Saturday, 23 November 2013


Stanley Mills dabbles now and then in the bygone days in his editorial introductions to his daily advertisements in the Hamilton newspapers. It makes an interesting chapter, and in future days, they will be valuable guideposts to the coming generation of enterprising business men. He caught the raconteur from some of his ancestors, and evidently he improves on their style. Now, the reason we refer to the habit that Stanley Mills has fallen into – and it is a good one – it is because he has suggested an idea that the readers of the Spectator might think over and adopt. Stanley has gathered some of the letters written by George Hamilton Mills, one of the early settlers of Hamilton, had them copied on a typewriter and bound in substantial covers. In reading over this typewritten history, he fives much valuable information of ancient Hamilton that carries the old-timers away back to the beginning of the last century, information that is not to be found in any other form, therein of more than ordinary importance. But this is sufficient introduction to our story. If every family in Hamilton would put their ancient history into typewritten pages, substantially bound, what a treasure they might leave to their children and to the future historian. A few days ago in these musings, we gave some account of the Mills family, so that it will not be necessary to repeat.
George Hamilton Mills, the founder of the Hamilton branch of the Mills family was descended from John Mills, a Scotchman, who went to the United States before the American revolution, and settled in Staten Island, New York. He was a staunch supporter of the British cause, on account of which he suffered the loss of property. He was what was called a United Empire Loyalist. The father of George Hamilton Mills was born in Newark, New Jersey, and moved to Canada in 1794. Being the son of a loyalist, he was entitled to a grant of 500 acres of land from the Canadian government, but for some reason, he never came into possession of the land. Upon his arrival in Canada, he took up the business of a fur trader with the Indians, which he carried back to the States and exchanged for goods suitable to the requirements of the Indians. He became friendly with several tribes located to the south and west of Lake Ontario, which secured him kindly treatment wherever he went. About the year 1800 he decided to settle permanently in Canada, and in 1802 was united in marriage to Christina Hess, a daughter of one of the early settlers in Hamilton. She was born and baptized in Pennsylvania in the year 1747. An extract from the baptismal record in the church in which she was baptized would look queer in such a record today. It read “All these splendid children are born of one bosom, pure marriage bed, from Michael Hess and his married wife, Gertrude, under the hearty congratulations that God Almighty might bless them, soul and body, here temporal and there everlasting.” The good mother died in Hamilton in December, 1857.
James Mills, the father of George Hamilton, in 818, bought the property extending from Locke to Hess streets, and from the mountain to the bay, for which he paid at the rate of two dollars per acre. Being unable to pay for more than one hundred acres, he sold the easterly part to his brother-in-law, Peter Hess, at the same rate. It was upon this farm that George Hamilton Mills was born on the 10th of November, 1827, the youngest, but one, of the family. The oldest brother was named Michael, and next to him came Samuel, later a Dominion senator. There was quite a family of girls and boys. The old farm house was a frame building 9on King street west, and was considered the largest mansion for miles around. One of his early school teachers was Patrick Thornton, a Scotchman. Evidently he did not think much of George’s scholastic ability, for when he left school, the teacher paid him a rather doubtful compliment : “George, you have considerable ability, but your application is not worth a straw.” George was sent to Victoria college, Cobourg, of which Egerton Ryerson was the principal, and later to a public school taught by Dean Geddes. At this school he made rapid progress in the study of Latin, Greek, French and mathematics. Dean Geddes was a pain-staking teacher, though not an advanced scholar. In 1846, George was articled to John Wilson as a law student, and completed his course in Judge Burton’s office. In 1851, he was called to the bar.
George H. Mills’ first entrance into political life was in 1857, when he was elected alderman for St. George’s ward. During his first year in the council he made a close study of municipal affairs, and was one of the early advocates for planting trees and ornamenting the Gore. There was an element in the city council at that time that favored the selling of the Gore to capitalists on which to build an arcade, but through the persistent efforts of a few men in the council the scheme was defeated. History tells of other aldermen in later years wanting to dispose of the market square for a location for business houses and for a concert hall. In the early days, the mayor was elected by members of the city council, and in 1858, on being returned as alderman for St. George’s ward, Mr. Mills was the choice for the office of mayor. It was his experience that the council was not an easy body to manage, as with the exception of four or five, all were ignorant men. It may interest some of the old-timers to know the men who were elected in 1858 to manage the town affairs, so we will give the list :
St. Lawrence ward – Aldermen John F. Moore, William Davidson, Councillors Edward McGiverin, Alexander Graham
St. Patrick’s ward – Aldermen C. J. Tracy, John Patterson, Councillors James Mullin, Dr. G. Ryall.
St. George’s ward – Aldermen B. N. Law, George Mills, Councillors James Walker, George Murison.
St. Andrew’s ward – Aldermen Lawrence Devaney, M. W. Brown, Councillors Thomas Routh, Owen Nolan.
St. Mary’s ward – Aldermen Geo. Roach, W. Holton, Councillors Thomas Walker, John Waugh.
Previous to the year 1857, many public works had been in progress, giving employment to large numbers of men, but in 1858, all enterprises ceased for lack of money to carry them on, and the result was the flooding of the cities and towns with unemployed men and poor families. Wages were low in those days, and the men generally spent their earnings without thought of the morrow, and by October in that year there was ample evidence of coming distress. During the fall and winter months, men by the hundreds were begging for work, and asking for food for the families. It was a critical time in the old town, and Mayor Mills had a busy time of it in planning to relieve the distress. The council decided upon opening new streets in order to furnish work, and men drew lots for jobs that paid only fifty cents a day. In his memoirs, Mayor Mills says that he never met with a better behaved lot of men, , considering the trials they were passing through. The city hall was crowded with men, women and children whose faces clearly indicated their poverty, and the mayor determined on visiting them at their homes that he might better judge of their needs. He took with him Donald Dawson, a policeman, and they went down into the sinks of poverty, crime, drunkenness and sorrow. It was a sad plight, and never before had Mayor Mills the faintest idea that such a condition existed in this beautiful city. The mayor had no heart for re-election, and when his term expired, he declined to again become a candidate. Mayor Mills took Quite an active part in securing the erection of the Crystal palace, in order to Bring to Hamilton the provincial agriculture exhibition, and in 1859, the fair grounds (now Victoria park) were purchased.
Here we might give a bit of information the writer has been asked for. The Hamilton Horticultural society was instituted in the year 1850. B. Kelly, of Burlington nurseries, was president; David Murray, Rosedale nurseries, vice-president; Charles Meston, recording secretary; F. W. Fearman, corresponding-secretary; James Gay, treasurer. Directors : John A. Bruce, John Haig, George Stewart. There was also in existence the Hamilton Horticultural club and the Horticultural Library association , of which Warren Holton, of the Burlington nurseries, was president. What a wealth of information was contained in the old city directories of sixty and seventy years ago. In the year 1860, George Hamilton Mills was elected president of the horticultural society. In the early days but little attention was given to floral culture, and as there was not substantial wealth in Hamilton, refinement and taste in that direction was very limited. In 1875, Mr. Mills was instrumental in securing the first governmental recognition of the society in the form of a money grant. For this, the society made him a life member.
Early in the year 1861, it became apparent that Hamilton would not be able to meet the interest indebtedness on the debentures held in England. There was stagnation in all classes of business with corresponding depreciation in the value of real estate. The city taxes were uncollectable and the treasury was empty. Mayor McKinstry was mayor, and it was decided by the council to appoint a committee to wait upon Sir A. T. Galt, minister of finance, and ask of the government immediate help to meet the interest indebtedness. Finally, he began to see light. Hamilton, at that time, was the owner of Great Western railway script and Mr. Galt suggested that if the committee would send down to him $75,000 of the script as a deposit by way of security, he would provide for the payment of the interest in London. It was like the man who was heavily indebted giving his note and thanking providence that the debt was paid. Three years later, the city was obliged to compromise with its creditors. That was about the time that the mayor’s throne was seized and sold for the city debt, and Thomas Beasley, who was the city clerk, hid the tax collector’s books in Buchanan, Harris & Co.s’ safe to keep them out of the hands of the sheriff, who was trying to levy upon them at the command of the creditors. Clerk Beasley quietly left Hamilton for Rochester, N. Y. to keep out of the way of the sheriff. There was a hot time in this old town in those hard-up days. In 1864, the legislature placed a restriction upon the city to prevent it from again running into debt upon visionary provocation. It might be a good thing if the city solicitor would hunt up that old law now that the board of control is about adding $300,000 of an overdraft this year in the twelve millions, or more, of indebtedness which has already piled up.
In 1865, the city of Hamilton was the owner of 1,500 shares of Great Western railway stock, the par value of which was $150,000. That same year 1,234 shares at par value of $12,400 were sold at the instance of the creditors of the city, under order of the chancery court, for $52, 184, a loss to the city of $80,216. In 1871, the Great Western took a sudden rise in the market, and Alderman Mills, as chairman of the finance committee, sold 200 shares for 20,000 ponds. In 1872, still being chairman of the finance committee, he exchanged 114 shares, so that the two transcations amounted to a sale of stock at par value to the extent of $21,000. In December, 1872, the city purchased 2,025 Great Western debentures at 91%, and later 650 shares at par. Mr. Mills evidently intended to make money for the city while he was chairman of finance, and in 1873, he purchased 1,405 shares from all of which purchases, the city made a handsome profit. In 1874-1877, the shares of the Great Western dropped down to the fifties, and never again did they rise to the surface. Hamilton seized the opportune time to buy and sell.
It is doubtful if there are half a dozen of the old-timers who can recall to memory that even in as late a day as 1873, the minister of crown lands had entered into negotiations for the sale of Hamilton’s summer resort (the sand strip) to a man named Livingston for a nominal sum, and that letters had already passed promising Livingston the property. At the time, J. M. Williams was Hamilton’s representative in the Ontario legislature; and Ald. Mills got busy to stop the outrageous selling or substantially giving away public property. In company with Mr. Williams, Ald. Mills called upon the crown lands minister and entered a protest against completing the sale. The result was that the government minister saw the error of his ways, and the sand strip was saved to become Hamilton’s celebrated summer resort. It cost the city $500 to repay Livingston for money expended.
In the year 1877, there was a plan proposed to exchange Victoria park for Dundurn park, and to help out the project, Ald. Mills became a candidate for that year for re-election to the city council. Had the scheme succeeded, Hamilton would have come into possession of Dundurn in trade for the old Crystal palace property. The palace grounds were really an obstacle to the growth of the city in the west and north. Had the exchange been made, the old palace grounds would have been divided up into building lots from which a handsome revenue would have accrued to the city in the way of taxes. It would have benefited the city in another way by the reclamation of the Dundas marsh. If the marsh could have been turned into arable land, Hamilton and Dundas would have finally become united, to the advantage of both. It was a beautiful dream, but the ratepayers knocked the idea when they came to vote on it. It was argued that Hamilton could not stand the luxury and expense of the ownership of Dundurn. However, the city bought it, in course of time, paying twice as much for it as it would have cost had the exchange been made.
The life memoirs of George Hamilton Mills contain matter that would be of historic value to Canada. Stanley Mills has certainly done his part in its compilation, and having it bound in substantial covers to insure its preservation.

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