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


The Hamilton Spectator's issue of Tuesday, 1 January 1861, carried on its editorial page, a letter from H. B. Willson, a lawyer of twenty years' standing, concerning the state of business in the City. This was the first of a veritable avalanche of letters in which Willson chided the citizens for lying supinely amid the ruins of their former prosperity. In subsequent letters, he expressed his displeasure with the Grand Trunk Railway for building their line from Toronto through Stratford to Point Edward, thereby giving Hamilton's own Great Western most unwelcome competition for the grain trade of the West.

William Hamilton Merritt also came in for criticism for the construction of the Welland Railway, while Hamilton was attempting to scrape up enough money to build the Hamilton & Port Dover and bankrupting itself in the bargain. Willson had tried to establish a bank, but his timing was out. The depression had set in and in England, the ultimate source of funds for Colonial projects, there had been some very nasty bank failures.

Willson had a pet scheme regarding Trans-Atlantic trading. This involved the building of auxiliary vessels small enough to negotiate the St. Lawrence Canals, with their nine foot depth of water and yet well-enough built to make the crossing to Europe. This idea, of course, would be most repulsive to the business community of Montreal, although some interest was voiced in Quebec City. While Willson was crusading in this cause, friend Merritt, established a company to operate steam vessels from Port Dalhousie to Quebec City and even raised some of the necessary capital in that ancient city. It was a case of "if you can't beat them, join them", and Merritt admitted that the idea was Willson's and Willson joined the company. The vessels discussed were to be 180 feet in length, by 34 feet beam by about 13 feet in depth. Willson had in mind a vessel that would be fully rigged, flush decked and fitted with engines capable of moving the vessel at 8 knots. One such vessel was built in 1864 by George Chaffey & Bros. at Brockville and she was called the MERRITT.

On the 10 April, an announcement was made concerning Messrs. Jacques, Tracey & Co., whose fleet of freight steamers would consist of the HURON,OTTAWA,COLONIST and INDIAN.

The Kingston Whig of the 12 April stated that:

"A new company has been formed by some of the leading people of Montreal,Kingston,Toronto and Hamilton to be called, we think, The Inland Navigation Co.pany and they have agreed to buy the steamers PASSPORT,KINGSTON and CHAMPION for something less than $100,000. A daily line will be formed to run between Hamilton and Montreal. The subscription to the whole stock was guaranteed by O. S. Gildersleeve, who takes $16,000 on his own account. Capt. Clark Hamilton took $10,000 and Carruthers and other Kingston men also had substantial shares."

A further report from the same paper on the 14 April stated that the actual price paid for the three steamers mentioned was $80,000 and that the capital of the Inland Nav. Co. was $200,000. The steamers NEW ERA,MAGNET and BANSHEE were to be included in the line.

The Montreal Transcript was ecstatic over the prospects for the navigation season, mainly by reason of the excellent grain crop of Canada West which was now awaiting the opening of the St. Lawrence.

By the 17 April, Hamilton Harbour was clear of ice and Dennis Phelan, a local boatbuilder was happy to spread the word that his winter's production of pleasure craft was now ready for prospective buyers.

The schooner ELLEN M. BAXTER was launched at Wellington Square on Thursday, the 25 April for Messrs. Baxter & Galloway. The Hamilton Spectator noted that:

"The vessel is a very handsome one and was built by Mr. Melancthon Simpson. The keel was laid on the 20 December and the vessel measures 130 x 26 x 9, with a hull entirely of white Oak. She was designed for the Lake Ontario and Montreal trade and could carry 12,000 bushels of wheat. The chain and anchors were imported from Wood & Bros., of Wolverhampton, England. The capstan, windlass and other castings were made by John Doty & Co. of Oakville and the blacksmithing work was done by James Berry of Wellington Square. Mr. James Dale of Wellington Square did the painting. Hundreds of people from the surrounding neighborhood had assembled to witness the event and the steamer VICTORIA brought a crowd from Hamilton.Miss Bastedo of Wellington Square did the honours and the launch was entirely successful."

On Monday, the 29 April, the ELLEN M. BAXTER, still smelling strongly of paint and new riggingg cleared from the Great Western Elevator in Hamilton, with a cargo of 12,000 bus. of wheat for Messrs. D. E. McLean & Co. of Montreal.

The schooner EMMA of Hamilton, met with misfortune on the 10 May, when she was struck by a squall while entering Port Dalhousie. She rammed one of the piers, staggered into the harbour and sank at the Welland Ry. Wharf.

The steamer COMET,Capt. Francis Patterson, was lost on the night of Friday, 17 May, after colliding with the schooner CLEVELAND, one and a half miles above Nine Mile Point above Kingston. This vessel was originally named COMET became the MAYFLOWER, reverting to her old name in 1860. She had left Kingston at 8:00 p.m. for Toronto and Hamilton, and after passing the Light at Nine Mile Point,Capt. Patterson headed her toward Timber Island to keep clear of a number of downbound vessels. How she got close enough to the schooner to collide with her, is not explained, but it seems that, at the last moment, the steamer's helm was swung and her stern struck the side of the CLEVELAND and she opened up. Her fires went out about the time the water got up to the firemen's waists, thereby ending the Captain's attempt to beach the steamer. All hands got off in three small boats, and the COMET went down in 60 feet of water, leaving her mast to mark her passing.

Arrivals in the harbour on the 24 May were the steamer WELLINGTON from Montreal with 572 bars of irons 20 kegs of nails, 5 bbls. of oil, 5 crates of earthenwares, 1 keg of paint and 442 packages of merchandise; steamer MAGNET from Montreal with 7 1/2 tons of iron, 5 crates of crockery, 10 bbls. of sugar and 5 tons of general cargo; the steamer ST. LAWRENCE, also from Montreal with 53 bars of iron, 3 1/2 tons of window glass, 15 1/4 tons of earthenware, 1 ton of leather, 3 1/2 tons of soda ash, 10 cwt. of tin and 40 tons of merchandise.

The following day, the schooner CLIFTON arrived light from Port Dalhousie to load 20,000 feet of pine lumber for St. Catharines and the schooner FORREST arrived from Oswego with a huge manifest of general cargo for consignees in Hamilton,Dundas,Galt and London. The steamer WELLINGTON cleared for Montreal, light, while the CHAMPION followed her with a meagre cargo consisting of 2 bbls. of pot ashes, 41 bbls. of vinegar, 1 wagon and 1 bbl. of whiskey. No profit here.

The steam launch HERO berthed at the foot of Simcoe Street. In the backgrond is seen the Great Western Railway passenger wharf and beyond that, the freight shed and the grain elevator. Photo: Hamilton Public Library
A launching took place in Hamilton on the 29 May from the ways beside Cook's Wharf and the Hamilton Spectator had this to say:

"The little steamer, just finished by Mr. Lavallee was launched at 4:00 p.m. The HERO moved off the stocks with admirable facility and glided into her watery element, where she rode like a thing of life. She is owned by Messrs. James Maxwell,John Barr and Dominique Pierre Lavallee and is intended to ply between this city, Dundas and Wellington Square. She was sponsored jointly by Misses Mary Ann Barr and Emma Jane Lavallee."

The Hamilton Spectator's issue of Monday, 3 June, carried an item from the Sarnia Observer as follows:

"Some time during last winter, we drew attention to the astonishing development of oil in Enniskillen. A copy of our paper was sent by Mr. Duncan McDonald, merchant here, to a friend. in Liverpool. The friend handed the paper to the Liverpool Daily Post, which copied the article in full.... This has led to the organization of an oil company and the establishment of an agency in Windsor for the exporting of oil to England.John McLeod of Malden, we are informed, will load one of his vessels with oil and send her to Liverpool, direct. We understand, the oil will be sent by rail to Hamilton and shipped from there."

Hamilton was graced with the presence of His Royal Highness, Prince Alfred, Victoria's second son, on Monday, 24 June, who paid a brief visit. He arrived by train from Niagara Falls at 2:00 p.m. and after visiting Dundurn and being given a view of the city from the top of the Escarpment, he was driven to the Railway Wharf. He embarked on the steamer KINGSTON, which had been chartered to take him to Toronto. The young Prince was accompanied by the Governor General. The master of the KINGSTON was Capt. Clark Hamilton.

In July, Isambard Kingdom Brunel's

"Great Iron Ship"
the GREAT EASTERN was coming to Quebec and the steamboat owners rose to the occasion, as witness this advertisement in the Hamilton Spectator on the 5 July: Excursion! to the GREAT EASTERN at Quebec! Down the River St. Lawrence and Rapids - the favourite upper cabin steamer BOWMANVILLE,Capt. Wm. Smith, will make a pleasure trip to Quebec on the arrival of the Great Ship at that port. The inducements offered by this steamer are - running all the rapids by daylight, plenty of time to visit Montreal and Quebec - no change of steamer - no seeking for hotel accommodation, freedom from travel in crowded railroad cars and reasonable fare for the round trip, about 8 or 9 days. Perry & Black,Toronto and E. L. Ritchie & Co.,Hamilton."

With Civil War in progress south of the border, an item of interest appeared in the Hamilton Spectator on Tuesday, 6 August, headed:

"A Hamilton Steamer in United States Waters - The steamer CANADA, one of the Great Western Ry. steamers, which were sold by the Company some time ago, has been refitted by the United States Government as a warship. She is now named the COATZACOALCOS. The Washington Star has the following account of her trial trips. The experimental trip of Mr. M. O. Roberts' fine steamer, the COATZACOALCOS from this city to below Mathias Point, was a complete success. The question to be solved was whether she could carry her large gun - the largest carried by any ship-of-war in the world. It is a rifled 84 pounder weighing more than 10,000 lbs. Besides this gun, she carries half a dozen of less calibre and weight. The steamer was found fully capable of standing the repeated and quick use of this monster weapon as well as if it was an ordinary 32 pounder. All on boards including many artillery-men, scientists and naval officers, were entirely satisfied that she is capable of carrying, in actual service, this, one of the most effective weapons ever placed aboard ship."

The Kingston News of Friday, 23 August, reported the loss of the propeller BANSHEE as follows:

"The steamer RANGER came into port yesterday morning and reported the BANSHEE lost during the night close to Timber Island while downbound with a cargo of wheat. From what we learn, her machinery broke down and she became unmanageable in the heavy sea that was running. She lies in 18 feet of water, in a good position to be raised. The crew took to the boats and got ashore on Timber Island. One passenger was drowned. The BANSHEE was owned by Mr. C. Roe of St. Thomas, C. W."

On the 4 September, H. B. Willson was back in the news with the announcement in the Hamilton Spectator of the formation of the St. Lawrence Navigation Company. The paper had this to say:

"the project was originated by Mr. H. B. Willson. of this city, who, through the influence of Isaac Buchanan, M. P. P. for Hamilton and the Hon. Mr. Alleyn, M. P. P, for Quebec and Provincial Secretary, obtained the co-operation of many leading merchants of the latter city. The Hon. Wm. Hamilton Merritt, who was labouring toward the same goal, was induced to merge his interest and influence in this undertaking.

It was stated that the stock books were open and that the City of Quebec had agreed. In its corporate capacity, to subscribe $100,000 under the Municipal Loan Fund. A slightly veiled threat can be detected in this sentence:

"It is expected that both Hamilton and Toronto will contribute a portion of the capital to carry out this important undertaking. which will insure the line touching regularly at those places, as well as at Port Dalhousie."

For promotional purposes, a model of the class of vessel proposed for this service was exhibited in the News Room of the Mechanics' Institute. It was built by Mr. Symons, a naval architect of Quebec and represented a vessel 180 x 34 x 17'6" capable of ocean trading. The depth of hold was considered too great for the St. Lawrence Canals with their 9 feet of water. The suggested depth was 13 feet. It was claimed that such a vessel could carry 7,500 bbls. of flour on 9 feet.

This proposed vessel was then compared with the propeller WEST, built in 1859 at Montreal by Augustin Cantin. She was built to navigate the Welland Canal and measured. 137.5 x 26.0 x 11.3 with a gross tonnage of 512; net 348. She had handled 4,000 bbls. of flour on 9 feet draught, but a considerable part of this cargo was stowed above the hatches, making her somewhat top-heavy in a bad sea. She was ultimately lost in December 1865 in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

The oil traffic was beginning to appear in the harbour movements. On the 13 September, there arrived the sailing scow VALLEY, with 521 bbls. crude oil from Erie, Pa. She returned to Erie on the 14th with 250 empty barrels. The steamer KINGSTON, sailing for Montreal on the 12 September, took 84 bbls. of oil, along with 6 bbls. of ashes, 1,000 kegs of butter, 9 bbls. of vinegar, 200 bbls. of flour and 12 bbls. of whiskey. The cooperage business was doing quite well, The MAGNET, for Montreal on the 14 September, carried 32 bbls. of oil together with 17 bbls. of ashes, 275 kegs of butter, 721 bbls. of flour, 34 bbls. of oatmeal, 150 bags of wheat and 1 ton of merchandise.

By October, the grain trade was in full swing and on the 7th of that month, a good snapping westerly breeze assisted the following schooners out of the harbour:

ALPHA,to Oswego, 12,700 bus. of wheat and 600 bbls. of flour.

PERMANENCE, to Oswego, 8,000 bus. of wheat.

HELEN MAR, to Oswego, 7,600 bus. of barley.

CHRISTINA, to Kingston, 5,000 bus. of corn.

GEM, to Kingston, 10,500 bus. of corn.

CARRIER DOVE, to Kingston, 6,200 bus. of corn.

ALMA, to Kingston, 8,000 bus. of wheat.

ANTELOPE, to Kingston, 10,000 bus. of wheat.

BELLE, to Oswego, 3,000 bus. of wheat.

SORRELL, to Oswego, 160,000 feet of lumber.

On the afternoon of Friday, 4 October, the schooner SIR CHARLES METCALFE,Capt. McNally, from Oswego to Kingston with coal, was abandoned by her crew in heavy seas. They managed to stay in the yawlboat and after an hour, were fortunate in being picked up by the schooner EMMA,Capt. Pease, bound for Kingston. Their schooner sank as they were being taken aboard the EMMA.

There was much news In the papers concerning the oil business in Enniskillen Township with its boom towns of Oil Springs and Petrolia. This was of interest, not only to those who shouldered a pick and shovel and boarded the train for Wyoming Station, or those who were engaged in the work of refining the crude, but also, as time went on and it became necessary to pump the crude out of the ground, to the engine-builders of Hamilton who turned out many stationary horizontal engines for this purpose. F. G. Beckett & Co., especially, did very well in this line of business.

The Great Western Railway had all it could do to move grain from its Sarnia Elevator to Hamilton. From the 10 October to the 14th, the following vessels arrived with grain, mostly for Oswego, via Hamilton: FALCON, 7,412 bus., PERRY HANNA, 9,635 bus., POLAND, 10,840 bus., ZEPHYR, 8,848 bus., CHARLOTTE, 6,911 bus., ABIGAIL, 7,453 bus., LEVANT, 6,625 bus., ADVANCE, 11,000 bus., CAMPBELL, 7,718 bus. and MITCHELL, 9,385 bus. Also, expected were the ALLEGHANY with 17,000 bus. and the LIZZIE THROOP with 6,002 bus. At the time, the Elevator contained 32,500 bus. and the railway needed 400 cars to keep things moving.

The Hamilton Spectator of the 18 October, listed the following departures from the Harbour. All were schooners.

AGNES, to Youngstown with 22,000 feet of lumber.

O. BRAINARD, to Oswego with 2,000 bbls. of flour and 7,846 bus. of barley.

ODDFELLOW, to Oswego with 3,900 bus. of wheat,

GEM, to Kingston with 10,500 bus. of wheat.

GOVERNOR, to Kingston with 12,101 bus. of corn.

HELEN MAR, to Oswego with 7,469 bus. of barley and 215 bbls. of flour.

ALPHA, to Oswego with 13,500 bus. of wheat

J. J. MORLEY, to Oswego with 7,000 bus. of barley.

PERSEVERANCE, to Oswego with 7,092 bus. of wheat,

The Steamer EUROPA, at Montreal, after being broughtdown the rapids.Photo: National Archives of Canada, PA43035
Among the departures on the 12 October, was the steamer EUROPA, light for Montreal. She had become somewhat of a fixture in the harbour and now she was about to begin a new life on the St. Lawrence.

A violent storm struck Lake Ontario on Saturday the 1 November and the schooners FIDELITY of Hamilton and ANTELOPE of Oswego took quite a pounding at the Railway Wharf, the former having her bulwarks battered in. Three other vessels, anchored out, managed to hold on. The wind was from the north-east and drove seas across Burlington Beach in several places. In addition, it made a breach in the embankment at the Water Works Basin. In the dark early hours of Saturday, the schooner LIVELY of Port Dover, stranded near the canal and the MAIL of Sodus, was driven ashore, high and dry, opposite Martin's. The schooner R. CAMPBELL of Chicago, stranded near the Water Works. None of these three were badly damaged and Mr. Tallman of Hamilton, was engaged to refloat them.

The steamer COLONIST of Montreal, owned by James Porter of Port Sarnia sustained some damage in the same storm. She was bound up the Lake from Ogdensburg to Toronto and at about 6:00 p.m. on Saturday, she attempted to enter Port Hope to shelter. She struck the end of one of the piers, came about and carried on, arriving at Toronto at midnight. The COLONIST was built at Port Sarnia in 1854 by George Steed and had a gross tonnage of 341. She was lost on Lake Huron in 1869.

Another loss in this same storm was the schooner EMMA of Hamilton,Capt. Pease. She was bound up the Lake from Montreal to Hamilton with cargo consisting of hardware and crockery for Messrs. Wood & Leggat, hardware merchants and wire and Canada Plate, consigned to D. Moore & Co., iron founders. She sought shelter to the west of Gibraltar Point and let go her anchor at 2:00 a.m. on Saturday. At 5:30 a. m., the cable parted and Capt. Pease tried to make Port Credit, but unhappily, she struck the west pier at that place, broke her back and sank in ten minutes. The men had a very close call getting onto the pier, as the cases of crockery began to float out of her. Divers were hired to salvage the cargo still in the hull. Her tonnage was 250.

The storm was particularly fierce at the lower end of the Lake and the steamer PASSPORT, which had left, upbound, was forced, to put about and return to Kingston. Over at Garden Island, the HIGHLANDER, now reduced to the status of a sidewheel tug in the employ of Calvin & Breck, broke her moorings and went adrift. She holed herself on a pile and sank. The barque WATERWITCH,Capt. Morland from Toledo, successfully weathered the high winds and torrential rain and entered Kingston with no more damage than a foresail torn to ribbons.

On the 12 November, the Hamilton Spectator regaled its readers with some exciting news that told of the loss by stranding, of the Allan Line steamer NORTH BRITON. Among the passengers were three Hamiltonians, the mighty Sir Allan MacNab, his sister-in-law, Mrs. D. MacNab, and their man-servant, who went nameless, naturally. The NORTH BRITON was an iron steamship, one of four built for Allans in 1858 and she was their second total loss in 1861. As a result of incompetent navigation, she stranded in the Perroquet Islands, part of the Mingan Group, on the 5 November during a snow-storm. All hands got off in the boats and were landed on one of the islands, except those in No. 2 boat which had been picked up by none other than the brigantine J. G. DESHLER,Capt. A. M. Mann, bound inward from Liverpool to Cleveland. She received quite a lusty welcome as she entered Quebec Harbour with the NORTH BRITON's boat in tow.

By the 19 November, the steamer MAGNET was on her last trip of the season. The PASSPORT was already laid up at Kingston and the KINGSTON was approaching that port. The season of 1861 was drawing to a close.

The death of Andrew Steven was announced on the 14 December. This was the gentleman for whom the schooner ANDREW STEVEN was named. Of Scottish birth, he resided in Dundas for many years where he engaged in the grocery business. He later moved to Hamilton and on the formation of the Gore Bank, he was selected for the position of cashier. He became president of the Bank after the death of Mr. Ferrie.

On the 19 December, the Hamilton Spectator called attention to the fact a new industry had been established on the waterfront. At the foot of Wellington Street, Bridge, Higby & Co., a firm of United States felt hat manufacturers, set up a Canadian subsidiary in the

"large stone building located at the foot of Wellington St., and formerly occupied as a foundry by Messrs. McQuesten & Co."


Previous    Next

Return to Home Port

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.