Wednesday, 27 February 2013


          The other day the Muser was asked by an ancient Hamiltonian what had become of the two handsome chandeliers that graced the old assembly hall of the Mechanics’ institute. A few years ago the same question was asked, and we answered it as best as we could. It might be interesting to the present generation of native Hamiltonians if we briefly tell the story of the old institute and what it stood for when Hamilton was in what might be called its swaddling clothes. In the early days of the last century nearly every city, town and village in Upper Canada had its mechanics’ institute, with its reading room and library. They were originally organized as a sort of club, where those who did not wish to spend their evenings in the village tavern, met to talk over current affairs and discuss subjects of interest to the community. The leading weekly papers in the province were subscribed for, and their contents thoroughly discussed. Usually one of the members would read the articles in the papers and a general discussion would follow. Mind you, these old fellows who lived in the early part of the last century had pretty strong views on political questions, and many a warm time they had in the debates that followed. The Spectator, the Gazette, and the Journal and Express furnished the political ammunition for the Tories and the Reformers in this section, while around Toronto, the Globe (better known in those days as the Scotchman’s Bible), and three or four other papers in that section did service for their political followers. The two most radical editors, the one in Hamilton and the other in Toronto, were Robert Smiley, of the Spectator, and George Brown, of the Globe, and when they entered the ring on some of the leading questions of the day, bless me how the intellectual fur would fly! Neither of these doughty knights of the tripod ever used common ink to express their thoughts, but dipped their goose quills in gall, hewed to the line and let the chips fall where they would. It is doubtful if Robert Smiley or George Brown ever had a decent sleep at nights, for their active minds were ever on the alert thinking out the meanest  things they could say of each other. And they had their champions in every village institute in the province. In the course of time libraries were added to the reading rooms, and as the subscribers spent much of their time reading in the evenings, discussions became milder, and finally were relegated to the village tavern. Times have changed in the past fifty years, and we hear no more of mechanics’ institutes, reading rooms or lyceum lectures. Instead, we have magnificent buildings in the larger towns for public libraries with fine reading rooms, but very few readers of the younger and middle class. Are the Carnegie buildings too fine to attract the common herd? The result is that the boys spend their evenings in the poolrooms or in loitering around street corners, and the girls – well, let us say, playing bridge whist. A return of some of the ancient custom might not be amiss.



          To get back to the query of the ancient Hamiltonian. When the Great Western railway was being constructed, and Hamilton was decided upon as the headquarters for the official and mechanical departments of the company, some of the enterprising men of the city – and Hamilton had a goodly number of that class in those days – decided that one of the great needs would be a mechanics’ institute and a reading room for the intellectual training of the grand army of young men and old men who would be employed in the railroad shops and in the factories that would be sure to follow the opening of the great thoroughfare through western Canada. Land was cheap on James street, the mountain was one mass of the finest building stone materials and labor was to be had at almost any price, and there was a small army of Scotch stone cutters and masons ready to undertake the construction of such a building as the ancient local architects had designed. There was not much money in circulation, but each one gave in proportion to his means and the result was the handsome stone building that was the pride of Hamilton was erected., with an assembly room, a convention hall and a lyceum for lectures. Hamilton has nothing to equal it today for general purposes. “Oh! for the touch of a vanished hand.” What a translation from the old town hall, over the market house, to the elegant mechanics’ institute assembly room!
          And here is where the finishing touches came in. In those days, the finishing merchants of Hamilton imported their stocks of goods from the old country, and in the fall of the year when the first world’s fair was held in the Crystal palace in London, a number of them happened to meet at the fair. In the glassware department, our Hamilton merchants were attracted to the elegant display of chandeliers, and they with one accord decided that a couple of them were just what was needed to complete the interior of the mechanics’ institute hall away back in Canada. It was many years since this aged muser saw those chandeliers when they were first suspended in the hall, and memory will not help us out to give a description of them. They were the creation of artists in glass, with their hundreds of prisms of cut crystals, fashioned into the most beautiful forms. When lighted up at night, the prisms sparkled and flashed in all the colors of the rainbow. But what is the use of an old printer trying to describe a dream of those ancient workers in glass? The result was that the Hamilton merchants bought two of those masterpieces and had them forwarded home at once, so that they would be in Hamilton by the time they should return. They gave no thought as to whether the trustees would approve of the purchase and take the chandeliers. If the trustees did not approve of the purchase, why the chandeliers were paid for anyway, and the merchants would present them to the institute. That is the kind of public spirit that existed in Hamilton fifty and sixty years ago. The people were not rich, but they were enterprising. When George James started his dry goods store in the Lister block, the institute chandeliers suggested the idea to him of fitting up the front with glass and calling it “The Crystal Palace.” If we mistake not, George James was one of the men who took part in buying those chandeliers at the world’s fair.


                             PRIDE GOES BEFORE A FALL

          Hamilton was proud of its’ mechanics’ institute, and no stranger ever visited the old town that was not taken to the library and the reading room, and then given a peep at the two crystal chandeliers, with their hundreds of sparkling prisms. It was a local pride before a fall. For several years the institute prospered, and its reading rooms were crowded every night with young and old students who were building for themselves intellectual characters. It educated the young as an army of debater, and the older men had studies in the mechanic arts that made them more valuable in the workshops. There was no technical school in Hamilton then, where practical lessons were taught in mechanics. The great railway that was built by Hamilton enterprise was the foundation on which the future was built, but it failed in the end to return to the people who dreamed of it for years and who labored for its success, the gratitude that was their due. Bit by bit, the Great Western managers began to move the shops to other towns, till, by and by, the army of men that used to go up and down Stuart street from the shops to their homes, were lost to sight, and the silent workshops became a ghost walk. With the closing of the shops came the doom of the mechanics’ institute, and the dust of the graveyard blotted out the life that made the reading room and the library one of the brightest places in the old town. Joseph Kneeshaw and a few others tried to inject new life into it, but no use. The time finally came when the building that had been the pride of Hamilton was sold to pay the accumulated interest on the mortgage for money borrowed to pay current expenses, and the splendid library that had been selected with such great care, and the furniture, and the two chandeliers of which there was nothing like them in Canada, all went out with the mournful cry of dear old Tommy Burrows, "Going! Going! Gone!” And tears welled up from the heart of the loving heart of the Irish auctioneer as he “knocked down” the chandeliers with their hundreds of sparkling prisms, and the lights had gone out forever from the Mechanics’ institute that had been the pride of Hamilton.
          What became of the chandeliers? They were bought for a mere song by a few of the members of the members of St. Thomas’ church, and after shedding light upon the congregation for a few years, were cast aside. If anyone can tell of their future, the columns of the Spectator are at their disposal.

Monday, 18 February 2013


        The newspaper business is a great game, especially in the daily routine of a city editor’s life. Just in the midst of the writing of an obituary of some ancient subscriber who had been a constant reader of this great family journal since its first issue in the year 1846, and who always paid promptly in advance, and had never called upon the editor to tell him how he should manage his paper, and when hot tears threaten to flow from the city editor’s eyes and blot out the words of eulogy that flow from his typewriter, there breaks through the office door the radiant face of the daddy of a new boy! Tears and joy mingle in the same breath, and the giving and taking of life are recorded in the same page. The happy daddy is introduced to the lady editors of the society department, to whom he tells his tale of gladness, and the result is a thrilling story of the possibilities of the new life that in time will become, like his daddy, a constant reader of the g.f.j.
          But that obituary must be finished in time for the first edition, and while the city editor is putting the finishing touches on a most pathetic paragraph, in pops the breezy manager of the Temple theatre and asks him to write a scream for his Forty Fat Frolicsome Fairies, the greatest comedy combination that ever graced the boards of any Thespian temple, not even excepting the Lyric or the Savoy or any one of the half hundred picture halls in Hamilton. Before the city editor has done with the kind words about the ancient subscriber, and finished the showman’s scream, a fellow who has spent the night on a bench in Chief Whatley’s cozy palace, on the corner of King William and Mary, sneaks in to ask him to suppress the story of his arrest at Madame Tuilieries’ ladies boarding house, for it would be very unpleasant reading for his mother and sisters or possibly his fiancĂ©e.
          Then, after introducing a happy bridegroom to the society editors, and telling them to put all the trimmings on the bride’s wedding gown, and describing her travelling costume, dressing the groom in conventional black, andstarting them off with congratulations and best wishes, the city editor turns to the tear side of life and writes:
          “But the stately ship moves on,
                   To the haven under the hill;
           And, oh! for the touch of a vanished hand,
                   And the sound of a voice that is till.”
          Then comes a lull in the pathetic side, and the old typewriter is content to record the commonplace facts of a city’s life, stirring up the controllers for some imaginary omission of official duties, or the shirkers who spend their evenings in the pool halls or the movie shows instead of reporting to a returning officer that they are ready to enlist and go overseas to stand shoulder to shoulder with the brave boys in the trenches. The city editor has a varied life, and he is to be congratulated when he reaches the managing editor’s desk, where he can lay back in his easy chair, smoke ten cent cigars and think over the ups and downs he has passed through, from a police reporter to the top rung in the ladder of newspaper life.



          A hundred years ago there was known to ancient history a prophetic old lady, named Mother Shipton, and many of her prophecies have come to pass even in these later years. She told us of carriages in the streets without horses, and sure enough we have the motor cars, with all their good and bad faults. When motor cars were first introduced the body of them was invariably painted red, and this gave them the name of the “Red Devil,” for their appearance in the streets was a holy terror to pedestrians, and they are not much better to this day. We came across the other day a list of prophesies that are worth remembering, as many of them have already been fulfilled, and they are all to be realized by the year 2000. Here are some of the prophecies:
          In the year 2000, the city hall reporters on the Hamilton daily papers will tune up their typewriters to poetic measure, and instead of telling all the mean things said and done in the city hall, they will laud our Goodenough mayor and the board of control, and tell us what a blessing they have been to the city in patching up the McKittrick deal, the mistakes of the old officials in dealing with the Brennan-Hollingsworth contract, and a few other sore spots that have been festering on the body politic for lo these many moons.
          In the year 2000 the lords of creation will be ladies, for women will be the ruling power, and petticoats only a vague tradition. Electricity will be the universal motive power – ladies’ tongues excepted.
          In the year 200 great distress will prevail in Hamilton from want of natural gas and the women will meet on the Gore and pass resolutions of maledictions on the civic authorities for not providing coke ovens to supply their kitchens with a handy and cheap fuel to cook the daily meals. The men, being nearly starved at home nursing the babies, will do their bit in cursing the mayor, board of control, and city council, for lack of judgment in not encouraging the building of coke ovens.
          In the year 2000, motor cars, motorcycles and bicycles will be out of date, and flying machines will take their places. Every man of moderate means will own a flying machine, so that he can take his wife and family, or, if he hasn’t a wife, his best girl, out for an evening airing to Wellington square and Toronto, and home again across the lake from Toronto to Niagara Falls in time to go to the movie show.
          In the year 2000, strikes will be abolished, and labor will come into its own. The hours of labor will be shortened, and the Royal Connaught will eat and sleep its guests for a dollar a day.
          The prophet here drops into poetry, of we give a sample
          In the year 2000, why
          The people will begin to fly,
          And railway trains will cease to race.
          When man a journey has to make
          He’ll bag and umbrella take,
          His window open and fly through space.

          In the year 2000, woman will be man’s superior, or she will know the reason why. She will “boss” the board of control and the city council and preside with dignity and grace in our Goodenough mayor’s chair. She will sit down promptly on the Hydro board of that period, and let them know who is running things.
          In the year 2000, woman will have carved out her true position in the world of letters and labor. “The New Woman” will have died a natural death, and from her ashes will have sprung a new creation, embracing the best in the old and the new woman of today.
          In the year 2000, all civilized nations will become merged into one, and the Huns will be relegated to a back seat. English will become the universal language, and bilingual schools will only be remembered s a fad of ancient days. The Pitman system of shorthand will be the only recognized means of communication, and telegraphs and telephones will be superseded by a system of telepathy.
          In the year 2000, by means of the submarine system of travel, English, Irish, Scotch and Welsh workmen will be able to live in their own country and still earn their living in the factories in Hamilton. By the daylight saving plan of putting the clocks an hour ahead, they can leave their homes early in the morning, and in an hour’s time, be at work in Hamilton, putting in a full day and getting back across the sea in time for an early supper, and then have a long evening before bedtime. When Jules Verne wrote his celebrated story of submarine travel, he little thought of the possibilities of the future. Those living in Australia and working in Hamilton will be able to spend the weekend at home with their families, returning on Monday morning.
          The year 2000 is only 83 years off, and in that time great things may be expected to happen in Hamilton. This cruel war will probably be ended before that time, and the brave boys in khaki who left their homes and best girls in Hamilton while they crossed the sea to teach the Kaiser a few lessons, will have returned, and settled down to business, and become happy husbands and the fathers of future generations of Hamiltonians.

Friday, 15 February 2013



        Now simply because we select this grand old line from the hymn book is no evidence that a sermon is to follow; but there is nothing like having a text to start with, even if it is in writing the reports of a police court. First, lay your foundation and then tell your story. Well, here goes. Some years ago, there came to Hamilton, a young Englishman and his wife and two children. He had received a liberal education, the intention of his parents being to fit him for the life of a missionary. In his English home, he fell in love with an intellectual young, and she fell in love with him, and that put an end to all ideas he had about converting the heathen; the result was a happy marriage, and in due course of time, bright little babies came to bless the home. Let us call him Bob, for it is more convenient to have a name for your hero than to wander through your story without one, even though it is fictitious. Bob had studied the Pitman system of shorthand, was an accomplished scholar, and had a position as a clerk in a large commercial house, but as London was full of that class of men, glad to get a job at any salary, Bob’s pay check was hardly equal o the expenses incidental to a young family, especially as himself and his dear wife were brought up in homes of refinement and plenty. Prospects of future preferment and more salary did not seem to loom up, even in the distance; in fact, the chances were looking toward a reduction in the clerical force in the house in which he was employed, and as he was low down on the list, naturally the older clerks would have the preference. His dream of missionary life had long since faded away in the bright sunshine of the realities of life, and he had no desire to enter the ministry and trust to luck and the liberality of the average church officials for the support of his family, unless he could get inside of the ring that handed out the paying charges.


          The time came when Bob had to come to some decision as to his future, as he was too proud to call upon his father for help, especially as he had disappointed the fond hopes of his parents in taking a wife instead of devoting his life to the singing of “From Greenland’s icy mountains and India’s coral strands,” and other soulful missionary hymns. Bob was human, and the love of a dear girl appealed stronger to his heart than did the spiritual condition of the heathen in foreign lands. He had saved a little money out of his meager salary, and as Canada held out the beckoning hand o9f promise, he bade farewell to his native home and set sail for the ambitious city, where electricity was doing all the hard work and all the laborer had to do was draw a fat pay check at the end of the week and live in the lap of luxury. Poor Bob found out in time that this roseate dream was not all sunshine, for girls were doing the stenography and bookkeeping and experts only were needed in the factories and workshops. There was no place open for educated missionaries in this busy part of the world. He walked the streets day after day looking for employment, but not being an expert in any line that was open, he returned to his home in the evening footsore and weary and very much discouraged. Had his parents sent him to a technical school in his boyhood days instead of a college, Bob would have become an expert in the mechanical arts, for he was a young fellow who could have applied himself to industrial pursuits.

          The little money he had brought with him from the old land melted like the snow, and soon poor Bob and his wife and children were on the verge of being down and out. One rainy Saturday night, when everything looked dark and gloomy in Bob’s humble home, some good angel prompted a member of the Women’s Christian Temperance union to call on the family, she having heard of their condition.  What was the use of the visitor unless she was prepared to render ‘first aid’ ? So she prepared a basket of food and started on her rainy journey? The visitor had met Bob’s wife before, so no formality of introduction was necessary. To shorten the story, the basket was looked upon as manna from heaven, to which a two dollar bill was added. On Monday morning, through the personal acquaintance of the lady’s husband with kind-hearted Tom Towers, who was then a street foreman, a promise of work for Bob was secured, and that afternoon he was added to the street gang. It was work that he was unaccustomed to, and by night was sore in back and with blistered hands after his first half day as a member of the shovel brigade. Tom Towers made his task as light as possible, while at the same time he felt it to be his duty to look after the interests of the city.


          Bob worked with the shovel brigade till such time as more congenial employment was offered to him. The sun of prosperity made life brighter for himself and family, and in time his new employers found that he was too valuable to be employed in the humble capacity of a laborer; he was advanced to a better job with quite an addition to his paycheck. He bought a home for his family and provided it with many of the comforts he and his wife were accustomed to in the English home they had left a few years before. The company for which he was working gave him another boost on the ladder, and called him from the town in which they had first appointed him and brought him back to Hamilton at a salary of over $100 a month. Bob bought a home in Hamilton and is now the owner of two comfortable houses, on which there is not a dollar of indebtedness. It is not likely that he will forget the days of adversity when he first came to Hamilton, nor the kind friends who came to his relief. Especially will he remember kind-hearted Tom Towers, who helped him to his first job. Bob’s wife has never forgotten the friends who helped them, for she told the story to a lady member of the W.C.T.U. , to whom the readers of these musings are indebted for a recital of it. The man that is not too proud to work at anything that offers will come out ahead in the end. There is always room higher up as you climb the ladder.



          The bit of history that we have written about Bob has its counterpart in the history of another Hamiltonian, who was down and out a few years ago in Hamilton; not that it was his fault that he was out of work but the reader can remember when work was scarce and two men were on the waiting lists for every job. And here is where Tom Towers came in as the good angel to help another, a brother man in distress. Towers was a street foreman, and a right good one he was , for he not only knew how to get the best out of his men, but also how to plan his work in the best interests of the city. One day Tom was approached by a young fellow whom he had known for years as a Hamilton boy; in fact, the young fellow was a native of this old town. We will have to give him a name to designate him while we are telling his story – Bill Sandstrip, for if there is a spot on this broad earth that Bill loved, it was the old beach, where he shot ducks and fished in the happy days of boyhood. Bill had no trade, having spent the first years of life in acquiring an education in view of studying for a profession. The education was all right, but the profession never materialized on account of circumstances, and Bill had to turn his hand at whatever he could find to do.


          Well, to get on with the story, and not tire the reader with too much detail, bill got in touch with his old friend Tom Towers, and asked him if there was an opening in his gang for a Weary Willie who had worn his legs down almost to the first joint in search of work, and could only get promises of the first vacancy that might arise, which was not very cheering to say the least. Tom looked Bill up one side and down the other, and with that good-natured smile on his face that never comes off, he told Bill that he could not offer him anything that would be desirable. Tom fancied the well-dressed Bill with a spade in his hands digging in the streets of his home town , where he had lived a life of ease and comfort, not knowing a want that could not be gratified. Fancy him in a pair of coarse boots where he was wont to be seen in the finest calfskin; a pair of trousers that the poorest man would turn up his nose at if some good Samaritan were to offer them to cover his naked limbs; with a shirt and felt hat to match. Tom Towers could not realize his old friend in such garb. Bill had counted the cost to his dignity, and all he wanted just then was a job that would pay him twenty-five cents an hour till such time as something better turned up. Well, he was on the city payroll the next morning, and Foreman Towers had no more faithful man in his gang. Bill stuck to the shovel brigade for a few weeks and then an unexpected offer was made to him by a man who admired his independence in working as a day laborer rather than be a loafer on his friends. Bill Sandstrip was a young man of good habits who never visited a saloon nor spent time and money as a would-be sport. Today he is the business manager of one f the large firms in Hamilton, and it is only a question of time when he will be on top of the ladder. He does not forget his old friend, Tom Towers, nor does he forget that in his days of adversity a way was opened to tide over the hard times. Providence helps those who help themselves.



          Tom is a Hamilton boy from the ground up. When a youth he learned the carpenter’s trade, and developed into a competent workman. From the time that he had arrived at man’s estate, Tom took an interest in ward two’s politics, and he was somewhat of a hustler on election days. It was all fun for him, and he had no idea of ever getting into the game beyond helping a friend who might be a candidate. A. D. Stewart took quite a fancy to Tom, and when he was elected mayor of the city, he offered to give him a hand to the “pork barrel.” Tom had no ambition for a city job, in fact he preferred shoving a jack plane and being independent. Hard times struck Hamilton pretty hard in those days, and Tom, like hundreds of carpenters and other mechanics, was out of a job. Mayor Stewart got busy and found there was an opening in the office of foreman of streets and he offered it to Tom. The temptation was too great for Tom to resist, although he was somewhat doubtful of his abilities to fill the office, but he concluded to give it a trial. And Tom Towers got on the city payroll, and he has been there ever since. No change in the city’s administration has affected Tom’s standing, for he has been promoted from one department to another, wherever his experience better fitted him, till now he holds the responsible place of superintendent of the waterworks. Tom is no shirker, no matter what hour of the day or night duty calls him, and the official head of his department has confidence in his ability.



          The old-time Methodist preachers were wags in their way, and when they met at the annual conferences they generally had a jolly time. It was the old story, when the cat’s away the mice can play, and these good brethren, being out of sight of the saints to whom they dispensed the gospel when at the home church, gave vent to their humorous natures. Brethren who had probably not met since they parted in the college campus on commencement day, greeted each other in loving embrace, and talked over the happy days of college life. For this hour they forgot that they were staid Methodist preachers, but they were boys again, recounting the pranks they used to play on the professors, and how one class was always on the lookout to catch the other fellows at a disadvantage. The story was told of two athletes, sworn friends, who attended Albert college at Belleville, that they never met that they did not grab each other and wrestle for mastery. They were splendid specimens of vigorous young  manhood in their days of college pranks.

          It was during a session of conference that the Rev. W. J. Hunter, who was pastor of one of the congregations in Hamilton, raised a laugh at the expense of a clerical brother who was known as a regular tightwad. When the conference plate was passed around among the preachers for some special object, this brother was always careful to feel down deep into his trousers and fish out the smallest coin. At a table around which was gathered a number of the brethren discussing fried chicken and other delicacies that the good sister who entertained them knew that Methodist preachers loved so well, it was proposed that after the bounteous meal, each one should tell a story to pass away the hour. When it came to Brother Hunter’s turn, he related an imaginary dream that he had a few night’s before. In his dream he went to heaven, and his picture of the golden streets, the rivers of shining water, the seraphic choir and so forth were described as only that delightful raconteur could paint it. When he concluded, Brother Tightwad, who was pastor of a church in Chatham, asked him in a tone of coarse jocularity:

          “Well, Brother Hunter, did you see any of us in your spiritual dream?”

          “Yes, Brother Tightwad, I saw you.”

          “Ah! and what was I doing?”

          “You were on your knees.”

          “Of course, praying.”

          “No brother, I must tell the truth. You were trying to dig up the golden streets of the New Jerusalem.”

          Ah ! that was long ago, and but few are left to tell the story of the ministerial match down at the Grand Trunk depot, or whether Brother Tightwad’s pocketbook shook out more generously when the conference collections were being taken up.