Chapter 9
Depression Years
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


Among the advertisements placed in April, 1858. was one by Robert W. Suter, Secretary of the Desjardins Canal Co., who was attempting to sell the three-masted schooner DESJARDINS

"Cheap for Cash".
She was lying in the canal basin at Dundas, fully rigged.

Another, placed by George T. Malcolmson & Co., on the 26 April, gave notice that the steamer ZIMMERMAN,Capt. John Masson, would be on the Hamilton,Oakville,Port Credit and Toronto service. The fare was $1.00, cabin or 75¢ deck passage.

On the 4 May, an announcement of far more lasting importance appeared in the Hamilton Spectator. It was a very modest notice that took up little more than an inch and a half of one column, and it read as follows:

"Wharfage and Forwarding! The subscriber, having leased the James Street Wharf, recently in the occupation of Holcomb & Henderson, is now prepared to receive or forward all description of merchandise and produce, and trusts that long experience in the business, strict attention thereto, and moderate charges, will insure for him liberal support. He is, also, agent for Holcomb, Henderson & Co.'s Line of Montreal Freight Steamers. Signed Aeneas D. MacKay."

Aeneas Donald MacKay (1825 - 1877), an enterprising and very shrewd Scotsman from the port of Golspie in the County of Sutherland, had, by this advertisement, announced the advent of the MacKay Era, in the annals of Hamilton Harbour. From 1858, until his early death in 1877, he achieved great stature in shipping circles and he established a prosperous business for his sons, who carried on, well into the 20th Century, with considerable enthusiasm. Aeneas had landed in Canada in 1852, with his bride of a few weeks and immediately embarked on two projects making money and raising a family. By 1857, having swallowed the anchor, he was working for Holcomb & Henderson and learning the business of warehousing and forwarding. Opportunity knocked at his door early in 1858, when his employers, whose affairs were in the hands of Thomas Kirkpatrick of Kingston, Assignee, and the James St. Wharf was advertised for rent or lease,

"with immediate possession, if required".
There was a note of urgency - almost panic - in the wording. No doubt Kirkpatrick was overjoyed with the completion of so rapid a piece of business and no doubt the Brownes and the Malcolmsons looked upon this upstart competitor as a temporary annoyance at the most. MacKay had settled his wife Elizabeth and their two sons and one daughter at 7 Wood Street, a couple of blocks from the Waterfront. Later they would move to the house on the bluff above his wharves and which they named Reay Lodge. Elizabeth would reside here until her death in 1897.

On the 28 April, the barque R. H. RAE reached Kingston on her first voyage of the season from Chicago with 16,624 bus. of wheat for Messrs. E. Berry & Co., and while she was in port, a reporter

"This splendid vessel is 344 tons burthen, has three masts and is fitted with a patent steering wheel by Robinson of Boston, worked by screws attached to the rudder stock, making the work of steering easy and steady. She has, also, a patent windlass, which manned by two men, can accomplish more work in a given time than 12 men could do by the old hand-spike method.... The cabin is below decks, which are flush and comfortably accommodates the officers of the vessel. She was 16 days making her voyage to this city, 7 of which were passed in the Welland Canal!"

On the 8 May, the Hamilton Spectator brought its readers up to date on the subject of the Dundas Foundry,John Gartshore, manager, as follows:

"We were invited to go over the establishment of John Gartshore, who is making the castings for the Hamilton Water Works. The casting of the walking beam, weighing 7 tons, was successfully completed while we were there.... We also noticed some fine specimens of loam castings, an entirely new process in Canada West. The moulding shops in these works are very extensive and are supplied with 3 large cranes requiring very little manual labour to move the heaviest weights. In the same shop is a large cupola in course of erection, for the purpose of casting the entablature and other bearers for our water works. When this cupola is finished, Mr. Gartshore will be able to produce castings up to 30 tons in weight. In the boiler shops we saw 4 boilers, 6 feet in diameter and 30 feet long and, also, two boilers for locomotives for the Port Dalhousie & Thorold Railway Co. The manufacture of burr millstones is carried on to a large extent. Gartshore employs about 160 hands and pays weekly nearly $l,500 in wages"

The City had acquired its gas works in 1859 and now, eight years later, the eminent engineer Thomas C. Keefer was in the process of constructing an excellent water works. The fine pumphouse with its magnificent chimney, masterpieces of the stone-masons' art, would be a new landmark at the south-eastern end of the harbour.

On Sunday morning, 16 May, the iron-hulled sidewheeler FIRE FLY arrived in port, having had a troublesome voyage from Toronto. She had left there on Saturday evening, towing a dredge for George Worthington, contractor for the Hamilton Water Works project. When about 2 miles west of Bronte, in heavy seas, Capt. Moodie was forced to cut the tow adrift, as he could no longer manage it. Several attempts were made to rescue those aboard, but all failed. There were two small scows with the dredge and it was hoped that the men could make shore in one of them. However, this was not to be. Next day, the dredge and scows were found ashore, but there was no sign of the men. The FIRE FLY was built in 1844 at Montreal by William Parkyn and was owned by J. & H. McLennan of Montreal.

The Royal Mail Line steamers for the 1858 season were: MAGNET,Capt. Twohy,PASSPORT,Capt. Harbottle,KINGSTON,Capt. Kelly,NEW ERA,Capt. Chrysler,CHAMPION,Capt. Sinclair and BANSHEE,Capt. Howard. Ferry service was again being provided by the VICTORIA between the G. W. R. R. wharf and Brown's Wharf in East Flamboro, later known as Aldershot.

On the 30 May, the steamer CITY OF HAMILTON had the misfortune to break her walking beam and cylinder-head off Bronte.

The following news items appeared in the Hamilton Spectator on the 16 June:

"The preparations for the erection of the Great Western Grain Elevator are being pushed forward with great vigor. Two piledriving machines are working night and day, driving piles 40 feet in length, upon which the stone foundations will be laid. The building will be 100 feet high and 125,000 bus. may be stored therein. It is expected to be finished early in the Fall and will cost about $40,000."

And this:

"The Steamer AMERICA - A large number of men are employed in caulking and making repairs to this fine vessel. She is expected to be all ship-shape in a couple of days, when she will follow her sister CANADA to Montreal. After the successful trip made by the CANADA, we have no fear for the AMERICA."

An interesting notice in June stated that the schooner UNION,Capt. Zealand, was loading cargo for Montreal,Halifax and Boston. Her agents were Parks, Appleton & Co., at Cook's Wharf,

On the 24 June, the local Masonic Fraternity sponsored a moonlight excursion aboard the ZIMMERMAN, an opportunity to

"escape the heat and dust of the city"
and dance to the music of Grossman's Band.

Arrivals and departures in the Harbour between June 23 and 29 were the steamers OSHAWA,Capt. Kennedy,BOSTON,Capt. Malcolmson and ST. LAWRENCE,Capt. Mowat, all for the G. W. Rail Road. The schooner JOHN POTTER,Capt. Graham, arrived light. The BOSTON took on 669 bbls. of flour and the OSHAWA, with no cargo, left for Montreal. The steamer CHAMPION,Capt. Sinclair arrived from Oswego and the schooner BELLE,Capt. Malcolmson, took a good cargo of 450 bbls. of flour and 40,000 feet of lumber to Oswego. The schooner GREAT WESTERN,Capt. Goldring, also for Oswego, was not fortunate enough to obtain cargo, but the schooner FIDELITY,Capt. Zealand, loaded 120,000 feet of lumber at the railway wharf. The Royal Mail steamers PASSPORT,NEW ERA and others made their regular daily calls, along with the RANGER,Capt. McDonnell, the OTTAWA,Capt. McGrath and the BOWMANVILLE,Capt. Smith.

On the 20 July, the ZIMMERMAN took an excursion to Toronto and followed It up with an evening cruise around the Harbour. She was chartered by the Directors of the Mechanics' Institute, who provided a band for the entertainment of the passengers.

There was good news for the Customs Officers, when on the 28 July the contractor broke ground for the new Custom House on Stuart Street near the railway offices.

On the same day, the Hamilton Spectator printed an item from the Detroit Tribune, which read as follows:

"N. P. Stewart of Detroit, who purchased the steamers CANADA and AMERICA and took them over the rapids of the St. Lawrence, has sold them to parties in New York City for the sum of $200,000. They are to be taken around Cape Horn to California and are to run between San Francisco and the new Eldorado on the Fraser River.... It was a hazardous attempt in taking the steamers over the rapids, but it has proved a most successful one. The upper cabins of the steamers are to be taken off for the trip around the Cape, to be replaced on reaching San Francisco."

In the same issue of the Spectator, information comes to light concerning a long-gone waterfront industrial enterprise. A brief description was given of Leopold Bauer's Lager Brewery, situated on the shore near the foot of John Street. The reporter seemed most impressed by the size of the beer cellars, which were 150 feet long, 11 feet high, and were 20 feet below ground. Above these, Mr. Bauer maintained very fine flower gardens.

On the 11 August, word was received from Kingston, that the barque R. H. RAE had capsized near that port and the crew had been picked up by the propeller COLONIST. Rumour had it that she was not insured.

The Provincial Exhibition in Toronto brought good crowds to the City Docks late in September. The PEERLESS and the ZIMMERMAN were advertised to leave Hamilton at 7:00 a.m. for Oakville,Port Credit and the Queen's Wharf in Toronto. Fares were half price on the 28, 29 & 30 September as well as 1 October. The managing committee of the Hamilton Independent Fire Brigade organized an excursion aboard the HIGHLANDER, on the 30 September, leaving Hamilton, James St. Wharf at 6:00 a.m. Music was provided by the Artillery Band and the Quadrille Band and the fares were quite modest - .75¢ for gents and .50¢ for ladies. She would wait until after the firemen had participated in the Grand Torchlight Procession and would leave Toronto at 11:00 p.m.

Further news of the steamers CANADA and AMERICA appeared in the New York Tribune and was copied by the Hamilton Spectator on 5 October, It stated, in part:

"Some weeks since, two steamers, the CANADA and the AMERICA arrived in New York and were taken to the marine railway of Samuel Snedden at Hunter's Point, for a thorough over-hauling, alteration and repair.... They sailed from Quebec under command of Captains Willoughby and West.... It is intended to copper them and overhaul them, cut off the guards to within three feet of the knees, take off the wooden wheels and put on iron ones and put on masts and spars. The cost will he about $50,000 each. Their original cost was $250,000 each. Their destination is not yet determined, but it is supposed they will run either from Valparaiso to Panama or from San Francisco to the Fraser River. The repairs are expected to be completed in about six weeks."

On the 9 October, the steamer NEW ERA, having broken her shaft, was being towed up the Rapide Plat by the sidewheel tug HERCULES of Calvin & Breck's fleet, when the tug's boiler exploded. Several lives were lost, including that of Dexter Calvin Jr. The HERCULES was built in 1856 at Garden Island by Calvin & Breck and after this accident she was refloated by the owners. She was repaired and remained in service until 1871, when she was destroyed by fire, along with the HIGHLANDER, while wintering at Garden Island.

On the 28 October, Bauer's Brewery went up in a blaze of glory. All the employees had gone to supper together and fifteen minutes later, the place was in flames. People of the Victorian era seemed never able to understand that a fire was something that required watching.

The last big news item of the year was the completion of the Great Western Rail Road's branch from Komoka to Sarnia. This line had been under construction for nearly 4 years, but would, as time went on, be of great importance to the Harbour.


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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.