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.