Saturday, 28 January 2012

Night Hawks on James Street North - March 1887

A column from the Hamilton Spectator, March 19, 1887. 
This one is far to perfect to edit or in anyway change - a triumph of writing by a Spectator reporter using the pseudonym Jehoshaphat Jefferson.. Note that the story refers to No. 1 Police station which in 1887 was located in the Hamilton City Hall on James street north. The references are all concerning a late night experience on James street north - and this reprint of that 1887 walk along James street north is dedicated to the businesses and denizens of James street north who continue the vitality of the street present in this 1887 impression.


"About Night Hawks : Life on the Streets When the Night Begins to Wane : What the City Looks Like, What Sort of People Don’t Go Home Till Morning, and What They Do With Themselves”
       Perhaps some of you folks who always keep good, respectable hours would like to know what Hamilton Looks Like in the wee sma ‘oor a yout the twelve, when all good, honest, easy-going people are sleeping. If you feel like, just come along with me. I’ve got through work, and, after duly weighing the matter, have decided to go home and take a sleep. These are the editorial rooms; allow me to introduce you to them. It is nearly three o’clock; the last page of copy has been written; the voice of the night editor is no longer heard raised in profane and sarcastic comment on the literary ability of the associated press agent and away off in the distant perspective of the adjoining compositor’s room, in the midst of the silence broken only now and then by the monotonous click-click of the setting types at the long line of compositors’ cases, you hear his satanic majesty, the devil, proclaiming to the autocratic foreman that 80 “has gone in. Come on, we’ll go home. Now we are on the street. Quite a difference to what it was yesterday afternoon when I met you in this same spot. Then it was lighted by sunshine and alive with people and resounding with bustle and turmoil and trample of feet and jangle of wagons and tinkle of street car bells and the hum of cheery voices. Now, everything is quiet and solemn and strange. As the city lies before you with its silent streets lined with tall and gloomy buildings that take on a mysterious character in the pale, cold moonlight as they stretch away along on either side of the thoroughfares which as far as you can see are deserted, except for a solitary figure of a policeman standing like a bronze statue over there at the corner, and only adding an additional element of solitariness to the scene by his stately and dignified isolation. There is something grand and impressive in the sight of a great city sunk in sleep – lying before you, still, cold, lifeless under the splendor of the pale light of a majestic moon, riding at this hour high up in the southern heavens; it is much like the city of noonday as a live man is like the shrouded dead. Sleep is a great institution. The fellow who invented it had a great head. Every evening the omnipotent King Nod waves his sceptre over this struggling, toiling, grasping, cheating, laughing, loving, sorrowing humanity, and lo! The student lays down his book, the miser puts away his gold, the gambler drops his cards, the young lady quits banging on the piano, the mean man stops his cussedness, the good man puts up the shutters of his soul and they all crawl into their nests and give nature a chance to repair the wear and tear to which their mortal machinery has sustained in the work of the past day. Beneficent King Nod has stretched his magic wand  over the silent city that lies before you, and slowly and peacefully it has sunk into rest and stillness as a fevered giant might under the charm of a soothing opiate – all the passions, prejudices, ambitions, the mental and physical energies of 40,000 people have stopped dead in their tracks, while the omnipotent hand of nature lays hold of men in their fevered race for reputation and wealth and power and says to each of them : “See here, you big feeling and stiff-necked little chump – you insignificant and infinitesimal little speck of existence, even on a world which is itself but an insignificant and infinitesimal speck in the great firmament of the universe which I control, you’ve been making enough fuss about your miserable little anxieties and troubles and aspirations during the past day – now just lay down and keep still so you don’t get shook off while I give your little planet a flip over and bring your side up smiling to the sun in the morning; now don’t laugh, you little big head – just try to run contra to what I say, and see how quick you’ll get shook off, and the place that once knew you won’t know you again forever any more.”
          Well, I don’t wonder you are yawning; it’s pretty late, that’s a fact, but I just wanted to get you into a proper line of thought to enjoy the new experience. We will go down James street now. You see it stretching away down there to where the white frozen surface of the bay is glistening, one side of the street bathed in moonlight and the other smothered in deep shadow that extends to the middle of the roadway. Do you notice how quiet it is; there is scarcely a sound of any kind to be heard, except the noise of our footsteps which awake the little echoes that go skipping along in advance of us, and riot among the gables of the tall buildings and fling themselves bodily against the resonant window panes as if they took a malicious delight in waking up the grave, dignified piles of architecture and wanted to show how much they despised a dull time. Now, we are at the corner of King and James streets. Just stop and listen. You can distinctly hear Sergeant Prentice talking to a policeman in front of the city hall though he is just speaking in an ordinary conversational tone. Now they have gone into No. 1 police station. We’ll drop in too and see whether or not the men have toiled all night and caught nothing. Perhaps you have never been in No. 1 police station. Well, let me introduce you to it. This is the headquarters of our police department, and in that room back behind there where the gas is burning dimly is the chief’s office. That is the center of what you might call the nerve system of this city ; from there radiate some fifty nerves or feelers that penetrate to every corner of our particular aggregation of humanity, and as soon as anything of any account happens  to or agitates any other portion of the community, information of it finds its way through these channels into this little room. I’ll present you with a point – the chief of police of a city like this knows more about that city than any other man in it. You would be surprised to know how little people know outside of their own circle of life, except what they read in the papers. It is a reporter’s business to around to each little circle and jerk out thereof what is new for the benefit of all the other little circles. Well, as I was remarking, this room is not only the centre of the nerve system of the city, but it is the seat of the excutive physical force which controls the city. The chief of police embodies the moral sense or conscience of the municipal organization; he keeps the moral tone as high  as he can ; where the ministers leave of, he takes hold. He is ex officio a great news center, and when tomorrow morning I get up pretty late, I’ll make a bee line first thing for this room to feel the pulse of the whole city, and see that it has not been doing anything rash to itself, or getting itself into trouble while I was dreaming the happy hours away. Well, come into the outer room. These half dozen stalwart fellows lounging on the benches and talking are a section of the night patrol which has just come in. You see their overcoats and fur caps hanging in a line on the wall over there, with the baton and handcuffs belonging to each on the desk below them. Over in the corner on that high desk is the big ledger called the Occurrence Book which, along with the good-looking Cerberus who guards its sacred portals is a source of considerable attractive to the press gang. One of these immense books is filled with reports every two years in this station alone. A new station duty man comes on every month, and before the end thereof, the reporters all known him and love him as a brother. Those rings in the window sill are used to chain crooks and over on the wall in that cabinet is the rouge’s gallery. There is nothing new tonight, so we will move on. The sky away over there in the east is beginning to have a brighter tinge than the rest, though it is a long time till daylight yet – Jerusalem ! what in creation has broken loose now? There is a deafening, strident , reverberating clang in the air above us shattering the silence all into “pi” and the sound waves go rolling down the empty streets like balls in a bowling alley, and bring up with a rattle of echoes at the end. It is the clock in the bell tower striking the hour. Twice more the bell gives tongue, and then in the stillness that follows some vagrant rooster away over in Corktown toots its kazoo. Now, there is a confused murmur of thick voices and the sound of unsteady footsteps. This is the event of the evening – the homeward bound procession of gilded youth. It is a perambulating temperance lecture. Ah me! But aren’t they a sick-looking crowd as they move slowly along balancing themselves on the dizzy eminence of a twelve foot sidewalk.  If they ever had any joviality about them, it seems to have been corroded by their deck load of ginger wine, for they are mighty sedate and solemn in their sloppiness. Judging from the number of times I meet the same young men in this morning promenade, the wild oats they are sowing must be mainly tares.
          Do you notice how the buildings seem to take on an individuality tonight that you never noticed when then streets were full of people? Some of them you imagine have a gaunt and hungry look, while other little fat structures have a bulging in their sides and a contented, sleepy look about them, as if they had gorged themselves with the little pygmies of humanity that throng around them in the day time and were resting after it. The most of them have their blinds pulled close, but here and there a light burning dimly in an upstairs window makes the building look as if it was sleeping with one eye open. The most of them have their blinds pulled, but here and there a light burning dimly in an upstairs window makes the building look as if it was sleeping with one eye open.
          See that will’-the-wisp light dancing along the dark side of the street down there and disappearing every now and then into some doorway and listen to the swish, swish of rubbered feet on the sidewalk. If you were nearer you would see a tall, old man with a rugged face and frame and a certain poise about the shoulders and measured swing of the feet that proclaims an old soldier. He wears an old fur turban pulled rakishly over one ear like a forage cap, and an overcoat that looks as if it braved a thousand years, the huge collar of it he keeps religiously turned up; in one hand her carries a dark lantern and in the other a club; he looks like a cross between a pirate and a brigand, continuing all that is most ferocious in the aspect of both, and is calculated to strike terror into the heart of every transient who carries a heavy conscience or pocketbook; a mighty faithful and good-hearted old man all the same is nightwatchman Jamieson.
          “How are you, Mr. Jamieson?”
          “Well, young man.”
          “Are you catching much this evening, Mr. Jamieson?”
          At this point a lull in the colloquy takes place, and then after making sure the mud is pretty deep in the street between us –
          “Mr. Jamieson, how is your liver?”
          This is Mr. Jamieson’s vulnerable point. The round disk of light from the lantern is violently agitated for a moment and then the wicked little echoes say naughty things.
          It is not likely we will meet anymore tonight. In fact, it is not often you meet so many at this hour. Sometimes you can go along James street, from King to Cannon streets, and never meet a soul.  As a general thing there is never any danger of getting molested going home like, except you happen to run against a gang of drunken toughs going home. They will sometimes try to pick a quarrel by purposely jostling you as you go through, but if you keep cool and turn it off with a joke, you’re all right. Then, like as not, they become oppressively friendly and won’t let you go away until you go in somewhere and “take sumpin’ ” at the jostler’s expense. However, a good, stout stick is a mighty comforting thing to have along in a back street on a dark night. Sometimes you meet a few belated people going home from a party, usually a gentleman with a young girl on one arm and her mother or a stout old chaperone on the other. The chaperone is generally doing all the talking, and the young girl trips along with a dreamy look on her face and her thoughts roaming off in a delicious reverie as she reviews the events of the evening in a mirage of girlish imagination. The group flits past, leaving a breath of delicate perfume in the air, and the reporter rambles on in another delicious reverie, while in the mirage of his imagination there floats a dainty vision of fleecy white cloak, a pretty young face with a stray curl of gold on the cheek and a pair of lovely eyes that look out at him with a sparkle of innocent curiosity. Ah, who comes now? A rustle of rich silk, a jingle of bangles, the clicking step of a high-heeled bootine, a glitter of jewelry, a form, graceful and divinely tall, a close-wrapped cloak, a handsome, passionate face – now white and drawn – with a pair of eyes that burn like coals approaches and a sickening odor of musk and cheap perfume fills the air as she hurries past looking straight before her.
          Well, I guess we better make a stagger home for I hear the market wagons beginning to rumble down the mountain and the dogs and roosters are beginning to wake up. There’s my old friend policeman X over there. He used to waylay me going home at night in the election times and talk about politics till my teeth chattered, but, I really believe I converted the old fanatic in those midnight confabulations, so I forgive him –
          “Good night, old hoss.”
          “Good morning, you mean. Be off to your roots, you young nighthawks, or I’ll run ye in.”
          “Who’re you calling nighthawks? We’re too fly for you anyhow, you old pelican. I hope we didn’t disturb your slumbers – you’re so grumpy.
          “Say, how are the British Columbia elections going?”
          “Oh, we’ve knocked Hades out of the Grits.”
          “Hades – is that the place that’s always gone Grit?”
“No; that’s the place Grits always go to. Good night.”
“Well, hold on. Say, will the commissioners raise our salaries, think ye? They  say the judge – dead stuck agin – “
And so home and to bed, as my old friend Pepys used to remark.
                             JEHOSHAPHAT JEFFERSON

Friday, 20 January 2012

1885 - The Wild West Comes to Hamilton

For many Hamiltonians, August 26, 1885 was a day they would not soon forget.
It was the day that Buffalo Bill, Chief Sitting Bull and Annie Oakley, and a huge supporting cast came to the city for a performance of the Wild West Show.
At the time W. S. Cody, aka Buffalo Bill, was the most famous person in the world, not just the most popular entertainer. His Wild West Show was something new in public entertainments and played to immense crowds all over North America, and later in Europe.
Chief Sitting Bull was arguably the most famous of the aboriginal leaders of his day, while Annie Oakley was just beginning her rise to fame - she would ultimately become just as well-known and popular as Buffalo Bill himself.
As was the case whenever the Wild West Show came to town, there would be a street parade. 
When the Wild West Show procession passed the corner of King and James on that day in August 1885, the police had a tough time containing the excitement of the immense crowd, particularly the small boys who were delirious to see their hero in person.
The actual show was held at Simon James' race track grounds in the east end where there was enough room for all the action. The track was also readily accessible to both the railroad of lines of the Hamilton North and Northwestern and Grand Trunk railways. Both railway lines put on special trains to carry the thousands of Hamiltonians who wanted to see the show to the track.
Here follows the complete Spectator coverage of the Wild Show in Hamilton (personal note - I could never in my dreams compete with the excellent writing shown in this article!)



1885-08-27 Spectator

"Wild Western Scenes : Buffalo Bill’s Great Show in Hamilton”

       Buffalo Bill is here. The town is flooded with white sombreros and red paint.  Shut your eyes and a string of mustangs, mules, cowboys and Indians float before them. Open them and the strange procession is still there. Thousands of people thronged the streets yesterday to watch the procession. Barnum’s circus never drew a larger crowd. The corner of King and James streets was almost impassable. It would have been entirely so had it not been for the policemen.

          Buffalo Bill himself headed the procession. A hack full of Indians came next. Nate Salsbury was not among them. More Indians on horseback. A band. Some cowboys. Some pack mules. A pretty girl on a pretty horse. A dilapidated coach drawn by six mules and carrying a couple of Indian women. Then Indians and cowboys in single file to the end. Some of them carried banners. Hundreds of small boys followed the processionists. They yelled like mad and flung their hats in the air. The fever was upon them. Last night they dreamed of shooting Indians, and rescuing fair maidens from the clutches of the reckless dime store denizens of the boundless west.

          The afternoon was chilly, but the air was bracing and the sun shone brightly. It was a bad day for an open-air exhibition, and a big crowd went down to the Simon James’ driving park to see the Wild West show. The special trains over the Great Western Railway and the Northern and Northwestern railway lines were crowded, and a great number of people drove down.

          When the show began, there must have been between three and four thousand persons in the park. Before the performance, the crowd strolled about the ground examining the horses and mules and steers and the rickety Deadwood stage coach  and the other paraphernalia of the show, watching, at a respectful distance, the three buffalo and the elk, and peering curiously into the tents and wigwams, a score or more of which were erected at the east end of the park. The wigwams were the greatest objects of curiosity. Most of the Indians who inhabited them were stretched at full length, apparently asleep; others were arranging their toilet, bedaubing a few more artistic touches of paint on their faces; while in one or two lodges, several braves were absorbed over a game that looked like dominos. But no matter what they were doing, they all regarded with stolid indifference the spectators who intruded on their privacy.

        The performance was given on and inside the track, in front of the grandstand which was packed with humanity as it had never been before. It was exciting and interesting all through, and to many who had read romantic and thrilling tales of the wild west but had never seen anything of the kind, it was instructive. It is a bold and original idea, this, of reproducing, in mimic, the scenes which have furnished material for numberless romances to fire the souls and disturb the dreams of English-speaking youth in both hemispheres, but, as most bold and original schemes are, the scheme is successful; and Buffalo Bill has already made a fortune of his Wild West Show. He was himself the principal attraction, and came in for the lion’s share of the applause. When he dashed down the track on his handsome dappled grey pony, and suddenly stopping, wheeled around and faced the grandstand, it was not necessary for the “lecturer” to inform the people that was “Hon. W. F. Cody,” better known as “Buffalo Bill.”

          Mr. Cody is a splendid specimen of manly beauty. He rides his horse as if he were part of the animal, and in his embroidered magenta hunting shirt and white sombrero, and with his long hair flying in the breeze, he looks every inch the ideal  scout, and is a figure picturesque and attractive enough to make an artist’s eyes glow with delight and cause a woman’s heart to beat faster. Buffalo Bill’s record is well-known, and it is hardly necessary to say that he is the most famous and successful of the western scouts and frontiersmen since Kit Carson. But there were other personages in the show who were also regarded with interest. The old Sioux chief, Sitting Bull, was an object of great curiosity. He wore a crimson tunic, and his head and back were covered with tufts of eagle feathers. The famous old warrior didn’t take an active part in the performance, excepting to lead war dance. Buck Taylor, “the king of the cowboys,” was here with Dr. Carver last fall, was received with loud applause from the crowd. The people welcomed the big, good-humoured, dashing fellow as an old friend.

          The performance lasted nearly two hours and the interest never flagged. It began with a grand procession parade in which the whole troop of Indians and cowboys appeared, all mounted. Then the events followed without a pause. There was a close race between a cowboy, a Mexican and an Indian. Billy Johnson showed how quickly the pony express rider can change horses. A race between a mounted Indian and an Indian on foot was won by the latter. A general skirmish between Indians and cowboys occurred in which a great quantity of blank cartridge was fired off, and in the course of the combat, Buffalo showed how he killed Yellow Hand in single combat and took his scalp in 1876. Johnny Baker, “the Cowboy Kid,” did some wonderful rifle shooting at short range, holding his rifle in a dozen difficult positions and never failing to hit the mark. Miss Annie Oakley also did some clever marksmanship (or rather markswomanship) with both rifle and shotgun. But the best shooting was done by Buffalo Bill himself. He shot at 24 clay pigeons sprung from a trap, hitting 21 and missing 3 in one minute and 18 seconds. He also did some splendid shooting with his horse running at full speed. An Indian galloping alongside him flung about a dozen balls in the air in quick succession, and Mr. Cody broke every one of them. The riding of bucking horses by cowboys was greatly enjoyed.  One of the riders had a narrow escape from being injured. The horse reared so high that it was impossible for its rider to keep his seat and he tumbled on his back and came near being trampled on Buck Taylor gave an exhibition of his perfect horsemanship – leaning down and picking up his hat and handkerchief from the ground, while his horse was galloping at full speed. The Indian dances were grotesque and funny but rather tame. The warriors gathered in a circle, stamped their feet and jerked their bodies in time to the monotonous music from a couple of tom toms, keeping up a continuous falsetto squealing and looking as hideous as possible. The Indian war dance is peculiar, but does not bear upon the mind of the spectators a very vivid picture of the poetry of motion. The corn dance appears to be the war dance with the final wallop omitted. For this reason the corn dance is preferable to the war dance. If the exhibition of aboriginal terpsichorean art was tame, the attack on the Deadwood stage was just the opposite. The stage was attacked by a score of mounted Indians, and for a time, it looked as if the passengers and guards would be utterly paralysed by the tremendous noise of the blank cartridge and the terrific war whoops of the painted warriors; but presently a band of cowboys came to the rescue, and as they could fire the blank cartridge more quickly than the red men and could yell louder too, the red men were soon put to flight, but not before two or three of the painted savages had carefully dismounted and lain down and died. The stage coach was drawn by six mules and driven by a gentleman who, the master of ceremonies said, had been a bosom friend of the famed Hank Monk. At the end sat “Con” Grover, the cowboy sheriff of the Platte.

          The cowboy brass band was present throughout the performance playing most of the time. Everything the band played, it played well – excepting God Save the Queen.

Sunday, 15 January 2012

Salvation Army at Work - 1885


“The prayer meeting last night was a scene of wild excitement and enthusiasm and any person unacquainted with army songs of praise would have been impressed with wonder at the tumultuous proceedings.”
                                             1885-02-02 Spectator
          There had been a lull in the success of the Hamilton Salvation Army in helping non-believers change their lives and give themselves to God.
          Salvation Army Captain Johnson, aided by Captain Miss Mills and Captain Miss Harvey came to a decision that what was needed was a mass prayer meeting and the local Salvation soldiers were told that they may well be asked to stay at the meeting all night to talk with those interested in professing their allegation to Jesus.
          For this major prayer meeting, many former Hamiltonians who were among the first to fund the Lord through the efforts of the Salvation Army and who had joined the army, were invited to return to the city for the meeting.
In the usual style, the prayer meeting was preceded by several marches through the downtown streets. As noted in the Spectator, the processions were remarkable well responded to despite the frigid temperature of a February day : “the marches were numerously attended and the band played spiritedly and in good tune, but the extremely cold probably prevented good singing on the streets”
An immense crowd of curious citizens followed the brass band and the soldiers marching in their colourful uniforms to the army’s barracks, where the hall was eventually filled to capacity.
The programme began with singing of many of the popular songs of the day, the lyrics of which had been changed to reflect Christian beliefs. Other hymns and well-known spirituals were part of the musical selections.
The Spectator reporter in attendance made the following judgments on which songs worked the best in his categories : “Hallelujah to the Lamb” – best chorus; “I Shall Never Know Sorrow Over There’” – softest hymn; “I Will Follow Thee, My Savior” – most pleasing solo.”
The Hamilton Times also sent a reporter to the prayer meeting. He observed that Captain Johnson sent soldiers right out into the audience to directly engage with those in attendance, trying to convince them to give their souls to God. The captain told the audience that the soldiers would stay all night praying for the lost in the audience if that is what was required.
The man from the Times noted that the soldiers working the audience had Captain Johnson sent soldiers out among the audience to convince them to give their souls to God had “tears streaming down faces as they implored God to ‘save the people’ ’’ and that “the whole scene was a most affecting one, and he would have been made of ‘stern stuff’ who would not have been impressed.”
The Spectator man wrote out a detailed account of how the prayer meeting worked : “
During this season of “old-time religion,” the earnestness in prayer was very intense, and sometimes painfully so. Occasionally, twenty or more soldiers would be praying at once; then all would be perfectly silent – supplication on the knees,
                   Send the power,
                   Send the power,
                   Send the power,
                   Jesus promises should come down.
This was repeated innumerable times. As each convert was brought forward, loud ejaculations of joy and praise were shouted, the soldiers immediately surrounding and exhorting God to save him. Upon the convert stating that he intended to serve God in the future, a tremendous song of joy was sung. The whole of this scene was largely participated in by one who formerly was a most successful Christian worker, but for the past two years has been living in a state of sin and infidelity through reading the works of Watts, Bradlaugh, and others. A week ago he chanced to call in upon an army meeting and sat laughing at the proceedings. The soldiers gradually obtained from him the particulars of his life, and then never ceased working upon him until his former state was restored to him. His gratitude to them is now unbounded.”
Many came forward to publicly profess their conversion to Christ amid shouts from the soldiers loudly proclaiming “Hallelujah!’” “ Bless Him!’” and “He Does Answer Prayer!”
While the prayer meeting did not last all night, it did last until well after midnight.
It was brought to a close with joyful handshakes between the soldiers and the gathered, between the newly converted and everyone, and between members of the audience who maybe had not gone forward to profess their conversion but who felt the joy of the meeting, and who maybe had a seed planted in their minds.
The soldiers and audience separated with the singing of “Praise God, From Whom All Blessings Flow!”

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Swimming Baths - 1883



       Late in April, 1883, Hamilton City Council received a petition, signed by 339 citizens, which read, in part :
“The undersigned petitioners respectfully desire to bring under your notice the question of erecting a free swimming bath for this city. Many reasons can be advanced to show the necessity of such an institution in our midst. Among others, we may mention the difficulties which surround the enjoyment of bathing in the Bay or at the Beach, the success of similar institutions, the great benefit it would prove for the mechanical portion of the city, the sanitary results, which are of the most important nature, as well as the tendency to encourage and foster a desire among the people to perfect themselves in swimming and other life-saving and health-giving accomplishments.”
On May 16, 1883, a reporter for the Hamilton Spectator interviewed a number of workingmen for their views concerning the necessity of the proposed swimming baths.
Mr. Joseph Harron, tailor, expressed himself strongly in favor of having baths erected at a convenient place near the centre of the city. He felt that the demand for such a facility would be great and that a small fee would gladly be paid by workingmen, who would rather pay than go to the bay to bathe.
        Another person approached by the Spectator for comment on the swimming bath question, Mr. Robert Coulter, was of the opinion that the city water which would be provided at public baths would be unfit for bathing purposes without being warmed and that the water would not be as refreshing as the water in the bay.
Coulter felt that “suitable accommodation for bathing could be found at the bay between James and Bay streets, or in the vicinity of Cook’s old wharf, where the water was always pure. A bathing house might be erected there large enough to accommodate all who would wish to bathe, and the locality is central, being easy of access by the street railway, and by charging a small fee, the expense of constructing and maintaining the baths would soon be met.”
        On May 17, 1883, the following letter appeared in the Spectator :
“To the Editor - Allow me to speak on the subject of those much-looked for baths. I do not think it has occurred to anyone in authority that my sex requires the comfort of a bath as well as yours. I hope that certain days will be set aside entirely for us. I am one of a large number, especially in my calling, who are eager for the opportunity, sitting, as we do, in dusty, stifling rooms. Near the foot of James street would consume too much time, or entail a cost of fifteen cents, an object to many us of us.
                                A STEAMSTRESS
On Friday May 25, 1883, the city council’s health committee made a visit to the bay front and there inspected the shore for a suitable location for the proposed baths “
“Mr. Grant, sail-maker, who has been a resident down there for fifty years, accompanied them and was of great help. Mr. Grant suggested the place where Cook’s wharf used to be, so the party went there, inspected it and came to the conclusion that it was the best place. The water is clear, the bottom is good, and there is no sewer within a mile of it.” (Spectator)
The general consensus of the committee members was the Cook’s wharf location was worthy of recommendation to council as a whole for approval.
Despite the feelings of the members of the health committee in favor of a public bath location near the bay, the issue was far from settled. There was still considerable pressure to locate the baths as near the center of the city as possible.
On Thursday May 31, 1883, City Engineer Haskins was sent to Toronto to examine the Wiman baths located on Toronto island :
“He had to hire a little steamer to take him across to the island, as there were no ferries running. He was not very favorably impressed with that spot for a bathing place, although he describes the building as being well-adapted for the purpose for which it was designed.”
The movement for public baths near the center of Hamilton using water from the city’s own waterworks system resulted in the formation of a special committee of city council to further investigate the question.
As a preliminary response to the demand for public bathing facilities, the Hamilton City Council decreed that certain sections of the bayfront could be used for such purposes until 7 a.m. every morning.
An  editorial on the subject, appearing in the Spectator of June 13, 1883, the writer, with tongue firmly in cheek, complimented the generosity and foresight of the Hamilton City Council for their decree:
“At last, the people of this city have been granted a place in which to bathe, and doubtless the names of the worthy city fathers for 1883 will be handed down to posterity as having conferred an untold benefit on the human race in granting the pure and fresh waters (?) at the foot of Wellington, Catharine and Rush streets, and opposite the Dundurn grounds as public bathing resorts, to be bathed in only before 7 a.m. Now, how, many people will be able to get from their homes to any of the above named places in tie to have a wash and return to their work by 7 o’clock? What people want is a place in which they can bathe in the evening after the day’s work is over and they have a few hours at their disposal. Again, even if they could manage to get to one of these places, how many would care to wash in water such as that at the places mentioned, or at least the two former places? Fancy a man going for a wash at the foot of Catharine street. A reporter visited that place not long ago and saw a number of urchins taking a dip, and observed that when they came out of the water, their backs were covered with coal dust, and before dressing they scarped it off with a rough towel, leaving their persons smeared with black, and certainly not the better for the wash. The Wellington street water is not much better, and when there is an east wind blowing, and a coal schooner at McIlwraith’s or Browne’s wharf, the surface of the water at Cook’s old wharf is also covered with coal dust. There can also be no doubt that the citizens desire a public bath that they can enjoy, and the aldermen individually are of the same opinion, and it looks very much if they are only taking the present step of allowing bathing in the places named in order to put off erection of a bath, and probably let the matter remain as it is till next year. In the meantime, they may be sure that the magnanimous privilege afforded the public in granting these waters will not be abused.”
On June 18, 1883, a letter from Mr. B. E. Charlton to Alderman Carruthers, chairman of the Board of Health, was reprinted in the Spectator:
“Dear Sir : I beg to inform you that I have now under construction on Wellington street, near my works, a public swimming bath, which I trust will be ready for use before the end of the present month.
“The bath is built of solid concrete and of the following dimensions, namely : About 40 feet long by 30 feet wide and 6 feet in depth, with a sloping bottom, causing the depth of water to vary from 35 to 65 inches. This will contain, when full, about 40,000 gallons of water, which will be warmed by steam, and constantly changed by the flow of a continuous stream
“The bath will be covered by a one-story building; well-lighted by skylights by day and gas by night. It will contain 31 dressing rooms at the commencement, with all the conveniences to be found in modern establishments of this kind. Indeed, it is modeled after the best uptown swimming baths of the city of New York.
“It is my intention to place the whole under the supervision of some competent manager, who will charge 10 cents for a bath and small additional sums for towels, for bathing suits, coffee, sandwiches etc. to those who wish them. We will reserve certain days for ladies, when no other attendants than females will be present, and provide an instructor to give lessons in swimming at certain hours if classes are formed.
“My object in writing this letter is chiefly to request city council, through your committee, to supply the necessary water for this year free of charge, and for the first five years at a rate not exceeding the cost to the city of pumping. As this is but an experiment and the price to be charged so low as not to give promise of very extensive remuneration, I trust this council will consider this requisition, and if my proposition is favorably recommended by your committee, I will endeavor to have the bath open before Dominion day.
Yours very truly,
B. E. Charlton
When the committee of the city council responsible for investigating how to meet the need for public swimming baths in Hamilton met on June 18, 1883, they considered Mr. Charlton’s letter and the merits of his proposal.
 As reported in the Spectator: “it was decided that the baths now in course of construction by him (Mr. Charlton) could not answer the purpose of a free swimming bath, and it was the unanimous opinion of this committee that this undertaking should not interfere with the scheme proposed by the city engineer.”
The committee did agree to provide Mr. Charlton with the water free of charge if, one day a week, the public were allowed free access to the baths. It was also decided that the committee should personally inspect Mr. Charlton’s facilities.
Before that committee could organize itself to tour the Charlton bath project, a reporter for the Spectator asked for, and received, permission to conduct his own inspection.
An article describing his inspection appeared on June 26, 1883:
“The proposed bath is in Mr. Charlton’s vinegar works on Wellington street, near King street. It is a large square hole sinking 6 feet in the earth, 40, 40 feet long and 30 feet wide. The water comes in through a pipe in the centre and runs out in one corner, and on one side a pipe run along through which steam and hot water will pass to heat the bathing water. The hole was dug some two years ago for a bath, but, at that time, the scheme fell through and it has since been used for storage purposes. It is lined with Portland cement and water lime. Steps will descend from the sides, and at the west end and a sloping platform goes from the top to the bottom, so that persons can go in gradually without taking that dreaded plunge. Entrance is from Wellington street. On the right hand side will be the office; on the left, the dressing rooms, and over to the southwest corner, a shower bath is to be erected.”
The reporter then proceeded to question Mr. Charlton on the way the baths were to be operated.
“Our charge will be 10 cents,” Mr. Charlton said, “for bath and towel; if anything more is wanted, of course we will charge extra.”
“Anything more?” asked the reporter, “I don’t exactly understand.”
“Well, what I mean is, if a bathing suit and dressing room are wanted. You see we will have pegs around the walls here where a man can hang his clothes, but if he don’t like to do that, he can have the use of a dressing room and a bathing suit by paying an additional 10 cents.”
“What about allowing it to be used free one day each week?”
“Well, I hardly think that would do. You see that if that was done, no person but boys would come. No proposition has been made to me yet to have it open that way, but, of course, if the council ask it, I will grant it. We’re going to have a nice place here, I can tell you.”
At 5 a.m. on Saturday June 30, 1883, the Wellington street swimming baths were first opened for public use.
After that day, the baths were regularly opened from 6 a.m. until closing at 10 p.m., except for Sundays when the baths were only opened from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. On Wednesdays, the baths were opened for free.
On Tuesday afternoons, there were special ladies classes for instructions on how to swim, lessons provided by the swim instructor, Mr. Burton.
Mr. Burton was available to teach swimming to men and boys at other times for a nominal fee.
The price of admission to the baths was ten cents, including the provision of a towel. Dressing rooms and bathing suits were five cents each extra. The swimming bath were an immediate success, with a substantial number of citizens making use of the facility, especially during the hottest days of the summer.
Mr. Burton’s swimming lessons were also well patronized.
On July 23, 1883, in a follow up interview, the Spectator reporter talked to Mr. Charlton about the first weeks of his swimming bath operation:
“It is surprising,” said Mr. Charlton of the swimming baths, “how soon boys learn to swim. Some of them learn the rudiments in one lesson and are able to swim across the bath in a couple of days.
“There is one,” he continued, pointing to a youngster who was swimming on his back with the assistance of a float, “who has only been we us three days. If he practices, he will become a vigorous swimmer. To teach his children to swim, I hold, is a duty which every man owes to his family. Some people have not the opportunity of doing so, but in every city and town where there is a swimming bath children should be compelled to practice the art. Reporters then would not be called upon to chronicle so many drowning accidents.”
Mr. Charlton went back to Hamilton City Council on September 10, 1883. He at that time applied for a larger supply of water for his swimming baths.
As a result of the success of the first two months’ of operating his swimming baths, Mr. Charlton had decided to enlarge the bath from 30 feet in length to 60 feet and the same in width.
As reported in the Spectator, Mr. Charlton “will have seats round the room for spectators, as he proposes also to give exhibitions of swimming when the large baths is completed. Mr. Charlton thinks it very probable that if the exhibitions take well, he will have the baths lit up with calcium or electric lights on such occasions.”