services, Mr. Ferrie declined to accept any remuneration and suggested to council that the amount be divided equally between the chief officers of the city as an increase to their meager salaries.


          The City council of 1849 was an economical body and were very careful in the matter of creating new offices. At the beginning of the year an appropriation was made for police service, the high bailiff being allowed$400 a year; an assistant $300, and two policemen $100 each. In order to keep down expenses, the council dispensed with the services of the health officer, one assistant bailiff, and a laborer, their duties to be performed by the police force. After ten o’clock at night, the police force of two men went home to bed, as it was supposed that no Hamiltonian would be on the streets at such a late hour.


          To have the contract for keeping the chimneys of Hamilton clean must have been a bonanza in the old days, judging from the spirited manner in which applicants bid for the job. In the year 1849, when the city was way below the the ten thousand mark in population, there were no less than eight aspirants, and the bids ranged from $100 to $380 for the year, and Thomas Husband was the lucky man, he having bid the highest. The men who managed the taxpayers’ money in those days looked after the city’s interest, and instead of handing out the office of master chimney sweep at a fat salary, they made the men who got the job pay a bonus for keeping Hamilton’s chimneys in drawing order.


          Thackeray once said :  “ I vow and believe that the cigar has been one of the greatest creature comforts of my life – a kind companion, a gentle stimulant, an amiable anodyne, a cementer of friendship. May I die if I abuse that kindly weed has given me so much pleasure.” So it is with many of the baneful things of life; they give temporary pleasure if used in moderation, but when indulged to excess, then comes the penalty. That tobacco is a poison, there is no gainsaying, yet if used sparingly, one might live a hundred years, and, after all, die of old age. In these days of scientific discovery, there are germs of disease in everything we eat or drink, yet we keep right on in the good old way, satisfying the cravings of hunger or tickling the palate with some delicious dish, even if the penalty is a sour stomach or a prolonged fit of indigestion. Indeed, there is no luxury which is no open to some objection as the use of tobacco. Medical science has proven that tobacco used in excess has a directly harmful influence on the healthy system; but then science tells us the same thing about nearly every pleasure of the appetite indulged in. It is a fact, however, and not to be gainsaid , that excessive smoking affects the rhythm in the beating of the heart and produces an affection of the eyes, which impairs the vision and reduces the power of distinguishing colors, and a man of sense who indulges in the use of the weed will call a halt when he feels those symptoms. From the days when Walter Raleigh first learned the luxury of tobacco from the noble redmen of the American forests down to the present time, its use has been a solace to millions and will continue its mission of comfort to the end of the chapter. Any old soldier who has stood sentry on the midnight picket line in front of the enemy will tell you how much comfort he enjoyed with his pipe. It was not always safe to smoke on the picket line at night, for the glow of the pipe was a sure mark for the enemy’s sharpshooter, and whizz would come a leaden messenger past one’s face as a warning. And even then, rather than forgo the companionship and pleasure of the pipe, the soldier would be face downward to the ground and cover his pipe with his cap to hide the glow from the enemy’s picket. The writer of these Musings was once an inveterate smoker, but thirteen years ago, he had to forgo the pleasures of a cigar and become a total abstainer because of the results from its use; yet we would not say unkind things about the soothing weed, only warn those who cannot stand it to avoid tobacco. One of the great evils of tobacco in the present day is the cigarette. Boys begin it before they have outgrown knee pants, and grow up to be nervous wrecks. Young men indulge in cigarettes to the disgust of those who are compelled to walk behind them on the streets. One rarely sees a man advanced in years ever smoking a cigarette. Some constitutions are altogether intolerant of tobacco, even when used to a limited extent, and the sensible course for such a one is to give it up altogether. Prof. Huxley said : “There is no more harm in a pipe than there is in a cup of tea.” That may be true to a limited extent, especially if one will only use a pipe as he does a tea cup. Other scientists tolerate the tobacco habit because of its soothing effect. The rabid opponents of the use of tobacco go to extremes in saying unkind things about it, and compare it as a twin evil of intoxicating liquors. This is pure rot. Whoever heard of a smoker’s family suffering from poverty because of his indulging in the soothing weed. Not so with the hilarious highball tosser’s family; his daily indulgence brings sooner or later want and suffering. The worst that can be said of the tobacco habit is that the smoking of cigars is costly when indulged to excess, and that the money might be used to a better purpose. But if a man indulges in liquor, he must pay the bill. It is a blessing that women have not acquired a taste for cigars.


          Don’t you remember that old fountain in front of the court house, with a basin almost of the proportions of a small-sized pool? Some time ago, we told in these musings of the pranks of a jolly lot of fellows who used to meet at Beatty’s tavern and hatch out practical jokes on the unwary ones who fell in their way.  That gang, you remember one Saturday night, tarried long at the beer mug, and in the witching hour, when church yards yawn etc., they persuaded one of their number, a respectable undertaker by profession, to strip off and take a plunge in the pond, and while he was disporting like a mermaid in the water, they stole his clothes and a friendly policeman had to come to his aid so that he could get back to the tavern. It was the town joke for awhile, but the undertaker never forgave the plumber who planned the bath. This was the humorous side. But the old fountain pond had its tough story to tell now and then. At the noon hour on a July day in the ‘60’s, one of the unfortunates that Tom Hood wrote so pathetically about, who had been led from the paths of virtue by some scheming scoundrel who laughed at her calamities, plunged into the pond in hope that in another world her sin might be forgiven. This life was dark and dreary to her, for her conduct, she had become a castaway. Strong drink was her only solace, for under its influence, the present was forgotten. Once she was an innocent babe, the beloved of a fond mother’s heart, and in her youth gave promise of a bright and happy womanhood. Her education was not neglected, for she stood well in her classes in the public schools. As she grew up, the constraints of home life, she thought, were too exacting, and the evening hours were spent away from the protecting and watchful care of father and mother. But it is needless to follow up the history. A street education s bad for the boy or girl, and it generally leads to evil. Tired and disgust with the life she was leading, as she was passing down John street on that July day in company with another girl, a companion in vice, the thought came to her that death in the court house square pond was preferable, and she jumped in. There was less than three feet of water in the pond, yet she made a desperate effort to bury herself in it, hoping to die from suffocation. Constable McElroy, who witnessed the girl’s effort at suicide, pulled her out of the pond and took her and her associate to the cells. Disease and drink accomplished within a few months the desired end, and the poor unfortunate found rest and peace in mother earth. What a lesson such lives should teach, yet there scores and hundreds of girls in this city of churches who are following in the footsteps of the one who tried to commit suicide in the fountain pond.


          Did you ever see such cold weather in June? is a common inquiry one hears in the street, the workshop and the home. Go where you will, the same chilly remarks are to be heard, and this starts the old stagers to open up the cells of memory that they may recall the summerless summers of other days. It would seem as though in the revolving of the earth on its axis that this Canada of ours must have stuck upon an iceberg out in the Arctic seas and there it has become so firmly fixed that the sun has no power whatever to thaw it out, and thus we are up against November weather when we should be reveling in straw hats and linen dusters. Fancy burning money in the house furnace these leafy days in June, when the roses should be in full bloom for bridal purposes. There is one satisfaction, however, even if one must suffer in chilly weather; the ice man will not be able to work off his last winter’s crop at $3 a month per family. A couple of ancient Hamiltonians met suspiciously near Colonel Alderman Phelan’s annex last Thursday morning, and the prolific subject, the weather, came up for discussion. “Do you remember ,” said one of the patriarchs, “the cold June we had in ’59 and the cold summer that followed which ruined the crops and brought disaster to the house of hundreds of farmers who were in debt for their land? Let me see, if I remember rightly, it was on the night of June 6th, and the morning of the 7th. The crops in the fields  and in the gardens were blackened with the frosts, as though a great fire had swept over the land and burned the life out of every growing thing, and even the animals huddled together in the pasture fields to keep themselves warm.” “I remember that terrible frost, old boy, “ responded the other but you are wrong in your dates, for it occurred on the night of the 3rd of June, and the morning of the 4th. I have good cause to remember it, for it about broke me up, and as a result, I had to sell my farm and move to town and get a job on William Hendrie’s contract in digging the ditches for the water mains at seventy-five cents a day, and glad I was able to get the work to keep my little family from want.” A noggin of whiskey was bet on the date and to warm them up, the morning being chilly, they slipped into the Royal annex, and the smiling alderman handed down a bottle of the best. Then they went out to hunt up the proof , and sure enough the old patriarch who helped lay the water mains was right, for that destructive June frost was the night of the 3rd. Memory is not always a safe thing to bet one, but the old boy had proof in an old copy of the Spectator, which the handsome young man in the Spectator counting room furnished him to look at.

Sunday, 29 July 2012


The other day the Spectator editorially discussed the street peddling question, the contention being that householders were annoyed by the almost daily round of agents at their doors, and that it was not justice to the merchants who paid store rents and taxes to have trade diverted from them. This one side of the case, and deserves consideration, but there is another side of which we must not be forgetful, and is worthy of serious thought. Since the age limit has been introduced in stores, counting rooms and workshops, scores of men have been thrown out of employment in Hamilton because they are advancing toward the half century line and their heads are whitened by time.  These men and their families cannot starve, nor can they, like Brahmins, take to the forests with their wives and live on nuts and fruits. They are too proud to beg and too honest to steal. Put yourself in their places, and figure out a future, if possible. They are too old to work, and are too young to die. Surely there must be some place in which they can fit in this world without having to seek the house of refuge or call upon the relief officer for daily bread. The years go rolling by whether we like it or not, and all must gracefully prepare for a trip out York street, when the appointed hour comes; but till then every man, woman and child is certainly entitled to an honest living out of all the abundance in productive and fruitful Canada. A large number of these house to house peddlers have lived in Hamilton from their youth, and many of them own their homes and pay taxes toward the upkeep of the city. That they are out of work is not fault of theirs, and scores of them would gladly take positions at even the small salaries prevailing rather than tramp from door to door as peddlers. It is humiliating to them to do so; but necessity knows no law, and it is either peddle or starve. Bear kindly with the peddler who has home and family in the city. He is not dishonest, nor will he knowingly misrepresent the goods he offers to sell you.
There is, however, a class of peddlers who ought to be prohibited. They do not belong in Hamilton, nor do they contribute in any manner towards the expenses of the city government. They belong to a class that slip around to back doors, and if the lady of the house does not buy their wares, they often impudent and insulting. They should not be tolerated by even making them pay a heavy license, for as they have no responsibility, nor are they known, they sell worthless goods and bring reproach on really worthy men who belong to the city.
If the employers of labor keep on reducing the age limit, it will not be long before men under forty years of age will have to take to the woods or start out peddling. It is an old Irish saying that are born, not buried. Who knows what is to be the fate of the men of the future?

When the town was but a little village, priests were not proud and lawyers didn’t pillage, and the newspapers were hostile to the circus. On the 11th of July, 1849, the Spectator applauded the action of the city council in refusing to grant a license to a circus that was then traveling in Canada. “The people of Canada should make better use of their money in these hard times than bestow it upon a parcel of mountebanks. And whilst the country,” said the editor, “is threatened with pestilence and death, and the greatest precautions are enjoined upon the community, we must protest against the congregation of large masses of people within a pent up circus tent.” Hamiltonians in those days were not all teetotalers, and the editor gave his readers a sound lecture on intemperance, and the vices resulting from it. Would that all editors had the courage to speak out on vice and immorality as did Robert Smiley, the first owner and editor of the Spectator, half a century ago.


Away back in the forties, when Hamilton had only semi-weekly newspapers, the usual way in which to advertise auctions, lost goods, and lost children or anything that was important to bring at once to the attention of the public was by the town crier ringing a hand bell and proclaiming it at the street corners. Paoli Brown, an aged colored man, who had lived in Hamilton from the time that the memory of even the oldest inhabitant could not reach back to, was the town crier in those days. It was told of Paoli’s early life that he had been a slave on a southern plantation, and had made his escape into Canada, drifting down from Chatham to Hamilton. Chatham was the last station of the underground railway, and no slave felt perfectly safe till he had entered that haven of rest. Then the metaphorical shackles fell off, and he was a man. Paoli was lame in one of his legs, said to have been caused by the teeth of a bloodhound when he was escaping. The hound got the worst of it for, even though Paoli was bruised and torn, he managed to kill the brute before his pursuers got on his tracks. Paoli fell into the hands of good Samaritans, who bound up his wounds and fed and secreted him till he was able to proceed on his journey toward the land that the poor slave sung of: “I’m on my way to Canada, where colored men are free!” Paoli had a voice that was clear and resonant, which could be heard for at least three blocks, so when he began to ring the bell, and cry out auction, or whatever was to be advertised, he dropped into a profitable business. Others tried to take up the bell-ringing, but no one could compete with him, and he had the field to himself finally. It was not till long after the Spectator began its daily issue that Paoli’s occupation was gone. In the days of the town crier, there seemed to be more lost children than now, for rarely a week passed that Paoli was not using his voice and bell in search of the lost little toddler. Or if one lost a pet dog, Paoli described it in glowing language, and always wound up by proclaiming the penalties of the law on the one who kept the pup after being publicly notified. There were cranks in those days, as there be now, even in this enlightened twentieth century, and complaint was made that Paoli’s stentorian voice jarred on their sensitive nerves, and one night in July, 1849, the matter was brought before the city council by one of the representatives in that august body, at the request of a constituent, to have Paoli and his voice and bell suppressed. The discussion in council shows that pretty near the whole session was devoted to it, and when the midnight hour was approaching a vote was demanded and Paoli and his bell were saved by a majority of one. Even as late as 1854, Paoli did duty as town crier, especially for auction sales, but daily papers were taking the place of the old-time semi-weeklies, and the advertising columns were used in place of Paoli’s voice and bell. The old man was gathered to his fathers a few years later, and it is only now and then that an old boy or an old girl recalls him.


In the summer of 1849, a scourge of Asiatic cholera swept over the entire American continent, and but few localities escaped visitation. The first case reported in Hamilton was on the 21st of July, and the epidemic continued till the 19th of September, when Mayor Distin, who was chairman of the board of health, made a final official report, though there were a few cases after that date, but not all fatal. During the two months that the epidemic raged, there were 233 cases in the city, resulting in 90 deaths. Toronto was a greater sufferer, both in number of cases and in the number of deaths. Hamilton had a second scourge in 1854, of which mention was made in Saturday Musings not long ago.


          Even as far back as 1849, the people and the newspapers had troubles of their own with the monopolies. The telegraph system was being introduced, but the managers placed the tariffs of rates so high that the use of the lines was almost prohibitory, except to the man with a stiff bank account. In the old town of Niagara, a company was organized and a line run up to Hamilton and points further west. At the end of two years, the managers announced that they were ready to retire from a business that had become a burden to the stockholders. The Spectator had no tears to shed for the demise of the company and charged the cause to extremely high rates and poor service on the part of the operators. The line from Montreal to Hamilton was given as a sample of high rates and poor service. The managers of the line bled newspaper editors all they would possibly stand. The news service was furnished to Brockville, Cobourg and Kingston at $2.50 a week, while the two newspapers in Toronto were charged $3 a week for the same service. The managers would not furnish the Hamilton papers with the news at any price, so the editors sharpened up their scissors and gave full reports by wireless telegraphy.


When the building of the Great Western Railway was first discussed in this city – Hamilton was the fountain head of the enterprise – there was a strong feeling against the city council subscribing toward the stock of the proposed company. There was a class of men who believed in getting everything for nothing, and many of them were benefited by the road, and at the preliminary meetings, they were loudest in their opposition to the voting of material aid. They argued that if the proposed railway was going to be such a good thing, the company should furnish the money. Major Bowen, a retired army officer who lived in Hamilton in those days, figured it out that the distance from Niagara Falls to Detroit was 250 miles, and as there were 1,000 acres of good farming land on each side of the proposed line to the mile, this would bring in 400,000 acres into the market which would be increased in value to at least $3,200,000. The old major further stated that he had bought land at $2 an acre, which increased in value to $7 as soon as a plank road was built near it. Terence Bickle, the druggist, argued along the same line, but the Doubting Thomases would not be convinced, they wanted the taxes spent in making good streets and furnishing pure water and gaslight – Hamilton had not arrived at the dignity of having the streets lighted with gas. Hugh C. Baker, a man prominent in city affairs, was opposed to the city taking any stock in the enterprise as he thought that it was not able to do so. The city was then $76,000 in debt, and there seemed to be no way out of it, therefore he did not deem it prudent to burden the city with a further debt of $200,000. The simple souls who lived then thought a debt of $76,000 was such a burden that the people would never work out of it. If they lived in the present day, they would be appalled at the millions of debt, which the people care little about, but keep on improving the city, and making it a desirable place to live in. It is all right to go into debt if you are getting permanent value for the money; and this applies equally to a city as well as an individual. To the credit of the men of that day in Hamilton who were leaders of public thought, the meeting voted to subscribe $200,000 toward building of the road, only four men present voting against the resolution. Less than ten years later, the city stock was sold at par, when it was earning 6 per cent interest. It would have been well for Hamilton had the council wisely held on to that stock.