Tuesday, 24 March 2015


The real old Hamilton boys who left here fifty and sixty years ago, and in all that time never set eyes on the old town, are dropping in one by one before they shuffle off this mortal coil.  We have had quite a number coming back to what they supposed was the old time village at the Head of the Lake and instead of rural roads and cow pastures they find a handsome city of 100,000, with over 400 large factories in place of four or five stove foundries, a planning mill and two or three carriage shops.  They rub their eyes as they look around.  Everything has changed, even to the smart looking policemen who are now pounding a beat on King street instead of good old Peter Ferris, Donald Dawson, Sergeant McGlogan, Dick Powers, Chief Carruthers and other French counts from Tipperary and Connaught, who were the guardian angels of Hamilton away back 60 years ago.  And the old boys who have come back to the home of their boyhood show some signs of increasing years; but what else can you expect from men who have passed the allotted years of three score and 10?  It was an old-time printer who wandered back after many years of the wanderlust. Not that he has been tramping as a typo; far from it!  He is now living in a most fashionable quarter of easy street, in Cleveland, Ohio, the home of John D. Rockefeller, and while he does not count his millions, like John, he has to have a new pair of shears every now and then to replace the old ones worn out in clipping coupons.  It is a glimpse of sunshine to meet these old boys and know that prosperity has been loafing on their doorsteps.
 Sydney W. Gilles was born in England in the year 1846, and came to Hamilton in 1861 with his mother and the other children. His father died in the old land.  He was a poet and a dreamer, and for many years was connected with the editorial staffs of Dickens’ Household Words as a writer. Sydney remembers the great author, having met him in the office of Household Words, and it is a pleasant thought to him that his father was part of that magazine.  Sydney had one brother, three years older than himself, named Charles T. Gilles.  Both of them attended the Central school when it first opened with Dr. Sangster as headmaster.  Sydney Gilles, or “Sid,” as he is better known to the old-timers, after graduating from school, drifted into the Dundas Banner offices, a while after James Somerville became the editor, chief typesetter and Washington hand pressman, and under that master of the printers’ art Sid took his first lessons at the roller. His Brother Charles also took a rudimentary course in the Banner, but finally learned the book-binders art under Alexander Mars, whose son is yet in the business in a shop on Rebecca street. When Sid had learned all that could be taught him by Mr. Somerville, he started out on a pedestrian tour are, and footsore and weary after his 5 miles of tramping, he landed in 1863, in the old Canada Christian Advocate, then under the management of the Rev. George Abbs, with George Roberts as foreman.  Now, this old Muser has a fellow feeling for any printer, be he boy or man, who ever worked in the Advocate offices, for we drifted it into it in 1855, and served a couple of years at $2.50 a week, and got our pay when the editor, the Rev. Gideon Shepard, was in funds.  It was a remarkable thing that in those days, no matter how good a workman one was, a boy’s wages never got beyond $2.50 or $3.00 a week.  Well, it may not have been so much out of the way after all, when first-class journeymen got only $7.00 a week.  It was not kill 1864, after the first printers union was organized, that a jump in the scale was made to $9.00 a week, and every blessed one of them wanted to get married and settle down to housekeeping.  $9.00 a week were not to be hooted at in those days, when one could rent a palatial cottage for $3 a month in buy beefsteak at five cents a pound.  But there was one drawback even in those halcyon days; one was not always sure of getting his wages on Saturday night, but had to take store orders instead.  Well, Sid Gilles had a taste of those days in the old Advocate, and getting tired of it, he hiked out to Buffalo and remained there just long enough to raise a stake and try it elsewhere.  He tried New Orleans and other large cities, but he was not yet ready to settle down to a steady job.  Those old printer boys had the wanderlust bad, and they had to get it out of them before they were fit for anything practical.  During the civil war in the United States said tried to enlist in the northern army, but they wouldn’t take him because he was so long and thin that the quartermaster would never be able to furnish a uniform that would fit him.  Unfortunate Sid!  He might now be drawing $30.00 a month pension for stopping rebel bullets.  However, he does not need it, for fortune has dealt kindly with him and given him an elegant retreat away up in the aristocratic suburbs in Cleveland, on Easy street.
After seening all that part of the world bounded by the United States Sid settled down in Troy New York and started a printing office of his own, taking his brother into partnership. Sid had developed a love for horses, and having time on his hands, he accepted the secretaryship of the driving park at Troy, which brought him much money and lots of fun.  This he held on to for many years, his brother taking care of the print shop.  One day he was in the city of New York, and as he was walking along the street, he thought he saw a man ahead of them who look like his old Dundas boss.  He walked quickly and passed him, and turning around he was convinced.  Going up to Mr. Somerville he addressed him: “Hello, Jim, how do you do!  How is everybody in Dundas?” Mr. Somerville put on a severe look and said to Sid: “ Young man, if you think you are going to bunko me, you have struck the wrong person.” “That is all right, Jim; but don’t you know Sid Gilles, who learned his trade in your print shop and Dundas on the old banner?” Mr. Somerville began to get interested now, and after asking Sid a few questions he was satisfied of his identity.  They spent the afternoon together very pleasantly, and had a hearty laugh at the idea of Mr. Somerville taking said for a bunko steerer.  Eight years ago Sydney Gilles lost the best friend that man ever had, a loving wife, leaving two daughters to mourn her death.  His health gave way shortly afterward.  At that time he was the secretary of the Cleveland writing park.  Having accumulated enough money to provide him with all the comforts and luxuries during his life, he retired from active business, and now spends his days and in dreaming the happy hours away.  He is in Hamilton, visiting his boyhood friend, John C Bale, and they’re having a happy time bringing back to memory the scenes of more than half a century ago.
It is a rare thing to find a French or German family in indigent circumstances.  The average family will live on what an American or Canadian family wastes.  Savings banks statistics are sometimes quoted to show the thrift of the French people.  There are more there are more savings bank accounts in France and more small competences then in America, and yet the wages earned by the French are far less in proportion.  The national ideal in France is independence at or beyond middle age; they look forward to the period of earned leisure.  If a life of leisure beyond middle age may not be more desirable than dying in the harness, but it is very comforting to feel that you can quit work if you want to, and that you can keep the wolf from the door. The habits of thrift make eventual independence possible and probable serve to train the family to self-denial and to fortify its members against the disaster of financial mischance.  Those who live up to the last dollar, and are anxiously waiting for the next paycheck are always on the tightrope over a change, in momentary danger of losing their foothold.  The man who earns living wages or more, yet spends it as fast, if not faster, than he earns it, is always on the tightrope; while the men whose earning capacity a smaller, but whose capacity for thrift is larger, is always sure of his footing.  He may be sneered at for parsimonious habits, but by the time he is middle aged he can point to his bank book as the best evidence that his economical habits were not in vain.  He who is foolish enough to boast that it is better to spend one’s last dollar like a king and end up as a beggar, may live to see the day when as a spendthrift he has no standing in the community.  The patriotism of the Frenchman is a fine example of sentiment for his country.  When you can buy a government bond and laid it aside, he feels that he has become a partner in the government.  The young man or young woman who invests a small part of their earnings every month in providing a government annuity for old age is a better Canadian for their financial interest in the government.  When the city of Hamilton issued $100 bonds to sell to small investors, it was teaching a lesson of thrift and economy to the wage earners.  It takes patience and self-denial to lay by the first $100, but the second one will come easier because we have learned to do without many things that add not to our daily comfort.  Those $100 bonds paid good interest, and were a very desirable investment.  There’s never been a country in which the average man -meaning the man without inherited wealth, without special educational equipment, without influence - had a greater opportunity to get along than Canada offers.  But the proportion of families whose budget of expenses is well within the family income is not so large as it should be.  Hamilton began away back in the last century with a population of poor men, who had to count the cost of raising a family.  Their boys profited by the experience of the fathers, and with that native thrift incident to industry have made for themselves homes and comparative independence.  The prosperous ones had no money to invest in the bar rooms or to bet on horse racing.  If our Canadian boys would only study the thrift of the French or the German, they would become the richest and most independent people in the world, not merely in the amount of money possessed per capita, but in the matter of relief from hard work and want in old age.  It is an easy thing to sit down at a typewriter and draw beautified pictures of what the economy will do, but it is hard to persuade the average reader to do it.
And the here’s an object lesson for the study of those who believe that immorality and whiskey can be controlled by law.  One night last week the body of an unfortunate woman was fished out of the Detroit River.  After a life spent in revelry, drunkenness and following the profession of the harlot, she had just sense enough left to take the fatal plunge and ended it all.  Poor Cecile!  She was the daughter of parents well-to-do, who gave her all the advantages of a higher education, and music and an art.  In her youth she had the entrĂ©e of the cultured and wealthy society of Detroit.  It was fashionable to sip wine, and as the appetite grow, to drink it; and from the wine to stronger liquors.  It took years to travel the course, but the end was always in sight.  She fell by the wayside.  From a happy home to the street and then to the police station, Cecile was an educated wreck who sank below her scarlet sisters to negro dives.  They travel the road quickly once they get into line.  Hearts that had been made sick by her profligate course reached out arms of affection and saved her from a pauper’s grave.  Of what avail was the law in the police court and the jail!  Prayers could not save her, for broken-hearted parents had tried that remedy when all else had failed.  Fining her or committing her to jail had no effect.  To pay her fine she returned to her avocation in the street.  And her case is only one without number.  Magistrate Jelfs or any member of the police department will tell you that a fine or jail sentence is of no avail; the unfortunates the Ceciles are back again in a few days.  They are outcasts in society, and their only thought is whiskey to drown their sorrow in disgrace.  In time they had no home except the jail, and when one sentence has been served, they go back in the street to be arrested again.  Why not provide a home, under restraint, instead of the fin or the jail for those unfortunates?  The appetite for strong drink or terrible lives can never be checked by law.  We license men to make drunkards and then punish the man or woman who gets drunk.  The young girls who parade the streets at night cannot always remain virtuous.  Some scoundrel is ready to pounce upon them at the opportune moment. Ponder on the sad end of the once accomplished Cecile!

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.