The fire alarm bells rang out at 9:45 p.m. on 14 February and those who ran to their windows saw a lurid orange glow over the west end of the Harbour. The Ontario Rolling Mills Co. was ablaze. The fire started in the washer department in the north west corner of the main mill building and spread with great rapidity through the old oil-soaked timbers. The structure had been built in 1864 by W. & R. Chisholm, for the Great Western Railway Co. and stood on the east side of Queen St., north of Barton. The stock building and the carpenter shop, on the west side of the main building were destroyed along with the extension on the south side housing the puddling furnaces, whose stack came down with a resounding crash. The bar mills, on the east side were slightly damaged. The building was owned by the Grand Trunk Ry. and was under lease to the Ontario Rolling Mills Co., of which C. S. Wilcox was president. The work of cleaning up the ruins began as soon as the embers cooled and plans were drawn up for the replacement of the structure.
There were many farewells at the Grand Trunk Station in those days, as parties left to seek their fortunes in the Klondike. Many returned before even reaching the Yukon. Home sickness and the sight of thousands of would-be prospectors jamming the wharves of Vancouver, were two of the reasons.
On the 20 February, a storm that started with rain and slept, dumped a coating of slush on the ice and then as the cold air moved in, covered it with 18 inches of soft snow. The wailing of the ice cutters could be heard uptown.
By the 5 March, ice was being harvested with such enthusiasm that the inspector for the S.P.C.A. was sent down to the waterfront to check on the reported ill-treatment of horses by the teamsters. He demanded that tow-horses be stationed at the foot of MacNab St. where a steep ramp led up from the ice. The business, however, was short-lived. On the 16 March, a high wind broke up the ice.
The steamer ACACIA, having been rebuilt after the fire and re-powered with two high pressure 10 x 12" engines, was given a trial run on the 31 March. The engines had been built by Bain & Colville of Hamilton in 1894.
By the 4 April, there was still very little interest in fitting out vessels, the freight rates being too low. Capt. Corson had finished re-rigging the T. R. MERRITT and expected to leave for Oswego later in the week. Repair work was being done on the schooner ELLA MURTON. An announcement by the Hamilton Radial Electric Railway,Alex. Turner, president, indicated that they wished to locate their line on Birch Ave. This would entail some filling of the east branch of the infamous Coal Oil Inlet and signaled the beginning of the end for that messy situation.
On Monday, 11 April, the schooner W. J. SUFFELL,Capt. J. Corson, sailed for Port Dalhousie on the chance of getting a grain cargo to Kingston or Prescott. Vessels had been getting into Port Colborne and some had unloaded there. The canal was not scheduled to open until 1 May.
Despite the gloomy prospects for the season, the Merchant's Line stated that the propellers CUBA and MELBOURNE would be placed on the Montreal-Cleveland service, the LAKE MICHIGAN would run from Montreal to Duluth, while the SIR S. L. TILLEY and the ARABIAN would be in service between Prescott and Duluth. One bright spot on the business horizon was the fact that the Soulanges Canal was nearing completion and sometime, in the not too distant future, the Beauharnois Canal, with its short locks and only 9 feet of water, would be a thing of the past.
The W. J. SUFFELL arrived with coal from Sodus Point on the 17 April and the Government advanced the opening of the Welland Canal to the 22 April. There were an estimated 40 vessels jammed in Port Colborne waiting to come down.
The propeller PERSIA loaded grain and pig iron on the 22 April and then departed on her first trip down to Montreal. The steamer HAMILTON came in the next day, on her first voyage of the season and the propeller MYLES left for Toledo. The ARABIAN sailed on the 25 April, with general cargo for Fort William and the LAKE MICHIGAN headed for Montreal with pig iron and general cargo. The schooner T. R. MERRITT arrived with coal from Oswego for MacKay.
Rumours had been heard for some time that United States Government agents had been looking at the MACASSA and MODJESKA, since that country's involvement in the Spanish-American War was creating a market for tonnage. President Murray A. Kerr of the Hamilton Steamboat Co. would not deny that negotiations were taking place.
The propeller OCEAN called in on her second trip to Montreal on the 6 May and the schooner E. H. RUTHERFORD was loading grain at the Dunlop Wharf for Montreal. The SIR S. L. TILLEY arrived the next day and berthed at the Hamilton Blast Furnace Co. wharf to load pig iron for Montreal.
On the weekend starting Saturday 14 May, the MACASSA and MODJESKA were being readied for service, there being no further talk of them going to the seaboard. The PERSIA,OCEAN and HAMILTON all made calls and the LAKE MICHIGAN was in trouble down the river, having collided with a barge, which required a visit to a dry dock for repairs.
"Harbour Committee"consisting of six aldermen and this group held their first meeting on 17 May with Alderman Fearnside as chairman. Capt. Campbell, light-keeper at the Canal was invited to attend. When the question of an additional range light came up, Capt. Campbell stated that he had attempted to promote this, but was told by the Government
"to mind his own business".Sewage disposal and various other topics were discussed.
A rumour to the effect that the steamer CAMBRIA was to be placed on the Hamilton-Montreal service in opposition to the steamer HAMILTON was being circulated on the 26 May. The CAMBRIA had been operating on the Upper Iakes, but had stranded at Point Edward in 1897 after running into a raft of telephone poles. She was refloated by the Donnelly Salvage & Wrecking Co. and was brought to Toronto.
Traffic in the Harbour on the 10 June included the propeller OCEAN on her regular Montreal trip and the schooner T. R. MERRITT, which came in from Cleveland with a cargo of wire rod for the Ontario Tack Co. The MACASSA left for Port Dalhousie dry dock to have a blade replaced on one of her screws.
"The business of the Murton Coal Co. Ltd. will hereafter he conducted under the name of the Rogers Coal Co. Ltd.,Elias Rogers, president and Alfred Rogers, vice-pres."Elias Rogers, a widely-known coal dealer, was born on 23 June 1850, near Newmarket and was educated at public schools. He attended. a college in New York for two years, but left to engage in the lumber business at the age of 20. A few years later, he became interested in bituminous coal mining at Reynoldsville,Jefferson County in western Pennsylvania. In 1876 Rogers returned to Toronto and set himself up in the wholesale and retail coal business, in partnership with F. C. Dininny, an operator in the Anthracite trade. Elias Rogers subsequently became the sole owner of the Reynoldsville Mine and the coal dock of Elias Rogers & Co. in Toronto was located on the Esplanade near Church Street.
The Hamilton Steamboat Co. announced on the 20 June, that the steamer MAZEPPA would start her seasonal trips the following weekend calling at Burlington, Elsinore and Brown's Wharf in East Flamborough. The MACASSA and MODJESKA were already stopping at the Canal four times each way. The fare on the MAZEPPA was 15 cents return and included the street car fare, both ways.
The Rogers Coal wharf was busy on the 27 June with the schooners MARY ANN LYDON,SIR C. T. VAN STRAUBENZEE and the ELLA MURTON, all in with coal. The steamer HAMILTON and other vessels on the Montreal run, were delayed by a break in the Lachine Canal.
On Sunday, 3 July, a particularly tempestuous storm raged through Hamilton with rain, thunder and violent squalls. The wharf at Rock Bay was destroyed just as the steamer ACACIA was about to land there. Some people were unceremoniously dumped in the water and the ACACIA ended up on the beach. The sailing yacht ZELMA was heading for the Canal and her skipper intended to tie up at the piers, but the force of the current racing out to the Lake drove her into the road swing bridge and she was dismasted. One crewman was injured, when the main boom fell on him. Out on the Bay, a small boat containing four men was overturned and three of them drowned.
On Monday, 9 July, the new City Swimming Baths were officially opened by Mayor Colquhoun and an array of dignitaries. The baths were situated at the foot of Rush Street, close to the site of the old Cook Wharf.
The schooner W. J. SUFFELL arrived with coal for the gas works and the ELLA MURTON was at Rogers' Wharf on the 13 July. The Lachine Canal having been patched up, the propeller LAKE MICHIGAN cleared for Montreal with a good cargo of general merchandise and the SIR S. L. TILLEY arrived from that port.
An event of considerable interest took place on the 30 July, when the propeller MYLES brought a cargo of iron ore down from Algoma Mills for the Hamilton Blast Furnace Co. Up to that time, all shipments of ore by the Hamilton Iron Mining Co. had been sent down by rail.
The steamer MACASSA was outward bound on the 26 August on her morning trip to Toronto, when she was attacked by the schooner ELLA MURTON, coming through the Canal. The schooner's jib-boom raked the forward deck of the MACASSA, but broke off when it came in contact with the wheelhouse. Passengers for the Beach were landed and the Toronto run was cancelled so that the steamer could be tidied up in time for the late sailing.
Later that day, the steamer CAMBRIA arrived in Hamilton and tied up for the night. The public was invited to inspect her during the evening, and on the 27 August, she departed on a cruise to Alexandria Bay, N.Y., returning on Tuesday, 30 August.
On Friday, 2 September, the schooner ALBACORE arrived from Oswego with coal for Rogers and the steamer CAMBRIA was advertised for another excursion to Alexandria Bay, but the sailing was from Toronto at 3:00 p.m. Evidently the extension of the cruise to Hamilton had not been profitable.
In total disregard for the long-standing superstition held by Lakesmen about not starting anything on a Friday, J. H. Larkin launched the yacht MAPLE LEAF from the Robertson Shipyard. The yacht went down the ways very nicely, but when she hit the water, she careened over and lay on her starboard side. He did not get her straightened up until the following Thursday, 7 September.
Over the weekend of 1 October, the schooners TRADE WIND,W. J. SUFFELL and ELLA MURTON all came in from Oswego. The HAMILTON and the PERSIA arrived from Montreal and the SIR S. L. TILLEY left port with the schooner T. R. MERRITT in tow for Fort William.
The propeller MYLES had loaded 1,200 tons of bituminous coal at Cleveland for the Canadian Pacific Ry. at Jackfish and encountering heavy weather on Lake Superior, took shelter under Gros Cap. On the 4 November, the wind changed, causing her to drag her anchor and she ended up broadside-on to the beach. The weather eased considerably the following day and the steamer TELEGRAM,Capt. Garley, managed to refloat the MYLES.Capt. J. S. Moore reported that she lost her rudder shoe, bent the stock and broke the casting at the top of the stern post. Two tugs were summoned to get her up to Jackfish and thence to a dry dock.
The schooner T. R. MERRITT arrived with her last coal cargo of the season on 29 November and after unloading, went into winter quarters. The following day the propeller LAKE MICHIGAN,Capt. W. O. Zealand came in after a stormy passage from Montreal and laid up for the winter. The Government dredges NIPISSING and ONTARIO were both laid up at McIlwraith's Wharf.
Although 1898 was not a particularly exciting year for the vesselmen, it did show some improvement in the iron business. The Hamilton Blast Furnace Co., which had experienced a dismal year in 1897, was showing some improvement, as the following table indicates:
The proportion of Ontario ores used in the furnace during 1898 was 27% or 20,968 tons, most of which came from Hastings County. The cost of this ore at the mines was $1.78 per ton or $3.00 per ton at the furnace, delivered by rail. The same rate applied to United States ores. The total value of raw materials at the furnace amounted to $479,597.64.
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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.