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


Over in Niagara, the clang of hammers striking iron, echoed across the river, in the colds clear winter air. The pre-fabricated steamer PEERLESS was rapidly taking shape on the ways, under the watchful eye of Capt. Dick, who hoped to have her ready for the opening of the 1853 season. The launching had been scheduled for the 27 December, but was not successful, owing to some settlement having occurred beneath the ways. On Thursday, the 6 January 1853, the PEERLESS was launched amid. great rejoicing. The dockyard was kept busy all winter, for in addition to the PEERLESS, the BOSTON and the propeller BRANTFORD were being fitted with new machinery. The steamers ROCHESTER,ADMIRAL and PRINCESS ROYAL were wintering in the basin.

On the glorious 17th of March, the Toronto Leader gave a lengthy account of the steamboat arrangements for the 1853 season. Among the news items brought to light was the fact that the Royal Mail Line would be operating the MAPLE LEAF,MAGNET,ARABIAN and PASSPORT from Hamilton to Prescott, instead of to Kingston, as in previous years.

Service between Toronto and Rochester was to be handled by the PRINCESS ROYAL and the ADMIRAL. The steamers MAYFLOWER,CHAMPION and HIGHLANDER were scheduled to run from Cape Vincent to Toronto and Hamilton, under Macpherson & Crane's banner. The Hamilton and Toronto service would be maintained by the CITY OF HAMILTON and the QUEEN OF THE WEST, the latter making two round trips per day.

The new iron steamer PEERLESS was slated for two trips a day between Toronto and Lewiston and rumour had it that the steamer NORTHERNER was to be placed on a run from Youngstown to Toronto, in connection with the Erie Railroad. There was some doubt as to whether the MAZEPPA would operate on the St. Catharines and Toronto service, she having been sold to Capt. Maxwell. The steamer AMERICA was sold during the winter for towing on the Bay of Quinte, and the CITY OF TORONTO was sold for a like purpose. Her work would be from Kingston to Prescott. The CHIEF JUSTICE ROBINSON would be laid up on 1 May and kept for winter service from Lewiston to Toronto.

As to the freight lines, M. W. Browne would be operating the BRITANNIA,LORD ELGIN and ST. LAWRENCE from Hamilton to Montreal, while Macpherson & Crane would have the SCOTLAND,WESTERN MILLER and OTTAWA on the same route. Further competition would be offered on the Montreal run by Hooker & Holton, with the steamers ENGLAND,HIBERNIA,ONTARIO and, FREE TRADER and by J. Jones & Co., who had the DAWN and the PROTECTION, plus a new vessel under construction at Cantin's shipyard in Montreal.

The steamer MONTMORENCY was to provide service between Quebec and Hamilton, while the REINDEER would run from Quebec to Port Stanley. The propeller BRANTFORD would connect St. Catharines with Montreal. The Ogdensburg and Boston Rail Road Co. were said to be chartering every schooner they could get their hands on and had in fact, already sent agents to all Lake Ontario ports for this purpose. They had also acquired the steamers OCEAN WAVE and BOSTON for their Ogdensburg and Hamilton service and these would be needed for towing the chartered schooners through the Thousand Islands.

Navigation at Hamilton opened. on Wednesday, 6 April, when Browne's propeller ST. LAWRENCE arrived, followed later in the day by the steamers ROCHESTER and, PRINCESS ROYAL. The MAGNET left for Kingston the following morning and the QUEEN OF THE WEST was being readied for a start on the 14 April.

The month of April ended in tragedy when the steamer OCEAN WAVE was destroyed by fire about two miles west of the Ducks, while downbound, heading for Kingston.James Malcolmson, first mate on the steamer MAGNET had seen the OCEAN WAVE at Port Darlington on Friday, 29 April and at 7:30 that evening, as the MAGNET was backing out of Cobourg, he saw a steamer leaving Port Hope. He assumed her to be the OCEAN WAVE.Malcolmson took over his watch at midnight, and as they passed the False Ducks Light, the MAGNET was put on a northeasterly course for Kingston. Shortly after 1:00 a.m., as he looked back toward the Ducks, he sighted a fire which he watched for some 30 minutes, seeing it grow, but all the time assuming it to be on land somewhere to the west of Cape Traverse. Little did he think that it was, in fact, the OCEAN WAVE and consequently did not waken Capt. Sutherland. The fire on the OCEAN WAVE was believed to be the result of sparks from her funnels, since it started top-side, and in the short space of twenty minutes, the entire promenade deck, including her boats and the upper parts of her cabins were consumed. Those who survived, did so by hanging onto any floating objects they could find. Capt. Allison Wright of Prescott, together with 15 crew and 5 passengers were saved, most of them picked up by the schooner EMBLEM,Capt. Belyea of Bronte, assisted by the schooner GEORGINA,Capt. Henderson of Pt. Dover. Fourteen crew members were lost, including the ladies' maid, Miss Gerrard from Hamilton. Twenty-one passengers were lost and these included the young daughter and two young sons of James Stevenson of the Bank of Montreal in Hamilton. The little girl was drowned while the boys died in their cabin with their nurse. Mrs. Stevenson had jumped overboard with the purser, Thos. Oliver of Ogdensburg, who had tied her to a sponson bracket. She suffered burns, but was able to return to Hamilton on the MAYFLOWER.

At midnight on Thursday, 9 June, the steamer ADMIRAL tied up at Browne's Wharf in Toronto, on a regular trip from Rochester. The captain, crew and passengers, including a number of emigrants, turned in for a night's sleep. No watchman was on duty, not even in the boiler room, where the fire started. The alarm was given by a passenger and all hands scrambled ashore. The fire bells clanged and the horses thundered down the cobble-stones to the waterfront, but to no avail. The ADMIRAL had been cut adrift to save the wharf, and she, with all the baggage, was destroyed. The Toronto Steamboat Company, who owned her, had insured her for £5,000.

On Saturday, 9 July, between 6 and 7 p.m. the QUEEN OF THE WEST arrived from Toronto and tied up at Macpherson & Crane'sJames Street Wharf. Her passengers and their baggage were promptly got ashore and Capt. Edward Harrison and his crew went en masse to their respective mess rooms for supper. Again, as in the case of the ADMIRAL, no one was detailed to stand watch. Shortly after 7:00 p.m. one of the firemen left the table to find out where the smoke was coming from, and discovering that the boiler room was a roaring inferno, gave the alarm. Before the timely arrival of the ROCHESTER, the schooner MAID OF THE WEST, which was discharging cargo across the slip at the City Wharfs had some of her rigging burned. Capt. John Masson, of the ROCHESTER was the hero of the day. He saw the fire as he came up the Bay and, not waiting to discharge his passengers, went straight to work and, succeeded in getting a grappling hook into the rudder chains of the QUEEN OF THE WEST. By this method, he towed her out of the James St. Slip and, with the assistance of the steamer MAYFLOWER, moved the burning steamer up the Bay until she beached in shallow water at the west end. She was owned by a syndicate of Hamilton business men and had originally cost £13,500, in which Capt. Harrison had a £2,000 share, The insurance amounted. to only £7,000. Other than the damage to the schooners a quantity of cordwood on one of the wharves was burned and the rest of the loss fell upon the other members of the syndicate. The local papers poured forth buckets of sympathy on Capt. Harrison, whose only success seems to be that he achieved total togetherness with his entire crew, to the detriment of good seamanship and discipline. After his unsuccessful efforts with the steamer EUROPA, which inherited the machinery from the QUEEN OF THE WEST, he left the Lakes and moved to Belleville, where he operated a bookstore for the rest of his life. Perhaps it would have been better if he had sold books all his life.

Of interest to those in the shipping business was the account published on the 20 July of the inaugural voyage of the new steamer PEERLESS on the Lewiston,Niagara and Toronto route. She made the crossing in two hours and twenty minutes, and would possibly have made better time, if it had not been for some trouble with the condenser. Her iron hull had been pre-fabricated in Dumbarton by Alex. Denny and she measured. 175.0 x 26.0 x 10.5, with a tonnage of 478. She was powered by two direct-acting trunk engines, a type not often used on >the Lakes. The bore of the cylinders was 57" and the stroke was 70". They were built by Tulloch & Denny. The work of fitting was done by George Brush of Montreal.Capt. Thomas Dick and Andrew Heron, her owners, were not fortunate with this vessel owing to changing times, she did not make money and after several transfers of ownership, she was finally sold to United States buyers and was lost in the Atlantic late in 1861.

Also on the 20 July, an advertisement was placed in the Hamilton Spectator by Edward Browne, agent for the new steamer RANGER,Capt. Hayes, expected on the 27th, to load for Chatham and intermediate ports.

The old port of Niagara was having a brief fling at prosperity as reported by the Niagara Mail on 20 July as follows:

"Improvements at the Niagara Dock are proceeding with great rapidity. The pond adjoining the foundry is well nigh filled up and the foundations of the extensive buildings to be used by the Railroad Car Factory are already laid. The work of driving piles for the new wharves has begun ... the railway depot will be erected close to the wharf. In addition to these evidences of solid improvement, we are informed that Louis Shickluna has leased the shipyard and will build three first-class steamers here, two for the Great Western Rail Road and one to run in connection with the Niagara & Northern Railroad. between here and Toronto. These things will prove that there is some vitality yet In Old Niagara."

On the 22 July, the steamer TRAVELLER was again in port with two more locomotives for the Great Western Rail Road from Cape Vincent. The report stated that the locomotives were named,

and that one was to be used on heavy filling near Dundas, the other for hauling rails from the wharf to the main-line at Ontario, later renamed Winona. This wharf belonged to a Mr. Willson and had been used for shipping grain. It was sometimes referred to as
"Port Ontario,"
which was confusing, since there was already a place by that name in New York State.

An item in the Hamilton Spectator of 6 August, mentioned the business of railway car building by Messrs. Williams, Fisher & Co., and states:

"A little over a year ago, the site where their extensive workships now stand was quietly embosomed in the waters of Burlington Bay. Not only has ground been reclaimed, substantial stone buildings erected and machinery put in operation, but some two hundred cars of all descriptions have been turned out. Every design, mould and pattern, from the simplest casting to the most complicated and elaborate work was got up here.... A force of about 80 men is constantly employed and the machinery is driven by a 45 H.P. engine.... We understand the company has sold two passenger cars to the Toronto railway company and they will be shipped in a few days."

In September, two steamers were advertised as being in operation between Hamilton and Dundas. These were the FAVOURITE,Capt. Gillock, for whom M. W. Browne was agent and the VICTORIA, starting on the 15th, her agent being L. J. Privat, who owned the Peninsula Hotel at Toronto.

This was the year that the first two structures were built specially for the shipping of grain. They were not elevators, but merely storehouses erected on the shore immediately below the high bank at the foot of Bay Street. The farmers' wagons dumped their grain into the bins from street level and the grain could be fed out of the bins by gravity into hand-carts which were then pushed along the high wharf and dumped into schooners. It was a fairly efficient way of handling a bulk commodity. The owners of these facilities were J. H. Williamson and R. R. Waddell, both of whom had been operating grain-shipping warehouses at the mouth of Stoney Creek, the former since 1847 and the latter since 1850.

The Dundas Warder reported on the 23 September, that Capt. Knox was building a schooner near the canal basin, to be ready for the spring of 1854, and, also, that Gartshore & Co. had the contract for the fitting of engines in the new steamers under construction at Niagara.

On the 26 September, traffic to and from Montreal was tied up when the steamer BYTOWN destroyed two gates in the Beauharnois Canal.

In the early hours of Friday morning, 14 October, the steamer SCOTLAND,Capt. Geo. Patterson, laden with wheat, was downbound in the Canadian Channel of the Thousand Islands. The night was clear and the weather generally fine, when approaching the Fiddler's Elbow, 10 miles below Gananoque, she encountered a bank of fog and the wheelsman lost his bearings. She struck a rock, began filling immediately, and was run ashore in a small bay. When dawn came, it was found she was in 8 feet of water forward and 20 feet aft.

On the 29 November, the steamer LORD ELGIN forcibly removed four gates from one of the locks on the Beauharnois Canal, thereby effectively closing navigation on that unfortunate canal. Both she, and the ST. LAWRENCE, were forced to winter at Lachine.

At this time, a notice appeared in the papers announcing the sale by public auction of floating equipment owned by Macpherson & Crane, to be held on 21 December. The vessels listed were: Steamers REINDEER,SCOTLAND,PORCUPINE,WESTERN MILLER and the small propeller MERCURY. The schooners GOVERNOR,CALIFORNIA,BRITISH QUEEN and PREMIER. The barges CLEVELAND,WESTERN,BELFAST,COBDEN,CORNWALL and DUNDEE.Mr. D. L. Macpherson had retired in July and both houses of the firm, Macpherson, Crane & Co. of Montreal and Macpherson & Crane of Kingston,Prescott,Hamilton,Pt. Stanley and Bytown had since been carried on by John Macpherson and Samuel Crane.

As a sign of the times, the bark LONDON,Capt. Booth, departed from Hamilton on the 3 December for Chatham, with 350 tons of rails, 59 kegs of spikes and 1 ton of furniture. We hope they stowed the furniture topsides. On the 12 December, the AMERICA,Capt. Miller arrived from Cape Vincent with one locomotive and tender, 3 fire pans, 4 pilots, 8 castings, 3 smoke pipes and 65 pairs of trucks, all for the Great Western Rail Road. Three days before the TRAVELLER,Capt. Conisette, had brought in two locomotives and tenders from C. Vincent.


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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.