Saturday, 24 August 2013


In looking over some of the old daily papers of Hamilton forty years ago, we find an advertisement of Moore & Davis, real estate agents, offering choice building lots in East Hamilton, on the line of the street railway for $600 an acre. The owners of those farms never dreamed that the same choice building lots would be selling in the opening years of the twentieth century at from $3,000 to $4,000 an acre. Forty years ago, Hamilton had a population of less than 30,000; the latest census figures up 110,000, or nearly four times the population of forty years ago. If Moore & Davis had those choice building lots for sale today, their commissions on the sale would be a small fortune for them, and the selling price enrich the farmers who owned the land so that every one of them would be able to buy a large block of Victory bonds and spend their remaining days in luxury, not caring a cent about the high cost of living. It does one good to take a stroll through east Hamilton, say from Land’s woods to the Jockey club and see how the city has grown even within the past twenty years. One gets enlarged ideas of this old town, and naturally asks the question, what has made this great change? At the risk of someone calling this old muser a politician we must give credit where credit is due, and accord to the old Protection party all the honor of Canada’s and of Hamilton’s increase in wealth and population. Before Sir John A. Macdonald saw the light of protection away back in the ‘80s, Hamilton was a pleasant town to live in, but if the enterprising young men who were born here ever expected to see beyond being hewers of wood and drawers of water, they had to seek a home elsewhere. Forty years ago, one could almost count the number of Hamilton industries at less than half a hundred; today the number has increased till it almost reaches the five hundred mark. Take half a dozen of the great industries of today, and they give employment to more men and women than did all the factories in Hamilton forty years ago, and at an average of double the wages. The latest data we have of the average rate of wages earned was $550 a year, while in other parts of Canada the average was down to $475. In 1913, the output for the year of 415 industries was $60,000,000 and the number of employees was over 27,000. During the past three years, wealth has been showered upon Hamilton, and there has been work and the highest wages for every man, woman and child that wanted it. In the munitions factories, women have earned from $15 to $25 a week, while the men have gone as high as $10 a day and over. And yet we are not happy!

When people get discontented with their present condition, it is well to recall the conditions of other days. The old Hamiltonian will remember when wages for men were from $7 to $9 a week, and when girls thought themselves fortunate with a wage of $4 to $6 a month. Boys averaged about $3 a week in the days of their apprenticeship, and their employers “speeded them up” to do a man’s work. Probably it was the best thing for the boys, for it made better workmen of them, and they learned their trades from the ground up. Even a late as forty years ago, $10 a week was considered good wages, and the the workman had to put in sixty hours a week to earn it; now the average man gets half that amount for a single day’s work. Take the printing trade as an example. In the early ‘50s, such men as John W. Harris, Thomas McIntosh, William Nicholson, R. R. Donnelly, and many more that might be named, were artists as job printers, and the highest wages that any of them were paid was $8 a week - $7 a week being the average; now the scale of wages is $25 a week, and the men have to work only eight hours a day. Cigar makers were the best paid in the old days, and they bettered their condition by organizing in trades unions about the year 1854. At that time, George Tuckett worked at the bench rolling cigars. There were nine factories in Hamilton in those days. Mr. Quimby kept a shop on James street, near the Mechanics’ hall, and George Tuckett abandoned the bench and went out on the road with a peddler’s’ wagon and sold cigars and tobacco for Quimby. In the same year the printers organized a union, and raised the scale of prices from $7 a week to $9, and for piecework to 27 cents a thousand. It has been always a disputed question as to whether the cigar makers or the printers organized the first society; but if we take the city directory of that date as proof, the printers evidently had the call as being first. Only three of the original members of the printers society are now living so far as we have any knowledge – A. T. Freed, Reese Evans and Richard Butler. If there are any members of the first cigar makers’ society, we have failed to learn.

Hamilton always had the reputation for being a society town. Sixty years ago, it had two lodges of Oddfellows, four lodges and three chapters of the Masonic order, five Orange lodges, three temperance societies, a St. George, St. Andrew, a Highland society, and three building societies.

Here is an item that may be of interest in these days of natural gas and antagonism between the city and the company. The Hamilton Gas company was organized in the year 1850, with a paid-up capital of $150,000, Thomas McIlwraith, manager. The works were completed in 1851, when the streets were first lighted with gas with about sixty lamps. For the year ending 31st of January, 1857, the net profits of the company were $20,794, out of which the semi-annual dividend, at the rate of ten per cent per annum, was declared. The old gas company was a moneymaker from the start, for it paid ten per cent after the first two or three years. It could never pay a larger dividend under its charter, for there was a proviso that if the company earned more, it had to divide the surplus with the consumers by reducing the rates. By 1857, the number of lamps had increased to 220, and the number of consumers to about 640. Hamilton had not got beyond the tallow candle and burning-fluid stage till Robert Young began to manufacture the first coal-oil burners made in Canada. Now the old town is so struck on itself that it has not only natural and artificial gas to burn, but it also takes two electric companies to light the residences, the business houses, the thousand or more workshops and factories, and to keep the wheels going around so that Hamilton’s industries can turn out from $60,000,000 to $80,000,000 worth of manufactures in a year. The quantity of coal used during the year 1857 for the manufacture o9f artificial gas was 2,072 tons, which produced 15,047,200 cubic feet. The net price per 1,000 cubic feet of gas was $3.50. Now it costs Hamilton about 45 cents per 1,000 cubic feet for natural gas, and still we are not happy. There is a class of growlers who would swear that the gas company was robbing them if they got their light and fuel for ten cents a thousand feet.
The citizen of Hamilton who does not feel proud of his town, and always be ready to sing its praises, has something wrong with his liver. If you, my gentle Hamiltonian, have reached that unhappy state of mind, just take a stroll from the mountain to the bay, and from the eastern to the western limits, and learn something of the town you are living in. It would do no harm to take a panoramic view from the mountain top as a starter, and catch a glimpse of the broad, well-shaded streets, the beautiful homes, and Macassa Bay. Sometimes we wonder why they ever changed the original commonplace Burlington; or why they ever forgot the fighting Irish duke, and changed Wellington Square to Burlington. Then when you have feasted your eyes on what nature has done in creating such a landscape picture, come down from the heights and spend a few hours gazing on the public library, the artistic court house, the fine churches, the splendid school buildings, of which the city might feel proud; the city hall, and our Goodenough mayor. Then when you have done the business center, start out on a tour of the manufacturing districts, and see what a protective tariff and the Dominion Power and Transmission company, assisted by the Hydro-Electric, have done to build up an industrial city from a few foundries, planning mills and small workshops. If after you have seen all this, and you still feel grouchy, then, for heaven’s sake, pack up your old kit bag and take the first train to Kitchener, and join the growlers up there. You are not really in a proper frame of mind to live in this up-to-date industrial town.
Did it not make the red blood tingle in your veins the other night as the greatest procession ever seen in the streets of Hamilton paraded for two or three hours in the interest of Victory bonds! Will such a grand hurrah ever be repeated in the old town? Probably, “When Tommy comes marching home again, we will get up a royal welcome then: the girls will cheer, the boys will shout, and all the people will turn out, and we w2ill all feel gay when Tommy comes marching home.” Fancy this old town buying bonds by the million dollars’ worth! Who would ever though that such a thing could be possible! It is the men who have been saving their money for years who are able to respond to the call of the government in its hour of distress, and while they are helping the government, they are adding to their incomes by the increased rate of interest.
Hamilton was never as prosperous as it is today, and the hope is that it will last. There is not a wage-earner in the town who cannot spare $50 or $100 to invest in a government bond out of the increased wages they are getting for their labor. Begin saving now, and when old age comes upon you, poverty wilol not enter your home. Let every family have a small savings bank of its own, and after each meal each member drop a coin, if only a cent, into a box as a thank offering for the meal. The working members of the family can surely spare a trifle, and the children will become interested and do their part instead of investing in chewing gum, and it will teach the giver the joy of giving and produce wonderful results in educating the spirit of saving. Be saving of the pennies and the dollars will increase and take care of themselves. There is more money extravagantly wasted in this industrial city than would give a home of comfort to every man, woman and child. There should be no poverty in prosperous Canada except in cases of sickness or old age that had a reckless youth.
Why should fish be so costly as a food when the lakes and rivers are swarming with finny tribe? Lake Ontario is alive with the most delicious fish, and yet the people of Hamilton have to scramble to get a meal of it and then pay the highest price. It is not the fisherman who gets rich at the business, for it is a rare thing to find one who wears diamonds. Ancient Hamiltonians regretfully tell of the old days when fish were so plentiful down at the beach that they could get all they wanted for merely helping the two ancient fishermen draw in the nets.

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