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


The navigation season of 1891 opened on the 4 April when the propeller ACADIA,Capt. Malcolmson, arrived from Toronto. This was a fairly early opening and it caught good old Capt. Campbell, the Guardian of the Port, without his buoys in place. Four days later, this task was accomplished. and the scow-schooner UNA was the first sailing vessel to make her appearance. She was followed a day later by the W. J. SUFFELL with a cargo of coal. It was announced that the MACASSA would commence service to Toronto on or about the 5 May.

The little steamer MAGGIE MASON left on the 20 April to go on Muir's dry dock at Port Dalhousie and the schooners SINGAPORE,JOHN McGEE and MARY ANN LYDON all arrived. from Fairhaven with coal for Thos. Myles & Son. On the 25 April, the MAGGIE MASON, with Capt. Mathews at the wheel, returned from Port Dalhousie, having been put in first class shape for the season's activities.

MacKay's propeller LAKE MICHIGAN sailed on the 29 April for Owen Sound and Capt. Fairgrieve, having got the Lighthouse Supply charter, announced that his propeller CANADA would leave Montreal on the 3 July to carry out her duties from that port to the Lakehead. The MACASSA and MODJESKA had been repainted and the former vessel was to go to Toronto the next day for dry-docking and a change of wheels. The MACASSA would begin her regular daily service to Toronto on the 4 May and the MODJESKA would start on 24 May.

The schooner SINGAPORE was in the harbour again on the 2 May and the ERIE BELLE,ALBACORE and MARY ANN LYDON were expected. Charles Myles and his crew were about to leave for Alpena, Mich, to attend to the needs of the schooner GULNARE which had gone ashore near that port last season. They planned, to take her to Collingwood for repairs. The propeller OCEAN,Capt. Towers, left Port Dalhousie for Hamilton and the resumption of her Montreal service.

The steam-launch LILLIE which was running from Geddes' Wharf, in Toronto to Mimico, this season, had some trouble on the 11 May. Soon after leaving Toronto, the engineer found that the injector pump had ceased to function. To prevent a boiler explosion, he had to draw his fire and the launch was anchored. The passengers were taken ashore in small boats.

Myles' Wharf was a busy place on the 12 May with the schooners SINGAPORE,ANNIE FAULKNER,L. D. BULLOCK,FLORA EMMA and ERIE BELLE all in with coal cargoes. The W. J. SUFFELL was unloading coal from Charlotte for Dewey & Co. The schooner ST. LOUIS,Capt. John McGibbon, which had been sitting unhappily in the muds on the site of the proposed North End Park for several days, being lightered by the schooner TWO BROTHERS, was finally assisted into deeper water by a south wind.

Next day, the limited facilities of McIlwraith's Wharf were taxed by the arrival of the schooners ELLA MURTON,WAVE CREST and IDA BURTON with cargoes of coal. The ELIZA WHITE came in a day later.

The Royal Hamilton Yacht Club was planning to build a large club house on the south side of the Burlington Canal, a little to the west of the Light Station and a drawing of this ornate structure designed by Architect William Stewart, was published in the Hamilton Spectator.

The schooner JESSIE DRUMMOND arrived with coal on the 27 May. She had been built in 1864 at St. Catharines by Melancthon Simpson and had a registered tonnage of 292.

On the evening of Tuesday, 7 July, the propeller OCEAN departed from Montreal with 200 tons of general cargo and 30 passengers, eight of whom were booked through to Hamilton. The voyage up the St. Lawrence was uneventful and at 4:00 a.m. on Wednesday, she emerged from the Thousand Islands. As she proceeded up the Lake, shortly after sunrise, she encountered fog, which got progressively thicker. After several hours, Capt. Towers realized that he was lost and the engine was stopped and the vessel was allowed to drift. After about two and, a half hours, the passengers were thrown into a panic by a crash and a grating sound as the steamer's bow rose and she listed sharply. After a few moments in this position, she slid off, rolled violently and came to rest. Two boats were lowered, women and children being taken into the first and men in the second. Both boats immediately began to leak and a sudden thunderstorm arrived to add to the discomfort of all concerned. This cleared the air somewhat and the shore was found to be but a few hundred yards away. The position was off the resort known as Roseland, about two miles west of Pickering. Since the shore was very steep-to, it was decided to row three miles to Port Union and this was done accompanied by frantic bailing. The passengers were all safely landed and were able to board a train bound for Toronto. A telegram was sent from the station and in answer to this, the steamer EURYDICE was despatched to the scene to remove the

OCEAN's cargo. As this was taking place, the wind had freshened and a sea was making up. It was then decided to scuttle the OCEAN, where she lay. She was subsequently refloated and by the 15 July, had been repaired.

The schooner ANNIE FAULKNER was in Hamilton on the 20 July with a cargo of sand for the glass works.

The MODJESKA took an excursion to Oakville on the 31 July, but never got into the harbour at that place. She went aground in the attempt and was stuck there for three hours until she managed to work herself free. She returned to Hamilton forthwith.

Though the grain business was almost a thing of the past in Hamilton Harbour,George Luxton was negotiating with the Magee Bros., for the storage of 100,000 bus. of Fall Wheat at their Wharf at the foot of Bay St.

The steam barge LOTHAIR, which had been an occasional visitor to Hamilton over the years, had taken on a cargo of lumber at the French River and was crossing Georgian Bay, when she developed a serious leak. On the evening of 21 August, she had to be towed into Tobermory, almost completely water-logged. Her master was Capt. J. H. Glass.

On the afternoon of Sunday, 30 August, a train of 23 cars of coal left Fort Erie for Toronto, in charge of a conductor by the name of Campbell. His crew consisted of Wm. Hall, engineer, W. J. Crouch, fireman, Hugh McKeown, head-end brakeman and Robt. Shaw, tail-end. brakeman. They proceeded west along the former Air Line to Welland Jct., where they headed north through Welland to the Thorold Hill, which they negotiated with liberal use of the hand brakes and switched onto the former Great Western at Merritton. From this point, the train had a straight run to Stoney Creek, the junction with the short cut to Burlington Beach. By the time they arrived here, there was a north easterly storm accompanied-by heavy rain and the night was very dark. They carried on along the Beach, now on the rails of the former Hamilton & North Western, at speed of 15 or 20 miles an hour. Most swing bridges at that time had two warning lights, d1stant and near. but the Burlington Canal bridge had but one. Hall passed, the light at 15 mph, then saw the switch near the Ocean House and realized he was close to the Canal. He had not stopped, as was required by the rule book. He sounded a number of blasts on the whistle, yelled at Crouch to jump and took off out the cab window. He landed safely in the sand below the embankment. The bridge was in the process of being closed, since the crew were aware that an extra was due. The engine lurched over the bridge abutment and plunged into the canal, with a roar of steam. With it, went the tender and nine cars. The tenth car hung on the brink. Fireman Crouch evidently rode the engine into the canal and was not among the survivors.

Apparently, before the train left Fort Erie, there was some controversy about asking for a pilot , as the crew claimed they were unfamiliar with this line, but no request was made to the agent for a pilot. When they arrived at Stoney Creek, the two brakemen changed jobs, which seems rather odd. Shaw went up to the engine and McKeown went back to the tail end with Campbell because he had never been over the Beach line. McKeown lived and Shaw was found floating in the Canal next morning.

At the coroner's inquest, some time later, the coroner remarked that

"if Campbell conducted his train no better than he conducted his evidence, I am not surprised that it came to grief"
. One of the things contributing to this was the fact that Campbell swore he had been over the line only once before, but the timekeeper from London produced tickets, signed by Campbell, showing that he had been over it on four different occasions. The Coroner's verdict went against the Grand Trunk Ry., by a vote of ten to six, cast by his jury.

The work of clearing the line began during the early hours of the morning, a wrecking crew being sent down from Hamilton. There was no damage to the track, the wreckage in the Canal did not close the channel and the MODJESKA, outward bound for Toronto, managed to get past it. The battered cars protruded above water and were all fished out by the 3 September, leaving only the engine and tender beneath a great pile of coal.

During the night of Friday, 4 September. a heavy north-east gale developed on the Lake. On Saturday, the MODJESKA,Capt. Irvine, made her regular trips to Toronto through the turbulent seas and driving rain, On the morning run, she was a mere 15 minutes late at her destination. In the afternoon, a crowd of people gathered at the Canal to watch her breast the seas rolling through and then head out on the Lake, pitching and rolling and tossing the spray over her bow in great clouds. Off Bronte, she met the propeller CANADA running before the gale and, almost bringing her wheel above water each time she plunged into the trough. Toronto harbour was deserted, except for some schooners anchored, in lee of the Islands. The return trip to Hamilton was made in excellent time, but according to reports, few of her passengers were up and around..

The schooner PERSIA, built in Hamilton in 1867, foundered on the 9 September, six miles off Point Petre Light. She was on a voyage from Kingston to Toronto with a cargo of building stone and her master was Capt. David O'Hagan, who was co-owner, along with Mr. W. Allison, M.P. On her previous trip to Toronto, she was leaking quite badly and it was debated whether she was fit to make another voyage without being re-caulked. She was insured for $4,000 and was abandoned to the underwriters.

An additional $6,000 was provided for dredging in Hamilton Harbour, in a supplementary estimate, according to word received from Ottawa on the 29 September.

By the 1 December, things were pretty quiet along the waterfront. No schooners had entered the harbour for a month and the propeller ACADIA was unloading general cargo, after which she would go to Port Dalhousie for the winter. The expected winter fleet consisted of the barge WALES, steamers J. W. STEINHOFF,MAZEPPA,MACASSA,MODJESKA,ST. MAGNUS,OCEAN,LAKE MICHIGAN and CANADA. The CELTIC was expected in a few days and the schooner GULNAIR was at Port Colborne. The season had been fairly successful, but low water in the canals had lowered the profits.

On the 4 December, the Hamilton Spectator reported. that the barge WALES was laid, up at the foot of Simcoe St, and the ST. MAGNUS was at Robertson's shipyard. The CANADA, which arrived. the night before, was to go to Zealand's Wharf for the winter, while the J. W. STEINHOFF and the MYLES were already tied up at Browne's Wharf. The OCEAN,LAKE MICHIGAN and CELTIC were at MacKay's and the Hamilton Steamboat Co. fleet were in the James St. Slip.

There had been nearly 60,000 tons of coal brought in during 1891, the last cargo arriving in the schooner F. H. BURTON on the 8 October. The numbrous large foundries in the City had accounted for many thousand tons of pig iron and the general cargo business had been average.

The little scow-schooner P. E. YOUNG arrived on the 4 December to load stone from Hancock'sQuarry for Toronto. She had been built in 1864 at Normandale by Wilcox. The following day there was a heavy north-west wind, which began to moderate toward midnight. At 2:00 a.m., on the 6 December, the P. E. YOUNG let go her lines, spread her canvas and headed for the Canal. Entering the Canal, the hand fog-horn was sounded, but the bridge remained closed. The schooner was brought alongside the pier and two men jumped off with lines with which to snub her down, but her momentum was such that she broke the lines and kept right on going. The bridge only then began to open, but as her fore-stays came in contact with it, they broke. Her fore-mast broke off at the deck and fell forward against the bridge, while the mainmast fell aft across the cabin. Amazingly no one was injured, for as one reporter remarked, there wasn't room to stand on her deck, amid the tangle of rigging and spars. The Grand Trunk Ry. suggested that a damage claim might be submitted and the schooner was towed to Toronto by a tug. It was generally suspected that the bridgemen were asleep.


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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.