To hear the outcry about poverty in Hamilton and other Canadian towns, one would think the country was going to the damnition bow-wows. Did you ever see midwinter months when there was not a scarcity of labor for at least a few weeks, especially outdoor work? It may be a little worse in Hamilton just now than is usual at this season of the year, but present conditions can be accounted for to a measure by the extra immigration of the past year. A few enthusiasts got up a boom for a hundred thousand population, and word was sent broadcast that there was work for everybody – and more, too – and the fortunate ones who had friends in the old country sent back tidings that Hamilton was the desirable Mecca, where there was plenty and to spare; and the result was they came cocking over by the hundreds just at the time when work was getting a little slack for those already on the job. The government had its agents in the old land, and they told such glowing stories about the great industrial city that it looked to them as the promised land, that they used to read about in Sunday school, flowing with hills and honey. And then the Salvation Army got busy, and for a small bonus from the government, sent out to Canada its scores and hundreds. So long as Hamilton had a job for every man, things were prosperous and the world looked very bright; but when it got to the point that there were two men for every job, the storm clouds began to gather. It is always darkest before dawn, and let us hope that the sun of prosperity will soon rise again and that no man who wants work will have to search in vain.
When one reads the annual reports of Canada’s great banking institutions, the question naturally arises why should times be hard when each bank manager tells its stockholders of the wonderful increase of business during the year and of the profits made? If we are not mistaken, we saw a statement the other day in the daily papers that there was on deposit in the savings departments of the Canadian banks and in the post office over one billion one hundred and forty-one millions of dollars, drawing interest. Mind you, this is not the money of the rich, for they have larger uses for their money than putting it in savings banks at 2 per cent interest. Nearly every dollar of that immense sum of money belongs to the thrifty middle class, who have cultivated the habit of laying by a trifle each payday. You can see them any Saturday night even in these days of money stringency lined up at the counters in the banks handing in their deposits, feeling that when the rainy day comes, that pass book will be the umbrella that will keep the home and the family comfortable till the storm of hard times blows over. Just think what amount that $1,141,000,000 means to a Canadian population of not more than eight million people! It requires a pinching time to teach a lesson that in the days of prosperity, it is always well to take a look forward and prepare for what might happen. The Hamilton men and women who have a bank book to fall back upon when work becomes scarce have the pleasure of knowing that a bird in the hand is better than two in the bush.
It is not only the banks that have prosperous reports to make of the past year, but every industrial and mercantile business has the same story to tell. It is certainly not the scarcity of money that is responsible for the present hard times, for the annual reports of all of the churches tell us that never in the past have finances tooted up better. Gather the givings to missionary purposes, as reported thus far, and it looks as if Hamilton has managed to throw into the collection basket nearly $50,000 for missions alone during the year 1913. For a city of less than one hundred thousand population this is going some in the way of trying to convert the people to the belief that our Hamilton way of getting to heaven is just a little the best way. Then the churches have prospered so well that many of them have felt like dividing up the surplus with the preachers by increasing their salaries. This certainly was commendable, and ought to be a good indication that Hamilton has not a grouch coming because of hard times. Indeed, it would not be a bad idea to give a little more to the preacher, even if the congregations had to shorten up on missionary giving. Then it is only a few weeks ago that Hamilton raised $75,000 within a few days toward making necessary additions to the Y. W. C. A. building, so that greater work could be accomplished for the benefit of homeless girls working in the city. Then the people are building new church edifices, all of which cost a deal of money, and they seem to have had no difficulty during the past year in raising all that was necessary to pay their way. Indeed, one new church was completed and dedicated during the past year, at a cost of $60,000, and Brother Gilroy, the happy pastor, rejoicingly tells the world that the First Congregational church of Hamilton does not owe a dollar. This is something new in church building, to dedicate one to the Lord, without a mortgage attachment. And the Methodists down at Crown Point, who began to worship in a small frame building in the year 1906, have so far prospered that tomorrow (Sunday) they are going to dedicate a new church, which cost $25,000 for its construction, and they expect to have a grand time all day. The new church was built during the past year, and the members of the congregation have been contributing liberally toward paying the cost.
Pass along King street any afternoon, and see the hundreds of well-dressed men, women and children, and one would never dream that hard times was holding a conversation here. Just about the time the Lyric and Temple are letting out their afternoon audiences you will see hundreds of all ages and sizes, and dressed in the height of fashion, streaming along King street, all looking happy as though the afternoon program passed them. One would never think that hard times were knocking at the doors of the houses of these people. Every afternoon and night the picture shows, and the other places of amusement are crowded, and if the managers could only accomplish it, they would have crowded houses on Sunday. The drinking saloons and the billiard and pool halls seem to be as prosperous as ever. It takes money to provide all these pleasures. And yet we are told that there are from fifteen hundred to two thousand families that cannot get work, and that they are in distressed circumstances. The mayor and a committee of benevolent are trying to help tide over the unfortunate ones till the spring of the year, when it is hoped that the workshops will again fill up to their full quota, and furnish work to those who need it.
How many Hamiltonians remember the hard times of 1857 and the next three or four years following? Talk about “hard times knocking at the door,” the people of Hamilton and of all Canada had the full benefit of the panic that closed up every workshop and sent thousands of its young men and women to seek a home across the border into a land of strangers. Hamilton was not much of an industrial town in those days, the factories being few and far between. This muser had but recently joined hands with one of Hamilton’s fair daughters, and not having a surplus of money to fall back upon, can testify that hard times were knocking at every door. In those days, journeymen printers working by the week were getting $1.50 per day, and out of that amount were compelled to save a little every week as their pay envelope rarely ever contained the full week’s wages. You got what the proprietors were able to raise and trusted to Providence for the good time to come when you could go home on Saturday night with a whole week’s wages in your pocket. And that was the condition in all the workshops of Hamilton. In order to give as much employment as possible so that no great hardship could come to any individual, every industry in Hamilton except the daily papers were on half time, the idea being that half a loaf was better than no bread at all. Some workshops closed down altogether as there was no demand for their product. Hamilton did not really feel the depression very much until the spring of 1858, and tghen it came like a cold blast in winter. It was in the year 1858 that William Hendrie laid the mains for the waterworks system, and hundreds of good mechanics were glad to take pick and shovel and get down in the trenches for fifty and seventy-five cents a day. Mr. Hendrie had not work for all that applied, so he divided up the time, and thus gave employment to as many as were willing to take a share. During the year 1858, it was estimated that not less than three thousand young men left the town in search of employment. This old muser went out with the rest, and was fortunate in getting work the morning he reached Cincinnati. For forty years we lived and prospered, saving enough to keep the wolf from the door when age began to call a halt in our earning powers. The people of the present day cannot realize what the hard times of 1857 and the years following meant. Hamilton did not then have millions of dollars of American money invested in great industrial enterprises giving work to thousands of men and women at better wages than the old-time Hamiltonians ever dreamed of getting for a day’s work. Why, even in these days, which we call hard times, the printers who operate the linotype machines on the daily papers make more money in a week than this old muser did in a month, when he was working on half time. Had it not been for the howlers who wanted at hundred thousand population, and did not get them after all, there would little or no hard times to complain of. It was the wild cry for more population that induced hundreds of families to cross the sea to a land that was supposed to be flowing with milk and honey; and these people coming to a new country, without any surplus money, found the labor market full of idle men who had been laid off because there was stringency in the demand for the output of the industrial establishments. Cheer up! It is always darkest before sunrise, and already things are beginning to brighten up a bit. Mayor Allan is doing his best to make the burden lighter for the men who want work.
Saving for a few days, this has been a remarkably mild winter and it has come as a blessing to those who had to save and stint in the burning of fuel. The thermometer did take a tumble for a few hours and the mercury took a drop as low as eighteen and twenty degrees. But it soon over, and Hamiltonians were again rejoicing in almost balmy spring days. How many of the old stagers remember New Year’s day of fifty years ago? Down to almost the last night of 1863, the weather wabout as mild as it is now, and on the first day of the year 1864, it was so pleasant that overcoats really were a burden. Toward sundown the thermometer began to show an unsettled condition, and before midnight, it turned so cold that the streets were deserted and Hamiltonians were snuggling up to the warm baseburners. A man from the country was sitting before a huge log fire in the North American tavern, that stood on the corner of Main and Catharine streets, kept by Ezekiel Post; outside his horse was tied to a hitching post. Along after midnight, the farmer tore himself away from the jolly company and the roaring backing fire, and went out to get astride of old Dobbin, who had been shivering for hours while his master was enjoying the good cheer. To the astonishment of the farmer, his horse did not whinny his usual recognition, and when the farmer untied the animal, it never made a move. He called to his companions in the tavern to come out and see what the trouble was, when to their astonishment they found faithful old Dobbin frozen stiff in death. That same night a mail carrier driving to his home on the Ancaster road froze to death in his sleigh, and a number of belated wayfarers going to their homes in the country from Hamilton were so badly frozen that it took heroic treatment by rubbing with snow to give them relief. That cold blast covered the whole country from Maine to California and from one end of the Dominion to the other. The old soldiers who were on duty that night in the war between the north and south will never forget it. This old muser was corporal of the picket post about a mile out from the regimental camp, and there was neither shelter nor fire to protect us from the cold blast we had to stand in until about midnight, when the colonel of the regiment issued orders to relieve from duty all of the men on the outposts. Talk about cold weather, that little spurt a few nights ago was not in it with that New Year’s night fifty years ago.