Chapter 15
The Electric Era
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 March drew to a close, the harbour was still icebound and the spring-time activities were under way along the waterfront. This was especially true around Robertson's Shipyard, where the new steamer was taking shape on the ways.

Some locally-owned, vessels had, of course, wintered elsewhere and included in these were the propeller MYLES and the schooners GULNARE,E. H. RUTHERFORD and the SYLVESTER NEELON. This latter vessel, owned by Flatt & Bradley spent most of the winter on the Shickluna dry dock in St. Catharines being repaired. She had been involved in a collision in Port Maitland the previous autumn.

By the 18 April, Hamilton Harbour was free of ice and already the stonehooker UNA had made a trip to Toronto and back to the Beach for a load of sand. Capt. Parslow was sailing her. The UNDINE,Capt. Johnston, was about to leave for Burlington, to load wheat for Oswego and a return cargo of coal. Capt. Thos. Armstrong, beginning his eighth season as master of the schooner ELLA MURTON was ready to sail for Oswego to pick up a cargo of coal for Murton & Reid.

The steamer MAZEPPA was not yet fitting out and it was not likely that she would begin service before the 24 May. At MacKay's Wharf, the propellers LAKE MICHIGAN,LAKE ONTARIO and CELTIC were being made ready to start about the 1 May. The CELTIC,Capt. Wm. Cavers, again had the Lighthouse Supply charter this year. There was a new appointment on the LAKE ONTARIO in the person of Capt. J. Delaney of Prescott and Fairgrieve's propeller CANADA would be sailed by Capt. Chestnut, in place of Capt. McGiffin, who had a vessel out of Toronto this season.

The schooner ST. LOUIS, owned by Alderman Williamson, the ACADIA, managed by Sam Malcolmson and A. M. Robertson'sST. MAGNUS were all ready for business. Old Melancthon Simpson was waxing quite enthusiastic over the fine points of his new steamer, although as yet, he d1d not know where he was going to operate her.

Loading Timber--The Canal at the Beach
The Calvin Company of Garden Island, was still operating in southwestern Ontario and the steam barge D. D. CALVIN arrived on the 27 April with the schooners BAVARIA and PRUSSIA in tow. The loading of timber would be carried out at both the G. T. R. and the N. & N. W. Wharves. The schooners ST. LOUIS and UNDINE were both active in the Oswego coal trade.

On the 1 May, the Hamilton Spectator reprinted the following from the Glasgow Herald of Monday, 16 April:

"On Saturday, Messrs. Wm. Hamilton & Co. launched from their shipyard at Port Glasgow, a handsomely-modelled twin-screw steamer of the following dimensions: Length over-all 166 feet; breadth 24 feet; depth 16'3"; and 459 tons gross. This steamer has been built to the order of the Hamilton Steamboat Co. of Hamilton, Canada, for the passenger service on Lake Ontario, between Hamilton and Toronto. The arrangements made for the accommodation of passengers are of the most complete and handsome description. The principal saloon on the main deck is elegantly finished in polished hardwoods with carved panels of unique design representative of several nationalities as well as of various popular games and pastimes. The saloon is luxuriously upholstered, the sofas being done in plush velvet; handsome silk curtains on the windows and the floors are covered with velvet pile carpets. Arrangements are made for dining parties in this saloon, pantry and bar, etc. being fitted in similar style. The ladies cabin and retiring room are placed at the after-end of the saloon and are tastefully finished in white and gold, with similar upholstery to the saloon. The whole is lighted by large square windows, giving ample light and ventilation. A purser's room and ticket office is fitted at the forward end of the saloon and the Captain's cabin is on the opposite side. Lavatories, galley and other conveniences are situated in the forward part of the main deck, which is also seated for passengers and arranged for carrying light freight. There are two gangway doors fitted on each side of the 'tween decks, forming passengers' entrances. Side-lights, 12" in diameter, are fitted all round. Crew accommodation is under the main deck, forward. On the upper deck there is a long house, the after part of which is fitted up as a deck saloon. This is finished in white and gold and is elegantly upholstered, containing four retiring rooms, furnished with all the usual fittings. The deck-house has large square sliding windows affording excellent light and ventilation. A handsome staircase leads from the deck saloon down to the main saloon. In the forward part of the deck-house, a smoking-room and bar are located and ahead of these is the wheel-house. The vessel is supplied throughout with electric light and she has two sets of triple expansion engines built by William Kemp of Govan. On leaving the ways, the vessel was named. MACASSA, the christening ceremony being gracefully performed by Miss E. B. Hamilton of Benclutha. The steamer is expected to sail for Canada early in May and will be under command of Capt. Hardie.Mr. Griffith, president of the Hamilton Steamboat Co. and Mr. McAulay of Hamilton were present at the launch."

The Spectator published the following on the 7 May: The steam launch which H. L. Bastien has been building for J. W. Millard,T. W. Lester and J. A. Lochhead, will be launched at Bastien's Wharf in a day or two. The hull is carvel-built and the first three rows of planking, each side of the keels as well as the sheer planks are white oak. The balance of the planking is selected white pine in long lengths. The decks are cherry and ash, in alternate narrow strips. The seats are butternutt while the cockpit wainscotting is cherry and ash in alternate strips, jointed, left in the natural colour and carefully oil finished. Mr. Bastien built the hull from a model and plans furnished by Chas. P. Willard & Co. of Chicago and calculated to produce the best results as to speeds safety and comfort. Her dimensions are: Length over-all 30 feet; length of load-line 26 feet; breadth 6 feet; depth amidships 3 feet; load draft forward 1'3" and aft 2'6". She is propelled by a 4 HP Acme engine and boilers supplied by John Gillies & Co.,Carleton Place, Ontario. The fuel is kerosene or fuel oil. She will probably be launched on the 9 May and will be named MARGUERITE.

Saturday, 2 June, was the date fixed for the launch of the steamer GREYHOUND, which Melancthon Simpson had been building all winter at Robertson's Shipyard. An estimated 1,500 people gathered to witness the event. Simpson maintained that the Robertson Shipyard had a history of unsuccessful launches and consequently he raised the landward end of the ways, increasing the slope, so that when the GREYHOUND was cut loose, she roared down the hill and jammed her stern-frame into the bottom. The resulting jar caused the cradle at her bow to disintegrate and she fell over and lay against Zealand's Wharf. As the reporter remarked, it all happened so fast that the crowd was standing there with their mouths open, ready to cheer, but the cheer never came out. The wharf had been damaged by fire not too long before and the fact that not one of the several hundred, people on it fell through the holes, was somewhat miraculous. The steam-launch LILLIE came to the rescue, and after several attempts, managed to get the GREYHOUND afloat, right side up. The Christening had been performed by the ship-builder's wife. The steamer measured 130.0 x 25.2 x 9.0; Her gross tonnage was 337, Net 219. The compound engine was built by F. G. Beckett & Co. and had cylinders 14 & 24 x 20".

When completed., the GREYHOUND was to be placed in service between Toronto and Grimsby Beach camp ground, under command of Capt. William Donaldson of Toronto.

The Burlington Canal, looking out toward the Lake, from the top of the Royal Hamilton Yacht Club house. The steamer MACASSA is passing the swing bridge built by the Hamilton & NorthWestern Ry. in 1876. The Main Light Station was established in 1838. In the foreground is one of the ferry slips. Photo: Author's Collection
The new steamer MACASSA arrived in Hamilton early on the 7 June, and tied up at the foot of James St., where she attracted quite a steady stream of visitors during the day. The crossing from Glasgow had taken 10 days and the only bad weather was encountered on Lake Ontario. Of the critics who examined the MACASSA, most agreed that she was too restricted as to deck space. The following evening, she took a moonlight excursion out on the Lake, about 700 passengers being accommodated. Capt. Thos. Harbottle, the hull inspector, looked her over on the 11 June and noted that she was short of life-preservers, lifeboats and other protective apparatus. He informed the Customs authorities that she was not to be allowed out of the harbour until his demands were met.

An item in the Spectator on the 27 June pointed, out that the Harbour was becoming a cesspool, thanks to the Ferguson Ave. sewer. The writer explained that on a calm day it was extremely heavy work to row a boat from the N. & N. W. Elevator across to Huckleberry Point.

The first steamer to make a voyage from Europe, direct to Chicago arrived at that port on the 28 June from London, This was the ROSEDALE, which had sailed from London with general cargo and 5,000 bbls. of cement. Great enthusiasm was aroused in the Windy City, but the same could not be said for Montreal.

The CELTIC was advertised to sail on the Lighthouse Supply trip on Friday, 13 July, which was very unusual, since most captains would avoid starting anything on a Friday, if at all possible. It usually meant waiting until five minutes after midnight. She had a goodly number of passengers for the cruise.

At a meeting of the Hamilton Board of Trade on the 18 July, Capt. John B. Fairgrieve was elected president.

The dredge JOHN PAGE commenced work at the east end of the Burlington Canal on the 4 August. Accompanied by a tug and two dump scows, the dredge would remove obstructions and establish a 14 foot channel.

The Hamilton Spectator in an article on the 15 August remarked that since the dredge was working in the Canal, it might be a good idea if the Rush Bed was removed and so make the approach to the City Docks easier. Adam Brown, M.P. was instructed to promote the matter at Ottawa.

In August, preparations were being made to place a new water intake out in the lake. A timber-crib, to contain 80 tons of stone had been built and the sections of the pipe were to be floated out, using empty oil barrels as pontoons. Mr. Miles Hunting had charge of the project.

Late in the evening of the 28 August, while the MACASSA was landing a group of women at the Canal, one of them lost her balance and fell off the gangplank. Capt. Campbell, the Lightkeeper, was standing close by and jumped down between the steamer and the pier and got hold of her. With the aid of some men from the dredges she was saved from drowning. It was suggested that the Hamilton Steamboat Co. provide handrails, or at least station a couple of men at the gangways to assist passengers, rather than herding them like sheep.

The dredging of the Canal was completed by mid-October, giving a minimum depth of 14'6" and a depth of 18' at the Lake end.

Edward Browne's schooner E. H. RUTHERFORD, bound for Oswego with a cargo of barley, went ashore near Charlotte. Word was received on the 14 November that she had been refloated and towed into Sodus Bay. She was to be taken to Oswego where she would, be dry-docked, for survey of damage.

The Hamilton Steamboat Co. was doing very well and had, in fact, ordered a new steamer, according to a letter quoted in the Spectator on the 15 November, from one of the directors, Geo. E. Tuckett. This letter stated that a contract had been given to Napier, Shanks & Bell of Glasgow and the steamer was to be completed in May 1889.

By the 22 November, the Bay and the docks were beginning to take on a bleak and dreary aspect and the season of navigation was drawing to a close. R. O. MacKay spoke for the shipowners when he said

"The season has been very poor, in fact, we have not had anything like it for some years past. During the early part of the season freights were low and then in the fall, just when business was beginning to pick up, the break in the Cornwall Canal occurred and knocked, the bottom out of everything."

Murton & Reid's coal wharf. Photo: Author's Collection
Most of the cargo brought into Hamilton was coal and some general freight. The coal amounted to 65,923 tons and a few more cargoes were yet to come. Outward, bound, cargoes were hard to come by and this particularly hurt the schooner-men. The majority of locally-owned vessels were still in service, trying to get a few more trips, although the insurance ceased on the 30 November.

MacKay'sLAKE MICHIGAN and LAKE ONTARIO were both at Montreal, ready to head for Hamilton in a day or two. Both were tied up at Kingston, with grain, while the Canals were closed. The CELTIC was on her way to Gananoque with pig iron. Both the ACADIA and the MYLES had returned from Montreal and laid up for the winter at Zealand's and McIlwraith's Wharves, respectively. The ST. MAGNUS was detained at Sault Ste. Marie, Mich. over some Customs difficulty. The schooner UNDINE was loading barley for Oswego and would return with coal. The ELLA MURTON was unloading coal and would then go to Burlington to take on barley. The schooner LAURA of Torontog had arrived with 370 tons of coal from Toledo and the GULNARE was on her way from Oswego with coal and would then lay-up for the winter.

A brief news item from Rochester, on the 22 December, stated that the propeller LAKE ONTARIO was damaged by fire while berthed at Charlotte. It further mentioned that she was owned by F. M. Ryan of Buffalo, was valued at $11,000 and that there was no insurance. However, the LAKE ONTARIO's register makes no mention of a Bill of Sale to Ryan or anyone else. The Register states that her certificate was lost in the fire and the Register was finally closed on 18 December 1896.

Built originally for the Lake & River Steamship Co., she was transferred by Bill of Sale on 1 May 1884 to R. O. & Elizabeth MacKay and on the 1 May 1888, by Bill of Sale, she became the property of R. O. & A. B. MacKay. She was repaired after this fire and she did operate in 1889.


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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.