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


Aeneas D. MacKay started the 1859 season with an advertisement in the Hamilton Spectator on the 14 February, as follows:

"The subscriber will continue the Wharfage and Forwarding Business on the James Street Wharf and trusts that his strict attention to the interests of his customers, together with moderate charges, will command a continuance of the patronage so liberally bestowed upon him during the past season. On hand and for sale: Superior Coal of different kinds, and at various prices."

Edward Browne, was at the same time advertising no less than six different kinds of coal, ranging in price from $5 to $5.50 per ton. This indicates that the City had experienced a fairly mild winter and the docks were still encumbered with piles of coal at the opening of the new shipping season. It indicates, also, the increase in the prevalence of steam engines in industry and the general swing toward the use of stoves, in place of the older open fireplaces in homes.

The new Sarnia Branch of the G. W. R. R. was already making its presence felt in the harbour. By the 29 March, several schooners had already arrived at Garden Island with cargoes of staves, loaded at Hamilton and shipped here by rail from the Sarnia district by Messrs. Calvin & Breck's agents in the south-western part of the Province. One prime advantage of this route was that the eternal delays in the Welland Canal were done away with.

On the 5 April, the first freight train made its cautious way from Port Colborne to Port Dalhousie, over the new tracks of the Welland Railway. The company had built grain elevators at both ports and the train carried wheat.

The Burlington Bay Dock and Shipbuilding Co. proposal came to light again on the 2 May, when the Hamilton Spectator printed an anonymous letter, quoted here in part:

"By your paper, I notice that a meeting is called at the Anglo-American Hotel to-day, for the election of a board of directors of the company. I am much pleased to see so good a step toward the organization of this company. Our citizens should take hold of it with their best energy and be ready to take advantage of any change for the better in the general business of the country, which is gradually increasing ... after nearly three years of depression we have been suffering. The stoppage of Mr. Gunn's Locomotive Works for the past four months, has itself reduced our population by at least 200 souls, and I feel assured that the revival of them, through such an organization, would not only restore this number, but probably increase it to 500 or more. This company, with its capital of $207,000 subscribed and from $70,000 to $80,000 paid up, with a good reliable stock-list and slow, regular calls, extending over a period. of two or three years under the many advantageous powers granted by the charters would undoubtedly be a happy one."

The meeting at the Anglo-American, was reported by the Spectator on the 4 May, as follows:

"On the motion of Michael W. Browne, seconded by Daniel C. Gunn, the Mayor was called to the chair and on the motion of C. A. Sadleir, seconded by R. N. Law,Mr. Jasper T. Gilkinson was requested to act as secretary. The position of the company having been stated, a conversation ensued, the prevailing opinion being that it was most desirable that the works should be proceeded with as early as possible. R. N. Law and Thos. M. Simons were requested to act as secretaries, who then reported. that the following Directors were elected: Sir Allan N. McNab,Henry McKinstry,Chas. A. Sadleir,Adam Brown,James Miller Williams,Robt. N. Law and Michael Willson Browne."

Direct Trade with Europe was becoming a state of mind and on the 6 May 1859, the Hamilton Spectator lamented -

"It is really too bad that, with all the facilities we possess, Western towns and cities should be outstripping us in their efforts to trade with Europe, direct. Not a single vessel has left Hamilton for England, while in spite of the fact that the Welland Canal locks are smaller than those on the St. Lawrence, fifteen have already been chartered to sail from the Upper Lakes. Even the small town of Chatham contributes its share to the European Fleet and we admire, while we envy the spirit manifested in that place."
The Chatham Planet says:
"This season we understand that the enterprising house of Boushey, Wilson & Co. have chartered four vessels for Liverpool, direct. The first is daily looked for at our docks, where she will take on a full cargo of pipe staves for Liverpool. The other vessels will leave at intervals during the season as the cargoes, which are now up the river, are brought down."

The Spectator continued:

"We have had, on our wharves, hundreds of thousands of pipe staves this year, brought from the Western country by rail. They might have been sent to Europe direct, and the vessels could have brought back cargoes of hardware, crockery, groceries, etc. for our merchants. Do these gentlemen think that under a system of ad valorem duties, they can maintain the mercantile pre-eminence of this city without engaging in something more worthy of the name of wholesale trade, than the making of small purchases in New York?"

Ten days later, further news came from Chatham. The first schooner chartered by Boushey, Wilson & Co. had arrived and was loading. She was the ST. HELENA. The firm had loaded the schooner GOLD HUNTER at Bear Creek, a few days earlier and she was outward bound for Liverpool.

On the 19 May, the steamer DETROIT was launched at the yard of Mason & Bidwell on Ohio St. In Buffalo and several gentlemen from Hamilton were in attendance. They were Messrs. Young,Brydges,Reynolds,Gates and Park. This shipyard had, on the 14 April, suffered a disastrous fire, which resulted in a loss of $20,000. At the time, it was feared that the fire would delay the completion of the two steamers on the stocks, for the Detroit & Milwaukee Railway.

Trade via the Sarnia Branch of the Great Western was beginning to pay off and the Hamilton Spectator of the 23 May informed its readers that the schooner BLACK HAWK had brought from Chicago to Sarnia, 800 bbls. of flour consigned to Messrs. Kershaw of Montreal, in addition to 10,000 bus, of corn and 1,250 bus. of wheat and rye for Jacob Hespeler of Hespeler, plus some wheat for Mr. Whitlaw of Paris. The propeller GLOBE, running between Chicago and Buffalo, had unloaded at Sarnia, 300 bbls. of flour for Mr. Wilson of Fergus, some pork for Turner of Hamilton and 200 bbls, of flour, to be forwarded to Montreal.

On the 13 June, James Miller Williams, placed a notice in the Hamilton Spectator, advising of the sale by public auction, of Gunn's Locomotive Works on the 21 June. The sale was postponed until the 29 June and again to the 5 July. The Welland Canal was again out of business on the 16 June, when the schooner QUEBEC of Kingston, rammed the upper gates of Look 25 at Thorold. The rush of water flooded house cellars and mill basements in Thorold and made three breaks in the dyke before finding its way down the Ten Mile Creek valleys where it inundated much farm land. The schooner was owned by Messrs. Fowler & Essington of Kingston.

On Sunday, 6 July, the steamer MALAKOFF was destroyed by fire at Tate's Dry Dock in Montreal. She was owned by Benjamin Grant and was insured for $16,000. She was a side-wheelers built in 1842 at Montreal as the NORTH AMERICA and rebuilt in 1856 by Tate and renamed. Her measurements were 171.4 x 28.2 X 10.5.

The editor of the Hamilton Spectator was at last able, on the 21 July, to run a front page story entitled

"The First Vessel from Hamilton to Europe Direct"
and it read as follows:
"The UNION,Capt. Wm. Zealand, will sail from this city for Liverpool with a cargo of staves on Saturday or Monday next. The UNION, it will be remembered, was built here about two years ago by James Whyte. At that time, when the DEAN RICHMOND had just made the trip from Chicago to Liverpool, there was a rage for building vessels on the Lakes for the Trans-Atlantic trades, Mr. Whyte resolved to turn out from his shipyard, a schooner which would be superior to any, for that purpose. All that skillful shipwrights could do in the putting-together of wood and iron was done and the result was a craft which can show her heels to any crack Yankee you choose. When she was finished, "The bad times" commenced and for this reason, the UNION was not sent to salt water. The disappointment to her owners was great, for she had been built to show what Hamilton could do in the shipping line. Her timbers were found in this neighborhood, some indeed, within the city limits. The schooner meanwhile sought employment in the Lake trade and became a favourite. This season, the merchants of our city have been talking loudly of their intention to send home direct some of the innumerable staves that the Great Western Railway has brought from the backwoods to our spacious wharves. It has, however, been left to Messrs. Lang & Delano of Boston to take the initiative. These gentlemen cast their eyes around for the fittest available vessel to send hence to England with a picked lot of staves and selected the UNION, which is now being laden with all possible despatch."

After a paragraph devoted to the advantages of the Sarnia to Hamilton rail link, the Editor returned to his original theme and said:

"The UNION is a two-masted schooner of 241 tons, British measurement. She will carry about 120,000 West India Staves and 5,000 Standards. Her captain says he will reach Liverpool in 13 days from Quebec, If favoured with fine weather, and we have no doubt he can do it, judging from the time his schooner has made on the Lakes. These freshwater craft of ours beat anything built at home for sailing, owing not so much perhaps to their superior model, as to their centre-boards which enable them to sail closer to the wind. Englishmen are not yet reconciled to these centre-boards - they don't think them safe - and they won't insure them in the A-1 Class at Lloyd's. The worst feature of the enterprise is that no return cargo has yet been secured, one of the wholesale houses here thinks of having a hundred tons or so of iron brought back and another has ordered a few barrels of Loch Fyne herrings, but that is all. Perhaps the fact of the vessel's being about to sail, has not been generally known. We shall be surprised, now that we make it so, if our merchants do not order quantities of crockery, hardware, liquors, etc. Why cannot some enterprising importer bring out a cargo of choice articles and hold a trade sale here in the Fall? It is sufficiently discreditable to our enterprise already to find Boston people doing that trade which we ourselves should strive for. We surely ought to do something in support of an undertaking profitable to us in many ways."

On the same day, a despatch from the Cleveland Herald gave news of other Lake schooners engaged in the Trans-Atlantic trade: "The schooner J. F. WARNER,Capt. Manning, arrived at Cork on the 17 June, 21 days out from Quebec and two days later, the schooner R. H. HARMON,Capt. Burke reached Cork after a passage of 23 days. The J. F. WARNER was sent on to Glasgow to discharge and to load Scotch pig iron for Cleveland.

The propeller BANSHEE took on a cargo of 1,500 bbls. of flour at the Union Mills in St. Catharines and steamed away down the canal. At 3:00 a.m. the following morning, the mill, a four storey wooden structure, went up in flames, lighting up St. Catharines and district in a glorious manner. The mills had been burned down about 14 years before and were rebuilt by J. L. Ranney in 1845/46. At the time of the second fire, they were owned by the Bank of Upper Canada and operated by C. Phelps since the summer of 1858. The loss was estimated to be $47,000 and there was very little insurance.

It was Wednesday, 27 July, before the schooner UNION sailed for Liverpool and the Spectator was on hand to witness this important event. We quote from the issue of Thursday, 28 July:

"Sailing of the UNION - As pretty a sight as anyone could desire was presented yesterday to those who went to Capt. Zealand's Wharf to see the UNION leave, the first vessel to sail from Hamilton to Liverpool. Various delays, incidental to the trip, occurred in the morning, so that she did not sail at ten as intended, but at half past one, she weighed anchor. The Bay presents a rather animated appearance just now. A dozen vessels or so, are taking on cargoes, mostly staves and lumber, and every once in a while a steamer or a sailing vessel will arrive or depart from its beautiful blue waters. Just before the UNION sailed, the BELLE, laden with lumber, scudded past from the Railway Wharf toward the canal. The wind was blowing half a gale and she must have been running at eleven or twelve knots. Then the UNION herself went away, but in this case there were a few preliminaries. Young Capt. Wm. Zealand, the mate, Mr. Hamilton and James Whyte, her builder and only passenger, together with her crew of ten, had their leave-takings to do. They were all in the best of spirits, and, as they pulled aboard with a cheer, they seemed glad of the prospect of seeing the old sod within a month. All this was soon over. The union Jack, which had been floating from the peak, was hauled down and the UNION, making a beautiful curve, was soon running lake-ward at an astonishing rate. May good luck attend her until the end of the voyage!"

In a further article on the Sarnia-Hamilton route, the Hamilton Spectator, in their issue of the 3 September, mentioned that a local produce dealer, John Smith, was involved in the grain business. Smith was receiving large quantities of grain from Paris and Galt, and had arranged to store it in the Great Western Elevator, from whence It was forwarded to Oswego. At a later date, Smith built his own grain warehouse on the lower end of Bay Street, just south of Grant's Sail Loft, the UNION made an excellent crossings arriving in the Mersey only 18 days out from Quebec, a fact duly recorded by the Times of London.

The Propeller BANSHEE was again in the news on the 29 September, as reported by the St. Catharines Journal. She had cleared Pt. Dalhousie about 9:00 p.m. on the 27 September with a cargo of flour loaded at the mills of Norris & Neelon and Thos. R. Merritt in St. Catharines and those of R. & J. Lawrie at Pt. Dalhousie. She encountered very heavy weather on the lake and 350 bbls. of flour from Lawrie's was jettisoned to ease her labours. At 9:30 p.m. on the 28th, she reached Kingston, where she laid over for two hours and then entered the calm waters of the Canadian Channel through the Thousand Islands. Below Wolfe Island, she crossed into the American Channel, by which time most of the ship's company had turned in, being exhausted by the turbulent treatment received on the Lake. In the pilot houses one Patrick Finnigan, was at the wheel and apparently he was the only one awakes except in the engine-room. Unfortunately, Finnigan too passed out below Alexandria Bay and the BANSHEE, left to her own devices, selected Whiskey Island as a good place to stop. Stop she did, and in fifteen minutes she was on the bottom with her bow sticking out of water. Capt. McCrea and his crews presumably wide awake by this time, got ashore and moored her to a tree.

In the early hours of Wednesdays 9 November, the steamer BRITANNIA was destroyed by fire while laid up at Wm. Anglin's Wharf at the foot of Barrack St. in Kingston. The fire was noticed by the watchman on the steamer GEORGE MOFFATT, which subsequently was able to get out of danger. Two yachts were saved also, the CHAMELEON and the GLANCE, which was tied alongside the BRITANNIA and was saved with difficulty. The wind was from the south-east and this caused the fire to spread rapidly to the office and warehouse, which were leased to Holcomb, Cowan & Co., owners of the BRITANNIA. It also threatened the Tete du Pont Barracks, but these were saved by the Barrack fire engines, manned by a company of Rifles. No insurance was carried on the warehouse or the steamer, which the Kingston Whig described as a

"freight steamer of the old-fashioned stern-wheel, or polywog build"
a canaller with her wheels near the stern, but set into her sides.


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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.