Saturday, 15 June 2013


        What subject would be of interest to the ancient residents of this industrial city, with its population of 100,000 or more, than to go back to the days when Mountain, now known as John, street was the center of the old town, and the boundary line on the east was Wellington street, and on the west the Bowery. Where was the Bowery? Some of the present generation may ask, for they never heard  that Hamilton at one time had a street of that name. Why, the Bowery was what is now Bay street south, through the pasture fields to the foot of the mountain, where the family cows roamed at will during the day, to be driven home for milking when the sun was going down in the west. Some of the early iconoclasts got  so refined in their ideas that they had the name changed. It was named after the Bowery in New York by some of the U. E. Loyalists who settled in the southwest part of town when it was farming land. Like many of the historic names of ancient Hamilton, it was lost in the shuffle and came out as the refined Bay street south.
          In Dr. Thomas Rolph’s more than interesting book, entitled observations of Upper Canada, first written soon after he arrived in Ancaster in the year 1832 and finished in book form in 1838, when it was printed by G. Reynolds Hackstaff, in his printing office in Dundas. This book has more than local interest because of the history of the Gore District, which then comprised the territory included in the counties of Wentworth and Halton, but from the further fact that the paper on which it was printed was made in the Darnley Mills in West FLamboro, owned by James Crooks, who also owned a grist mill, oil mill, saw mills, distillery and a general store. The Crooks family were the nabobs of West Flamboro, owning large tracts of land as well as a number of mills and manufactories. About all that is left of the wealth and memory of the Crooks family is the graveyard in Crooks’ Hollow, and that is in a very neglected state. Old Rip Van Winkle said, after his long sleep in the Catskill Mountains. “How soon are we forgotten when we’re gone.” A visit to the large majority of country graveyards, and not far from Hamilton either, is proof of old Rip’s trite saying.
          In the year 1834, the town of Hamilton had a population of 2101, when the amount of town revenue, including police taxes, was $1080, and the expenditures nearly the same. That sum nowadays would hardly pay the salary of the cheapest clerk employed in the city hall. The county of Halton was the most important part of the Gore District, having eighteen townships, while Wentworth county had only seven townships. Ancaster was then the most important township in Wentworth county, with a population of 2664, 14, 732 acres of cultivated farm land, 23, 774 uncultivated, and an assessed value of $166, 892. Hamilton had only 841 acres of cultivated land and an assessed value of $35,964. Read what Dr. Rolph had to say about Hamilton eighty-five years ago, and then go up on the mountain top on a clear day and see what a grand industrial city it is today.
          “There are few places in North America that have increased more rapidly, or stand in a more beautiful and advantageous situation than the town of Hamilton. In the summer of 1833, my constant evening’s walk was from Mr. Burley’s tavern to the bay shore, distant about a mile. There were then but two houses between the tavern and the bay front, now it is one continued street, intersected by side streets, branching in both directions. The main street of Hamilton of Hamilton is of noble width, and has been constantly improving by the erection of spacious brick buildings, and must become, ere long, a splendid one. The court house is a fine stone building, at present unenclosed, but if the improvement in contemplation, relative to the jail, should be carried into effect, it will render it an object of greater beauty and more utility. Several excellent houses have been erected; a Catholic and an Episcopal church are in course of building; two noble taverns, both fronting the bay, are completed; a large stone brewery on the bay shore is in operation, perhaps the best in the district, and the splendid mansion of A. N. McNab, Esq., commanding the entire view of the lake and bay, is unequaled in the province. It is a most extensive building, beautifully designed and elegantly finished. It is called Dundurn, from a place of that name in Scotland belonging to the ancestors of Mr. McNab. To the indefatigable exertions of this able, spirited and enterprising gentleman is infinitely indebted. Both in and out of parliament, his exertions have been unceasing in the promotion of its welfare, and it must prove a source of the highest gratification to him to behold Hamilton, in the establishment of which he has been so actively engaged, assume an importance and celebrity not inferior to any town of the same standing in North America. On the mountain overhanging Hamilton are two fine stone mansions belonging to J. M. Whyte and Scott Burn, the former surrounded  by an excellent and extensive park fence, and both embracing most comprehensive views of the lake, Burlington canal, Toronto harbor and a splendid woodland valley immediately beneath them.
          “The population of this town when taken, as we learn from the town assessor, in September 1834, was 2101, and when taken in the year following, in May, 1835, it was 2600, showing an increase of 500 in seven months – the population is now probably about 3000. The census in 1833, as taken by the town assessor was about 1400. The amount of the town revenue in 1834, including police taxes, is $1080, and the expenditure nearly the same.
          “The amount of the town revenue in 1835 showed a very great increase in the wealth and prosperity of the town.
          “It is probable more buildings will be put up in the ensuing summer than has ever before been put up in the town. Several of our more opulent merchants are making preparations to erect large brick buildings in King street. The contractors are taking advantage of the sleighing by removing the old frame houses to clear the lots for some permanent buildings.
          “The town of Hamilton is the district town at which the assizes and quarter sessions are held. It returns a member to parliament. Hamilton has a literary society, at which scientific, philosophical and political questions are discussed. The debates are well sustained, and it will doubtless prove an excellent school for training young barristers in the habit of extemporaneous speaking. Mr. Cattermole, the author of a work on emigration lives in the town. I have ever been accustomed to speak of both men and things as I feel, and being fully persuaded that Mr. Cattermole was a faithful friend to this province in his efforts to further emigration, I regret and am surprised that his claims to its consideration have been altogether and most unaccountably overlooked. A medical society has also been formed and I trust the time is not distant when it will have a public hospital. The Gore Bank, which has been chartered, is now established at Hamilton, and must prove of great advantage in promoting its still further improvement. From time to time, it has been in agitation to connect Hamilton with Lake Erie by railroad, forming the nearest and quickest connecting link between the two lakes. The proposed route was to Port Dover on the shores of Lake Erie. Its practicability and utility may be seen by the engineer’s report. But could it be possible to carry a railroad to Brantford, to connect the London and Western District with Lake Ontario, it would be the route for both goods and passengers from the extreme territory of Michigan and the western states. The arguments and excitement it has produced by which the respective routes are sustained show the general interest taken in what may some day prove possible. As a proof of the great trade which Hamilton carries on through the Burlington canal in one week during the month of July, in the present year, and from one of the four wharves in Hamilton, was shipped 17,000 bushels of wheat worth $1 per bushel.
          “Besides the district school Hamilton has several private seminaries most respectfully conducted. There are three newspapers published in Hamilton – the Gazette, the Journal and the Free Press – and it is scarcely too much to predicate that it will become one of the most flourishing and beautiful towns in Canada. In February, 1836, there were races on the bay three days consecutively, and on April 8th, two steamboats arrived at Burlington canal with passengers from Toronto, who were conveyed to Hamilton in stages over the ice, a distance of seven miles.”

Friday, 7 June 2013


At the recent annual meetings of the leading chartered banks in Canada, the general managers raised their voices in warning against the tendency to overdo the thing in the way of real estate transactions. While judicious speculations in mother earth may turn out profitable for a time, the danger is that the novices will be tempted into the whirlpool of speculation and before they know where they are at some bubble bursts and away goes the whole structure. The wiser financiers across the Niagara river advise customers to go slow and not be too fierce in the mad pursuit of wealth. Hamilton has certainly having been having a time of it in the past four or five years, and it would almost appear that real estate has got to the limit for a time. Fancy King street lots selling at $400 a front foot, yet that is what it has been doing within the past few weeks, and speculators are looking around for more at the same price. Even on the mountain top lots that sold for $20 and $25 a foot just as the snow was melting off are now held at $50 and upward, and the owners don’t care whether you buy or not. All the available building lots in the city limits are out of the market, and instead of getting a forty foot lot for $1,000 or less, the owners are asking for $2,000 and upward. Hamilton people have never yet really appreciated the value of the narrow strip of land that lies between the mountain and the bay; but they are beginning to find it out now that they want homes for themselves and the newcomers that are filling up the town. Before Hamilton began to develop as a manufacturing town, one could buy an acre in its very center for less than a residence lot can be bought now. There is nothing like the black clouds of coal smoke from tall chimneys or the white heat of electricity to give a town a boost. Hamilton is now reveling in the luxury of electricity from Hydro and local power. Hark back to the days when John Fisher and Dr. McQuesten built the first threshing machine made in Canada in the little old foundry and wood shop that stood on the corner where the Royal hotel feeds hundreds of travelers every week in the year; and then compare it with the threshing machines now turned out by the hundreds from the Sawyer-Massey works, the successors of Fisher & McQuesten, the first foundry in Hamilton. That one little foundry on the Royal corner could supply the entire demand for threshing machines in Upper Canada in 1834; now the demand is so great that the International Harvester and the Sawyer-Massey companies give steady employment the year round to nearly three thousand expert workmen to supply only a small portion of the demand. Canada is getting to be a great country, and Hamilton leads the procession.


But we have wandered off from what was intended in the start. A few years ago, a Hamilton business man thought he saw a bargain in a piece of property, even in the way of saving rent. Being a man of cool judgment, he balanced the question in his mind as the advisability of going in debt to the amount the property would cost. Like all men in business, at time he had to call on his banker when bills became due, but as he was prompt to the minute when settlement day came, he was a customer worth having in the bank. After closing the deal, he happened one day in the bank where he kept his account, when the manager took his to task for taking such a heavy risk. The customer and the banker did not look at the deal from the same standpoint, and the result was that the customer withdrew his account and went to a bank that attended to its own business and did not interfere with the speculations of its customers. It was a fortunate deal for the customer, for in a few years he sold the property for more than treble the price he paid for it, while the wise banker is now spending his enforced holidays down in the provincial fortress at Kingston. The meat of the story is that when one can buy a bit of real estate at a bargain, even though you have to go in debt for it, there comes a time when someone is willing to pay you a fair profit on your judgment.


Sometimes the speculators go off on a tangent and hardly know when to ask enough. It puts the Muser in mind of an old farmer living near Oberlin, Ohio, away back more than forty years ago when we were publishing a paper in that college town. Oberlin was a quaint place and the people were quaint in their way, but a better class of men and women could not be found anywhere. By the way, the saints of Oberlin looked upon a Freemason, an Oddfellow, or indeed a member of any secret society as something not to be tolerated in the community. They firmly believed that no secret society would ever tread the golden streets of the New Jerusalem, and they were ready to affirm that they never heard of one going to heaven. The old farmer referred to above brought into town one day a wagonload of choice watermelons, and as he did not want to stay by the wagon till his melons were sold, he marked a price for each one and placed it on the melon stuck in a forked stick; and also wrote notice for purchasers to leave the price in a box in the wagon. He had not been gone any length of time before the last melon had been taken by a customer, and when he counted up his cash and found that every penny had been honestly accounted for, he turned in disgust to a friend who was with him, “How foolish of me to charge so little for my melons when I might have got much more for them if I had only marked up the price.” That is about the condition of real estate in these days when old Hamilton is flying high. Before the opening freshets this year and when the purling streams flowed from our mountain heights, a building of narrow frontage, on King street west, sold for $30,000 – about $1,500 per front foot. The store room was being rented for $1,100 a year, the landlord paying taxes and winter rates. Since that time, the microbe of speculation has been eating its way westward, and the new owners of the property are asking $50,000, and the chances are they will get it, for business houses are in demand.


Away back in the year 1855 – my, my, that must have been ages ago – temperance societies were doing something in the way of building up a healthy sentiment against the liquor traffic. The town had more taverns then than it has now, while the population was not more than one-eighth as large. The Good Templars, the Sons of Temperance and the Cadets of Temperance were doing good work in the way of persuading older men to quit and in educating the boys and young men to give a wide berth to the bar. In the top story of White’s block, on King street, was the temperance hall, and the different societies held their meetings there. In time it became too small for the Good Templars, as there were two lodges with large membership. The young fellows became ambitious to have a lodge-room of their own, and to finance the purchase nearly every member subscribed in proportion to his means, from $1 to $25. The trustees bought the second and third floors over Thomas Piper’s, flour and grain store, Nos. 5 and 6, Elgin block, John street north, for $2,500, and a fine hall was made by merging the two stores into one and extending the rear of the building out to the alley. In the year 1857, labor was cheap in Hamilton, and to complete the hall cost an additional $2,500. A fine organ was also purchased, the hall was furnished to suit the purpose, and the Good Templars were proud of their new home. When the lodge disbanded some years later, the hall again became the property of Mr. Piper, and by him was sold to the Oddfellows. A year ago the Oddfellows offered it for sale for about $12,500, but, fortunately for them, they did not strike a purchaser. A few months later, they found a man who was willing to pay $20,000 for it, and the sale was made. The Oddfellows are building a handsome temple on Gore street, between John and Hughson, which will soon be completed. The other day the later owner of the hall on John street sold it at a profit of $10,000 to $12,000. And that is the way property is selling in Hamilton in these days of prosperity. In 1858, when the Methodist Episcopal congregation sold their church property on Nelson street (now Ferguson avenue) to the government on which to build a drill shed for the artillery company, the congregation rented the Good Templars’ hall on John street for Sunday services. The Rev. Joseph Wild was the pastor of the congregation and being somewhat of a sensational preacher, he drew large congregations, especially to the evening service. After the property went back into the ownership of Mr. Piper, the hall was used for theatre and concert companies, and for a time this was the only hall for such purposes.


But the deal in real estate that caps the climate this year thus far is the purchase of almost an entire block bounded by Hughson, Gore, John and Rebecca streets. The only property that escaped is that occupied by the Wesley church and Sunday school buildings, and these may yet be sacrificed to the god of business if only a big enough offer is made. It is rumored that the T. Eaton company of Toronto are the purchasers of this block and that it is their purpose to build a fine department store on part of it and fill in the remaining space with factory buildings for the use of their own business. It will be a daring innovation to attempt to draw the retail trade so far away from the present business center, but purchasers are not tied to any section, and if the inducements look good, they will go after the goods. Probably the company is casting loving glances at the old Wesley church corner, and it would not be a bit surprising if the whole block would yet become the property of enterprising Torontonians.