Of course, it is not expected that the ancient musers of today have personal knowledge of the events of which they tell, and the only means they have of knowing is by delving into ancient local histories, of which, unfortunately, there is but few in existence. A hundred years from now the musers will have the files of the daily papers from which to gather facts that may be interesting to those who come after us. The history of the township of Barton is, to a certain extent, associated with the city of Hamilton, as the present site of the city originally composed part of the township, and the history of one is substantially the same as the other, so far as the early settlers were concerned. In 1815, Richard Beasley was assessed for 13,350 acres of land, of which only 150 acres were cleared. In 1815, there were only 162 ratepayers in the township of Barton, which included the town of Hamilton. There were 75 log houses of one story, 25 frame houses, and none built of brick or stone. In the way of farm stock, there were 150 horses, 64 oxen, 316 milch cows, and 74 bulls and steers.
In 1832, the Gore of King street was the favorite resort for promenaders. The Western Mercury, published by James Johnson, contained an advertisement informing the public that “Plumer Burley,” formerly of the Ancaster hotel, has rented the new tavern stand in Hamilton, on the southeast corner of James and King called the Hamilton Promenade, directly opposite McNab’s office, and expects to commence business three weeks from the present date.” The advertisement was dated July 4, 1832. The Promenade hotel occupied the corner where stands the Canada Life building and took in part of the lot of the Bank of British North America.
On the 16th of November, 1832, the tavern built by Mrs. McNab caught fire. It was located opposite the Gore, and was the center of business. In less than an hour, five other buildings, including the stores of Ferguson and Co. and Mr. McNab, the post office, the Desjardins canal office, the Western Mercury office, the dwelling house and shop of Mr. Scoble, “Yankee Miller’s” tavern and outbuildings – all were consumed in less than three hours from the first appearance of the fire.
At the beginning of the year 1833, the following advertisement appeared in the Western Mercury :
“The Gore district school will be opened after te present vacation on Monday night, the 14th inst., in the new building on Mountain, fronting the court house square (Mountain street is now John.)
“Terms of tuition for day school are : In classics, 1 pound, in the common branches 16 shillings. For boarders, who must supply their own beds and bedding, 12 shillings, 6 pence per week or 32 pounds per annum.
“An evening school will be opened by Mr. Randall from 7 to 9, so soon as twelve applications are received. Terms 4 pounds per quarter, payable in advance.
The fire did not seem to depress trade very much for on the 3rd of January, 833, “Yankee” Miller had a flaring advertisement in the Mercury announcing
“Andrew Miller’s extensive Steamboat Hotel and Barn, that were burnt on the 16th of November last, at a loss of $6,000, are now partly restored. He has erected a new barn, 60 feet by 40, and a shed 45 feet long, and an addition of 30 feet to his small white house next door to his old stand.
“He can now render travelers as comfortable as before. He intends by tenfold more industry, persistence and economy, to give better satisfaction (if possible) to his customers and hopes the indulgence of a generous public to be able to replace his house in a new and more beautiful edition, corrected and amended by the author.
The construction of the Great Western railway was the crowning event toward the building of Hamilton into a city. As soon as the bill chartering the road was passed by parliament, the board of police ordered a general illumination, and a grand jubilee was kept up for some time. This was the death blow to the future growth of Dundas, for prior to the building of the railway, all the produce from the back country, such as flour, meat, grain, cattle, lumber and staves, were shipped at the head of the Desjardins canal and passed through Burlington canal to the lake without benefitting Hamilton in the least. Considerable influence was brought to bear on the directors of the Great Western to run the railway straight down through the center of Ancaster township, so that the road would connect with the Dundas and Waterloo and Guelph roads, and so not take away from Dundas the trade of back counties. This the company refused to do, and the people of Dundas contend to this day that Hamilton was responsible for the loss of business to Dundas.
On the 24th of July, 1850, an act was passed by parliament to empower the town to subscribe for stock in the Great Western railway, and on the 10th of November, 1853, the Hamilton Orphan asylum was incorporated, and the Gore was declared the property of the town for public purposes. The Khan tells us in his history written for the atlas that Hamilton had plunged into a heavy debt on account of the waterworks and the building of the Port Dover railway. The corporation was compelled to negotiate a loan of $200,000 to consolidate its indebtedness. At the same time, a further sum of $200,000 was borrowed to pay for 2,000 shares of the Great Western stock. Prosperity seemed to come with the indebtedness, and for the next four years, the town grew with a rapidity that was astonishing. Houses were so scarce that it was almost impossible to buy one for love or money, until the great panic of 1857 when everything changed. It was in the year 1857 that the waterworks were being constructed, and times were so hard that first-class mechanics, representing all trades, walked the streets from day to day, and were glad to get a job with a shovel and pick ax to work in the trenches for laying the water pipes. The debt was mounting higher and higher every day, till finally in May, 1861, an act was passed to consolidate the debt and authorizing the corporation to issue debentures to the amount of $2,327,000 to redeem the debentures already issued.
Hamilton at this time was almost in the shadow of despair. Whole blocks of houses were unoccupied, ad for several years but very few houses were built within the city limits. Trade was paralyzed, and the few factories that were in existence were either closed or working on short time. At the close of the American war, business began to brighten a little, but it took years before there was work for everybody. In 1867 the population of the city was 21,185, and in 1874, it crawled up to 31, 957. The total amount of taxes collected in 1874 was $26,746 on an assessed valuation of $13, 850,042 worth of property.
For some unexplained reason, Hamilton was dependent on Toronto and Montreal for branch banks, apparently never being able to build up a strong bank of its own. There were several attempts to create a local bank, but some cause failure was the result. The Bank of British North America controlled by capital and directors in the old country, was the only successful institution till 1872 when the Bank of Hamilton was incorporated with a capital of $4,000,000, and it has grown with the growth of the city and now stands in the front rank of the banks in Canada. Hamilton’s Wall street is comprised in the block from the corner of King and James to the corner of Main on the west side and from Main on the east side down to the Canada Life building, and then across the south side of King to the corner of Hughson and king, where stands the reliable Provident and Loan. There is lots of money in Hamilton and stockholders galore in the local institutions. There has been only one bank failure in the past twenty-one years and that a private bank that in its day had the confidence of every Hamiltonian from the day it was established in 1847. In 1856, the Gore bank was the only regularly organized local bank in the city, besides which there were two savings banks. The Gore bank was chartered in 1836 with a capital of 200,000 pounds, the officers were Colin C. Ferrie, president; Andrew Stevens, cashier; H. S. Strathy, chief teller; Robert Park, junior teller; W. G. Crawford, bookkeeper; Edward Ambrose, Thomas McCracken and Chas. Murray, clerks. The banking was on the corner of King and Hughson streets, now occupied by the Bank of Commerce.
In the Wentworth county atlas printed in 1874, there were personal sketches of prominent men in those days, all of whom have passed away, and the cards of thirty-one men, not one of whom is in business today.
THE HAMILTON WATERWORKS
As early as April 20, 1836, the Hamilton Water Works company was incorporated by act of parliament. This gigantic enterprise for a town of small population was compared with the waterworks in Montreal, which city had the largest population in Canada. Actual work on the construction did not really begin until about the year 1856. The system was completed about the year 1860, at a cost of $800,000. The machinery was made at Dundas in the Gartshore foundry, and was said to be the finest of any manufactured, not only in Canada but in the United States. James McFarlane was the first engineer in charge of the system and he continued with it till a few years ago, when feeling that old age was telling upon him and he reluctantly tendered his resignation, and it was as reluctantly accepted by the city. The chimney of the works looms up 150 feet, and can be seen by sailors leagues away across the lake. Two double-cylinder engines of 100 horses power each, and four immense boilers furnished the motive power. The water comes from Lake Ontario and is filtered through 31 feet of sand, making the water the purest and cleanest of any city system in America. The water was originally pumped to a reservoir on the side of the mountain, which is 185 feet above the level of the lake. It now comes by direct pressure from the pump house into the homes of Hamilton. The water system has always been a great source of revenue to the city, and the consumers pay higher for its use than does any other city in Canada for their system. The Hon. Adam Brown is the only survivor of the original board of water commissioners.
THE HAMILTON PUBLIC SCHOOLS
There is not many of the boys and girls now living who attended the private schools in Hamilton prior to 1845. At the time in 1853, when the present school system was inaugurated, there were no fewer than 28 private schools in Hamilton and it was said that the buildings occupied as schoolhouses were so filthy and degrading in their character that the children blushed at being obliged to enter them. When Mr. McCallum was inspector of public schools he gave a brief review of the condition in which he found the school-houses . The earliest official data of the public schools went back to 1847. At that time, the city was divided into six school sections, in each section there was one school-house containing one room, in which all the children assembled to be taught by one teacher. The houses were all frame buildings, and only one of them was owned by the town. Four were in ordinary repair, and two in bad repair without proper facilities for ventilation, and not one had anything in the shape of a playground. Of these six school buildings, one alone was an actual school-house, the rest being rented for school purposes, and the facilities that were offered were of the poorest kind. Such things as a school library, maps and apparatus had not been thought of. In 1850, the present system was introduced and preparations for erecting the Central school commenced; old things were passing away, and all things were to begin anew. The Central was opened on the 3rd of May, 1853. Its fourteen rooms and teachers were supposed capable of instructing the school-going population of Hamilton for the next ten years. In 1860, there were the Central and six primary schools in operation, and the staff numbered thirty, including a principal, a classical master and a music teacher. The whole number of school population was estimated at 5,500 and the average daily attendance for the separate and public schools was 1, 790. The cost per pupil on average attendance and amount paid teachers was $8.33, and including current expenditure amounted to $13.07. Now Hamilton can justly boast of the best system of school-houses, arrangements, teachers and results of any city in Ontario, and all due to the first-class men elected as trustees, and the liberal policy pursued in giving to the rising generation an education to fit them for the battle of life.
In 1830 the town authorities bought a bell for which $400 was paid. Not having a tower in which to hang the bell, arrangements were made with the trustees of the American Presbyterian church on John street, in the center of the old Gurney foundry block, to hang it in the belfry of the church, where it remained till it was moved to the engine-house on King William street. When the new city hall was built, it was again moved to the clock tower, where it now does duty as occasion demands. The first police court was established in 1846, with Captain Armstrong. He was succeeded by the late Magistrate James Cahill, who in turn was followed by the present magistrate Mr. George J. Jelfs, who has recently rounded out his first quarter of a century on the bench. During its history of more fifty years, Hamilton has had but three police magistrates, and each one of them with a heart that sympathized with the erring ones, in many cases adopting the language of the Saviour, “Go and sin no more.” Governor Ogilvie’s castle of retirement on Barton street was opened for boarders in 1875. It cost $40,000 to build it.