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


By the middle of February, 1890, the proprietors of the ice-houses were getting worried and one of them had, in fact, bought himself a train ticket to Lake Simcoe and gone in search of good ice. In the Harbour, the ice in the inlets was a mere six inches thick, while out on the Bay, it was even less, thanks to a mild winter. There was no possibility of taking teams out on the ice. Ice in the inlets was being cut, but only for supplying the breweries. The ice dealers went hat-in-hand to the Board of Health and, amid the splashing of tears on the floor, pleaded with that body to relax the rules against channelling ice to the shore. The Board consented.

Across the railway yard. from Stuart Street, building wreckers were busily dismantling the Grand Trunk grain elevator which had outlived its usefulness. This part of Ontario was no longer the

"Golden West"
- there was a new grain-growing country out along the Canadian Pacific - and besides, an old wooden grain-elevator is little more than a fire-hazard.

Captain William Zealand died at the age of 61, as briefly noted by the Spectator on the 7 March.

The propeller OCEAN is show in the second Welland Canal at St. Catharines. Astern of her is th EUROPE and at the right is the schooner AUGUSTA. The Red Mill appears in the background. The buildings at the upper right comprised McCordick's Tannery and the City Foundry & Engine Works. Photo: Author's Collection
On the 26 March, it was announced that Capt. Sylvester Neelon of St. Catharines, had sold the propeller OCEAN to a syndicate composed of Capt. John T. Towers of St. Catharines,W. A. Geddes of 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 sai1ing 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 l 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 Toronto and R. O. MacKay of Hamilton. The vessel would. be operated between Hamilton,Toronto and Montreal, in the passenger and cargo trade.

The schooner W. J. SUFFELL,Capt. John Corson, left Charlotte on Wednesday, evening 26 March, with a cargo of over 400 tons of coal for the Ontario Coal Co. in Toronto.Capt. Corson made his home in Port Hope, as did his mate Wm. Martin and the rest of the crew consisted of John Taylor and Dave Gunyo of Brighton,D. E. Brooks, cook of Rochester and Jack Wootton, a British seaman. Brooks had been with Capt. Corson in the schooner JULIA in 1886, when that unfortunate vessel was driven ashore and lost in Weller's Bay. On Thursday, they were forced to run for shelter behind Presqu'ile, but when they left there the stars were shining and it was a beautiful night. At midnight, as they neared Port Hope, it commenced to snow and a gale from the north-east developed. They double-reefed and carried on until 8:00 a.m., when, in a burst of fury, the wind tore away the fore-gaff. It was snowing so heavily that they could not see more than a hundred yards, with the result that they drove right on past Toronto, without being able to sight a landmark. By now, seas were sweeping over the vessel and the crew knocked out part of her bulwarks to free her of water. Next, the flying jib and part of the foresail were torn to shreds. Driving onward toward the western end of the Lake, the snow began to ease somewhat and Capt. Corson sighted Oakville, but knew his chances of gaining shelter there were zero.

During Friday mornings the Harbour Master at Oakville, had, on several occasions, walked to the shore and watched the tumultuous seas, in never-ending ranks, surging westward up the Lake. The last thing he expected was to see a vessel out there on a day like this, but see one he did. About noon, as he watched, the snow cleared momentarily and he glimpsed the schooner lurching along, rags of sails standing out like streamers from her masts, with great seas striking her stern and almost hiding her from view as they burst over her. He saw her once again and then the snow closed in. The Harbour Master turned and headed for the main street of the village, the wind howling through the bare tree branches, the monotonous roar of the seas behind him and the singing of the wires over his head. The wires indicated his next move. He hurried to the Telephone office and phoned Capt. Campbell at the Burlington Canal.

Capt. Campbell was a man who had an outstanding reputation when it came to lending a hand to anyone in distress and this was just one more occasion when he was ready and willing to do so. Neither was he at a loss for extra hands in an emergency. Thanks to the old party-line telephones, every fisherman living along the Beach would have the word as soon as he did. It would be but a few minutes before the first pair of heavy boots would be clumping across his porch. Men arrived during the early afternoon with pike poles, ropes, grappling hooks, and in fact, anything they grabbed on the way out into the fury of the gale. It was a time of great anxiety as they watched the waves, row on row, rushing in to dash themselves on the shore or crash madly against the piers, sometimes, completely going over the lighthouse on the Lake end. Their inner thoughts of the possible fate of the unknown vessel were probably kept to themselves, for they could not be happy ones. They first caught a glimpse of her shortly after 2:00 p.m. and she appeared to be holding a steady course for the Canal. As she came closer, they saw the broken gaff hanging over the side, the torn sails and her jib, the only piece of canvas that was still doing its duty. Her bare masts flailed the air from side to side, but still she bore onward, like a stag being tormented by a pack of hounds. They could see the torrents of water spurting out through her broken bulwarks as she rose on the crests of the seas. Then, as she plunged into a trough, her hull would disappear from view. Then, when she was a few hundred yards from the piers, she dropped into a trough and struck bottom with a violence that nearly jerked the masts out of her. Now the seas, like a cat that has caught a mouse, began their terrible game with her. With all hands clambering into the rigging, she lay at their mercy. She was swung around and driven on, broadside, until she struck the end of the south pier in a huge lather of freezing spray, then they sucked her away from it and drove her to the north until she had passed the north pier. Then the waves again turned her and she came charging in parallel to the pier and fetched up on the beach. The men who had been watching on the north pier fought their way to her. Ropes were passed across and in a few minutes the rescue of all hands was accomplished. As soon as Capt. Corson saw his crew safe, he made his way to Jack McNeil's Hotel to thaw out and tell his story.

The W. J. SUFFELL was built in 1874 at Port Burwell by McDermott and her registered tonnage was 287. Capt. Corson had invested his entire life savings in her, but he and the schooner survived this hair-raising escapade. Corson was in debt to the tune of $3,000 when she came off Muir's Dry Dock and during the next several years, the sight of the W. J. SUFFELL making her way across the harbour to one of the old coal docks became a familiar one.

The gale did not play favourites. It churned the harbour up and partially destroyed Murton & Reids coal dock, which was exposed to all nor'easters. The old coal shed on McIlwraith's Wharf was roofless and Capt. Campbell's worries were not confined to shipwrecks. As the storm sent its great rollers through the canal, the scow ferry, usually an inert lump of woodwork, had suddenly become a thing of life. It was in fact, more like a bucking bronco, until the chain broke. Freed of its tether, it lurched out of its slip and happily disappeared into the snow and sleet driving across the harbour. Capt. Campbell's comments, as he watched its departure, went unrecorded, but a little imagination can put appropriate words in his mouth, although no one would have heard them, with the scream of the tempest. When the storm passed, the ferry aprons in both slips were found to be damaged beyond repair. On the 31 March, a large gang of men were recruited and sent to the Canal to begin the job of getting the coal out of the W. J. SUFFELL before she broke her back, lying on the shore. This was accomplished and early in April she was refloated and towed to Port Dalhousie by the MAGGIE MASON for dry docking.

Capt. Thomas Thornton's death was noted in the paper on 2 April. He was born in 1858 at Buffalo and at different times, had shares in the CLARA LOUISE,LILLIE and MAGGIE MASON.

On the same day an announcenent of vital importance to the future prosperity of Hamilton, emanated from Ottawa. It was stated that the existing bounty of 1 dollar per ton offered for pig iron manufactured in Canada from Canadian ore, would be increased to $2.00 per ton. This was to be in effect on 1 July 1892 and would extend to 13 June 1897. The carrot was dangling and the donkey would find it before too long.

The Hamilton Street Railway management, having watched the progress of the electric street railway in St. Catharines for two years, admitted publicly that they were considering following suit.

The Welland Canal was slated to open on the 15 April and the vessel-men were busy with spring preparations. The propellers that wintered in Hamilton were the MYLES,CANADA,ST. MAGNUS,ACADIA,LAKE MICHIGAN and CELTIC. The CELTIC was having new bulwarks fitted and she would be ready in about ten days. Capt. Cavers would be in command. A new lower deck had been put in the LAKE MICHIGAN. The ACADIA had been painted and during the winter her engine had been compounded. by W. E. Wright of St. Catharines. The MYLES was expected to be the first to leave since she was already loaded with 900 tons of ice for Buffalo.Capt. Patenaude would be her master. Capt. Chestnut was appointed to the CANADA.

The first schooner to leave was the UNDINE,Capt. Johnston. She cleared for Oswego on the 12 April, with 10,000 bus. of wheat, shipped by Geo. Luxton. The stonehooker LILY arrived the same day and berthed at McIlwraith's Wharf. Work was proceeding on improvements to the Hamilton Steamboat Company's wharf while Murton & Reid had patched up their coal dock, so roughly handled by the storm.

A. M. Robertson had orders for two yachts, one of which was nearing completion. The Hamilton Steamboat Co. fleet was undergoing the usual fitting-out, but the MODJESKA was not expected to start much before 24 May. There was a possibility that the MACASSA would commence service before that time, if the weather was right.

The seven or eight commercial fishermen who made their homes on the Beach, had had a very good winter. There was no ice in the Lake and the catches of ciscoes had been good. By the 15 April, summer-like weather had arrived. Capt. Campbell was repairing his ferry which had been found on the north shore of the harbour after the big storm. The chain had been sent to Burlington to be welded and the Killey Beckett Engine Works in Hamilton was making new castings for the aprons.

The propeller OCEAN,Capt. Towers, entered the harbour on the 26 April with all her flags flying. She had wintered in St. Catharines and was ready to leave on Friday 25 April, but Capt. Towers waited until after midnight before starting the inaugural voyage of this new service. The OCEAN had undergone much work in the way of redecorating and refurnishing her passenger accommodation. She had cabin space for 68 persons, but could handle an additional 32 deck passengers. Capt. Thos. Harbottle, the hull inspector, gave her the eagle-eye on her arrival, but could find nothing about which to complain.

On the same day, the stonehooker UNA sailed for Toronto with a cargo of moulding sand and the schooner GULNARE arrived from Ashtabula with 400 tons of bituminous coal and 100 tons of stone for Thos. Myles & Son.

While the MACASSA was on Muir's dry dock in Port Dalhousie, her crew had the opportunity of witnessing a race between the sidewheeler EMPRESS OF INDIA and the screw steamer LAKESIDE. The latter vessel had left Toronto 10 minutes behind the EMPRESS OF INDIA and very nearly caught up to her, coming in 4 1/2 minutes behind her.

The City of Hamilton was engaged in a program of sewer construction at this time and the project in the East End was well under way. This new sewer discharged into Sherman Inlet, but the Inlet was not within the City. Instead, it was in the Township of Barton and since the City had not negotiated for the right-of-way, the Township felt that they should be paid for this privilege.

The three-masted schooner JESSIE H. BRECK,Capt. Thos. Mackie, from Toledo to Garden Island with timber, capsized off Nine Mile Point outside Kingston, with the loss of all hands on Saturday afternoon, the 17 May. The captain's brother Jos. Mackie was sailing as mate, and their sister Marie was cook. The rest of the crew included Wm. Mullen and his son and Donald Macdonald, all from Wolfe Island,Frank George of Kingston and John Mackie, another member of Mackie family. The JESSIE H. BRECK was built in 1873 at Port Dalhousie by S. Andrews & Son for Messrs. Calvin & Breck of Garden Island.Mrs. Dunlop, wife of Lightkeeper on Nine Mile Point was a witness to this disaster. She said:

"On Saturday, my husband and I were watching the gale out toward the lake. It was blowing harder than I ever remember. About one o'clock we saw a three-masted schooner with very little canvas on, making for the channel. My husband got his glasses and kept them steadily on her. She was labouring heavily and we could see the poor fellows at the pumps. When she was about half a mile off, a fearful squall came on and the schooner gradually careened, over to starboard until her masts touched the water. She then became enveloped in thick white smoke and was hidden from views (This was the steam from her donkey-boiler). My husband, seeing their predicament, immediately started for the nearest point to Wolfe Island, in order to cross and telegraph for assistance. He asked me to watch the wreck. When the smoke cleared, I brought the glass to bear on it and saw she was lying on her starboard side, her bow pointing toward Simcoe Island. In the port-side ratlines, I could see the crew holding on. I did not make out a woman among them. After half an hour, the sight was sickening. One by one, the poor creatures were washed away by the huge seas crashing over them, until not one was left."

On the morning of the 21 May, Hamilton lost one of its oldest and most influential citizens in the person of Edward Browne. Born in Castle Connell, County of Limerick, 72 years ago, Edward Browne came to Canada and worked for his brother, the late James Browne who was a wharfinger in Toronto. Having mastered the basics of the business, he went to Kingston in the employ of MacPherson & Crane. About 1853, he came to Hamilton and entered partnership with his brother Michael Willson Browne. When M. W. became interested in other fields of endeavour, Edward took over the business in Hamilton.Edward Browne had, for many years lived in the beautiful stone house named

, on the slope of the Escarpment at the head of John Street. This he sold about 1888 and moved to a house on Duke St.

Edward Browne's schooner E. H. RUTHERFORD, which had been built in 1881 by the Shickluna Brothers, was sold earlier this year, to A. Campbell & R. Snetzinger of Colborne, Ont. She measured 133.5 x 22.1 x 10.6 and had a registered tonnage of 267.

Captain Corson was in town on the 16 June with the W. J. SUFFELL, delivering 500 tons of coal. This was her fourth voyage after being repaired at Port Dalhousie.

The commercial community last another of its stalwarts with the passing of Charles James Hope on the 16 June. He was a younger brother of the late Hon. Adam Hope and had emigrated from Scotland in the early 1850's. He became the manager of Buchanan, Hope & Company's interests in London and Port Stanley. In those times he took a keen interest in shipping and was financially interested in several vessels. He was personally acquainted with most of the master mariners trading between Sarnia and Montreal. He moved to Hamilton in 1866 as a partner in A. Hope & Co. and on the death of Adam Hope, he took charge of the business.

The little steam launch ALFIE in the Canal Basin at Dundas. Photo: Author's Collection
The fact that the Desjardins Canal was still used, at least for pleasure, came to light late in June. The Hamilton & Milton Road Co. was building a new bridge over the canal at the High Level and had erected so much scaffolding that only 8 feet of channel was left open. On the evening of 25 June, some concerned citizens of Dundas set out in a steam launch to inspect the canal and found that two timbers had been laid across it and spiked in position. They promptly tore down the obstruction. The following evening a party of ladies and gentlemen, totaling 23 in all, proceeded down the canal for an excursion to Burlington Beach in the steam launch ALFIE. On arrival at the bridge construction site, they found the timbers again in place. Again they were pulled down and the ALFIE went on her way. When the party entered the canal after midnight, on their return to Dundas, the ALFIE's funnel broke off with a crash, which was followed by a rush of steam from her exhaust pipe. A near-panic ensued and it was fortunate that no one was injured. Damage to the launch amounted to about $100 and the cause was found to be two steel cables stretched across the gap some six feet above water. Feelings in Dundas reached such a pitch, that an indignation meeting was held in the Town Hall and threats of violence against the Hamilton & Milton Road Co. were freely voiced. The offending company, of course, pleaded that they knew nothing of any such acts and, under pressure agreed to place a night watchman on the job.

The Lake Yacht Racing Association held a very successful regatta on the 13 August and were blessed with beautiful sailing weather. The MAZEPPA and the MODJESKA were kept busy carrying capacity loads to the Canal and the Grand Trunk Ry. ran special trains from the City to their platform at the Ocean House.

The owners of the various City Docks, most of which were slowly rotting, raised their voices in disapproval of Alderman Williamson's desire to have the Rush Bed dredged out. The reason was that this bar formed a natural breakwater, during easterly storms, and gave their aging properties some little protection. It was cheaper to leave it there, than to fix up the old docks.

A heavy gale accompanied. by southwesterly winds roared across the Upper Lakes on the 14 October, doing considerable damage to shipping. A report from Wiarton, the next day, stated that the schooner GOLD HUNTER, a some-time visitor to Hamilton, had been wrecked on Round Island. Her cargo of cedar belonged to T. A. Currie of Golden Valley and was insured. There was no insurance on the schooner.

By the 1 November, the Hamilton Steamboat Co. fleet was laid up for the winter. The ACADIA was undergoing some repair work at Toronto, while the CELTIC and LAKE MICHIGAN were loading grain at Pt. Arthur. The propeller OCEAN arrived on her 23rd trip from Montreal and Capt. Towers hoped to complete three more round trips to Montreal before the canals closed. The barley trade to U. S. ports had been very good.

The creation of

"Bayside Park"
was being promoted. This would entail the filling of shallow water lots between Catherine St. and Wellington St. and would extend north from Wood St.

Another severe storm swept the Lakes on 2 November, causing the loss of the Hamilton-built schooner UNDINE,Alex Ure, captain and owner. The UNDINE, with a cargo of coal for Toronto, was driven ashore at Braddock's Bay, about ten miles west of Charlotte and became a total loss. All hands got ashore. They consisted of the mate John Hunter, three deckhands and the woman cook, as well as Capt. Ure. Down at Oswego, the schooner CAROLINE MARSH, also with coal for Toronto, put back on account of the weather and a tug was assisting her into the harbour. Unfortunately the tow line parted and the schooner was carried onto the beach under Fort Ontario and became a total loss. She was owned by Capt. Ewart of Cobourg.

The schooner AUGUSTA had a close call. She was coming down the Lake in tow of the propeller DOMINION and as they were abreast of the Ducks, the tow line parted. The DOMINION promptly left the scene and waddled into the Upper Gap, to take shelter. Meanwhile, Capt. Welch on the AUGUSTA, had got some sails on her and was heading for Kingston. Off the notorious Nine Mile-Point, he lost the foregaff and fore sail. More or less out of control, the schooner was now in real peril and, in desperation, Capt. Welch let go both anchors. Luckily for all hands, they held and the schooner came around, head up to the wind and successfully rode out the gale. Next morning, the DOMINION came out of hiding and steamed down to Garden Island expecting to find the AUGUSTA there. She then turned, about, went back and retrieved the schooner.

A notable citizen of Hamilton for many years passed, away on the 25 November, James Miller Williams was born on 14 September 1818 at Camden, N.J. He came to Canada in 1840 and settled in London, where, in 1842 he started a carriage and wagon manufactory in partnership with H. Holmes. After buying out his partner, he carried on the business alone for 4 or 5 years, after which he moved to Hamilton. A new partnership with H. G. Cooper was formed. After a short time, Williams sold out to Cooper and went into the manufacture of railway cars in Hamilton,Brantford and Niagara until 1856 when he went into the oil business in the vicinity of Petrolia. He later built a refinery on the southwest arm of Sherman Inlet and was responsible for that murky body of water being known as

"Coal Oil Inlet"

He involved himself in the promotion of the Hamilton & Lake Erie Ry., the Hamilton & North Western and the Wellington, Grey & Bruce Ry. He was a director of the Mutual Life Assn. and the Victoria Mutual Fire Insurance Co. of Hamilton. For several years he was an alderman of the City of Hamilton and in 1867 he was elected to represent the City in the Provincial House of Assembly, being re-elected in 1871 and 1875. He was later Registrar of the County of Wentworth.


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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.