Chapter 15
The Electric Era
Table of Contents

Title Page
1 A place called Hamilton.
2 Public Works and Private Enterprise
3 Port Hamilton
4 1837-1839
5 Ericsson Wheels
6 1844-1847
7 Good Times in Port
8 Boom Town Days
9 Depression Years
10 Better Times Ahead
11 1867-1870
12 Prosperity for the Shipbuilders
13 The Second Railway Building Era
14 1884-1888
15 The Electric Era
16 The Iron Age
Table of Illustrations


Archibald Miller Robertson lived on Brock St., overlooking his shipyard. Early in the afternoon of 11 January, the old gentleman made his way down the hill and went aboard his propeller ST. MAGNUS. About 3:00 p.m., a passer-by saw him aboard the vessel, but when he did not return home for supper, fears were felt for his safety. Searchers found him lying unconscious in the lower hold, having fallen about sixteen feet. He was severely injured and died the following day.

The waterfront lost another widely known business-man and shipowner on the 17 January when Thomas Myles passed away. Born in 1811 in Limerick, he had come to Canada in 1845, settling on a farm in the Binbrook area. Remaining there for seven years, he sold out and went to New York. After two years in the big city, he returned to Hamilton and with his brothers James and William, he started a nail factory. This was not a successful venture and in 1855, Thomas and James established, themselves as coal merchants. Two years later, brother James moved to Toronto and Thomas carried on in Hamilton until his death. Before coming to Canada, Mr. Myles had married Mary A. Martin of Dublin, who pre-deceased him about twenty years ago. Two sons and a daughter survived.

The Hamilton Street Railway Co, was expressing great enthusiasm over the plans to electrify the system and on the 28 March, it stated that work on the power house would begin almost immediately. They had purchased some waterfront property from R. O. & A. B. MacKay, at the foot of Hughson St., immediately east of the Hamilton Steamboat Co. Wharf, for a coal dock and power house site. Three dynamos and motors for 30 cars were ordered from the Westinghouse Electric Co., through their representatives Mr. Soper, who had been involved with the Ottawa Street Ry. electrification.

The firm of Goldie & McCullough, in Galt, was given the contract to supply three engines of 250 HP each, to be delivered by 15 May, 1 June and 15 June. Architect Balfour was putting the finishing touches on the plans for the buildings which would be 100 ft. long and eighty feet wide. It would, have two storeys.

Plans and, specifications for dredging an area of 1,000 square feet off MacKay's Wharfs were exhibited at the Hamilton Steamboat Co. office on the 4 April. The successful bidder would. be required to complete the job in 30 days.

The Hamilton Street Ry. announced that it had ordered 15 new cars from J. M. Jones' Sons,Troy, N.Y. and also that the Stuart St. line would be extended down the hill to the Grand Trunk station. This hill was too steep for horse-cars and passengers going to the station were required to walk to and from the corner of Bay and Stuart Sts. On the 12 April, the following contracts concerning the power house were given out: Brick-works. Geo. E. Mills; carpenter-work, Donaldson & Paterson; painting, Holcombe Bros.; iron-work and roofing, Thos. Irwin & Son and the iron-work would be provided by the Hamilton Bridge & Tool Co.

While all this activity was going on, the shipowners were got about their usual spring-time job of getting vessels ready for the new season. On the 18 April, the CELTIC, resplendent in new paint, was about to leave for Port Dalhousie and a visit to Muir's dry dock, only just vacated by the ACADIA. The ST. MAGNUS, recently purchased by R. O. MacKay from the Estate of A. M. Robertson, had been moved over to MacKay's Wharf for fitting-out. The LAKE MICHIGAN was still being painted. The OCEAN was all set to go and would probably begin her Montreal service about the 28 April. The MACASSA was still in the hands of the painters and was expected to commence her Toronto trips about the end of the month. The MYLES, at McIlwraith's Wharf, was preparing to leave for Lake Superior. The CANADA had had her engine removed. It was to be fitted in the new hull under construction at Robertson's Shipyard by the Hamilton Bridge & Tool Co. The hull of the CANADA was sold to J. S. Nesbit of Sarnia, for rebuilding as a steam-barge.

The stone foundation for the Street Railway power house was nearing completion on the 19 April, when a derrick, in the course of being set up, fell and injured two men.

It was made public on the 25 April, that Frank MacNamee of Montreal, was the successful bidder for the dredging of the Rush Bed.

The OCEAN,Capt. Towers, made a short excursion out in the Lake on the 26 April, with a number of invited guests who were

"entertained handsomely"
and the OCEAN was treated to a load of cordwood, at Brown's Wharf in East Flamborough. This was a nice little public relations job, which was repeated a couple of days later at Toronto.

Capt. John B. Fairgrieve announced that his new vessel would be named ARABIAN and that Capt. Chestnut, late of the CANADA, would be in command.

By the 27 April, the coal trade had resumed and the schooners MARIE ANNETTE,MARY ANN LYDON and ALBACORE had arrived at Myles' Wharf. The propeller OCEAN had left for Montreal. The Hamilton Steamboat Co. let a contract for catering on its vessels to T. P. Phelan of Toronto and the contracts for coal went to MacKay's in Hamilton and Elias Rogers & Co. in Toronto.

After the CELTIC was floated out of Muir's Dry Dock, she went up the canal, bound, for Toledo, but after leaving Port Colborne, some trouble developed in one of her pumps. She returned to Pt. Colborne and had the pump repaired. Capt. John Clifford then headed for Toledo where the CELTIC took on 17,000 bus. of corn for Montreal, On the 1 May, the CELTIC was downbound on Lake Erie in heavy fog and when she was 15 miles off Rondeau Point, she collided with the iron steamer RUSSIA of Buffalo,Capt. Weinheimer and sank in ten minutes. Mrs. Strachan of St. Catharines, the elderly cook, was the only one lost on the CELTIC, all the rest being taken aboard the RUSSIA, which then went full steam ahead for Rondeau Point where she was beached a mile east of the Light Station. The only Hamilton crew members were Purser Fitzgerald and the ladles' maid, Miss Logan. Capt. Clifford was filling in for Capt. Padden, who could not take the CELTIC owing to illness in his family. The ship's company made their way to Ridgetown and wired the MacKays for money. The CELTIC had cost $48,000 when built in 1874 and was now valued at $18,000. Her insurance amounted to only $12,500. She would have had the Lighthouse Supply charter this year.

A strong north east wind was making things rough on Lake Ontario on the 5 May, when the tug ST. GEORGE unwisely left Toronto, towing two dump scows and a boarding scow for the Hamilton dredging job. By the time this outfit was approaching the Burlington Canal piers, the tug had soaked up so much water that the engineer was standing in it up to his knees and the fires were out under the boiler. At this appropriate moment, the towline parted and the scows drifted in on the Beach north of the piers. The tug, meanwhile, was drifting toward one of the piers where that Angel of the Beach,Capt. Campbellp was ready and willing to take a line and get her alongside undamaged.

A report from Galt, dated 18 May, described the exciting progress of one of the Hamilton Street Railway's new stationary engines from Goldie & McCullough's engine works to the Grand Trunk freight depot. Several teams of horses were drawing the wagon carrying the engine, weighing 20,400 lbs., across the Main St. Bridge over the Grand River, when one front wheel broke through the deck. Fortunately, it came to rest on an iron stringer and the engine remained on the wagon. The men went back to the plant for some screw-jacks.

The propeller ACADIA, built in Hamilton in 1867 by Capt. John Malcolmson and owned. by him until his death, changed hands on the 18 May. After the death of Capt. Malcolmson, the vessel became the property of Elizabeth Malcolmson, who transferred her, by Bill of Sale, dated 27 April 1882, to John Wm. Sutherland, lumber dealer of Hamilton and the Rev. Donald Geo. Sutherland, of St. Thomas, each taking 32 shares. At this time, the ACADIA was lengthened by 41 ft. On the 29 December 1887 she was transferred by Bill of Sale to Samuel and Elizabeth Malcalmson, each taking 32 shares. The final transfer to R. O. & A. B. MacKay took place on 18 May 1892.

The Royal Hamilton Yacht Club held the official opening of their new club house at the Canal on the 28 May. About 500 persons attended.

The Hamilton & Barton Incline Ry. made a test run on the 1 June. This was built at the head of James St. and the smoke stack of its engine house made a new landmark on the brow of the Escarpment.

By the 10 June, John T. MacNamee was supervising his dredging outfit at work on the Rush Bed. Besides the tug ST. GEORGE,Capt. C. Lynch McNamee had a dipper dredge with a 2 1/2 cu. yd. bucket and two spuds and two dump scows.

From Kingston, the same day, came word of a collision between the R. & O. steamer ALGERIAN and the steam barge TECUMSEH off Long Point, Prince Edward. County, during fog. The ALGERIAN's passengers were sent on to Montreal by rail.

Rumours of the establishment of a blast furnace plant on Huckleberry Point were again being aired and the Hamilton Spectator, in an editorial on Wednesday, 15 June, belaboured the Member of Parliament, Gibson, for not-keeping his promise of two years ago.

By the 29 June, Hamilton's first electric street cars were placed in service. The Era of Electricity had truly begun.

A storm on the 15 July caused some trouble down the Lake. The schooner LADY MACDONALD of Kingston, went ashore at Fairhaven and the Calvin tug CHIEFTAIN lost four barges east of the piers at Oswego.

The propeller ACADIA was expected on the 19 July, having been chartered for the annual Lighthouse Supply service. On the following day. Alfred Myles, together with Capt. Skelton of Bronte and his crew arrived by train from Ashtabula. The schooner GULNARE was ashore and breaking up just east of the breakwater at Ashtabula, with a cargo of coal and grindstones. The captain blamed the negligence of the tug skipper who was to assist him into the harbour. She struck bottom in 12 feet of water and the crew spent four hours in the rigging before being rescued. The GULNARE was a three-masted schooner, built in 1873 at Port Robinson by J. & J. Abbey and she had a registered tonnage of 391.

This was the same day that the Hon. Frank Smith,Barlow Cumberland, and other Toronto capitalists, together with William Hendrie, visited Robertson's Shipyard to inspect the steamer ARABIAN, being built for Capt. Fairgrieve. The visitors expressed pleasure with what they saw and dropped hints of future contracts. They were then taken for a ride up the Incline Railway, which they admired along with the new electric street cars.

The steamer Arabian fitting out at Robertson's Shipyard in 1892. Photo: Author's Collection
Thursday, 21 July, was the day chosen for the launch of the new steamer ARABIAN and an estimated 2,500 people waited in the broiling sun on the old coal docks and the dusty bluffs above the shore. The great event was slated for 3:00 p.m. and all preparations were complete. Capt. Fairgrieve's little grandaughter Rita was ready with the bottle of champagne, gaily bedecked in red, white and blue ribbons, the props wege knocked out, but the ARABIAN chose not to move. In fact, at 6:30 p.m, when the last of the crowd drifted away, she still squatted serenly on the ways. Jack screws and the efforts of the tug ST. GEORGE, which broke four hawsers, were to no avail. Capt. Fairgrieve had no alternative but to postpone the launch until Saturday or Monday.

The failure of the launch was blamed upon the extremely hot weather. The ways had been well greased two days before, but due to the heat, it had melted into the timbers. By 11:00 a.m. Saturday morning, the ways had been greased again and two large hydraulic jacks had been mounted at the ARABIAN's bow. All was set and at 2:00 p.m. a very good launching was achieved. The steel for the ARABIAN was imported from Great Britain and the forming and erection was done by the Hamilton Bridge and Tool Co.

Steamer Arabian Photo: Oswego County Historical Society
The dimensions of the ARABIAN were: 178.6 x 31.0 x 13.6; Gross 1,073 and Net 770. She had a compound engine 20 1/4/40 x 34 which was formerly in the CANADA and which was rated at 400 IHP. Steam was supplied by one Scotch Marine boiler 11'3" x 10'3", built by the Hamilton Bridge & Tool Co. All woodwork, cabins, etc. was done by Melancthon Simpson.

The propellers OCEAN and CUBA had their schedules disrupted when the tug RANGER knocked the lower gates off Lock 19 at Cornwall on the 3 August and ended up lying on her side in the canal.

The City obtained an estimate of $500 for dredging a channel 25 feet wide through the bar at the mouth of Sherman Inlet in order to allow the accumulated sewage to escape into the harbour.

The propeller L. SHICKLUNA finished unloading a cargo of salt at MacKay's Wharf on the 13 August and left for Montreal. The OCEAN was in port and the schooner ERIE BELLE sailed for Ashtabula. The $6,000 appropriation for dredging the Rush Bed was used up. Work had commenced on 16 May and since that time, some 60,000 cu. yds. of blue clay had been removed. This provided an area 500' x 700' with an available depth of 14 feet leading straight into the James St. Slip. The dredge was then moved to the west end of the harbour to clean out the Desjardins Canal, which proved to be so silted-up that the dredge got stuck and had to dig her way in.

On the 27 August there was a heavy east wind which was just what the schooner KEEWATIN, laden with a cargo of building stone from Cleveland, needed to make a fast passage into port. On the other hand, the MAZEPPA,Capt. Zealand, attempted to go to Burlington, but gave up and returned to the quiet waters of the James St. Slip.

The Toronto Exhibition was in full swing and the steamer GREYHOUND was offering transportation to the fair for 25 cents return, sailing from Browne's Wharf on the 3 September.

A spectacular waterfront fire started in the early hours of Wednesday morning, 7 September when the Burlington Glass Works was destroyed. The works had been shut down since the 1 July and as production was to be resumed shortly, the kilns were being heated. The fire was noticed at 2:45 a.m., in the wooden part of the plant, near the north-west corner. The steam fire engine and five or six lines of hose were used to combat the blaze and by 4:30 a.m. the firemen left, thinking the fire was out. However, about 7:00 a.m. the watchman discovered that there was a fire in the stone portion of the plant, on the MacNab St. side, where glassware, packed in straw, was stored on wooden racks. A second alarm was sent in, but this time there was no stopping the fury of the flames. After two and a half hours, only the blackened walls of MacNab's old stone building and the big smoke stack remained standing. One warehouse full of stock was saved.

The propeller MYLES made her first call at Hamilton on the 8 September, when she unloaded a shipment of rails from Buffalo and loaded groceries for Fort William, shipped by Jas. Turner & Co.

Three schooners were in the harbour on the 10 September. They were the E. H. RUTHERFORD, with coal from Huron, Ohio, the H. DUDLEY with sand from Cleveland and the MARY ANN LYDON with coal from Fairhaven.

On the 13 September the Lake was lashed by a strong east wind and a Toronto reporter printed a sensational item stating that the MACASSA had cleared from Hamilton at 5:00 p.m. and never arrived. This fell rather flat when it was pointed out that the MACASSA had no intention of going to Toronto - she had cleared for Port Dalhousie and an appointment with Muir's Dry Dock.

The R. & O. steamer CORINTHIAN sailed from Toronto on the morning of the 19 September, with 70 passengers for Montreal and points east. About 4:00 p.m. the next day, she had just run the Coteau Rapids when fire was discovered. Capt. Craig headed the vessel for shore in the vicinity of St. Dominique and twenty minutes later, she grounded, boats were lowered and all hands were safely landed. No baggage was saved and the vessel was destroyed.

The Hamilton Bridge & Tool Co. landed another contract on 23 September when they agreed to build a large side-wheel steamer for the Toronto and Niagara River service. The contract was said to amount to $250,000 which would include the hull and boilers. The engine was to be built in the United States.

A report from Montreal, received on the 27 September, stated that MacKay's propeller LAKE MICHIGAN, with 10,000 bus. of corn from Toledo, was aground. in Lake St. Louis. The mishap occurred on a foggy night and it was found necessary to lighter-off part of her cargo. She was refloated, on the 29 September.

Harbour-front improvements at Toronto were creating some schooner traffic in Hamilton. Stone was being shipped, from McIlwraith's and Browne's Wharves. It came from Hancock's and Nichol's quarries.

Further information concerning the new steamer to be built for the Niagara Navigation Co. was forthcoming on the 30 September. It was stated that Frank E. Kirby of Detroit, was the naval architect responsible for the design and, that the construction would be supervised by Messrs. Logan & Rankin, naval architects and marine engineers of Toronto. These men were also supervising the construction of the Government Patrol vessels being built at the Polson shipyard in Owen Sound.

The steamer ARABIAN,Capt. Chestnut, bound for Duluth on her maiden voyage, had the nisfortune to go aground in the St. Clair River below Algonac on the 30 September. A tug was being sent from Port Huron to refloat her.

The MACASSA made the final trip of a very successful season on the 8 October and the schooner ELLA MURTON came in with coal from Fairhaven for C. J. Myles. Ten days later, this schooner was back with coal from Charlotte. Her master was Capt. Jack Saunders. Also in port at that time, were the schooners WM. JAMIESON and FLORA CARVETH from Whitby, to load grain at Magee's Wharf and the P. E. YOUNG, loading stone for Toronto.

The ARABIAN was again in trouble when, on her way down the Lakes, a sprung rivet admitted enough water to damage about 1,000 bus. of grain.

On the 2 November, it was suggested that a road swing bridge be built at the Burlington Canal to replace the ferry. Plans were to be prepared.

The Hamilton Bridge & Tool Co. announced on the 19 November, that they had signed a contract to build a steam yacht for Albert E. Gooderham of Toronto. The designer was G. L. Watson of Glasgow and the cost would be about $50,000.

The schooner FLORA CARVETH loaded coal in Fairhaven early in November for Murton. Half way up the Lake she was struck by a sudden squall and lost her jib. She ran back to Sodus Bay for shelter, but struck one of the piers and sank. It was necessary to lighter 200 tons of coal before she could be taken to Oswego for dry docking. She at last arrived in Hamilton on the 1 December. Damages were assessed at $2,000 and were covered by insurance. The FLORA CARVETH had been built in 1873 at Mill Point by Jamieson and registered 240 tons. She had been rebuilt in 1882.

The propeller MYLES had not been having an easy time on the Upper Lakes. While carrying grain for Ogilvies, in November, she had spent 24 hours on a sand bar outside Goderich and on the 6 December, after two unsuccessful attempts to battle the seas on Lake Superior, she returned to Port Arthur and laid up for the winter,

All the frames for the new steamer were set up in Robertson's Shipyard and by the 19 December, the remainder of the steel had been delivered to the Hamilton Bridge & Tool Co.

On the 20 December, the harbour partly froze over.


Previous    Next

Return to Home Port

This volume is copyright The Estate of Ivan S. Brookes and is published with permission of the Estate. The originals are deposited in the Special Collections of the Hamilton Public Library.