Saturday, 13 July 2013

1885 - Rowing Regatta

 “If the regatta committee of the Canadian Association of Amateur Oarsmen had selected the weather as well as the day for the annual regatta, it could hardly have been more propitious than that of yesterday”
          “Battle of the Oars : The Sixth Annual Regatta of the C. A. A. O.”
          Hamilton Spectator.    August 6, 18851
          If there is one sport that the geography of Hamilton favors more than any other, it is the sport of competitive rowing.
          Located at the west end of Lake Ontario, and with a large, sheltered harbor, there was plenty of space for training and for competitions.
          On August 5, 1885, a large number of rowers were in Hamilton for the 6th annual regatta of the national organization, the Canadian Association of Amateur Oarsmen.
          A better location could not have been chosen for the event:
          “The sun shone brightly from a clear blue sky flecked with light, fleecy clouds which occasionally sailed lazily across his face and prevented him from imprinting his warmest kisses on the faces of the ladies.
          “A pleasant breeze swept over the bay, and rippled the surface of the water without making it too lumpy for the shells. In short, it was a fine day for rowing on the bay.”1
                A straight course, one mile and a half in length, had been plainly marked out on the bay with buoys and flags.
          A crowd of spectators, estimated at over 6,000 mainly on the beach strip, filled every possible vantage point of the bay to watch the competitions. Many actually watched from one of the many boats on the bay:
          “It was worth travelling a long way to see a spectacle as animated and attractive as was presented yesterday afternoon. The piers were crowded with people, a majority of whom were ladies, and the majority of the ladies wore bright costumes,
          “Along the shore for half a mile below the Ocean House – opposite the finishing point – there was a great mass of humanity.
          “Steamers, large and small, moved hither and thither, decks covered and cabins full of spectators. Far and near, the creamy sails of yachts and small sail boats gleamed in the sunshine, and it seemed as if every row boat owned in or near the city was on the bay. Of course, these row boats persisted in getting in the way of the larger craft, and several venturesome rowers narrowly escaped having their boats swamped”1
When the races were over, the winners awarded their prizes, the crowds began to go home, and the bay started to resume its normal appearance, having a less chaotic number of vessels on its surface.
The sixth annual regatta of the Canadian Association of Amateur Oarsmen was considered a rousing success by competitors and spectators alike.
A small group of merchants were particularly pleased with the event:
“There was enough beer sold to keep a brewery going for six months.”1

Friday, 12 July 2013

1885 - Prof. Johnson's Machine

There was a member of Hamilton’s black community who was not only very well-known in his home city, but indeed his fame was much more widespread.
Assuming the title, “Professor,” C. A. Johnson, was an orator, writer and newspaper editor.
On July 20, 1885, the Hamilton Spectator reprinted an account of Prof. Johnson’s appearance in New York City as carried in one of that city’s newspapers, the New York Exchange :
“Johnson, the colored weather prophet and editor of the British Lion published in Hamilton, Can., who recently offered to give the Canadian government 200 colored volunteers to fight against Riel, is in town today.”1
1 “In a New Role : Prof. and Col. C. A. Johnson Announces a Startling Machine”
Hamilton Spectator. July 20, 1885.
Prof. Johnson was attempting to rent a hall to give a lecture, of course, charging a fee for all who would want to hear him speak.
To drum up interest in what he was going to speak about, Johnson gave an interview with a newspaper reporter from the New York Exchange in which he said:
“I have an aerial machine made to go at the speed of at least 200 million miles an hour, which I will exhibit at my lecture, and I will navigate by electricity. I shall startle the people. I propose to go from New York to Liverpool in a day and a half. I understand all about the wind and the air currents and have made my arrangements accordingly.”1
The reporter asked Johnson the following question : “Would not such a rate of speed cause concussion of the brain?”1
In reply, Johnson said : “Oh, not at all. I have provided for that. I understand all about quick motion and have made arrangements against such contingencies. I’m not in a position to explain definitely the principles of my invention, but I have not the slightest doubt it will succeed. People can’t help being impressed with it, and I believe in five years, instead of Jacob Sharp’s railroad on Broadway, we’ll have aerial machines which will transport us up or down Broadway in a few seconds, at almost infinitesimal cost.”1
This was just one of the Professor Johnson’s many incidents designed to attract attention to himself, his newspaper and his public lectures.

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

1885 - Stutt's Mill Explosion

About 8 miles, north of Hamilton, and within the township of West Flamboro, Wentworth County, was, even in the summer of 1885, a historic area which progress had left behind.

In the early years of the nineteenth century, along the banks of the Spencer Creek, was a community known as Crooks’ Hollow, which was a thriving, prosperous commercial and residential long before Hamilton had started to made any significant progress.

Using the power generated by the stream, there were a number of mills, and a community of workers employed at them.

By 1885, the other major mill still in operation in the vicinity was then owned by James Stutt and Sons.

During the afternoon of June 8, 1885, about 4:30 p.m., a terrible accident took place at the mill:

“The boiler and engine house, a substantial stone building, stood some fifteen or twenty feet from the main building. The mill being run by water power as well as steam, the boiler had not been used for several months, and it was repaired recently to fit it for use again. It was decided to get steam up yesterday afternoon.

“In starting up, the dome did not work properly, and the flues became red hot before the water began to flow through them. Almost immediately after the water entered the flues, the boiler burst.1

1 “Fatal Explosion : A Boiler Bursts in West Flamboro and Kills Two Men” Hamilton Spectator. July 9, 1885.

The explosion was so intense that the huge boiler itself was hurled out of the building, while the dome was thrown over 250 yards into the nearby swamp:

“Some of the pieces were picked up 300 yards away by the old Brock road. A stick of timber from the roof of the boiler house flew high into the air over the tops of the houses and landed 75 yards away. In falling, it was driven straight into the ground, and still remains there, standing upright, a proof of the terrific force of the explosion.”1

Sadly, it was not only the equipment which was devasted by the boiler explosion.

John A. Stutt, one of the Stutt sons, was a married man, with four small children. He was hit on the head by a piece of iron and died from a concussion of the brain.

Ed Maloney was the man charged with the firing up process. He was blown thirty feet in the air, landing in a nearby stack of straw. When found, Maloney’s body was entirely nude, all his clothing blown away by the force of the blast. Every bone in his body was broken, and as described graphically in the Spectator, Maloney’s head was “an unrecognizable mess.”

The Dundas True Banner was a weekly newspaper and so when it published its coverage of the tragic event, the coverage focussed mainly on the aftermath:

“On Sunday last, an immense number of people visited the scene of the late boiler explosion. Many women and children walked out from Dundas, to say nothing of the stream of men and boys, and in some cases so great was the curiosity to see the wreck that perambulators and their infantile contents were wheeled all the way from town and back by curious parents.

“The scene is truly one of desolation, the stone boiler house being levelled to the ground, the near half of the three story stone main building being torn to pieces, and the frame building in rear of it completely demolished. The boiler which created all this havoc was completely demolished. The boiler which created all this havoc was opened out as flat as a sheet of cardboard by the explosion and the flues were blown hundreds of yards away. The wreck and ruin was startling for those who visited the scene to see and the thought of the valuable lives sacrificed made all melancholy and sad.”2

2  “The Boiler Explosion” Dundas True Banner. July 16, 1885.

Saturday, 6 July 2013

1885 - July 1 Celebrations

Not even twenty years after the Dominion of Canada had been legislated into existence, the country’s national holiday had already become a tradition, a day for special events and celebrations for communities across the country, including the city of Hamilton.
 The July 1, 1885 celebrations were described by the Spectator reporter for publication in the next day’s issue:
“Canada’s eighteenth birthday has come and gone, and it leaves a memory of a cool and pleasant day, of flying flags, of music from many bands, of firecrackers and flaring fireworks, of dust, of ice cream, of soda water, cigars and – beer.”1
1 “Our National Holiday : How It Was Observed By Hamilton People” Hamilton Spectator. July 2, 1885
During the morning hours, the holiday was marked by throngs of people filling the streets, especially in the downtown core as people hustled here and there to the many attractions which had been scheduled for the day.
The railway stations also were magnets for many people in the morning as special excursion trains had been put on with trips for the day to Port Dover, Buffalo, Toronto and elsewhere.
The reporter captured well the perfection of the day in terms the climate and in terms of the general mood of the citizens:
“The weather could not have been finer. The sun was shining from a cloud-flecked sky, but a delightfully cool breeze throughout the day prevented things from becoming uncomfortably warm. There were happy faces everywhere, and it is safe to presume that the eighteenth anniversary of confederation was thoroughly enjoyed by Canada’s loyal subjects.”1
For July 1, 1885, Hamilton’s popular then-private park had been leased for the day by the Irish Protest Benevolent Society. In return for a small admission fee, Hamiltonians and visitors could enter the park where a full day of entertainments had been planned:
“Dundurn was looking as pretty as it well could, and it was crowded with a jostling mass of promiscuous humanity, plentifully sprinkled with white and colored summer dresses that contrasted with the more sober garb of the male portion of the audience.”1
Two baseball games were scheduled to be played in the baseball diamond. The stands and space around the playing were well-filled for the Clippers versus Primroses games in the morning, as well as for the second game in the afternoon when the Clippers played again, an exhibition tilt for a visiting team.
In the afternoon, the Thirteenth Battalion Band led two uniformed societies, The Royal Scarlet Knights and the Knights of Sherwood Forest into Dundurn Park where an exhibition drill of fancy marching manoeuvres was put on for the entertainment of the assembled crowd.
By late afternoon and during the early part of the evening, Dundurn Park had been for the most part vacated, but as the sun began to set, it was filled once again:
“By 8:30, grandstand and grounds were once more filled to overflowing. The electric lights were in full blast, though they were put out while the fireworks were being set off. The fireworks were all arranged to face the grandstand, and people who chose that vantage point to sit in, had an excellent view of the magnificent display.
“The effects were novel and ingenious and the colors artistically blended. The bombardment of Alexandria was about the most elaborate set piece of the evening, and brought a prolonged round of applause from the people whose upturned faces looked very peculiar from the effects of the variegated lights.”
In another part of the park, a dancing platform had been set up, and, to the music of the Thirteenth String Band, scores of couple “tripped the light fantastic until their feet ached.”1
One visitor to the park used the occasion to raise some money using his musical talents. A blind gentleman with a violin and extraordinary vocal powers attracted much attention and he was the recipient of a harvest of pennies in return for his efforts.
On the dot of 10 p.m., the band played God Save the Queen, a signal that it was time for all to leave the park. In total, well over 12,000 people had paid to enter Dundurn Park that July 1 holiday.
While most went home, the Spectator reporter, mellowed somewhat from the cigars and the beer he had enjoyed, headed to the office to write up his story on Hamilton national holiday celebrations of 1885 for the following day’s morning edition.