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.