Sunday, 15 March 2015
“Jimmy” Dawson came as a boy with his parents to Hamilton in 1849. His parents were English, and so was Jimmy. They were blessed with poverty and a family of young children, and Jimmy had to hustle as soon as he was able to help the family lader. He attended a private school for a while, as Hamilton had no real public school till the Central was built. Jimmy was a worker, and while his pay check on Saturday night was limited, he turned every penny over to his mother. His father did not live many years after coming to Hamilton, and Jimmy became the right hand support of his good mother. There was not much work in ths days for boys, but he was always ready to turn his hand to anything that would come his way. He was never out of a job, for as soon as one thing closed up he was ready to jump into the next thing that opened. Jimmy was not particular as to choice of employment so long as it was work and money. He worked for a time with John Roberts, who kept a picture framing and carver and gilder shop on the north side of King street, opposite the Anglo-American hotel, and, being industrious and anxious to learn the trade, he became quite proficient. He also worked in the Banner bindery; but, it would make quite a catalogue to tell all he did work at. His best job was when he got a route on the Great Western railway to sell papers, magazines and books between Niagara Falls and Detroit. The old timers will remember Mr. Tunis, who had the monopoly of the route, and he was a generous employer, giving the train boys a liberal percentage on their sales. When the Toronto and Hamilton branch of the Great Western was opened, Jimmy changed his run because of the better opportunities, and continued on it till about two weeks before the Desjardins canal accident in March, 1857. Jimmy went back to work for John Roberts, and being skillful at the picture framing and gilding business, he thought his services were worth more than Roberts was willing to pay, especially as Hamilton was just then enjoying the opening months of the panic of 1857, and man and boy were lucky to get a job at any price. Hamilton boys were then looking with longing eyes to the country across the Niagara, so Jimmy bade goodbye to mother and the rest of his family and hiked away to the promised land. He was fortunate in striking a job in Buffalo, and in due course of time drifted down to New York.
Jimmy was something of an artist and got mixed up with the paints and brushes, and thus was his life career changed. He was never out of work, and being of good habits, never chasing beer schooners nor indulging in the sports that bring ruin to young men, he kept on climbing the ladder of fame and fortune. He became an expert as a restorer of oil paintings. He became well-established in New York, and his painstaking ability in that particular line of art brought him a fair share of wealth, and all the work he could do. We must not call him “Jimmy” now, but give him the title that his art entitles him, Professor James Dawson. After fifty-seven years’ absence from Hamilton, he returned this week to visit his boyhood home. When he hiked out, Hamilton was an overgrown village of less than 12,000; he returns to find it a prosperous industrial city of over 100,000. Everything has changed, even to old Corktown where he lived as a boy. He met his old friend John Brick, and together they lived over the times of sixty years ago in Corktown. During all the long years of his absence he had bright dreams of someday visiting Hamilton, but they never were realized until this week. He is now a man of seventy-four years, and looks as fresh and young as a boy of fifty. This Old Muser was with Prof. Dawson in the ancient volunteer fire department sixty years ago. He recalled the night of a fire in the third story of the Royal hotel, before the days of the waterworks when they could not raise a stream high enough to get at the fire. The boys of No. 6 picked up their engine and carried it upstairs and then put out the fire. The No. 6 is the old engine that is now used by the veteran firemen for holiday parades. We spent a pleasant hour talking over old times in Hamilton. The professor tarries only a short time in the city. He knows but few now, all of his boyhood friends have either hiked out as did he, or are quietly sleeping in the city cemeteries. Goodbye Jimmy, we may not meet again.
We had a visit from another Hamilton boy a few days ago. He was born here and spent his boyhood and cash in three game birds to take home. About thirty-five years ago, he, too, took up his pilgrimage and landed in the city of Chicago, where he has continued to live. This was his first visit to his old home, although within eighteen hours’ ride of it. His relatives had passed away or moved out, and there was no special attraction for him to return. Thirty, forty and fifty years ago, Chicago was the promised land to Hamilton boys, and one could hardly walk the streets of that city without meeting someone from this old town. The printing offices were full of Hamilton printers, and three of the largest job offices in that city were owned by former Hamiltonians. Dick Donnelly, John B. Jeffrey and Tom Hines always had a job for a Hamilton boy. Our visitor of the other day was not a printer, but in whatever business he is associated he gave evidence of prosperity. He took advantage of the spring meeting of the Hamilton Jockey club to pay his old home a visit, being passionately fond of horses, and wanted to see a race in the home of his boyhood. He toured Canada down as far as Quebec before the races came off, and got here in time to enjoy his favourite pastime. When he struck Hamilton, he had a wad of bills running in figures toward a thousand, and being a bit of a sport, he bet on the bang tails, but he never seemed to be on the right side. Finally, he doled out his last hundred to the bookmakers, and when that was gone, he was ready to be gone too. Having a return ticket and a five dollar bill left, he invested a part of his cash in three game birds to take home with him to Chicago. He was as happy as a clam in high water, and promised this old Muser to come back next year to see how Hamilton is growing. He said his betting sin was the bang tails, but as he was comfortably fixed, his only dissipation was running a tilt with the bookmakers. He left with us his parting advice, which we were to hand out to the pony dopists, to keep away from the betting ring, for in the end, the gentlemanly bookmakers will get away with your wad, and, by the way, it was estimated that over a million and a quarter dollars changed hands during the recent races in this city, and that the bookmakers took most of it away from the Hamilton sports.
One would think that with the whole of Lake Ontario to draw fresh, our park commissioners could afford to run the three or four fountains in the city during the warm, dry weather. Now and then they do turn on the water in the Gore park during the afternoon and evening, and how refreshing its cooling streams must be to the people who have none, of but few, of the pleasures of this world. The fountain in Wellington park on King street east stands there as dry as though it were in the deserts of Sahara, where a cup of cool water would be like a blessing from heaven. But that is not the worst phase of this cheap economy in the water supply. Down in Woodland park, a Mrs. Reid, an aged lady who had spent her long life in Hamilton, provided in her will for the erection of a fountain. And left $500 to pay for it. The fountain was built, and it is there yet, not a drop of water ever oozing from it. It seems the fountain got out of order and neither the parks board nor the controllers will pay the trifling amount it would cost to have it repaired. On the James street front of the Gore park, the drinking fountain that was donated to the city by one of its ancient residents, is used as a news stand at certain times, and is as dry as a powder horn, not a drop of water ever gurgling forth from it. Hamilton has a reputation for always giving a cold shoulder to bequests made to it, which is certainly not much encouragement to those who might like to do something for the old town. But to get back to the dry fountains. There is a whole lake full to draw from, and the cost but little. The people of Hamilton pay into the city treasury nearly $300,000 a year for the little water that is used to supply a population of 100,000, and yet the city is so mean about it that in hot weather they forbid its use for watering the lawns and flower beds of the householders who pay such heavy taxes for the little they use for domestic purposes. Open your heart, ye city controllers and park gentlemen, and for the few remaining weeks of the glad summertime, let the water gush forth from the dry fountains.