“The city this morning presented an appearance such as never has been known here before. At a very early hour thousands of people, many of them from a distance, were about the streets, and everywhere bright colored cloths and evergreens were used to decorate buildings. Despite the snow which travelled in clouds before the wind, everyone seemed to be decidedly pleased with the weather and with the way in which the carnival pushers had carried out the arrangements. The merchants of King and James streets had taken particular pains to add a lively appearance to the scene, which on the whole was a very beautiful one, the new-fallen snow, though drifted in places to a depth that made walking very tiresome, forming a beautiful contrast to the general decorations.”
“The Big Carnival is Booming : Thousands of Visitors in the City and Every Train Bringing More.”
Hamilton Times. February 2, 1887.
On a snowy Wednesday morning, February 2, 1887, all trains coming into the city of Hamilton were filled with visitors eager to take in the activities of Hamilton’s first Winter Carnival.
Noting the success of the annual winter carnivals held in the city of Montreal, Mr. W. H. Gillard, president of the Hamilton Board of Trade, thought that with Hamilton’s mountain, toboggan slides and frozen bay, a superior winter carnival could be held successfully locally.
On Friday, January 7, 1887, Mr. Gillard placed his proposal before a largely-attended meeting of the Board of Trade. As the idea had originated with Mr. Archdale Wilson, that gentleman was asked to present his concept:
“He said that Mr. Bristol and he had canvassed the businessmen of the city on the subject and had met with great encouragement. The programme they proposed for the carnival consists, first, of horse races on the bay. They had interviewed the horsemen of the city and were assured that if they could set aside $700 or $800 for prizes, a very attractive programme of races could be arranged for.
“They would also be able to arrange with the owners of equipages in the city to have a drive out on one of the days similar to that held in Montreal every year.
“The presidents of the two toboggan clubs were seen and offered to do all they could to contribute to the success of the carnival. The Palace rink was to be changed into a skating rink and prizes offered by the management for fancy skating, and a fancy dress carnival was to be held there.
“They had also seen the curlers, and say that if some good cups are offered for competition, all the prominent curlers in Western Ontario will attend, and they will hold a great bonspiel.
“He said : ‘We will look upon this matter as a purely business venture to get buyers to visit the city, and by treating them well, they will go away with a very good opinion of the city, and it will benefit our merchants during the whole year to come. In regard to the financial part of it, people said to him, like Poo-bahs, if they did it all, to do it well, and he hoped they would be able to do it, and at a moderate cost.”1
1 “Our Winter Carnival : The Scheme Endorsed by the Board of Trade” Hamilton Spectator. January 8, 1887.
By Tuesday, February 1, 1887, preparations for Hamilton’s first Winter Carnival were nearing their final stages. The erection of a carnival arch was nearing completion. Located at the corner of King and James streets, the arch was profusely decorated with evergreens, toboggans and snowshoes. Four electric lights were included in the design and the effect of the lights on the new-fallen snow contributed to making the arch a thing of beauty and a great attraction once the sun had set.
Out on the bay, the leading curlers of the city were busily clearing snow from a large portion of the bay’s frozen surface in order to accommodate the 500 to 600 curlers expected to soon arrive for the bonspiel. Also, out on the bay, a course for the iceboat races was being laid out.
Back in the city, Mr. J. M. Webber had spared no trouble in getting the Palace Rink prepared for the winter carnival. The ice was put in, the splendid rink was profusely decorated and large numbers of masquerade costumes were readied to be available to rent for the fancy dress events.
The rooms of the Hamilton Art School, located in the Hamilton Provident and Loan Society building, were being set up for the art exhibition to be held in conjunction with the carnival.
Wednesday February 2, 1887 began with the Hamilton area being buffeted by a heavy snowstorm. Out on the bay, the snow and wind combined to make visibility very difficult. Mr. Daniel Dixon, an employee of Mr. Dewey, ice dealer, was sent out on the bay at 5:30 a.m. to open a hole for the ice harvesters. He got lost in the swirling snow. It was not until nearly four hours later that he was able to find his way back to shore.
Despite the drifting snow, trains on the Grand Trunk Railway and the Northern and Northwestern Railway were not delayed very much. The large number of passengers to Hamilton riding on each line were barely inconvenienced by the adverse weather.
The Grand Trunk Railway station was filled with visiting curlers who were greeted by many local curlers. On display at the station were the handsome stones which were the prizes for the bonspiel.
The storm’s effects mounted to such a degree that the rinks made on the bay had been all but obliterated by the driving snow:
“about six acres of ice had been cleared and fifty rinks made. Unfortunately, they had been laid out running north and south, so that the wind which, when they were cleared, blew straight down on them, now blew across them, leaving drifts here and there and making play out of the question.”2
2 “The Big Carnival Is Booming : Thousands of Visitors to the City and Every Train Bringing More” Hamilton Times. February 2, 1887.
It was decided to postpone the bonspiel until the following day, but the curlers were invited to proceed to either the Park Street Rink or the curling rink in Dundas to spend the day playing some friendly games.
The storm was less of an interference with the ice-boat races. Several of the ice-boats practised in the morning making excellent time before the strong winds. The snow drifts were passed through effortlessly, although the drivers did experience some difficulty steering because the snow was so blinding.
The first major event on the first day of the winter carnival was the Carnival Drive :
“It was a very animated scene which presented itself to the thousands of spectators who thronged King and James streets from 2:30 to 5 o’clock yesterday afternoon. Almost every person who had a horse and sleigh of any description was on hand, ready to fall in the drive. There are many fine driving horses owned in and about Hamilton, and these, groomed to look their best, were attached to large family sleighs, cab-sleighs or cutters, most of which appeared to have been just brought from the factory. The harness, robes and decorations were as varied as were the rigs, and the costumes of the occupants of the turnouts were of more colors than could be counted in the rainbow. A few had successfully attempted grotesque ornamentation, but almost all turned out in fine driving style, with their rigs furnished just as on other occasions.”3
3 “Our Grand Winter Carnival : the Tremendous Success of Yesterday Afternoon’s Attractions” Hamilton Times. February 3, 1887.
The organizers of the Carnival Drive had tremendous difficulties in getting the sleighs all to fall in line together, so that instead of one long procession, there were several smaller ones.
The two Hamilton daily newspapers differed in their reporting of the results of the attempts to co-ordinate the Carnival Drive. The Times felt that the mix-up did not adversely affect the spectacle:
“One result of the dividing of the procession was that sections of it were moving up or down King or James street almost incessantly until five o’clock in the afternoon, the excitement thus being kept up and the sidewalks being thronged with thousands of people – men, women and children, many of them in tobogganing costumes – until after dark.” 3
The Spectator, which tended to give all aspects of the Carnival festivities less space than its competitor, was very critical of the handling of the Carnival Drive :
“This feature of the carnival was not so well-managed as it should have been. There was plenty of material to make it an imposing and attractive feature but ‘someone had blundered,’ and when the procession was ordered to start, it was found that it had started about twenty minutes before, that is, about a fourth of it. Then, a good many turnouts were allowed to drop in line from by-streets, and did not start with the main body of the procession. In spite of this mismanagement, however, there was much to admire in this long line of handsome horses and fine winter equipages; and the dense crowds that thronged King and James streets, seemed to be pleased as well as amused as the sleighs passed by.”4
4 “Our Winter Carnival : Somewhat Interfered With By the Storm” Hamilton Spectator. February 3, 1887.
Late in the afternoon, just before sundown, a light rain began to fall over Hamilton, and with the high winds still blowing, few people ventured out into the disagreeable weather to watch the ice-boat races which had been scheduled to start at 4:05 p.m. :
“Just at the start, a very unfortunate accident occurred. The Wildcat, which had the outside position, steered a very erratic course. The other boats headed for the Desjardins canal; but the Wildcat (for what reason it is hard to discover) turned in the opposite direction in starting, and describing a complete circle, came right round on the rest of the fleet, before they had got well underway. Flying along with more than the speed of the wind, the Wildcat bore down on Ed. Hanlan’s boat Sidney. Hanlon was steering, but skilful as he is at the helm, it was impossible for him to get out of the way, for there was a boat both to the windward and leeward of him, and one directly in front. A collision could not be averted, and the Wildcat crashed into the Sidney, literally smashing the latter boat into splinters.”4
All the crew of the Sidney were thrown to the ice, but none was seriously injured but none was seriously injured. However, Maurice Reardon, skipper of the Wildcat did not fare so well:
“When the crash came, he was hurled from the boat and was picked up for dead. For more than an hour, he remained unconscious. There was a deep gash across his forehead and cuts on his head; his legs were both hurt, and he was badly bruised all over. Dr. Mackelcan served up the wound in his forehead and did all that could be done to make him feel comfortable.”4
The ice-boat race was generally less than satisfactory because of the elements. Although there was a good wind from the southwest, the boats repeatedly got stuck in the snow drifts and had to be pulled out. The snow and rain which came down in sheets made correct steering impossible, and the ice-boaters who finished the course were completely drenched, their clothes frozen stiff.
One of the most popular carnival attractions on the first day was the art exhibition. An estimated 8,000 people visited the art rooms to enjoy the works of many local artists, many being agreeably surprised at the quality of the artwork, although one lady visitor to the gallery was a little confused as to who was responsible for the paintings. She was overheard to say:
“Oh, my, what a lot of pictures were done by Adam Brown; he must be real good at it.”4
After sundown, many of the visitors to the city as well as native Hamiltonians were out on the streets to take in the illuminated decorations on many of the downtown buildings:
“The manner in which the business people of the principal streets illuminated their places of business does them a great credit. With the carnival arch as a central attraction, the thousands of Chinese lanterns and colored lights displayed from the buildings east and west of King street, and north and south on James street, made a varied and beautiful scene. The whole city seemed to be out, taking in the sights. A number of additional electric lights made the night almost as light as day.”5
5 “Our Grand Winter Carnival : The Tremendous Success of Yesterday Afternoon’s Attractions” Hamilton Times February 3, 1887.
The arch set up by the carnival committee at the corner of King and James streets was a major source of attraction for downtown promenaders. A large square structure, covered with evergreens, it included four archways wide enough for carriages to pass under it. On the large arch were four large very mottoes :
“Welcome to the Ambitious City” “I Advance; Commerce, Prudence and Industry.” “Hamilton Greets Her Visitors” and “God Save the Queen.”
They were large crowds at both rinks in downtown Hamilton where fancy-dress carnivals were staged. At the Royal Roller Rink, the costumes in evidence were exceedingly well done, most notably Miss McCullough as an Indian princess and Mr. S. W. Townshend as a Wall Street bandit.
Over at the Palace Rink, there were skating competitions as well as a costume ball :
“The interior of the rink presented a most attractive appearance. In addition to the usual decorations, many flags, banners, mottoes etc. had been added, while the illuminations were most dazzling. There was a very good turnout of skaters in costume, some of the dresses being highly fantastic and original.
“About 9:30, the fancy skating contest began, the general skaters being rung off for half an hour or so while it was in progress. For the skating stunts, there were plain, outside, inside cross rolls, scissors, flying trees, spread eagle, diamond movement, one foot, waltz steps, creeping vine, locomotive steps, cart wheels, spins etc.”5
The major attractions on the first evening of Hamilton’s 1887 Winter Carnival were the two toboggan slides, which drew thousands of spectators and participants to either the east end or the west end slide.
The toboggan slide in the west end was set up and operated by the Hamilton Toboggan Club at the edge of the escarpment, directly south of the head of Locke street:
“To add to the enjoyment and splendor of the occasion, the officers and members of the west end club had spared no pains to make their slide as attractive as possible, and for that purpose had caused to be erected near the head of the chute a pole about forty feet high, from the top of which strings of many colored Chinese lanterns were arranged and fastened to the ground fifty or sixty feet away, so as to resemble in shape at a short distance a large tent.
“The course of the slide was marked by about 400 Chinese lanterns, arranged at regular distances and about half as many torches. A huge bonfire blazed on a piece of level ground at the top, giving warmth as well as light, another was at the foot, and two others placed so as to have the best effect were kept burning brightly.
“The face of the mountain with its snow-covered rocks are partially-covered evergreens, was shown in the background, the effect of the light upon it being marvellously beautiful.”5
The heavy, wet snow had caused the toboggan slide to be somewhat slower than it could have been, but this might have been an advantage since many people were tobogganing for the first time:
“The members of the club were present in full force, gentlemen and ladies in toboggan costumes, all anxious to show their hospitality and to see that no one who wanted a ride was disappointed. Hundreds of citizens and their friends kept pouring to the slide until as late as 9:30, and it was well on to midnight before all got away.
“How many visitors were present, or how many were taken down the slide by courteous members of the club, it is impossible to say, but it is a great credit to the club and to each member to be able to say that all visitors were more than delighted with the sport. Many were the expressions of wonder and surprise made use of by the newly-initiated. A stout, elderly lady, as she was being seated for her second ride, remarked that the first was like falling over a precipice in a dream, only it was windy and awfully nice.”5
The east end toboggan slides were situated at the head of Victoria Avenue South :
“At the field entrance was a beautiful arch tastefully decorated and illuminated with the words “Welcome to Our Guests.’ At the top of the slides were two locomotive headlights which shed brilliant light, and these were supplemented by a large number of Chinese lanterns and coal oil lanterns. Two rows of torches spread light on the level part of the slides, and immense bonfires of coal oil barrels kindled on the mountain side to the south afforded a grand illumination which will not soon be forgotten.
“Amongst the crowd were many paters and maters of advanced years who would not trust themselves upon a toboggan (oh! dear, no!) , but who took infinite delight in seeing their sons and their daughters and their grandsons and granddaughters take part in the exhilarating sport.”5
The second day of the Winter Carnival was favored with much more favorable weather than was the case on the first day. Early in the morning, great crowds converged on the downtown streets in order to get the best vantage points for the big Trades Processions, a parade containing displays of products manufactured locally, scheduled to begin at 10:30 a.m. :
“The manufacturers had gone to great trouble to see that the very finest decorations were made to the rigs which carried their goods, and that the goods themselves were put up in such a way as to be the most pleasing to the sight. At 10:30, King street from Hughson street to Ferguson avenue was thronged, and the excited and delighted people rushed in and about among the rigs, examining and asking questions which were promptly answered. The merchants and manufacturers took advantage of the occasion to distribute all sorts of advertising matter. All the while the bands were playing and horns of every size and tone added their discordant notes to the general revelry.”6
6 “ The Big Trades Procession : A Magnificent Carnival Display of Hamilton’s Manufactures” Hamilton Times February 3, 1887.
In its reporting of the parade, the Hamilton Spectator felt that the trades procession was an excellent means for local manufacturers to advertise their firms :
“The great crowds that filled the streets all along the route of the procession had brought before their eyes, in a passing pageant, specimens of the industries on which the city thrives. The result was an exceedingly attractive, and, in many respects, instructive procession. It would be difficult to invent any other method of exhibition that would so plainly and, at the same time, entertainingly impress upon the spectator an idea of the extent and variety of Hamilton’s manufacturing industries.”7
7 “The Carnival Booms : The Trades Procession a Splendid Success” Hamilton Spectator. February 4, 1887.
The parade featured a large number of novel floats, including the display by the John Calder Company which featured a model of a toboggan slide, made out of ice and snow, mounted on a rig. The John Stuart and Son Company rig carried mammoth boxes of tea, with a Chinese mandarin seated on top of them, peacefully smoking.
The display by the Walker Weekly Payment Store was an amusing exhibit - a whole family of ‘colored’ people were reposing on beds, singing themselves to sleep on pure white sheets. Unfortunately, when this display reached the corner of King and James streets, a minor incident took place:
“When the trades procession was passing, mischievous boys on the arch threw a lot of snow down on the happy family of little niggers in the bed. They pulled the bed clothes over their wooly pates and yelled: ‘Go way dere, yo’ white trash.’ ”7
The procession took nearly three-quarters of an hour to pass any given point:
“The leading rigs were at the Gore before the last ones had started. At the conclusion of the drive, the trades display gathered east of the Gore, where a photograph was taken of the assembly. At 12:40, the Thirteenth Band played “God Save the Queen” and Mr. Thomas McBride proposed three cheers for the Queen, which were given with great enthusiasm, and the people dispersed to their homes. Not less than ten thousand people could have witnessed the procession, not including the thousands who saw it from balconies and windows along the line of march.”6
The curling bonspiel on the bay, postponed from the previous day, turned out successfully, despite the ice being somewhat rough.
A large crowd went down to the outdoor rinks to view the matches:
“A good many took their skates along and found some rinks on which the curlers were not playing, where they enjoyed themselves to their hearts’ content.
“The Grand Trunk Railway officials had done all they possibly could to make a convenient access to the rinks by allowing a thoroughfare to be made through their yards and a flight of steps built from their wharf down to the ice. The curlers were provided with hot lunch on the bay and the officers of the Thistle and Caledonian Clubs took good care to see that all were well provided for. Even the boys who were skating on the unoccupied rinks were supplied with an occasional sandwich.”8
8 “The Last of the Carnival : Magnificent Success of the Snowshoe and Toboggan Parade.” Hamilton Times. February 4, 1887.
Throughout the afternoon, the toboggan slides were heavily patronized.
Late in the afternoon, the downtown streets of Hamilton once again began to fill with a large number of people, as active preparations for the evening’s torchlight procession and fireworks display began:
“As soon as it got dark and the illuminations began to twinkle and glimmer and glow, the crowds on the streets rapidly grew until by seven o’clock it was very hard to make one’s way along the principal streets. Then, like Mr. Finney’s turnip famed in song, ‘they grew and grew’ until their growth in two directions was arrested by the buildings. On and near the Gore, the crowd was densest.”9
9 “The Carnival Booms : The Trades Procession a Splendid Success” Hamilton Spectator. February 4, 1887.
Shortly before 7 o’clock p.m., members of the Victoria Toboggan Club began to assemble in front of the Court House. About 100 torches had been provided for the members, but so many turned out, it was necessary to send out for even more torches to accommodate all the processionists :
“At about 7:10, a procession of about 150 people, all in costumes, started for the residence of Mr. Henry McLaren, upper James street, arriving there in about fifteen minutes. When they arrived, they found members of the Hamilton Club already there, as well as a large numbers of tobogganers and snowshoers from Toronto.
“The Hamilton Independent Drum and Fife Band was also on hand, gathered around a huge bonfire playing popular airs. The scene was a very fine one. The residence of Mr. McLaren was ablaze with light and the hundreds of people in bright costumes, with their torches over their shoulders, or standing upright in the snow, made a grotesque and interesting sight. There were lots of good vocalists among them, and their songs and choruses were most enlivening.”8
Shortly, the Thirteenth Battalion Band arrived and proceeded to lead a procession of the nearly 400 snowshoers and tobogganers down James street towards the Gore:
“The whole party, of course wore moccasins, and most of them had snowshoes across their backs. Perhaps of the whole carnival this was the grandest scene. As the 400 or 450 torches moved along, hundreds of Roman candles were set off, and the effect of the colors were beyond description. Three-eights of a mile of moving torches, with the incessant discharge of lights, the music of the bands, and the singings of the tobogganers when the bands stopped playing for a little while is too much for an ordinary mortal to describe and do it justice. The thousands who saw it will never forget it, and those who did not may never have the chance again. The palatial residences along the line of march were decorated and illuminated in a manner in keeping with the procession and all the windows and doors were crowded with admiring spectators.”8
When the processionists reached the Gore, there was an incredible outburst of enthusiasm :
“Amid the discharge of rockets and the cheering and general excitement, the bands poured forth sweet music and all the world seemed supremely happy. There hundreds of rigs on the scene, and the horses gave a good deal of trouble to their drivers, and caused pedestrians some fear, but no serious accidents were reported beyond the breaking of a set of harness and the collapse of a large farm sleigh.
“After the procession broke up, those who had taken part in it stayed and enjoyed the fireworks, many of them forming into small processions winding in and out among the horses and rigs, to the amusement of spectators and danger to their lives.”8
The grand finale of Hamilton’s 1887 Winter Carnival was the fireworks display in the Gore:
“Many balloons of different shapes and colors were sent off, and sailed majestically eastward in cloud land. The sky rockets, wheels, etc., with showers of gold and silver rain, were very attractive, and shouts of admiration burst from the throats of the people as they burst in mid-air and showered their tinted fiery spray upon the people below.
“Prof. Hand is certainly to be congratulated upon the success and beauty of his fireworks last night, and perhaps no more fitting termination of the two days’ festivities could have devised than the display given by him. To the country people and many from a distance, the exhibition was no doubt one which will be long remembered by them, and amid the many pleasant reminiscences of their visit to this city, the fireworks display will stand out prominently.”8