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