Digging up historical reminiscences is often better work than trying to write them, for then we get recollections of others. In the year 1883, when Frederick W. Fearman had rounded out fifty years’ residence in Hamilton, his wrote a very interesting story of events, dating back to the year 18-2. These will be interesting reading, not only to the old stagers but to the younger generations. It proceeds as follows :
“Fifty years ago this month in 1833, our family came from Norfolk, England in the New Post packet ship Ontario. We were on the ocean six weeks, and two weeks on the Erie canal to Oswego. Then we took passage on a schooner to Port Dalhousie, and from thence to Hamilton in royal style on a farmer’s hayrack. Hamilton was but a small place then. There were but three brick houses in it, and the bush came to the corner of Wellington and King. Wellington street was called Lover’s Lane. It was beautifully shaded with forest trees at that time, and for some years after. Mr. Peter Hamilton’s fields reached down John street close to the wood market, and the boys used to have grand times gathering hickory nuts. His residence was on the spot where Mr. W. Hendrie now lives, and the farm gate was on Main street. At Dundurn, the woods commenced again, and there was a crooked, narrow sandy road to the old bridge. Splendid duck shooting was to be had at the heights; black duck, mallard, teal and now and then a canvasback. Redheads and coweens were not carried home in those days. Thousands of wild pigeons also would fly over this place, as they would come up to the high ground from over the lake and bay, they could be knocked down by sticks or shot by the hundreds. This bird seems to have left this part of the country altogether now.
“On the southeast side of the city, there were but very few houses south of Main street. The old Springer homestead was located near thecorner of Hunter and Spring streets, and in the fall, in cider-making time, it was the spot where the boys most did congregate, and good long straws were in requisition. The lakeside was, in summer, a busy place then, as the wharves were building, and there were a good many hotels down there. Some of them have disappeared. The old hospital is one of them., and the Burlington glass works is another, and the roughcast building on the corner of Macnab and Burlington streets another, but the glory of that locality has departed. The opening of the Great Western railway changed the travel and traffic to other parts of the city. Hamilton was noted for its dust and dirt. On a windy day, it was almost unbearable.The clouds of dust would sweep down York and King and Main streets so as to put a stop to business and all trades suffered very much from this cause. It was after one of those days that I wrote a petition to the mayor to call a meeting to take into consideration what was the best plan to provide water for the city. The meeting was held. John Fisher, mayor, was chairman, myself secretary, and from that meeting sprang our waterworks, which have been such vast benefit to the community.
“The Gore was a very Sahara – dust, sand and mud the most of the year. I have seen this spot nearly filled with long, white-covered emigrant wagons, on their way from the eastern states to the then far west of Illinois, Western Ohio and Indiana. They would come there for the night with their cattle and horses, sleep in the wagons or prairie schooners, as we used to call them, and at break of day, they were gone. Next evening, another lot would be resting there. What has been the result of this immigration? Look at the cities, towns and farms of these states today. I was told then that the farm was sold to the first man on it for one dollar an acre, and if not taken up the first year, after survey, then 75 cents, next 50 cents, and if not taken up them, they were called swamp lands, and sold to anyone who would give 25 cents an acre for them. But the first sale was to actual settlers only. It is evident that the railway scoops, temperance society society grabs, and ministerial boomers had not then come into existence, as almost all the tillable land of those states was taken up by actual settlers. I remember the day of the Queen’s coronation. It was the first celebration of the kind held here, and a jolly time we had – bonfires and fireworks of a primitive kind. I don’t think we had any firecrackers. Anyway, the boys were better than they are now, and wouldn’t use if they had. There were some hotels of note. The old Promenade house was the principal one. It stood where the Bank of British North America stands now. It was the stage house. The arrival and departure of the stage was quite an event, and caused a great stir, as it was the most rapid and stylish mode of travel. This house was also the resort of commercial men, and the host (Burly) was well known by all travelers. The Cambria house was kept by a Mr. Cattermode, who was also an emigrant agent, whose books were very severely commented upon, as he, like those of that ilk of the day, was apt to draw the long bow. The house was situated at the corner of John and Main streets, and was principally patronized by old country emigrants of the better sort, and it was celebrated as a place where they got rid of a good deal of money and a good deal of whiskey which could be had pure at 16 cents a gallon. There was also another hotel on the spot where Wanzer’s factory is now, kept by Mr. Chatfield, and it was noted as the house where all the big bugs were put up, and at that time we stayed our first night in Hamilton. It was found on that occasion that individuals did reside at this establishment, and they nearly ate us up, and the reputation was a correct one.
“There is now but one building on the Gore that was there then – I mean D. Moore Co.’s on King street east. The buildings in this section were all of one or two stories, of wood. I do not know of but two men who are in business now who were doing business then, and they are John Winer and Dennis Moore. All have passed away, and I now find more names of acquaintances in our city than I can in the city. Such is life.
“Times were hard soon after this. In ’34, ’35 and ’36, business was bad; no money, prices were low. All trade and truck; no cash for anything. The storekeepers used to print their own shinplasters, and each run a bank of his own. He was president, and board of directors both, until the government put a stop to it. Wages were very low. Laboring men, 50 cents to 75 cents per day, or less. Mechanics, not much more, paid in truck. Produce was very cheap. Butter 7 to 9 cents; eggs, 5 cents; whitefish 3 to 4 large ones for a quarter; potatoes 15 cents a bushel, wood $1 to $2 a cord, meats, grains and flour equally low, but still hard to get, as there was no trade, business or money. General discontent prevailed, and the Rebellions of ’37 took place. The Family Compact were wiped out; responsible government became a fact, and the country prospered.
“Some years after this, the Indians surrended the townships of Seneca and Oneida, and they were surveyed and sold to actual settlers at $4 and $5 an acre. The lands were taken up at once, and many of the lands were paid for by half the pine timber on them. I helped survey this land under Mr. Kirkpatrick, P.L.S. I mention this to show the extraordinary rise in the value of timber since then. These fine large pines were often sold at from $1 to $2 apiece. Mr. Bradley, of the city, informs me that he pays from $80 to $1000 for each of them. There was plenty of very fine walnut , also cut into lumber at $15 and $20 a thousand, which is now worth $100 for the same quantity, and none to be had in this locality. These lands are now worth from $50 to $80 an acre.
“The churches were few and far between. Old King street Methodist was in use, although I have seen it full of sheep since then. It was afterwards repaired and used for divine service. There were no Episcopal, Presbyterian, or Catholic churches here. Rev. Mr. Geddes used the court house. As to schools, I first went to a school called ‘Miss Sewell’s Select Ladies’ Establishment’, where a few lads were admitted. It was kept on the corner of King and Walnut streets. I think the name is on it still, and the building has not had a coat of paint since then. A Mr. Randall also had a large school in the old Cambria house on John street, lately pulled down by Mr. Hoodless. Mr. Randall was a club-footed man, but could throw a ruler straighter than a shot. Most of the teachers then were men who were unable to make a living in any other way. I often think of them in comparison with the twelve schools, the 116 teachers and 6,000 scholars of Hamilton today. I give you a few extracts from the early public school records of a later date : ‘The earliest data of the public schools in this city go back to 1847 – a period of 36 years. At that time,
the city was divided into six sections each of which there was one schoolhouse, containing one school room, presided over by one school teacher. One of those schools is described as good, four as midling, and one as inferior. Two were 18 by 20 feet, and two 22 by 24 feet.The houses were all frame buildings, four in ordinary repair, two in bad repair. All were suitably provided with desks and seats, according to the idea of the time, four had special arrangements for ventilation, not one had a playground. Of these six school buildings, only one was owned by the board, the others were rented. There were no fewer than 28 private schools in Hamilton; today there are not two worthy of the name. Central opened in 1853, preparations occupied three years.’“I do not remember by one wholesale house. This was Colin C. Ferrie and company’s, a large, white clapboard structure on the corner of King and Hughson, where the Bank of Commerce is situated. They did quite a large business. The manufacturers were slim. There was a Mr. Harris’ gun maker, where Myles’ coal office stands, and he would perhaps turn out a gun or rifle a month, but they were noted as good articles. There was also a man, on the corner of John and Jackson streets, known for making good augers, and I guess he could turn out a dozen or so in the year. There were no railways. The first railroad meeting was held on the wood market, on John street, and an ox was roasted, or rather warmed, as when it was cut up was as raw as an east wind, and used as a baseball now; the catchers, however, coming off the worst. Long since then I have been 24 hours on the road between the Falls and here, and travel all the time, and twelve to fourteen hours between here and Toronto. I think that the first steamer we had was the John By, a small craft that was afterwards wrecked on Marygold Point, across the lake. When she came in at Land’s wharf, where the H. & N. W. elevators is now, there was quite a commotion.
“Now all this is changed. We live in the best age the world ever saw. An age of steam railways, telegraphs, telephones, quick transit and passage, low postage and a greater share of comforts to the whole people; less political wrangles and greater catholicity of spirit amongst the different denominations of the land : churches and schools everywhere, and a regard for the Sabbath that is observable by everybody. Our merchants and manufacturers, with equal railway facilities, ask odds from no one. They are princes in their calling, and their motto is, as it always has been, ‘I advance.’ I consider Hamilton to be the most pleasantly and favorably situated city in Canada. Its location at the brink of the lake and bay is beautiful. It is now clean and well-provided with water, and there are as fine buildings, residences, churches and public offices as are to be found anywhere, and also thousands of houses that are principally owned by the people who live in them – built out of their earnings since they came here. Most of the streets are well-planted with shade trees and well-dranied. The soil is excellent. All varieties of fruit and vegetables suitable to this climate are grown here and vicinity to perfection, as our market will demonstrate. I joined with a few of the people on Park street in planting the first street with shade trees and now almost all the private streets are planted with them. We have copied a good deal in the matter from the States, and we have considerable to learn. The habit of throwing old boots, stovepipes, etc.into the street will have to be got rid, many of the ugly high fences taken away, and the old leaves from trees swept up tidily, good asphalt sidewalks provided, and the streets kept in better repair, and last and most important of all, two or more good parks set apart and made free to the people before we can be called a first-class city. I hope to see this done. We had once the opportunity to purchase Dundurn for less than $25,000. It was prevented by a few who would oppose any improvement, and though we could have been greatly benefitted by the purchase, the opportunity was lost, and now we must do the next best thing.”
It is like looking backward into some other world to read Mr. Fearman’s letter, written thirty-three years ago, of incidents occupying in Hamilton away back in 1833. Probably no man in his day knew more about Hamilton than did Mr. Fearman. For long years, he was connected with its business and social interests, and he organized a business, now conducted by his sons, that was not only profitable to himself, but of great value to producers on the farm and to city consumers. Such a letter should not be lost or forgotten in the future history of Hamilton, and therefore we gave it a place in the Saturday Musings.