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


Captain John B. Fairgrieve was in Ottawa on the 1 March in his capacity as President of the Hamilton Board of Trade. He was one of a large delegation including representatives of the Boards of Trade from Winnipeg,Port Arthur,St. Catharines,Toronto,Kingston and Montreal, as well as the Canadian Marine Association, who met with Sir John A. MacDonald to discuss canal tolls on grain. The Prime Minister was urged to consider their request for a reduction in the toll on grain, as had been given in the two previous years. The response to this seemed encouraging, but their question as to when the canal system on the St. Lawrence would be completed produced, a rather vague reply from "Old Tomorrow".

In Hamilton, talk was beginning to be heard regarding the construction of a new railway that would link the city with Welland,Brantford and Waterford. This would provide routes to both the Niagara and Detroit frontiers, in competition with the existing Grand Trunk System.

The scow-schooner UNA took a cargo of sand from Burlington Beach to Toronto on the 30 March, at which time, there was still some ice in the Harbour.

Murton & Reid were in financial trouble and on the 3 April, were endeavouring to arrange a settlement with their creditors. Their liabilities were $80,000.

The Oaklands property on the North side of the Bay went on the auction block on 4 April and, the auctioneer, finding no bidders for the property as a whole, sold it off in several parcels. It had, in the days of Leopold Bauer's ownership, been a very popular resort for many people of the City.

The following day, an announcement was made by the Hamilton Steamboat Co. that they were about to build new wharf accommodation for their patrons. Architect Jas. Balfour was completing the plans for a very handsome pavillion, to be finished by the 1 June. It was to be 175 feet long and 40 feet wide, open on the west side, facing the slip. There would be an 8 ft. high fence and an 8 ft. roof-overhang The roof would be metal-clad. A separate enclosure would be provided in the north end for those waiting to board the MAZEPPA, for the Beach and a ticket office would, be situated at the south end. New freight and coal sheds were also to be built.

The propeller MYLES was again unlucky, through no fault of her own. On the 17 April, the day she was to clear for Toledo to pick up a cargo of corn for Kingston, the Chief Engineer went up-town, leaving instructions for the fireman to see that plenty of water was in the boilers and to fire up and have a good head of steam, ready for departure. The fireman, in his enthusiasm to raise steam, forgot to check the water, with the result that the crown sheet in one of the boilers got red hot and fell in. The sudden pressure blew the packing out of some of her piping. The charter had to be cancelled, causing the owners a loss of $1,000 and the MYLES was laid up for over two weeks.

The schooner ST. LOUIS downbound at Lock 4 on the Third Welland Canal in tow of the tug A.D. CROSS Photo: Author's Collection
Navigation opened at Hamilton on Saturday 25 April, with the arrival from Oswego, of the schooner ST. LOUIS,Capt. John McGiffin. The ST. LOUIS was built in 1877 at St. Catharines, by Louis Shickluna, and had a registered tonnage of 405. She was owned by R. Williamson, an alderman of the City of Hamilton and she berthed at McIlwraith's Wharf to discharge her cargo of coal.

The UNDINE cleared on the 27 April, to load coal at Fairhaven for Thos. Myles & Son and the schooner MARY ELLIS arrived at the N. & N. W. Wharf to load lumber for Niagara.

Richard Benner, for many years secretary of the Board of Trade passed away on the 27 April, having suffered a stroke some three weeks previously. He was born in 1818 at Cork, Ireland, emigrated to Canada in 1838 and a few years later, came to Hamilton where he settled permanently. He established himself in the wholesale and retail grocery business and after retiring from that, he was a commission and insurance agent. A bachelor, he left a brother in Manitoba and a married sister in Pt. Dover.

An account of the trial run of the Hamilton Steamboat Company's new steamer MODJESKA was printed in the Glasgow Herald on 9 May and read as follows: The twin-screw steamer MODJESKA, recently launched by Napier, Shanks & Bell, went upon her official trial trip yesterday, when the result was highly satisfactory. A number of ladies and gentlemen travelled by rail from Glasgow in the morning and joined the steamer at Prince's Pier. Among those on board were George E. Tuckett, and Hugh Fairgrieve of Hamilton, representing the owners; Mr. & Mrs. & Miss McLean, Dr. & Miss Ross, Mr. & Mrs. H. M. Napier, Mr., Mrs. & Miss Stevenson, Mr., Mrs. & Miss Balgarie,John R. Campbell & the misses Campbell, Miss Wood, Miss Harvey, L. C. Owen and Wm. Richards from Prince Edward Island, Mr. & Mrs. Thos. Fairgrieve,Galashiels,Robert Young,Hamilton,Capt. Brown,E. Clements, Mr. Dunsmuir,Mr. Jackson,Mr. Shanks and, Mr. Bell. The MODJESKA is a steel twin-screw steamer specially designed for and built to the order of the Hamilton Steamboat Co., for passenger service on Lake Ontario, specifically between Hamilton and Toronto. It being intended, from the high rate of speed promised, by the builders, to make two runs per day during the season, between these two important towns. The necessity of passing through a series of canals in order to reach her destination limited the length of the steamer to 184 feet, over-all. Her breadth at Main Deck is 30 feet and at the water-line, 25 feet, depth moulded to the main deck, 13 feet and gross tonnage about 500. The general arrangements of the vessel are of the American type, embracing main and promenade decks, the whole length of the vessel, with a permanent wooden awning above all, extending from the foremast to the stern. The hull, of Siemens-Martin steel, has fine lines, more resembling those of a yacht than a merchant vessel. Passenger accommodation being the essential requirement, the whole of the decks and deck houses are devoted to this, the dining saloon being placed on the lower deck at the after end and easily accessible by a wide and handsome stairway. The upper saloon and stairway on the main deck are neatly finished in the finest Spanish mahogany and the ceiling richly decorated, a piano being provided and all the metal fittings being silver-plated. Aft of this saloon, a roomy and beautifully furnished apartment is provided for ladies. The promenade deck above is furnished with luxurious seats and here excursionists have ample room for promenading. Electric light is fitted throughout the vessel and, this will enable passengers to enjoy the evening trips which are regarded as a special feature of the American lake service. The installation has been fitted. by Paterson & Cooper of Glasgow and London. There are 100 lights in all and the current is generated by a Phoenix Dynamo and a vertical engine of 12 HP. The globe fittings in the saloon for enclosing the lights are of a very choice and attractive design. The machinery, by Dunsmuir & Jackson, consists of triple expansion engines of the most approved type, fulfilling all the requirements of the British Board of Trade, together with the special requirements of the Canadian Navigation Laws.

The steamer MODJESKA in Hamilton Harbour Photo: Author's Collection
After leaving Greenock, the MODJESKA was run down almost to the Cloch Lighthouse and afterwards cruised about in that part of the Channel for a couple of hours to enable those interested to judge of her steering powers. She was then taken twice over the Measured Mile at Skelmerlie, when a mean speed of 16.1 knots (about 19 mph) was attained, being in excess of contract and, giving perfect satisfaction to all concerned. During the day, dinner was served in the saloon, when Mr. Shanks presided. and proposed, a toast of Success to the MODJESKA. The trials of the vessel were not yet finished., he said., but so far as they had resulted that day, they had every reason to believe that more than the builders had contracted, to do, would be done. (Applause). Mr. Tuckett, in replying, said when they first thought last year of bringing steamers to run on Lake Ontario, where there was a very large number of people now, they went to Detroit in order to see about building steamers there. In Detroit, they found that American builders could buy steel plate in Scotland, pay the duty on it and, have better plate than was made in the United States, at the same price. He was glad to say that he was in no way disappointed in the vessel. He was more than pleased with her appearance and as a day-boat, she was exactly what they needed. Mr. Tuckett concluded by proposing a toast to the engineers, Dunsmuir & Jackson and Mr. Dunsmuir suitably replied. Other toasts followed. The vessel was brought all the way up the Clyde, instead of remaining at Greenock, as was originally intended and the party was landed at the Queen's Dock.

The steam barge D. D. CALVIN, well known in Hamilton, steamed out of Port Dalhousie on the afternoon of the 27 May, with the schooner-barges VALENTIA,BAVARIA and NORWAY in tow. All four had loaded timber in Toledo for Garden Island. As they proceeded down the Lake, the weather deteriorated and during the night a gale developed. About 6:00 a.m. the next morning, the towline between the VALENTIA and the BAVARIA broke and the latter vessel, drifting asterng collided with the NORWAY. The captain of the NORWAY promptly cut his line and got sail on. Some time after this, the D. D. CALVIN lost the VALENTIA's line and went back to look for the BAVARIA. On locating her, they could see no sign of life and since the barge appeared to be drifting toward the Duck Islands, they let her go. The D. D. CALVIN then went after the VALENTIA and succeeded in getting her under tow. She arrived at Garden Island at 7:00 a.m. on the 29 May and found that the NORWAY had arrived there, under sail, the evening before. The BAVARIA was later found to be ashore on Galoo Island and became a total loss.

The new steamer MODJESKA arrived in Hamilton on her delivery voyage on Friday, 14 June.

The steamer MACASSA in Toronto Photo: Author's Collection
One week later, the MACASSA, on her way from Toronto to Hamilton sighted a schooner flying distress signals off Bronte. It proved to be the ERIE BELLE, which had lost her foremast, as well as the main and mizzen topmasts and was lying at anchor about a mile off shore. She requested that a tug be sent out to her.

Capt. John B. Fairgrieve landed the Lighthouse Supply charter and his propeller CANADA,Capt. Chestnut, departed on the 13 July, to perform this duty.

On the 29 July, two visiting steamers were in the Harbour on special excursions. These were the J. W. STEINHOFF and the HASTINGS.

On the evening of the 8 August, the CELTIC was outward bound, when about half way through the Canal, she rammed the yacht VOLUNTEER and cut her in two. Fortunately for those aboard the yacht, there were enough people around to retrieve them from the water and the yacht's skipper learned the hard way that he should carry lights after sundown.

A serious collision occurred on the evening of the 12 September, between Brockville and, Maitland resulting in the loss of both vessels involved. The steamer ROTHESAY was downbound with an excursion party, returning to Brockville, from the Gananoque Fair when she rammed the tug MYRA of Ogdensburg, when there was a mix-up over passing signals. The tug sank immediately with the loss of her engineer and fireman and the ROTHESAY was damaged to such an extent that she had to be beached. She became a total loss.

On the 25 September, the Toronto World reported that a syndicate had been formed to purchase the Doty Ferry franchises on Toronto Bay. The principals named. were William Hendrie, the noted railway contractor of Hamilton and E. B. Osler of Toronto.

The steamer QUINTE was destroyed by fire in the Long Reach, below Deseronto on the evening of 23 October and a Hamilton man told of his escape. Robert Ralston, who lived on Hughson St. South, had boarded the QUINTE at Belleville in the afternoon, to go to Picton and as she left Deseronto, he was having dinner. Shortly afterwards, someone opened the door to the dining room and shouted

. Most of the passengers ran forward, but Ralston ran aft, grabbing a chair, with which he knocked out a window. He climbed out and, still holding the chair, made his way forward, along the guard, to the paddle-box. Here he found a rope with which he lowered himself into the water and hung onto one of the sponson braces. He could not swim and was unaware that he was in 80 feet of water. He hung there, yelling for help, as burning pieces of wood fell on him, until the captain and another man arrived in a yawl-boat and rescued him. He received burns to his head and hands.

The QUINTE was originailly the BEAUHARNOIS, built in 1871 at Quebec by Julien Chabot. She measured 138.0 x 22.6 x 7.6 with tonnages of 331, gross and 178, net. She was a side-wheeler with a beam engine having a bore of 30 5/8 inches and stroke of 96 inches. The builder's name is not recorded. As the BEAUHARNOIS, she had come into the possession of Edward W. Rathbun of Deseronto in 1883 and he renamed her and placed her in his Desoronto Navigation Company's service between Trenton and Picton. Five lives were lost in this disaster.

The Hamilton Spectator reported the transactions of a meeting of the Board of Health on 16 November, when considerable discussion took place concerning one of the winter activities in the Harbour - that of ice-cutting. In those times, before mechanical refrigeration came into being, ice had to be cut and stored, in ice-houses, where it was packed in saw dust for insulation. The health inspector had heard that a storekeeper had been sold discoloured ice. As it turned out, the ice-house from which it came was situated very close to the Grand Trunk yards, where the sewer from the railway station spewed forth its contents. Although the ice was cut much farther out, the blocks were floated through channels to the ice-houses, which had chain conveyors, or Jack-ladders for raising the blocks into the buildings. Hence, the ice was poled through this filthy water on its way to storage. Limits had been established, at times, defining where ice could or could not be cut, but the answer to the problem was to prohibit the channelling. The ice men would then have to load the blocks on sleighs and team them to the ice-houses.


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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.