Wednesday, 20 January 2016


    Why should there be hard times in a land of plenty? That is a question that would puzzle the smartest man to answer. Take Canada for example, it is rich in everything needful for the comfort of man, and its development has hardly begun. The earth yields bountiful crops of every variety of food and in fruit belts are not surpassed in any country. And it is less than half a century since it has been discovered that its mines are overflowing with wealth. Yet, with all these blessings the cry of hard times comes every few years to bring poverty and want to countless homes. One would to countless homes. One would think that in a city like Hamilton with its four hundred or more factories no able-bodied man  would be compelled to ask for bread for the support of his wife and children. Yet there are hundreds of men walking the streets seeking in vain for work. The factory doors have been closed for weeks and months, and the prospects of them again opening are not very bright for months or more. There is no demand  for the output of the factories and money is so tied up that the managers of factories are not in a position to manufacture in the hope of a future demand for their wares. Every few years this condition exists and there seems to be no way out of it. In the rural communities, they know but little of hard times, and as for the farmers they never feel the pangs of poverty, nor do their children ask in vain for bread for no matter how business is with the town people, the farmer always has something to sell for which he gets cash on demand and the best of prices, and from his overflowing stores there is plenty of everything to feed and clothe his family. While the towns are filled with unemployed men, the farmer cannot hire labor sufficient to gather his crops and every year more than enough is wasted on the farm, on account of the scarcity of labor that would feed many hundreds of town families, and there are thousands of acres of land lying untilled because there are not men willing to leave the uncertainties of city life and go to work in the country. It’s a muddle.




          A couple of weeks ago, a correspondent in the columns of the Spectator had something to say about the nickel industry. Some years ago, the writer of these musings was interested in a passing study of the mining and metallurgical industries of Canada, especially in the province of Ontario. At that time, it was one of the dreams of John Patterson to build a smelting furnace here in Hamilton for the reduction and refining of nickel matte. Indeed, he got so far along in his scheme as to organize a company and erect the necessary buildings in the east end of the city, and there, forom some unaccountable reason, the nickel industry came to a sudden ending before actual smelting had begun. Hamilton then lost a prospective industry that would have been the means of bringing others of its kind to furnish labor and wealth for the city. As we call to mind from the reading of the report, referred to some years ago, native copper was first discovered in Canada about the year 1767 by a trader named Henry, who had passed the winter on Michipicoten Island. Later, a company was organized in England to work mines in Lake Superior country, but the vein of copper was so narrow that the prospectors became discouraged and the attempt was abandoned. No further effort was made for nearly three-quarters of a century, until 1845, when a company was organized in Montreal to explore the minerals on the north shore of Lake Superior. A distance of 500 miles, from Sault Ste. Marie to Pigeon River, was surveyed, but subsequent development proved disappointing. Unprofitable operations were continued at intervals until 1865, during which time large sums of money were expended in developing the Bruce mines. Nickel was first discovered in 1816 in the copper ore in the Wallace mine, on the shore of Lake Huron, but not in sufficient quantities to justify extensive explorations. This was the first recorded discovery of nickel in Canada. Ten years later, nickel and copper ore were discovered six miles north of Whitefish lake, and less than half a mile from the Creighton mine. The Creighton mine, which has become the main source of the nickel supply, was not opened till 1909. In 1892, the International Nickel company, of New Jersey, was organized to consolidate and control the nickel production in Canada.




          Canada has a monopoly of the nickel output, for nickel is only found in one other place in the world in paying quantities. In 1853, the French government took possession of an island of Australia, in the Pacific ocean, and converted it into a convict camp. The island is rich in gold, copper and nickel, and is surrounded on all sides by coral reefs, connecting numerous islets, rocks and banks of sand, rendering navigation so intricate and dangerous that the island can be approached by two openings only. Captain Cook first discovered the island in 1774, and called it New Caledonia. The island covers about six thousand square miles, and in 1890 had a population of 57,000. The mines are worked by the French government with convict labor. New Caledonia is between eight hundred and a thousand miles from the shores of Australia, and its approaches are so dangerous that it is next to impossible for the convicts to make their escape. The nickel output of the New Caledonia mines hardly comes in competition with the output of the Sudbury mines, for the distance which it has to be freighted to the markets in England and New York, being some sixteen or seventeen thousand miles, and the demands of the French government for use of the material in manufactures, etc., substantially gives Canada the control of the markets of the world. In 1907 – the latest data on hand – the value of the nickel sent to the United States was $9,525, 406. There seems to be no end in sight to the output of the mines, and as the years go by, its value increases on account of its application in almost every branch of the steel industry, especially in the making of plates for sea-going vessels.




          In gold and silver mining, Canada has wealth in abundance, and all that seems to be necessary to its development is the investment of more Canadian capital. It does seem strange that in Ontario, with all its richness in copper, nickel, lead, zinc, graphite, mica, talc, corundum, carbide of calcium, salt, peat, petroleum and natural gas, so few of the companies are controlled or managed by Canadian men or capital. In looking over the list of corporations, we find Hamilton men and capital are represented in the Canada Corundum company. It has a paid up capital of $1,106,287. Three Hamilton men are members of the board of directors, C. S. Wilcox, F. H. Whitton and J. Orr Callaghan. The headquarters of the company is in Toronto. The company owns about three thousand acres of corundum lands in Renfrew and Hastings counties. The corundum mill is by far the largest concentrating plant in Canada, and in 1904 gave employment to an average of 200 men. Corundum was first discovered in paying quantities in 1906. Corundum is the second hardest mineral, the only other one equaling or surpassing it being the diamond. As with nickel, cobalt, mica and asbestos, Canada holds a unique position, the deposits being practically unlimited. Another valuable product is carbide of calcium, a discovery made by H. L. Willson, who was born and raised within the sound of the alarm in Hamilton’s fire tower.




          Take the entire territory of the Dominion of Canada, from the Yukon territory to the jumping-off place at Nova Scotia, and the earth is one vast storehouse of undiscovered wealth. The hardy pioneers who have developed its mines have merely scratched the surface, but enough has been done to prove Canada among the richest mining countries in the world. Gold was first discovered in the Yukon in 1878 by a prospector named Holt, and in the first twelve years $122,968,000 worth of the precious metal was added to the wealth of the world. Towards the close of the eighteenth century, silver was discovered near Sault Ste. Marie by a Russian explorer, but it was not till 1855 the first mine was located. The yield was inconsiderable till between the years 1867 and 1870, when an American company acquired from the Montreal Mining company a tract of 107,000 acres, in which was included the famous Silver Islet mine. The province of Quebec is rich in minerals, the one of the greatest value being asbestos , which is especial interest in the mining and industrial world. So far as is known down to the present time, the deposits of asbestos in Quebec are the only ones yet discovered. The asbestos mines are principally controlled by American capital. Petroleum was first discovered in the western part of Canada about the year 1850, but it has been known to exist by the Indians aay back in the early settlement of the country. It has been used for lighting purposes from time immemorial. Petrolea, Bothwell, Leamington and East Tilbury are the principal oil fields in Ontario, and all are located between London and the Detroit river. Sixty years ago, everybody in this section of Canada was talking petroleum, and millions of dollars were sunk in prospecting wells, from which there was but small returns to the investors. George Brown, the editor of the Toronto Globe, was one of the early promoters of the Bothwell field, and sunk quite a lot of money. The pioneers in all such enterprises generally lay the foundation for the fortunes made by the Rockefellers. Hamilton had at least one enthusiast as a promoter in the oil fields at Petrolea and Bothwell. Frederick Watkins, father of Frederick Watkins now living in this city, was at that time doing a prosperous mercantile business in partnership with his brother, Thomas C. and Samuel, but he caught the oil fever and left the selling of dry goods and clothing to his brothers, while he spent weary days and anxious nights boring for oil. After sinking quite an amount of capital, he retired from the oil fields, glad to get back to Hamilton with life and broken down health. The men who developed the Ontario oil fields never made a dollar, but those who came after them reaped the harvest.




          We repeat the question asked in the opening of these musings, Why should there be poverty and hard times in a land of plenty? Ontario is rich in everything necessary to the comfort of man, and there is more wasted every day on the farm and in the homes in towns and cities than would feed the multitude out of work. Hamilton has grown in population far beyond its working capacity at the present time. The war and hard times came together, and, as a result, the four hundred or more industries of Hamilton have had either to close down or run on shorter hours. The cotton mills and the knitting factories and John McPherson’s shoe factory seem to be the favored industries, some of them having to work overtime to fill orders. While Canadian capital is being investedin Mexico and South America, English and American capital is gathering in the wealth from the Ontario mines.




          Canada has sent some thirty or thirty-two thousand of her boys across the seas to help fight the battles of the mother country, and there is an effort to raise nearly as many men to raise the contingent to fifty thousand. That the rolls will soon be filled, there is no doubt, as thousands were disappointed at not being taken on the first call. Just think of it, that in less than two months an army of thirty thousand fighting men could be gathered, drilled and equipped, and all are volunteers! In 1861, when President Lincoln issued the first call for 75,000 volunteers to suppress the rebellion in the southern states, it took nearly three months to lick them into shape and get them ready for the field of battle. That army had to be equipped and drilled, for the majority of the boys who enlisted had, probably, never fired a gun in their lives. This old muser can speak from experience, for he was one of the 75,000 volunteers, and never but once had fired even a shotgun, and then he killed a poor little bird that was singing so sweetly in a tree across the bay in Oaklands park. The United States was not then as well-prepared for war as was Canada when Colonel Sam Hughes called for thirty thousand men. At the first battle of Bull Run, in July, 1861, the Federals had in the field no larger an army than Canada sent across the seas a couple of weeks ago.


Friday, 1 January 2016


How the years go flying, especially after one has passed the threescore mark; but it is only a step, and there you are, fourscore. It is not much a long, long way to Tipperary after all. This old Muser has passed the fourscore mark, last Wednesday being the anniversary of his advent into this bright and happy world. It has truly been a bright and happy world to me, barring some of the crosses that now and then come to all, but nothing of a serious nature. I have thought that this would be a good time for me to blow my own horn a little; I have been the musical director for scores of old-time Hamiltonians during the fifteen or sixteen years that I have been writing these Saturday Musings.  To begin with, I entered this life on the eleventh day of November, 1834, in an underground fort on the banks of the St. Lawrence river, in the old town of Coteau du Lac. The intention was to have me born in Ballyholly, Ireland, where my father was born. But a soldier’s life is not in his own keeping, and the regiment to which my father belonged, the Twenty-Fourth Foot, was ordered to Canada from Ireland some two or three months too soon to carry out the program. I was reared in a military barracks till eight years of age, when my dear father passed to the other world, leaving my mother with four children to care for, I being the oldest. Substantially about all the schooling I got was in a barracks school, where the course of study was confined to the three R’s, with a smattering of grammar and geography sandwiched in. My school days ended at the mature age of ten years, when I had to begin the battle of life to help pay the expenses of the family. Not being particular as to what I worked at, I was fortunate in never being out of a job; and the same kind fortune has followed me for seventy years, during which time I have been always in employment. At the age of twelve, I got a job in the Montreal Herald office to learn the printing business, and being the latest apprentice, I was handed the broom by the boy who preceded me and duly installed as office sweeper and sorter of pi and carrier of a route on that paper. I held on to the job for quite a while, the stipend of one dollar a week being an incentive to duty, but when the time came for me to be advanced to the high and responsible office of ‘devil’ I had to resign, not being strong enough to handle the roller. But I persevered in my ambition to become a printer, and when our family moved to London, I got a job in the Free Press office as roller boy under Charles Kidner, one of the kindest instructors a boy ever had. I worked in London for two years on the Free Press and on the Prototype, then I turned the toes of my yarn stockings, as Colonel Robert Ingersoll once remarked, toward the rising sun and came to Hamilton in the summer of 1850. That was in the days before the streets of Hamilton were lighted with gas, and the Great Western railway was beginning to loom up through the cut half way down to the bay, and waterworks were only a dream. I arrived in Hamilton by the old stage line in the evening, and the next morning, I got work in the Journal and Express office at the princely sum of $2.50 per week, when the editor was in funds. In those days, four printer boys boarded with ‘Dick’ Donnelly’s aunt, paying her $1.50 per week. It was a small price, and the kind-hearted woman made nothing out of it, furnishing good, healthy food to four hungry fellows. I was fortunate in getting a more desirable job in the Christian Advocate office, but the weekly stipend was not advanced. In the fall of 1852, another Advocate apprentice and myself decided to go to the United States, and we landed in Rochester late one night with only fifteen cents between us. Hungry and tired after our trip on the cars, we put up a bold face and stopped at one of the large hotels near the depot. The next morning, we told the landlord of our impoverished condition, said we were printers from Canada looking for work, and the first money we earned he should be paid. He was a kind-hearted man, believed our story, and told us to go into breakfast, and he would talk to us afterwards. He invited us to stay at the hotel till we got work, and gave us a deal of fatherly advice. That morning I got work in the first printing office I went into, and I was cheered by meeting Jack Cliff, an old Hamilton printer. The first work I made more than enough to settle my bill at the hotel, for the landlord put the rate down very low, and then I bade him goodbye and got board in a private house. Board was very cheap in those days, and the food was of the best, charge being only $1 a week.




          I remained in Rochester a couple of years and joined the first printers’ society organized in that city. The scale of wages was twenty cents a thousand for solid bourgeois, which the ordinary hands set, the local, commercial and advertisements being departments given to the older men. At the first meeting of the society the question of a scale of wages was discussed, and twenty-five cents was the price demanded. The proprietors objected to such a heavy raise, and they offered a compromise, but the younger fellows held out for the demand. Finally the younger element was outvoted, and the scale fixed at twenty-three cents. I was getting the wanderlust, so I decided to quit and go and see the great city of New York. When I arrived there, I found scores of printers like myself hunting for work, times being bad; and finally I took a job at Peekskill at $7 a week as foreman of an office in which there was only one boy myself to boss. I remained in Peekskill for about a year and then got homesick and returned to Hamilton. The Banner was then about to start and I was just in time to get a job. The Banner was first started as a semi-weekly, and in time it became a daily. At the head of the office were two first-class printers, and the third member of the firm was ‘Billy’ Brown, whose father was the angel who furnished the cash. The Great Western railway company was then organizing its departments in Hamilton, and through the influence of Issac Buchanan, who then was a leading man with the heads of the departments, the Banner was fortunate in getting a large share of the job printing., which was profitable work at that time. The Banner was the organ of the Great Western, and Mr. Buchanan wrote the leading editorial in its interests. With all its financial backing, the Banner did not make headway, and after three or four years, it was sold to a syndicate, with Tom Gray as the business manager. The Spectator had the leading position as a daily, until the death in 1858, of Robert Smiley, the original proprietor and editor, and then the Times took the lead for a time while Hugh B. Willson was the managing editor. But, we’re not writing newspaper history.




          I worked only a few months in the Banner office, when I returned to the Advocate, where I remained until the spring of 1859, holding for a time the position of assistant foeman. In 1857 came the great panic that paralyzed the industries of Canada and the United States. At that time, Hamilton was not much of a manufacturing town, there being only a few local industries. Any one of the large factories in the city today employ more men than did all of the workshops in 1857. The printing business suffered in the panic, and it was only in the two daily offices that part of a full force was employed. In the Advocate office there were ten journeymen, and a number of boys employed, and the time came that the force would have to be reduced. The men, among themselves, agreed to work half-time, and this being satisfactory to the managers, we went to work at seven in the morning and quit at noon. The boys were kept on full-time, but their wages were small, and they boarded with the manager; it did not pay to reduce their time. Notwithstanding the hard times of ’57, I mustered up courage to get married, and for months we had to get along on the very small wages I earned. My wife was a good manager. We stood it as long as we could, it being hard work to leave the old home and go out into the world to pastures new. Finally, the break came, and one day in a fit of desperation, I threw up my job, sold our furniture for $50 that had cost us over $300, and away we went to Cincinnati, Ohio. It was the turning point for me, for the morning I got to Cincinnati I got work, and never was a day idle of necessity till I sold out my own printing office, having saved enough to keep my wife and myself the remainder of our days. When the civil war in the United States broke out, I got what we might call in those days the war lust, and as President Lincoln called for 75,000 men for three months, we thought the war would be of short duration. I enlisted in a company of printers, and when the three months were up, I concluded that I had done my share, and was ready to quit. I then bought a broken-down printing at Oxford, Ohio, and went out there to make my fortune Oxford was a college town, there being a university for young men, and three colleges for young  women. The presidents of the colleges were kind to me, and gave me the catalogues and other printing to do. Fortunately, I had learned the printer’s trade from the roller up, and then it was that my education in that line stood to my advantage. I had only about $1.26 when I bought the office, but the man who owned it had taken it for a debt, and knew nothing about the printing business, he gladly sold it to me without any money down. It took me about a year and a half to get out of debt and pay off the mortgage, ad the war fever running high, every young man in Oxford having gone into the army, I and the boys that were working for me, enlisted in a company that was then being organized in Oxford, and the office was closed until the cruel war was over. After the war, I took up my work where I had laid it down to carry a musket and stand up to be a target to be shot at for $16 a month in greenbacks, which was about thirty-three cents in gold on the dollar part at the time, that being the pay of a corporal.



          In the year 1870, I sold my paper in Oxford, and bought another in Oberlin, Ohio, where I remained for a couple of years, and then sold out to buy another paper, The Public, in Clinton, Illinois, where I spent twenty-five years. For nine of the years in Clinton, I had the honor of being postmaster, which paid me about $1500 a year, which I foolishly spent in politics. The Public was a prosperous investment, but I never had the faculty of saving money till a few years before retiring from business. My first saving was in buying $1,000 worth of stock in the De Witt County National bank, for which I had to borrow the money, and it was wonderful to me how quick I paid it off. Here let me say that the best thing a young man can do is to go into debt for something of value, and then pay it out as quickly as possible. It is the hardest proposition to save the first thousand dollars, but while you are saving it you are gaining a valuable lesson in economy. For sixteen years, I had the honor of being a director and the vice-president in the bank, but as neither directors nor the vice-president got any salary, it was purely an honorary position.




          Nineteen years ago, I retired from the printing business and have been like a fish out of water ever since. It doesn’t pay to give up your life work till you get so old and helpless that you cannot stand up to the rack any longer. There is nothing like an active life to keep one young and vigorous. Seventeen years ago I came back to Hamilton after forty years’ absence, though making occasional visits during that time. As a mental recreation, I have endeavored in the Saturday Musings to interest the present day generation with the ancient Hamiltonians of fifty and sixty years ago. How far I have succeeded it is for the readers of the Musings to say. Last Wednesday I reached my wightieth birthday, and as I have written of other ancient Hamiltonians, the question suggested itself to me, why not tell your own story before the undertaker calls for you? Let me say, in conclusion, that to me life has been one sweet song with only an occasional discordant note. I never used liquor, even for medicinal purposes, and have never been out of a job since I began to work at ten years of age.