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?

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