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.


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