Tuesday, 23 October 2012


Isaac Buchanan was at the head of one of the leading business firms in Hamilton, and in the early fifties took a prominent part in securing the building of the Great Western railway. He established the Banner newspaper in 1854 in order to have a personal organ through which he could present the claims of the Great Western to the people of Hamilton as well as to the government for a measure of support in building up the interests of the road from the Falls to Windsor. It was a big undertaking in those days to finance a great line of railway for the government had not yet gotten into that liberal mode which it has since shown in gridironing the whole of Canada. The Great Southwestern railway was projected as a rival line for through freight and passenger traffic from the Falls to the Detroit river, and the friends of the Great Western were pulling every string to head off the other road. Mr. Buchanan was very much in earnest in his opposition, for he looked upon the rival road as a competing force to the Great Western. In order to help Hamilton, Mr. Buchanan was induced to use his name on a check for a large amount, the money to be used to pay the first installment on a number of shares of the Great Southwestern railway sufficient to enable Hamilton to control that line. The Great Western company proposed to double track the through line from the Falls to Detroit, and thus secure control of the railway business of the peninsula. It was never dreamed for a moment that the signing of the check should embarrass Mr. Buchanan or that he should be called upon to pay a dollar of it, but parties in the London money market got hold of the paper, and in order to injure the Canadian enterprise, placed Mr. Buchanan in a very embarrassing position. To save the members of the firms of which he was the head, Mr. Buchanan felt it his duty to withdraw from the partnership in the different firms till such time as the railway matters could be adjusted. In due course of time, everything was arranged, and Mr. Buchanan emerged from the financial cloud with honor to himself. He never expected to be benefited a dollar by signing the check. How many business men or others, are there in Hamilton today who could take the chance Mr. Buchanan did to help the city in which he was so much interested?


          Speaking of the Hamilton Banner brings to mind some of the trials and tribulations had to undergo half a century ago.  . Nicholson, McIntosh and Hand, the practical men who managed the paper at the start, had not a dollar invested in it, the original capital being furnished by Major Bowen to give his son, William, a business start, Mr. Buchanan, advancing money to keep it alive. Billy had no knowledge of the printing business, but he was soon taught how to run a hand press, at which he became quite skillful. Alexander McKinnon, a young lawyer, brother of a former chief of police in this city, was the editor, and, for a time, he wrote not only the editorials, but also the principal in tems of local interest. William Nicholson took part of the local work, and used to report the public meetings. The Banner was an aggressive paper in some respects, and a number of members in the council did not always approve of the uncomplimentary things said about them. It did seem in those days as if the taxpayers in Hamilton were easy in selecting some of the men they elected to manage city affairs, and while there were some good men on the board, there were enough unscrupulous ones to make a hot time in the old town on the nights the council met. Bill Nicholson knew the gang from the ground up, for he had spent his life in this city. One night he was attending a meeting in St. Andrew’s ward, of which Terry Branigan was one of the members in the council. Terry had been a target for the Banner, and having indulged copiously ay his own bar before he went to the meeting, he was just in the mood to square up accounts with Nicholson, and while the latter was writing the proceedings of the meeting, Terry approached him and let Bill feel the weight of his heavy fists. Bill was no coward, mind you, but he had too much self-respect to strike an infuriated drunken man. The next day Terry was invited to a séance with Captain Armstrong, who was the presiding judge of the police court, and then turned his tongue loose on Nicholson, and as Terry was very free of speech, and could not be held down once he had started fairly, he gave a very glowing picture of Nicholson’s life. Bailiff McCracken and the police magistrate tried to head off Terry in his oration, but they might just as well have endeavored to stop the water from flowing over the Falls as to check him. Nicholson wanted the case continued to the recorder’s court, but Terry was too smart for that, and changed his plea to guilty. Captain Armstrong thought as Terry had had so much fun out of it, he should be willing to pay for it, so he assessed him $20 and costs. The next year the council elected Terry market clerk in order to get rid of him at the council board. It was dangerous in those days to criticize the actions of some of the men in the council, for they were fighters from the word go.


          The fashion in eating changes as it does in everything else. Some say that civilization came in with the candle. In the olden times, people laid down with the lamb, rising up with the lark, but it has always been a mooted question whether early rising made one healthier. The fable about the early bird catching the worm may be good in theory, but it is not comfortable in practice. The old Hamiltonian will remember when he had to turn out in winter, with the mercury down below zero, eat his breakfast by candlelight, and be at his workshop sharp on the stroke of seven. We have learned better in these twentieth century days than to waste candles. Therefore we put off the beginning of work an hour later. A newspaper writer has been dipping into the past and tracing the changes in custom down to the present. In the fifteenth century, the habit was to rise at five, dine at nine, sup at five in the evening, and back to bed at nine o’clock, thus divesting ten hours to the god of dreams. A century earlier man rose with the daw, and when the curfew bell rang at eight, he was ready for bed. There were only two meals a day then, dinner at nine in the morning, and supper at four or five. No much chance at dyspepsia through overeating. The first mention of breakfast was in 1463, which was a trifling meal of bread and ale or wine. Queen Elizabeth and her court rose at six, quenched their thirst at 7 with gorgeous draughts of ale, and at eleven in the forenoon ate a hearty dinner. At one o’clock, the theatre was opened, and the performance filled in the afternoon till supper time, which was between five and six o’clock. Shopkeepers dined at noon and supped at six. They ate no breakfast, and were at their desks never later than seven in the morning. Very few merchants or businessmen of Hamilton think of getting down to store or office before nine or ten o’clock in these luxurious days of the twentieth century. Cromwell changed the dinner hour to 1:30, and it was then that the gentlemen of his days settled themselves down to gratifying their bibulous appetites, ending their debauches before the early hour for retiring. The fashionable world in Queen Anne’s time were late risers and did not bestir themselves till nine o’clock, and till eleven all levees were held. The dinner hour was changed to two, and the gentlemen tarried with the wine till six, after which they were ready to spend the night at the gambling table. Toward the end of the eighteenth century, on account of the dinner hour being run too late in the afternoon, breakfast parties began to be given at noon, at which fish and cold meats were served with bread and butter and radishes, and a plentiful supply of ale. Tom Moore, the genial Irish poet, was in his happiest vein at the noon breakfast, and sang some of his sweetest songs for the hostess and her guests. Beginning with the nineteenth century, there were three meals a day, breakfast, dinner and supper. This good old fashion is the prevailing one in the workday world; but the business class and the idlers who rise late and retire very early in the morning, eat light breakfasts at nine in the morning, lunch at one, and dine at six. That class of people have only two salutations – good morning and good night. It is morning with them until six o’clock in the evening, and after that it is night. However, common people will stick to the old way of morning, afternoon, evening and night. The six o’clock dinner is getting to be more of a custom with workingmen, especially in the large cities, who take a cold lunch for the noon hour, and then with their family enjoy a hot, substantial meal at the close of the day’s toil.


Not that we would recommend a revival of the free-and-easy clubs that met on Saturday night in Hamilton fifty years ago, but merely to call attention to an old country idea that became quite popular here, do we call an old custom. The free-and-easy clubs met in large upper rooms over saloons, and probably there were half a dozen of them in Hamilton. Down the center of a room, from thirty feet and upwards in length, was a table along which was a line of armchairs on either side. Everybody was freely invited, the only qualification required being that visitors must act decently and in order. If one became boisterous through overstimulation, he was quietly invited to retire, and if he declined to go, the bouncer of the house took him in charge. The landlord of the tavern furnished bowls of cut tobacco and long clay pipes (church wardens) free, and the customers made up for the accommodations and the smoke by liberal orders for liquid refreshments, each man paying for himself, for it was an established rule that there should be no treating of each other. The company would select a chairman for the evening, and everyone present had to either sing a song, or give a recitation. The session of jollity would begin at an early hour in the evening, and on the stroke of twelve all proceedings stopped, even though someone was singing, reciting or telling a story. Don’t fancy that it was only beer drinkers or those indulging in something stronger who were the only ones attending the free-and-easy – they call them smoking concerts now – for the music and the recitations made it attractive to those who drank only a weak decoction of lemonade or a glass of Pilgrim’s fluid compounds. One thing to the credit of the free-and-easy was the tabooing of smutty stories. Jolly fellows, generally, were the chairmen, and they had the happy facility of keeping up a lively interest from beginning to close. Now and then the managers invited a glee club as a special attraction. Saturday night free-and-easies were not a good school for the youth of Hamilton, and it is just as well that they have not been perpetuated. Probably the seven o’clock closing law had much to do with breaking them up.

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