Chapter 8
Boom Town Days
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


As the year 1852 dawned in a winter of unusual severity, the hot breath of the "Iron Horse" could almost be felt in the air. The Great Western Rail Road,Hamilton's own mighty project, was advertising for labourers to work on the line and in February, the Chief Engineer of the road, a gentleman with the impressive name of Roswell G. Benedict, published a lengthy report of the progress along the line from Niagara to Windsor. The railroad era was approaching, slowly, but surely.

During the months of February and, March, the editors of the Hamilton Spectator and the Toronto Globe wasted untold, gallons of printers' ink on a futile series of editorials regarding the registration of the steamer QUEEN OF THE WEST. The nit-picking editor of the Globe was evidently consumed by jealousy over the fact that some Hamilton shipowners were fitting out a larger and finer vessel than any owned in Toronto. He, therefore, attempted to infer that some shady deal was involved, in the hope that travellers would not patronize her. When he found that he was not succeeding, he tried to drag the steamer LORD ELGIN into the argument.

The CITY OF HAMILTON,Capt. Duncan McBride, commenced her run from Toronto to Pt. Credit,Oakville,Bronte and Wellington Square on the 10 March, daily, except Sundays. Later in March, the MAZEPPA,Capt. Donaldson, was operating between Lewiston,Pt. Dalhousie and Wellington Square. Her agent was H. Langdon at the City Hotel, Hamilton. C. W.. M. W. Browne advertised the steamer BRITANNIA,Capt. McArthur, for Port Stanley and Sandusky, as soon as the ice was out of Burlington Bay.

The Northern Ogdensburgh Rail Road Company announced that their agent in Hamilton,P. S. Stevenson, was prepared to book cargo to Boston or New York and, that

"two first-class Express Freight Steamers had been engaged to run at regular intervals between Hamilton and Ogdensburgh ... The steamers and schooners will run to Cook's Wharf in Hamilton, where there are commodious warehouses."

The Hamilton Spectator, on 14 April, quoted the Cobourg Star which said,

"The steam tug boats on the St. Lawrence Canals have been withdrawn by the Government .... It is said that the large forwarding companies have united in one great combine to raise the freight on goods and as a preparatory measure, they have got the tugs into their own hands and will only allow them to be made use of by vessels of the company. This will, of course, destroy the competition. So confident are the company of monopolizing the whole carrying trade, that they have already refused 1s. 6d. per barrel for flour from Toronto to Montreal, although the rate last year was 10d. to 1s. These proceedings have so alarmed our merchants that they have come to the conclusion to trade with Boston and New York, via Ogdensburg and Oswego."

In the same issue of the Spectator it was noted that

"The rivalry between Oswego and Ogdensburg for the Canadian trade is likely to be of benefit to shippers and merchants, so long as it lasts. The goods brought by the LORD ELGIN seem to have been shipped with unusual celerity, if we may judge by the following paragraph from the Commercial Times: We learn that the propeller LORD ELGIN,Clemow Bros., agents, cleared last evening, having on board 1,669 packages of bonded, and domestic merchandise for Toronto and Hamilton, the greater part of which only came to hand yesterday morning by railroad and which by the exertions of the Collector and his officers, were all got through the Custom House and shipped by her. The value of her cargo is $492,695 and her manifest is 9 feet in length!"

On the 20 April, the Great Western Rail Road published a notice calling for tenders for the construction of 434 cars of various types, and 15 hand-cars, to be built in the shops erected for this purpose in Hamilton. The contractor would be required to rent the building from the Railroad and to provide all machinery except the engine and main shafting, The car-shops were located in the railway yard at the south-west corner of the harbour. On the same day, the G.W.R.R. called for tenders for dredging and piling the proposed channel for the Desjardins Canal, through Burlington Heights.

Navigation opened at Hamilton on Thursday 22 April, with the departure of the MAGNET and the arrival from Lewiston, of the MAZEPPA. Other arrivals were the MAPLE LEAF from Kingston and the MAYFLOWER from Ogdensburg. The ROCHESTER was expected to resume her service to Lewiston on 26 April, after which the MAZEPPA would return to the Toronto-St. Catharines route.

An item from the Quebec Chronicle told, of the launching, on 28 April, of the steamer MONTMORENCY, built by Capt. D. Vaughan in his yard at Diamond Harbour,Quebec City. She would appear on Lake Ontario later in the season.

On the 1 May 1852, this news appeared in the Hamilton Spectator, copied from the Niagara Chronicle:

"The new steamer ARABIAN will take her departure from the Dock ... to assume her place in the daily line from Hamilton to Montreal. As neither labour nor money were spared in order that her hull and machinery might be as strong and perfect as skill and material could make them, so also, every needful cost has been incurred in order that the furniture and fittings may combine to render her worthy of the patronage of the travelling public. She is commanded by Capt. Colcleugh, a gentleman whose urbanity and kindness of dispositions added to his thorough knowledge of his profession, have rendered him a general favourite. The ARABIAN's measurements are 173 x 32 x 16, with a registered tonnage of 350. Her low-pressure beam engine had a bore of 48" and stroke of 132". Steam was provided by two boilers 9'9" x 23'0" and the machinery was built under the supervision of Mr. Risley, Engineer at the Niagara Harbour & Dock Co. yard. She has a full-length upper cabin with staterooms on each side and dining saloons in the centre. The ladies' cabin is beautifully fitted and furnished, as is also the upper cabins and in both, the stained glass windows give an excellent effect. There are 110 berths. The owners of the ARABIAN were Andrew Heron and James Sutherland. We understand that the line with which she is connected will run on the North Shore until 15 June, that is, from Hamilton to Montreal, calling at several ports on the British side. After that, she will run from Hamilton to the Niagara Rivers thence to Cape Vincent and Ogdensburg, to Montreal, returning via the same route."

In the early hours of the 1 May, in bright moonlight, the steamers MAGNET and MAPLE LEAF collided in Lake Ontario off Presqu'ile, The MAGNET, upbound, had her bow stove in, but fortunately, her No. 1 bulkhead held and by trimming her cargo, she was able to steam into Presqu'ile Bay, where temporary repairs were made. She then proceeded to Niagara where the damage was estimated, to be $3,000.

The Montreal Herald stated that the WESTERN MILLER, managed by Macpherson & Crane, would leave to Toronto and Hamilton on 3 May, followed by Hooker & Holton's propellers FREE TRADER and HIBERNIA.

Monday, the 10 May, was a fairly busy day on the Hamilton waterfront. The arrivals were the steamer ONTARIO,Capt. C. L. Armstrong, from Montreal with general cargo; HIBERNIA,Capt. J. Savage, from Montreal, general; ROCHESTER,Capt. J. Masson, from Lewiston, passengers and general; Steamer CITY OF HAMILTON,Capt. J. Gordon, from Toronto, passengers and general cargo; Schooner NIAGARA,Capt. D. Cross, from Oswego with 653 bars of R. R. Iron (rails) for the agent at Dundas; schooner PRINCESS,Capt. M. Robinson, from Bronte with 10 cords of steamboat wood for Macpherson & Crane; schooner QUEEN VICTORIA,Capt. T. Carradice, from Kingston, in ballast and the steamer PASSPORT,Capt. Twohy, from Kingston, passengers and general. The departures were: steamer ONTARIO, for Port Credit, light; CITY OF HAMILTON for Toronto, passengers and baggage; schooner QUEEN VICTORIA for Kingston with 500 pipe staves, to complete loading at Stoney Creek and the schooner TRAFALGAR,Capt. W. Williams, for Garden Island with 200 bbls. flour and 610 bus. barley, shipped by Hiram Cook & Co.

The momentary panic over tugs on the St. Lawrence seemed, by late May, to have resolved itself with Messrs. Hooker & Holton operating the ERIE (built at Montreal in 1846) and the IDA, built in 1851 at Montreal.Macpherson & Crane were running the PORCUPINE, which had recently undergone a complete rebuild. The Calvins were operating the old WILLIAM IV and the sidewheel tug CHIEFTAIN, while Captain Bonter had the CHARLEVOIX under charter for the season.

In St. Catharines,Louis Shickluna launched the brig LAFAYETTE COOK for Hiram Cook & Co., of Hamilton, on the 15 May. She measured 114 x 24 x 10. One week later, on the 22 May, the steamer OCEAN WAVE was launched, at Montreal. She was built by the Molsons for the Lake Ontario trade.

Early in June, the Kingston Daily News reported the case at the Spring Assizes, concerning the collision between the steamboats BRITANNIA and ST. LAWRENCE in Lake St. Francis the previous November. The owners of the ST. LAWRENCE had for their counsel, Messrs. J. H. Cameron,J. O'Reilly and the Hon. John A. MacDonald and were awarded £1,603 damages. Counsel for the defendants were Hagerty & VanKoughnet and Henry Smith.

On the 9 June, another blockade occurred on the Welland Canal when the schooner SCOTLAND, upbound, rammed the upper gates of Lock 13 in Merritton. This type of aggravation would continue to plague captains and shipowners, not only during the active life of the second canal, but also throughout the existence of the third canal and was due to an error in judgement on the part of the designers of the locks. These locks were fitted with upper and lower gates of equal height and, consequently, there was no way of preventing an upbound vessel, with sufficient way on her, from sailing right through the upper gates. Had hollow-quoin locks been built, as they were on the Rideau Canal, for instance, this kind, of accident would have been impossible.

On the 6 August, the following account from the Montreal Herald appeared in the Hamilton Spectator:

"Messrs. Molson advertise another new steamboat for the line from Montreal to Hamilton. This vessel, called the OCEAN WAVE is to commence her trips. She is one of the handsomest boats of her class, which has been turned out by the St. Mary's Foundry, whose work is already favourably known on the Upper St. Lawrence by the performance of the JENNY LIND. The following are the dimensions of the OCEAN WAVE: 179.5 x 26.0 x 10.5 and her engine has a bore of 45", stroke of 126". The wheels are 30' in diameter, 5'9" across the face. The accommodations are in some respect different from the preceding boats. The ladies' cabin on the lower deck is dispensed with, it being found that ladies prefer the accommodations of the staterooms. A smaller apartment is fitted up on the saloon deck, with a separate entrance by stairs from the main deck, and a door into the saloon. The space usually occupied by the ladies' cabin is used as a very pleasant lounge and smoking room. The saloon has a very pretty appearance. The roof is arched and groined and the stained-glass windows throw a variety of shades into the compartments. The staterooms are convenient and well ventilated and most of them open on to the guards with doors. The carpets and, the rest of the furniture are of the best description and the whole appearance of the saloon is that of an elegant drawing room."

Among other new vessels built in 1852, was the propeller BANSHEE which came from the Portsmouth shipyard of George N. Ault, for the joint account of Thomas Maxwell of Montreal and Farquhar McRae of Hamilton. She was a small steamer, measuring 119.4 x 18.0 x 8.3 with a registered tonnage of 166.

The prosperity of the season was amply shown by the comings and goings listed in the waterfront column and for the first example, here are the arrivals and departures that took place during the 1 and 2 November: From Montreal came the steamer BRANTFORD,Capt. B. King, steamer WESTERN MILLER,Capt. P. McGrath and, the steamer HIBERNIA,Capt. J. Savage; from Kingston schooner ERIN,Capt. R. Craig, schooner SARAH,Capt. T. Polly and the steamer MAPLE LEAF,Capt. John Gordon; the steamer ROCHESTER,Capt. John Masson came in from Lewiston; the schooner ROYAL TAR,Capt. P. Lyons arrived from Oakville and the schooner JUNIUS,Capt. L. Middleton and the steamer CITY OF HAMILTON,Capt. Duncan McBride came in from Toronto. Departures were: to Montreal, steamer LORD ELGIN,Capt. J. Trowell, steamers HIBERNIA,BRANTFORD and WESTERN MILLER. The schooner SARAH went to Stoney Creek to load; schooner DOVE,Capt. J. Melville sailed for Toronto and the schooner ERIN left for Kingston. The schooners SARAH JANE,Capt. W. Quirk and RACHEL,Capt. T. Murray cleared for Oswego.

On the 9 and 10 November, the steamer CATARACT,Capt. A. D. Kennedy, and the MAZEPPA,Capt. M. Donaldson arrived from Lewiston; the steamer PASSPORT,Capt. Henry Twohy came in from Kingston, the CHAMPION,Capt. Marshall, arrived from Montreal and the CITY OF HAMILTON from Toronto. The schooner MARIE JOSEPHINE,Capt. H. Moreland, schooners AUSTRIA,Capt. Wm. Day and the ERIN, all cleared for Oswego. The schooner LADY BAGOT,Capt. J. Nelligan, sailed for Lake Erie and the YOUNG LEOPARD,Capt. Rogers, followed her to St. Catharines. The CITY OF HAMILTON returned to Toronto and the steamer ONTARIO,Capt. Armstrong, left for Montreal.

A notice placed in the Hamilton Spectator on the 26 November, stated that an attempt would be made to

"revive and amend the Act Incorporating the Burlington Bay Dock & Ship Building Company".

On the 22 December, the steamer TRAVELLER,Capt. Wm. Miller, arrived in port from Cape Vincent, N.Y., with two little locomotives for the Great Western Rail Road perched on her decks. She cleared for Kingston on the 28th and at this late date, the steamers QUEEN OF THE WEST and MAZEPPA were still making daily trips. The LORD ELGIN had sailed about the 8 December, with a full cargo of flour, for Oswego, where she laid up along with the ST. LAWRENCE, both under the management of M. W. & E. Browne.


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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.