Saturday, 30 April 2016


Through the courtesy of Archdale Wilson, we have the privilege of looking over a business directory of Hamilton, printed by R. R. Donnelley & Co., and illustrated by McKeon & Smith, wood engravers, for distribution at the provincial exhibition held in this city in the year 1864. If one wants to know the changes in business in Hamilton, just run through this directory of fifty years ago and compare it with the new directory of 1915. It is a new Hamilton altogether. Even the introductory to the little pamphlet gives one a new idea of Hamilton to what we gather from everyday surroundings. As a matter of ancient history, even though only a half century ago, the reading of the introductory chapter will be interesting reading. Here it is:

“Hamilton, beautifully situated on the southwestern curve of Burlington bay, occupies a delightful position on a plateau of slightly elevated ground, winding around the base of the mountain. The distance between the mountain and the bay is about two miles, and the area thus included stands the city of Hamilton, in population, wealth and commercial importance, the second city in Upper Canada. The site is singularly salubrious, the rate of mortality being less in Hamilton, as shown by statistics, then any other city in Canada, Ottawa excepted. Hamilton became a point of military importance about 1813. It was made the resting place of the army of the west, when General Proctor was defeated. To Burlington Heights, General Vincent retired after being driven from the Niagara frontier, previous to his brilliant victory over the American army at Stoney Creek, which saved the province from probable subjugation. The history of Hamilton dates back not much more than a quarter of a century. It seems but yesterday when the tract of country fringing the shores of Lake Ontario was a wilderness, and settlers still living can tell the day when hunters and fishermen alone broke the stillness of the now wealthy and proud district of Gore. The theory of colonization which has been nurtured into life and activity under the fostering care of liberal institutions on this side of the Atlantic, has belied the anticipations and ridiculed the prophetic wisdom of statesmen moving under the auspices of time-honored usages in the old world. Forests are converted into thriving settlements, and cities spring up into wealth and influence as if obedient to some magic impulse. A traveler from one of the sickly metropolises of Europe, in looking at the progress of social cultivation in Canada, at the evidence of civilized advancement observable in the institutions and business energy of the Canadian people, would be slow to realize the fact that he sees the country as less than fifty years of toil and industry have made it.

“Let him visit Hamilton, drive up and down its spacious streets, look into the great wholesale establishments’; step into banking houses and witness the extent of accommodation accorded to commercial enterprises; let him visit the Central school, and contrast the educational advantages of Hamilton with those of cities of the same size in Europe or on the continent, or look through the Young Ladies’ seminary, when in full operation after midsummer holidays; let him stand at the depot of the Great Western railway and mark the bustle and activity at the arrival  and departure of every train; see the long train of freight cars, bringing the products of foreign manufacture for consumption here, or carrying away consignments from large city wholesale firms to distant parts of the province; let him take his stand on the brow of the magnificent mountain which flings its grassy summit against the southern sky, and see the multitude of persons surging along the principal avenues of trade, the countless chimneys of mechanical industry, the magnificent carriages and costly equipages rolling along James or King street; the palatial suburban mansions, the seat of wealth, comfort and literary refinement – let him survey the busy hive at his feet – restless, sleepless, tireless yet hopeful and say whether the community of interests, the fusion of national restraints, and the commercial fellowship which have built a city of twenty thousand people do not promise still greater results.

“The temporary embarassments under which the city labors have retarded, but not destroyed, the enterprise of its citizens. In 1850 – fourteen years ago – the population, according to authenticated census returns, was less than 11,000. It was 35,000 in 1858, and in the three following years lost a third of its population. It was 19,000 at the census three years ago, and has now risen to 22,900, and we have hopes that the recently passed city relief bill will tend to augment the numbers.

“The wholesale trade of Hamilton is greater and more attractive to distant buyers than that of any other city in Canada, with the exception of Montreal. Some of the most extensive wholesale firms in Canada, having branches in Toronto, London and Brantford, center in Hamilton; and we think it would well remunerate country merchants – who may be at the exhibition, and who do not make this their market of purchase – to take a look through our wholesale warehouses, and compare prices with those of other cities in the province. Our wholesale merchants are direct importers from the places of manufacture and growth, and their customers receive the benefits of first profits. It will also reward visitors from a distance, who wish to avail themselves of city prices and fashions, to note down the enterprising firms whose establishments are herein illustrated.”


Fancy the fresh-looking Thomas Lees, though his head has been frosted with departed years, being the oldest and only man in business today that belongs to ancient Hamilton. He began business as a watchmaker and jeweler on John street in the year 1861, and in 1864 moved into his present location on James street. At that time Hamilton had thirteen jewelers and watchmakers to keep time and bedeck its women and girls with diamonds and other precious jewels. In the directory before us, Lees is represented in the same building which he now occupies, with a large sign directing customers where to find him. Burrow, Stewart and Milne, three husky young molders, began business in 1864, but not in time to get their names in the directory. Two members of the firm – Stewart and Milne – still continue the business, Mr. Burrows having passed away a few years ago. There were six foundries in Hamilton in 1864, but no members of the firms except Mr. Stewart and Mr. Milne are living now. The D. Moore Co. is the oldest tinsmith firm in the city, dating back to 1828, and that firm began the foundry business along in the ‘40’s, in the stone building on Catharine street north, erected by G. L. Beardmore for a tannery. A fire one night decided Beardmore in favor of a change, and the building passed into the ownership of the D. Moore Co. and was converted into a foundry. All this, however, leaves Thomas Lees as the oldest living businessman in the town.


We will take an airplane trip through the 1864 directory, and if we strike a name that is in the directory of 1915, we will be glad to place the owner in the Hall of Fame as an ancient Hamiltonian. We will take 1864 as the foundation. There were two wholesale shoe stores then, one wholesale clothing manufacturer, three wholesale druggists, six wholesale dry goods, and not one connected with firms we have here now to answer roll-call. Of other wholesale firms, there were two earthen and glassware, four fancy goods, nine groceries, four hardware, three leather, two saddlery hardware, one stationer, two importers of wine. Not a member of the old firms left to tell the story of fifty years ago. There were only three architects then, not one of them now to plan an earthly house. Sixteen bakers made the staff of life – not one of them in business now, William Lee being the last one to throw in the sponge. Fifteen barbers represented the tonsorial art, and Charles Dallyn is the only one left to tell the story. Of thirty-five barristers only one is left to plead his own cause. Eleven blacksmiths pounded the anvil; where are those lusty fellows now? Three billiard halls were enough in 1864; it now takes sixteen to develop the muscle of the sports. Only two of the old shoe dealers are in business now. Seven breweries made beet to quench the thirst of the ancients; two breweries do the job now. Of the manufacturers of brooms and brushes, only Meakins and Sons represent the six old firms. Fourteen builders and contractors built up Hamilton in those days, not one of whom is in business now. Not a bookseller or a bookbinder in business in 1864 is here now to reveal the edges of life. It only required 24 churches to lead the Hamiltonians in the straight and narrow path in 1864; now there are 93 congregations, representing almost every denomination, yet they can’t hold the town level. Nineteen clergymen lifted up their voices every Sunday against the sins of the world, and eighteen of them have gone home to glory, having done the best they could while here to keep Hamilton from going to the bow-wows.  One of them got translated to the Methodist Book Room in Toronto, and his job is so pleasant that he is loth to give it up. Coal was so little used in Hamilton that only Thomas Myles could find it profitable to run a coal yard. J. Blachford and Henry Snelgrove buried the dead. Ten confectioners made life sweet to the taste, but now one of them is here to tell the story of the days when they sold pure ice cream. Eight druggists compounded the jalap and rhubarb that cured the ills of the community, and that they did their work honestly is evidenced that such a disease as appendicitis was unknown in those days. Twenty-one establishments supplied  the ladies with dry goods; not one of the proprietors lives to tell how the husbands swore when the bills were rendered. Twenty-four physicians, one of them being a lady, looked after the health of the town, and not one of them has a place among the 113 physicians of today. There were sixteen hotels, 21 saloons and 58 taverns to feed the hungry and quench the thirsts of the thirsty; about all are gone to meet their unfortunate customers in the other world. Ninety-six boozeries and only 23,000 population; today the population is over 100,000, and it only takes 61 saloons to satisfy their thirst. The town is progressing.


It is like going through a graveyard to follow up that 1864 directory. Only three business men of that year live to tell the story of the ups and downs of this hundred-year-old town. Well, the Muser that will review the 1915 directory fifty years from now will have the same story to tell.
From 1857 till the case of the civil war in the United States, Hamilton, as well as all of Canada, was hard hit. It seems impossible to separate the two countries either in prosperity or adversity; when business is good over there, it is the same here. Hamilton’s brightest days were during the building of the Great Western railway, for then money was plentiful, there was work for everybody, and the population increased through the employment in the railroad shops and the large number of men employed running trains, most of whom made their home in Hamilton. When the Great Western officials began to divide the shops among other localities, and almost side-tracked Hamilton, the panic of 1857 broke loose, and the population went hiking to more prosperous towns; houses were emptied and hard times came. In 1858 the census showed a population of 25,000; in 1861, it ran down to 19,000. The people could not pay their taxes, and the city could not pay even the interest on its indebtedness. It was not until Hamilton became an industrial city that the sun of prosperity began again to shine on it. The old town is now passing through the deep waters of affliction, but with the prospective opening of factories, the old song, Hard Times Come Again No More can be sung by the Elgar choir, and the toilers will chant as they march to the workshops, that though It’s a Long, Long Way to Tipperary; the good times are coming once more.

No comments:

Post a Comment