Sunday, 4 January 2015


        How slowly Christmas comes to the young! They can hardly wait for its advent; but the time will come to them, as it has to the rest of us who have advanced in years, when the days and weeks and months will fly with electric speed, and no sooner will one Christmas pass than they will be making preparations for the coming one. Like a ship passing in the night, they glide by never to return. But here we are, right on the eve of Christmas, and hardly a sign of winter to remind us that Jack Frost and Santa are to pay their annual visits on runners and not on wheels. Instead of Canada being the Lady of the Snows, as Kipling once said, we are enjoying weather suitable to a reasonably mild winter resort. We are told somewhere in the good book that the wind is tempered to the shorn lamb; and may not this account for the mild weather that spares the coal bin to the unfortunate who has not a savings bank account to fall back upon, now that the pay envelopes from the factory are few and far between? (When this article was written atmospheric conditions were much milder than they are at present.) When Hamilton was just emerging from its infantile days, say sixty years ago, the winter began earlier, and at Christmas time the young people enjoyed sleigh rides to the merry jingle of sleigh bells. Out in the country, the churches and the Good Templars’ associations held their annual tea meetings and socials and invited their city cousins to partake of the feasts of reason and the flow of soul, but to be sure and not forget the quarter or half-dollar that was an essential sesame at the door. Young men did not have much money in those days, as wages were small, but they always managed to save up a little so as to chip in their share for a couple of seats in the bed of straw for their best girls and themselves. And then, muffled in blankets and buffalo robes, they defied old Jack Frost, and went skimming along the well-beaten snow roads to Ancaster or some one of the suburbs of the Ambitious City. Ah ! those were times never to come again to those who participated in them sixty years ago! Those were the happy days, when young people married early in life and became the staid citizens of the Hamilton of the future. Old maids and old bachelors were an unknown quantity, for every young man wanted a home of his own, with the girl he loved best to keep house for the both of them. The return of those days would be a blessing, and there would be fewer blasé young men and frivolous girls.


Along in the middle of this month there was a good old-fashioned snow, and for two or three days there might have been excellent sleighing if horses had not gone out of date. Not a solitary jingle of a sleigh bell was to be heard in the clear and frosty air, day or night. Instead we had the raucous toot of the motor car as it sped at the rate of thirty or forty miles through the streets in what they called joy riding. Call that pleasure! It is not to be considered in the same calendar with old Dobbin and his string of silvery bells. When you and I were young, my ancient Hamiltonian, good sleighing was always looked forward to, by the merchants, especially about Christmas times, for then the farmers living from twenty to forty miles from Hamilton would bring in loads of dressed pork, poultry, butter, eggs and indeed produce of all kinds, and what they could not sell for cash, they traded with the merchants for goods. Money was a scarce commodity in those days, and if the farmer could only manage to get enough cash to pay his taxes and the interest on the mortgage on his farm, he felt fortunate and was perfectly willing to change his pigs and poultry for groceries and dry goods. There were but few farms that were not blanketed with a mortgage, but as the original price was small, the mortgage was correspondingly small. The sturdy farmers did not mind the mortgage a bit, for they had a sure thing on being able to pull through it. Farms that could have been bought sixty years ago from five to twenty dollars an acre have long ago passed the hundred dollar mark, and the farmers are not only rich, but the most independent men in Canada.


In a large factory in Hamilton, a man who had fought under the Union Jack in foreign wars was holding a position as a bookkeeper, and as he was competent and trustworthy, he was in receipt of a good salary. The years were slipping by quickly, for he had passed the three score milepost and his hair was beginning to silver over with the frosts of time, and wisely he came to the conclusion that the time would come when his hands and his brain might lose their cunning in adding up columns of figures. Being a prudent man, blessed with wife and daughters who were not extravagant, he had lain by some of his salary each month, and learning of a twenty acre farm, with a comfortable house and barn, he made the purchase, and when the time came for him to leave the office, he moved on to his little farm. He is a practical man and not afraid of work, and not long ago he told the Muser that his little farm paid the expenses of his family and at the end of the season, he was able to lay by a little nest egg in the savings bank for a rainy day. How many industrious men in Hamilton, who are depending upon their daily labor to support their families but could do as our good friend the veteran soldier has done. To own a comfortable in the town costs, and then all the owner has is a bare home. Buy a bit of land with the same money, and you have not only a home but an assured living for your family by tilling the soil; then you are independent of bosses, and when hard times come and work in town is scarce, you can thank God for your little farm, with the luxuries as well as the necessities of times. In these troublous times, when the factory doors are closed and labor is a drug on the market, the owner of a farm, be it small or large, is the most independent of men, for everything he raises commands the cash and at prices that would the farmer of sixty years ago green with envy. But we started in to say something about the old-time Christmas, and here we are telling the story of an old soldier who put his money into a savings bank instead of squandering it, and now when the years have come upon him and his faithful wife, he can snap his fingers at hard times and sit down under his own vine and fig tree and smoke his pipe in perfect content that he and his family are provided for, let the business world wag as it will. Probably some others will take the hint and buy a bit of land, on part credit if they have not all of the money to pay down.


While sitting under the droppings of the sanctuary last Sunday listening to an old Hamilton boy tell the simple story of the cross to a large congregation, the thought came, how many ministers of the Protestant churches, and of priests to Catholic churches have the workshops of Hamilton furnished to the pulpit? When we glance backwards, say a trifle of fifty and sixty years ago, in the days when revivals of religion came as regularly as the beginning of the new year, there was generally a shaking up among the boys, and after the Rev. James Caughey and Revs. James Elliott, Ephraim B. Harper and Jonathan Betts, of the Wesleyan church; and good old Faithful Shepard, the editor of the Christian advocate; Rev. William McClure, of the New Connexion church; Rev. William Stephenson, Primitive Methodist; Rev. Thomas Puller, Congregational church, and Rev. Alfred Booker, Baptist church, had spent a month or six weeks in exhorting, praying and singing, there were generally accessions to the church, and always from one to a half dozen fellows would be persuaded to study for the ministry. Blacksmith shops, carpenter shops, shoemaking and tailoring shops, machine shops, and, would you believe it, even printing offices would send their quota into the ministry. There was not a fortune in the business in those days to tempt the young fellows into the pulpit, for a minister to get a salary of $600 or $800 a year must have had superior talents for his job. Two of the most eloquent preachers that went from the workshop to the pulpit were blacksmiths, and lusty men they were at the forge or in a revival meeting. One of them has passed on to his reward; the other still watches and prays over one of the largest congregations in the city. Two of those old Hamilton boys occupied local pulpits last Sunday. One of them graduated from the Spectator office, and the other from Wanzer’s sewing machine factory. They were young when they quit the workshop, but now both of them have frosty heads, but hearts as young and loving for their fellowmen as when setting type or assembling a sewing machine. Both of them now hold commanding positions in the Wesleyan church, and if the bishops would only die or grow old we might someday hope to see the Rev. T. Albert Moore and Rev. Dr. Hincks presiding in concert over the general conference and making all the smaller lights stand from under the sound of the gavel. Not only have the Hamilton workshops sent young men into Protestant pulpits, but the Catholic church has been blessed with earnest young men who have devoted their lives to the work of the Master. There is one venerable minister of Centenary church who learned the printer’s art in England away back in the first half of last century who laid down the stick and rule more than fifty years ago and entered the Methodist ministry in the old country. He is now on the superannuated list, but the good brother can today tell the simple story of the cross with all the earnestness and vigor of his younger days. The workshops of Hamilton seem to have gone out of the pulpit business in these degenerate days, but probably it is because the churches have gone out of the revival business, so there is nothing to stir the boys to the call of duty.


Speaking of Dr. Hincks and the Wanzer sewing machine factory brings to mind the days when Hamilton was the headquarters for the sewing machine business in Canada, and gave employment to an army of skilled workmen to manufacture machines that were equal to the best in the market. R. M. Wanzer came to Hamilton in the fall of 1859. He had been a Yankee schoolmaster and a jack-of-all-trades, but had some ideas that he thought worthwhile to put in practice. One of these was the sewing machine. He had heard of the fate of the first sewing machine introduced to Hamilton. The Lawson brothers kept a clothing store on the corner of King and James streets, at Treble’s present stand, and thinking they could help business and make a little more money for themselves as well as for their tailors, they bought a couple of machines in the United States and hired an expert to come over to teach their men how to run them. The tailors would have none of them, but went out on strike. They said the machines would ruin the tailor trade, and their families would starve for bread. The Lawsons tried persuasion, but it was useless. Finally, the men triumphed and the machines were laid aside for a time. It took quite a while to overcome the men’s prejudice, but, by degrees, they learned that they could make even more money on a suit by running up the seams on a machine; and at last the machines were restored to the workroom, and from that day the tailors adopted it into the family of Sartorus. Well, Mr. Wanzer heard this little bit of history, but being a man who never turned his back when once he turned his hand to the plow, he rented the stone building on the corner of James and Vine and began the manufacture of machine. It took a week to turn out the first machine, that being the excellent of the factory. In the next three weeks, he finished four more, and then loading them in a wagon, he started out himself to peddle them around the country. He had to explain to the farmers’ wives the usefulness of the machine, but like the tailors in the Lawsons’ clothing store, they were hard to be convinced. The mothers had never used such folderol, and the old way of sewing by hand was good enough for them. It took Mr. Wanzer a week to sell his four machines; but he got the ball rolling, and by the time he had four more ready for the market he found it easier to persuade the farmers’ wives into buying them on the installment plan. This was the beginning of one of Hamilton’s infant industries, and if capitalists had only been wise, the sewing machine industry in Hamilton might have been the leading one today, furnishing work to thousands of men. From the small factory on James street to the large factory on the corner of King and Catharine streets where the Dominion Power company’s handsome terminal station now stands, was a necessary change to accommodate the growing business. The Wanzer machine had a large sale in Great Britain, South America, the West Indies, Germany and the continent. At the Vienna exposition in 1873, the Japanese commissioners became interested in the Canadian novelty, and in time, thousands of machines were shipped to Japan.


From the small beginning of one machine a week, the trade grew in Hamilton to not less than two thousand a week, with six or seven factories in full operation. One by one the factories faded away, and it was but a few years till the original Wanzer was the only one left – and in time that closed its doors forever. The last Wanzer factory, down on Barton street, was a three story building covering nearly one block. As the sewing machine began to fade out, Mr. Wanzer turned his attention to the manufacture of a patent coal oil lamp, which did not prove to be a successful seller. At one time, Mr. Wanzer was among the wealthiest men in Hamilton, and occupied as his home a handsome house in the center of the square now occupied by the collegiate institute. No one seems to be able to account for the decline of the sewing machine trade in Hamilton; but like other enterprises that might have been of great value as manufacturing industries, it was allowed to die out. Hamilton capitalists prefer to send their money away to invest in foreign enterprises.

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