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.