Monday, 2 June 2014



          One hundred years ago, Dundas had the only newspaper and printing office in the Gore district. The name of the newspaper was the Phoenix, and it is probable that it was among the first newspapers printed in Upper Canada. The editor and publisher was Richard Cockrell, and the subscription price was $4.50 a year, one half to be paid in advance. The copy of the Phoenix we had the privilege of handling, originally belonged to Nathaniel Hughson, he being a regular subscriber, and was dated September 28, 1819, and was the property of R. G. Bigelow, who was a nephew of Mr. Hughson. Mr. Bigelow died in this city a couple of years ago. At the time we had the Phoenix, we suggested that the authorities of Dundas  should get possession of it, and preserve it as an ancient relic of one hundred years ago, but, unfortunately, the opportunity was allowed to pass, and the probability is that after Mr. Bigelow’s death the paper may have been destroyed. Nathaniel Hughson was one of the early settlers of Hamilton, and one of the main streets leading to the bay was named after him.

          That the Phoenix had but a brief existence is more than likely, for the next printer we have any record of as living in Dundas was G. Heyworth Hackstaff, whose name appears on the title page of a book printed for Dr. Thomas Rolph, of Ancaster, in the year 1836. The title of the book was  “ A Brief Account with Observations, made during a visit to the West Indies, and a Tour Through the United States of America, in Parts of  the years 1832-33; Together With a Statistical Account of Upper Canada.” Ancaster had its first printing office and newspaper in 1826. The paper was called the Gore Gazette. It had but a short life, and was succeeded by the Gore Balance,

          The Rolph family settled in the neighbourhood of Ancaster and Dundas early in the thirties, being natives of England, and there may some of the early settlers who have not forgotten them. In the year 1832, Dr. Thomas Rolph having determined to change his residence for some one of the colonies of Great Britain, he was prevailed upon by a West India planter to visit his plantation before deciding upon his future location. On the 17th of November, 1832, the doctor bade farewell to England, arriving in Carlisle bay, Barbados. While the doctor was charmed with the country and climate of the West Indies, there seemed to be something lacking to make it the ideal home he was in search of. The truth of the matter was, his mind had already been biased in favor of Upper Canada, with Ancaster as the haven of rest, and go where he would, the descriptions he had received from English friends who had already settled in the Niagara district was the loadstone that drew him thitherward. The doctor spent a couple of years wandering in the United States, but his British birth and training finally decided him that henceforward the Ancaster hills and the Dundas valley were to be “Home Sweet Home.” His future career and success in life showed the wisdom of the doctor’s decision.

          The old muser has the pleasure of reading a history that was written of a locality in which he spent the early part of his life, and it recalls pleasant memories of boyhood days when, with other boys and girls, we hiked out on holiday afternoons to drink the waters of the celebrated Ancaster sulphur springs. That was more than sixty years ago, but the days will never be forgotten. Dr. Thomas wrote his “Observations” in the year 1834 – the year memorable to the writer of these musings as being the date of his giving his first ell as a salute to the old Union Jack. Ancaster and Dundas were then the leading towns at the Head of the Lake, and Dundas had a printing office that was supplied with type equal to anything we have at the present day for first-class book printing, and the quality of paper was superior in finish to that now in use except for costly book work. As Ancaster was Dr. Rolph’s objective point when he arrived in Canada, and for many years after the home of his choice, let us take a start there.




While Dr. Rolph was loyal in sentiment to the homeland where he was born, his brief experience in Canada assured him that every poor man, if he be industrious, could provide abundantly for his family by any kind of labor, manual or mechanical, for here the poorer class  of people are free from the imposts and burdens which so often sent old country people superless to be, while their children cried for bread. What an extensive field of employment for the practical philanthropists Canada presented in the early days of the last century. There were some illustrious instances to be met with among the wealthy in Great Britain, such as Earl Egremont, Lord Htyesbury, Marquis of Bute, Joseph Marriage and others who furnished the means of emigration to the honest and industrious poor, who lived on their estates in the old country, contributing to their removal  from scenes of bitter distress and strong temptations to crime, enabling them to exchange beggary for independence, starvation for plenty, and idleness and disease for health and exertion.

The advantages of emigration to the home laborers were that instead of pining away and withering in an overstocked or exhausted soil, they would strike root and flourish in the rich fields of a new country like Canada. The patriotic Duke of Hamilton purchased a large district of several thousand acres for the purpose of settling in Canada on the easiest terms all the industrious poor on his estate. Of this class of emigrants was the old Gore district settled in a large measure, and from that sturdy stock of English, Irish and Scotch has descended the prosperous fathers and mothers who have made this part of Canada one of the richest sections.

A hundred years ago a few men like the Earl of Edgemont benefitted hundreds of poor persons whom he rescued from the degradation of the workhouses and sent to happiness and independence in Canada. That philanthropic earl furnished in great part the means that brought from his own and neighboring estates in England no less than thirteen thousand poor persons to Upper Canada, the larger number settling in the Gore district. Some of the ancient families in Ancaster and Dundas can trace their ancestry back to these emigrants, and they need not be ashamed of the stock from which they sprung. An instance came under Dr. Rolph’s observation of a young English couple having rented a farm within two miles of Ancaster, consisting of 90 acres of cleared land with a house, barn, good orchard, the use of a span of horses and 12 ewes, for $175 a year, and at the end of four years, by their labor and industry, they had saved enough to buy the farm, paying a fair price for it, and all in cash. And this was only one of many such cases. The doctor gives in his pleasant history an account of a laborer whom Lord Edgemont sent out from an English workhouse and who settled near Ancaster, who had become the owner of a farm of fifty acres, with a comfortable log house, a span of horses, a wagon, a cow, hogs, poultry etc. as the result of a few short years of industry, and in addition sent home money to enable his brother and his wife to come to Canada. The brothers worked together, buying up land and stock, and in a few years ranked among the prosperous farmers of Ancaster.


Dr. Rolph tells in his book of the winters being long and severe, but he did not consider that as a fault. The Sons of St. Andrew were enabled by the excellent sleighing to enjoy their annual festival, on the 30th of November, 1835, at West Flamboro, persons from Ancaster, Dundas and Hamilton attending; and on New Year’s eve, a ball was held at the same tavern, got up by the same party, at which upwards of one hundred attended. A person from Brantford, writing under date March 22, 1836, says : “We are now drawing to the close of one of the severest winters which has been known for some years in Upper Canada, and we may look daily for an end as well to the amusements which it has afforded by the excellent sleighing that has accompanied it, as to all those occupations to which it has given facility.”

A Hamiltonian writes , April 10, 1836 : “The termination of an unusually hard winter, even for Canada, has taken place. On the 19th of November the country was for the first time covered with snow, a clothing which has continued, as the ancient historian would say, even to this day. The intensity of the cold for more than four months has seldom been equaled, the thermometer during that period being frequently 30 degrees below zero …. The mildness of the weather, however, for the last few days, and the gradual disappearance of the threatening enemy, have dissipated every fear, and the heart of the husbandman already begins to leap for joy. Hard frosts still continue during the nights, but the days are delightfully fine, and the heat of the sun is rapidly removing the wintry clothing of white, which will speedily be supplied by our spring mantle of green.” Wild pigeons were so plentiful in those days that the town and country loungers used to betake themselves to the mountainside at nights, and with clubs gather a harvest of material for pigeon pies. The Hamilton mountain was a favorite roost of wild pigeons even twenty years later, but now a large reward has been offered for a live wild pigeon, and not one has been presented from any part of the American continent for many years.

Winter was considered in ancient days as the most lively part of the year, when there was about four inches of snow, with frost, making sleighing for business or pleasure from one end of the province to the other. With a span of good horses and two or three persons in a sleigh, with warm clothing, fur cap, and a bear or buffalo skin over the back and feet, one could pleasantly drive forty or fifty miles a day, enlivened by the numerous sleighs met on the road and the merry jingling of the bells. From Ancaster church to Vanderlip’s tavern, a distance of little more than three miles, across the Ancaster plains, Dr. Rolph counted sixty-four sleighs on the 20th of January, most of them hauling saw logs to the mill in Ancaster, and some with grain. As a proof of the cheerfulness and hilarity consequent on Sleigh riding, a Canadian poet tells the story.



Merrily dash we o’er valley and hill,

All but the sleigh bell is sleeping a still;

O, bless the dear sleigh-bell! There’s naught can compare

To its loud merry tones as they break on the ear.

Sunday, 1 June 2014


What a grand treat the Spectator is furnishing its readers in almost giving away that book of ancient songs, entitled Heart Songs! It is an almost priceless collection of the songs of better days, and takes the old-timers back half a century or more ago when the words and music were familiar in the home and in the concert hall. The songs written by Stephen C. Foster carry one back in memory to the days of Jenny Lind, Kate Hayes, the Black Swan and other noted singers who made the words and music famous by introducing  them as encores. What pathos there was in the Old Folks at Home, Old Black Joe, My Old Kentucky Home, Old Dog Tray, as they came as an inspiration from the heart and pen of Stephen Foster! The songs were sung and whistled in the streets by staid old men and the schoolboy, and the programs of musical entertainments were not complete unless plentifully sprinkled with selections from the songwriters of the day. And, by the way, Hamilton can claim a distant relationship with the gifted Foster, for within the past couple of years, he had cousins living here who were to the mansion born, Poor Foster, like Edgar Allan Poe and other gifted songwriters by his genius, but his life was wasted by an appetite that has filled thousands of unnamed graves with men who seemed to be an inspiration while living. Hamilton has had its songwriters in earlier days whose names are even forgotten except by some old friend who now and then may recall them. Fifty and sixty years ago the songs of Foster were sung by every minstrel troupe – and there were real minstrels in those days, not vaudeville bawlers who do blackface stunts and call it minstrelsy – and they sound as sweetly today as we old stagers first heard them. Minstrelsy now and then are two different propositions. In the days of American slavery before the war, there was inspiration in the voices and the wild songs of the slaves at their religious gatherings, and these were incorporated into the songs of Foster and others, and at once became popular in the concert hall. It is probable that Foster wrote more songs and composed the music for them than did any songwriter of his day. It was not only in the negro dialect songs that he excelled, but Come Where My Love Lies Dreaming is a specimen in the higher lines. Minstrelsy and the writing of such songs as the slavery days suggested have become a lost art. There are but few on the minstrel stage now who belonged to the days when the Christys and Dan Rice and Dick Sitter drew crowded houses wherever they went.



In many of the early companies, the majority of the performers were printers who had good voices and could dance a jig; it paid better than setting type at $7 and $8 a week, and then there was the added charm of a wandering life. This Old Muser recalls the visit of a minstrel company at London, The Forest City, more than sixty-five years ago. There were only five in the company, and all of them were printers from Montreal. Charles Kidner, was then working on the Free Press in London, and as he had worked with that minstrel gang in Montreal, they sent him word to advertise them and make all arrangements for the concert. The aggregation could not afford the luxury of an advanced agent, and the musical typos had to depend on their old-time friends scattered here and there in country printing offices to do their advertising. Charlie Kidner wrote a high-sounding announcement and had it printed in the Free Press office, and this Old Muser being the ‘printer’s devil’ it devolved upon him to scatter the bills after working hours, for which Charlie promised him a free ticket to the show. London had no daily paper then, and during the afternoon before the concert Mr. Kidner employed the town bell-crier to go through the streets of London and announce the coming minstrels. In the second story of the Mechanics’ Institute there was a hall that would seat about 250 people and at one end of the hall was a platform about eighteen inches high. The hall was crowded as the price of admission was only a quarter of a dollar, so after the expenses of the hall were paid there was but little left to help the minstrels on their way to the next town. Mr. Kidner paid the printing bill and the bell-ringer’s fee to help his old friends out. There were five men in the company, dressed in black pants and white shirts, and each one played an instrument as well as doing a vocal part. There was a violin, a cello, a banjo, and the bones and tambouring. Camptown Races and many of the songs that are in the Spectator book of Heart Songs were then new, and those five minstrel printers gave a three hours’ entertainment that lives still the memory of this ancient Muser.


It is a dream to go through that book of Heart Songs for it takes the old-timer back to half a century and more ago when there was poetry in the souls of the writers, and it came gushing out into sweet melody that can never be forgotten. England, Ireland and Scotland are well-represented in the pages of the book, and it would be like writing a catalogue to give the titles and the writers. The Old Oaken Bucket, Home, Sweet Home, Widow Machree, the Low-Backed Car – what is the use of recalling the titles? Then there is a charm in the book for old soldiers who served during the American war of 1861-1865, for the well-remembered songs that cheered many a weary heart in camp and in the hospital. The old soldiers sing them at they gather at the camp fires at the annual reunions. Old Shady was one of the favourites, and it is especially so with the Muser, for we remember the author, Ben Hanoy, when he was a  student at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, where we published a newspaper before and after the war. Ben went out in the first three month’s call, and then he joined the Presbyterian church and entered the ministry. His religion did not interfere with his genius as a song writer, especially war songs, for he was the author of quite a number. What old soldier can ever forget Tenting Tonight on the Old Camp Ground? Many years the Thirteenth Royal Regiment had a spectacular play one night out in Dundurn park and Bandmaster Robinson had his band boys sing Tenting Tonight, and they did sing it with a spirit and the understanding of what it meant to the boys who sang it in camp and on the battlefield during the American war.

We could ramble on about that Spectator book of Heart Songs till we would weary the reader, and then never be able to give half an idea of what it contains. To be brief then: cut out six coupons from the daily Spectator and send them with 94 cents to the business office and get one of the books. If it has to go by mail to you, then the postage will have to be added. There are hours of solid pleasure between the covers of that book, and it will give your children a love for the songs and music that brightened your own lives in the days of your youth.


Why is it that when men are elected to public office, so many of them become champions of the liquor interest? We have known men with reputations of being members of the church and fair, average Christians who, when elected as aldermen, take up the cudgels in defense of the saloonkeeper and are ready to vote whatever legislation will lighten the burdens of that class. And the same is true in relation to pool rooms, picture shows and everything that may have a tendency to upset public morals. One would that Hamilton is really suffering for movie picture shows the way that public officials champion every demand to increase the number. And if a man wants a license to open a liquor store in a residence neighbourhood, the whole community is thrown into commotion in order that his request may be granted. Down in the East Hamilton district a man who had no special hankering after other work, and seeing the big profits in the sale of liquor, wanted to open a store and applied for license. The good people of that district, and especially the wives and mothers, became alarmed at what might result from a too convenient shop in which to buy liquor, and the heads of the large manufacturing plants in that neighbourhood all united in a protest against the license commissioners giving official sanction to the request of the applicant, and they had quite a time in heading off the danger. But the applicant was not going to lose the prize which he coveted of making money at the expense of the homes in that neighbourhood, so he withdrew the petition from the license commissioners of the city and changed his base to acquiring a shop license from the commissioners of the adjoining district for a house just outside the corporate limits of the city. Now the wives and mothers and the manufacturers and the respectable people of that district have to go through another slog to head off the enemy. Let us hope that for the sake of morality and decent citizenship that the license commissioners in the adjoining district will sit down promptly on the application. Drunkenness and immorality will thrive fast enough without having the sanction of men who are elevated in public office. Chief Smith, in his annual report, gives a gloomy picture of the increase of crime within the past three or four years. Young men and young girls are going the downward road by way of moving picture shows and dance halls and the good people in the churches are contributing $50,000 a year to convert the heathen.


The ancient Anglo-American hotel, that in its early days was one of the best-equipped hotels in Canada, is again passing through the deep waters of affliction. When it was built, nearly sixty years ago, Canada could not boast of many first-class hotels, and about the only one in Hamilton was the City hotel, kept originally by Thomas Davidson, and afterward by F. W. Fearman. The old stone building still stands on the southwest corner of James and Merrick streets. When it was originally built, hotel architecture was only a dream, therefore not much was spent on the interior fittings. Indeed about all that was apparently needed in a first-class hotel in those days was a comfortable dining-room and a very large barroom, as it was in the barroom where the patrons of the hotel spent the hours they had for leisure. But what the old City hotel lacked in the way of bedrooms and other luxuries, it had the reputation of setting one of the best tables of any hotel in Canada, and the traveling men of those days who had to spend their Sundays on the road away from home invariably made it a point to get to Hamilton, by steamboat or stage, on Saturday night, so as to get a few square meals. Thomas Davidson had his own gardens just outside of the city limits, and there was raised all of the vegetables, small fruits, chickens and eggs, and a pasture field where the best breed of cows was kept to furnish the cream, milk and butter for his tables. Hamilton was beginning to feel a little on the high-brow order about that time, for the old town was growing in population, and there must have been not less than fifteen thousand people, men, women and children, basking in the sunshine of the ancient mountain that had been left as a legacy to the town by the patriarchs who, with Noah, had escaped the floods. The City hotel could not be enlarged, and indeed, Mr. Davidson would not hear of such a thing : it was large enough for him, and if Hamilton wanted to put on airs and build a larger hotel, it could do it. The Hamilton business men of sixty years ago had large ideas of the future of the old town, and they looked forward to the time when it might have a population of fifty thousand. The Great Western railway had been opened for more than a year, and one express train a day ran to and from Niagara Falls to Detroit, and Hamilton was the headquarters of the road. Then they were talking about building a branch to connect Toronto with Hamilton. My, what great things were to be expected! But the fly in the ointment was the lack of hotel accommodation, and this must be furnished even if old Thomas Davidson did not take it. A company was formed and the present site of the Waldorf hotel was bought for a mere song, for lots on King street were not valued highly in those days, especially on the south side of the street and so far east from James. In the earlier days that lot was the circus grounds, and the frame buildings that were erected on it later were not profitable for renting purposes. However, the company was formed, the lot was bought, and in 1855, the cornerstone of the new hotel was laid with solemnity, and after a few bottles of champagne washed the cob webs out of the throats of the orators and those connected with the enterprise. With what interest Hamilton watched each layer of brick as it added to the growth of the structure, and when the final row was reached at the top, even us poor innocents, who never expected to have money enough to take a look-in at the new hotel, felt that we had a sort of proprietary interest in it. We have told before in these Musings with what great pomp and ceremony the new hotel was opened and therefore it is not necessary to go into details. It was christened the Anglo-American, and its first landlord belonged to a celebrated family of American hotelkeepers, and everything was in the highest style of luxury and comfort. Charles R. Coleman was the name of the first proprietor.


The Anglo-American was too big an undertaking for a city of less than 20,000 population. It was opened in the spring of 1856, and attending the inauguration came distinguished people from neighbouring towns in Canada and the United States. Although the rates were not high, the new hotel seemed to be a losing proposition from the start, notwithstanding the efforts of the businessmen of the city to help it along in the way of balls and dinner parties. Every society patronized it for its annual banquet, but all of no avail. After struggling along for three or four years, Mr. Coleman gave it up as a hopeless task and returned to the United States. The stockholders then interested a man named Kingsley, who was the proprietor of the Robinson Hall in London, to take charge of the hotel. Kingsley was a natural-born hotelman, and he took into the management with him a man named named Rice, the firm name being Rice and Kingsley. They struggled along with the management for a couple of years, but with indifferent success till finally the Prince of Wales visited Hamilton in 1860, when a grand ball was given in his honour. At that time Rice and Kingsley were head over ears in debt to almost every businessman in Hamilton, and largely to the grocers, the butchers and the dealers in all kinds of provisions. In the hope of getting their money, the storekeepers were liberal in advancing everything for the entertainment of the prince, and for the ball, it was a great financial success. The night of the ball, when Hamilton was tired out and in dreamland, Rice and Kingsley quietly folded their tents, like the Arab, and silently stole away, never again to enter the corporate limits. When the merchants presented themselves at the Anglo-American the next morning they almost fell upon the neck of each other and wept for the vanished stores they had so liberally furnished for the grand finale. This was failure number two.



By this time, the stockholders had become disgusted with their efforts with their efforts to keep hotel, and in the year 1861 they sold the property to the Wesleyan Methodist conference for a ladies’ college, for the mere bagatelle of $28,000, or $175 per front foot. For nearly thirty-five years the old hotel was opened as a college, and where was once the sound of revelry by night arose the voice of prayer and sacred song. The college had evidently served its day, and again the building was devoted to its original purpose. Mr. Gilkinson opened it as the Waldorf hotel about sixteen years ago, and for eight years or more consucted the business successfully. During his management it had a reputation as a first-class hotel, and it was told at the time of his retirement that he had made about $75,000 clear. Indeed, he was the first and only landlord that ever made the house pay. In order to encourage the opening of the hotel when Mr. Gilkinson came, the board of license commissioners granted him a license at the regular rate, thus saving him from having to pay a high premium toobtain the purchase of one from some man already licensed. This license is now valued as one of the assets of the Waldorf at $15,000. As stated in the outset of this bit of hotel history, the Waldorf is now passing through the deep waters of affliction, its present recognized landlord having turned its assets over to the creditors. During his eight years of management he claims to have lost about $ 50,000. Recently he bought a hotel at Chatham. What is to be the future of the ancient Anglo-American is what is worrying the enterprising citizens who bought the property with the intention of razing the old building and erecting in its place a hotel to meet the wants of this growing city. Till the future develops what is to come next, the history of the old Anglo-American hotel will be continued.