Chapter 7
Good Times in Port
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


Navigation opened at Hamilton on Saturday, 10 April 1847 with the arrival of the steamboat ECLIPSE from Toronto and the departures of several vessels for Kingston. The schooner CLYDE, with 1,360 bbls. flour, 100 bbls. pork and 100 bbls. butter sailed in company with the schooner THAMES, whose cargo consisted of 1,100 bbls. flour. These two opened navigation at Kingston on the 15 April. They were followed by the schooner ELIZABETH and the steamboat TRANSIT, with similar cargoes, also for Kingston. The St. Lawrence was not open, but there were signs that the ice was starting to give way.

In St. Catharines, on the 12 April, Louis Shickluna launched two vessels, the three-masted schooner NEW BRUNSWICK, for N. Merritt and the two-master WELLAND, for Benson & Merritt. He lamented over the shortage of ship carpenters, which was slowing down his work.

At the end of May, the Hamilton Gazette reported, that:

"The new steamer ENGLAND came into our port from below, with a large cargo of merchandise. This is her first trip and she fully comes up to all that she was expected to perform. She is built as a regular provision boat, and is capable of carrying, under cover, 3,500 barrels of flour. This splendid vessel was built for the spirited and enterprising firm of Wm. Colcleugh & Co., and is intended for the run from this port direct to Lachine. Another of the same class of steamer, to be called the SCOTLAND, will be ready in a short time... The SCOTLAND will be owned by the same proprietors ... already they have shipped from their warehouse, to the lower ports, nearly 40,000 barrels of flour."

The warehouse mentioned, was leased by Colcleugh and was on the wharf built in 1835, just to the west of MacNab Street. This wharf was advertised for sale in September, 1847, by Josias Bray, land agent.

The ENGLAND had been completed this spring by the Niagara Harbour and Dock Co. and measured 135.6 x 24.0 x 10.7; Gross 246 and net 130 tons. She was sold in 1851 to Alfred Hooker, of Prescott, later passing to M. K. Dickinson. In 1867 she was acquired by the Ottawa & Rideau Forwarding Co., of Montreal.

Down the St. Lawrence, the Farran's Point Canal was completed during the month of June, and in July, the new steamer PASSPORT visited Lachine, where

"a large concourse of people"
saw her. The PASSPORT measured 171.7 x 25.0 x 10.0 and had tonnages of 347, Gross and 185, net. She was powered by a Horizontal Engine 42 x 120", built in Montreal by Messrs. Ward & Brush.

A visitor to Dundas gives us some information concerning the Dundas Foundry as he spoke of the various industries in that town:

"One among many instances, is that of Gartshore & Co., whose premises were entirely destroyed by fire last year. Upon the site of the conflagration, new buildings have been erected of the most substantial character. We found that they cover nearly two acres. The machine shop is a building 84 x 44 feet, three stories high, built of freestone and roofed with sheet iron. In the casting department, ten lathes are at work, as well as a planing machine for iron, imported from England, the only specimen of its kind, in Canada West. So extensive is the water power, that, in addition to turning these lathes, it drives the furnace blast, and that of nine blacksmiths' fires, the punching of boiler plate, the threading of screws and nuts, drilling machines, etc. The pattern shop occupies a building about 24 x 60 feet and two stories high. About 100 men are employed in this establishment."

The St. Catharines Journal of 29 July 1847 reported on the activities at Shickluna's shipyard -

"Mr. Shickluna has now on the stocks, for Messrs. Benson & Merritt, a fine schooner which will be launched about the middle of the coming month. Which done, he will at once lay the keel of a steam freight boat, for Messrs. Gunn & Co., of Hamilton, intended for service through the whole line of water communication from the Upper Lakes to Montreal and Quebec. Her extreme length will be 142 ft., keel length 137 ft., 26 ft. beam and 10 ft. depth of hold. The wheels, which will be let into her sides, will be about 23 ft. in diameter. She is intended to be launched in the fall."

Early in August, the steamboat TRANSIT, on her way from Kingston to the Bay of Quinte to pick up a tow, struck a rock near the Brothers Island. Presumably she was beached, for we are told she was brought into Kingston, supported between two barges, and tied up near the marine railway to await her turn. However, the supporting beams gave way, and she sank in deep water.

At this time, the idea of establishing a shipbuilding industry in Hamilton was being promoted in the business community. On the 6 September, a notice was published regarding the formation of the Burlington Bay Dock & Shipbuilding Company. Some of those involved were Colin C. Ferrie, chairman, J. T. Gilkison, secretary, Sir A. N. MacNab,Archibald Kerr,G. S. Tiffany and John Young. A further notice on the 18 September announced that the amount of Capital Stock would be 50,000, in 4,000 shares of 12.10s each. The Subscription Books were to be opened on 4 October 1847.

On the first day of September, the new iron steamer MAGNET made her trial run from the Niagara Harbour & Dock Company's yard, up the river to Lewiston. She returned to the shipyard for some adjustments to her fireboxes and her wheel buckets.

September saw also, the completion of the Rapide Plat Canal, one of the Williamsburg Canals, which would be used mostly by upbound vessels heavily laden. In Hamilton,Messrs. Day & Stewart announced the establishment of their sail-making and rigging business, located in the rear of M. W. & E. Browne's office.

On the 18 September, the Hamilton Spectator took note of the MAGNET as follows:

"This vessel seems to excite, as she certainly deserves, a great deal of notices from the Provincial press. The people of Hamilton naturally take great interest in her success, as her owners intend to take some trouble to accommodate the public by preventing the necessity of transferring along the route. The MAGNET will ply from Hamilton to either Kingston or Montreal during the remainder of this season. Next year she will run regularly between this city and Montreal. We have already spoken on several occasions of the inconvenience under which the people of the West now labour, by being compelled to remain for several hours in Toronto, and change boats there. We have some hopes that next season this evil will be remedied...."
The editor of this very young newspaper continued, at some length in the same vein, giving his readers a preview of what was to be one of the paper's principal policies - that of fanning the flames of animosity between Hamilton and Toronto. Untold barrels of printers' ink would be wasted, over the years, by the futile gnashing of editorial teeth.

The proposed Burlington Bay Dock and Ship Building Company published its prospectus on the 28 September, and listed the names of those local dignitaries who made up the "Provisional Committee". In addition to the gentlemen already mentioned, there were Daniel MacNab,Wm. P. McLaren,Daniel C. Gunn and Richard Juson. It said, in part:

"The want of adequate facilities for building and the repair of vessels and steam engines, with suitable wharves, and other shelter for shipping has been so seriously felt at the Port of Hamilton, as to induce the projectors of this company to procure from the Legislature, an Act of Incorporation combining the business of Ship Building with that of Engineers and Iron Founders, with a right to acquire and hold real estate and to erect docks, wharves, storehouses, etc."

This project was destined to fail for several reasons. First, Hamilton was not an ideal location for a shipyard. The main-stream of traffic on Lake Ontario lay from Port Dalhousie to Kingston, so Hamilton was 30 miles off the route. Secondly, there were no shipbuilders among the promoters and thirdly, the frenzied activities of railroad promoters, of whom Sir Allan MacNab was a front-runner, must have rounded up the lion's share of money available for investment by this time. To emphasize the second point, shipbuilding is usually a boom or bust proposition, and any shipyard must earn its bread and butter from routine repair work. At the western end of Lake Ontario, the logical place for shipyards was along the line of the Welland Canal as witness the fact that, by the 1860's, there were two yards at Port Dalhousie, two in St. Catharines and one at Port Robinson.

The first sailing notice for the MAGNET was placed in the papers on the 4 October and stated that she would, until further notice, leave Hamilton for Kingston, on Monday and Thursday mornings at 7:30; leave Toronto at 11:30 a.m. and call at Port Hope and Cobourg. Returning, she would leave Kingston on Tuesday and Friday, immediately after the arrival of steamers from Montreal. The passengers now had to transfer at Kingston, instead of Toronto, but the editor of the Spectator doesn't seem to have wailed in anguish over that situation.

In the same column there appeared the following notice:

"To Timber Contractors - Sealed proposals will be received ... at the office of the Great Western Railway Company ... for the procuring and delivering of 10,000 lineal feet of sound White Oak Piles, for docking, to be delivered in these classes, viz.: One third of the amount to be 15 ft., one third, 20 ft. and one third in 25 ft. lengths. The whole to be not less than 9 inches in diameter at the small end and from 15 to 20 inches in diameter at the butt, inside of wane. The said piles to be delivered on the Southeast shore of Burlington Bay, at the point where the line of location of the Great Western Railway touches the Bay."
The notice was signed by C. B. Stuart, Chief Engineer, and indicated that the first major land-fill project was under way, that of filling part of the shallow cove in the southwest corner of the Bay. This new land would provide room for the railway yards, shops and station, as well as some industrial sites.

The steamboat Britannia at the Commercial Wharf
A news item from the St. Catharines Journal mentioned briefly that on Saturday, 13 November,

"the fine large steam freight boat, built for Messrs. Gunn, of Hamilton, was launched in splendid style and called the BRITANNIA."

The season of 1847 ends with a descriptive note from the Montreal Gazette:

"one of the principal topics of interest during the week has been the arrival of the splendid iron steamer MAGNET in the Lachine Canal, giving us a foretaste of the facilities of transport the commercial portion of the community will enjoy on the completion of our chain of inland navigation. The MAGNET, the first vessel of her class which ever took on goods for Hamilton without trans-shipment, was recently built at Niagara by Captain Sutherland, assisted by a grant from the Imperial Government, at whose disposal she is to be placed in case of emergency. She is constructed of iron. Her extreme length is 182' 6", breadth 44' 6" and depth of hold 11' 0". She measures a little over 500 tons.... She is plainly but neatly fitted up and her accommodations for passengers are remarkably good. During her stay, she attracted a large number of visitors, among whom was his Excellency, The Governor General...."


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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.