Friday, 3 April 2015

1886-07-01 Dominion Day

When July 1 rolled around in 1880s Hamilton, it meant that the anniversary of the formation of Canada would be publicly celebrated at Dundurn.

On July 1,1886, Dundurn was still a private residence and the grounds of the castle were rented to the Irish Protestant Benevolent Society (I.P.B.S.)

As the grounds of Dundurn were surrounded by a high wooden fence, the I.P.B.S. could control access through a gate, at which admission would be charged. To attract visitors in order to recoup the rental fee, and hopefully make a profit, a baseball game was scheduled, bands were hired to provide music, a dancing platform set up, and a massive fireworks display by the Hamilton-based T.W. Hand and Company was the finale of the day.

The reporter covering the 1886 July 1 celebrations did so in a vivid manner that was both distinctive and creative. Instead of a straight documentary listing of what he saw throughout the day, the reporter created a fictional character and used him as a basis for his article. (Although the article was not attributed to anyone, it has the style and approach of The Khan (Robert Kirkland Kernighan who would later become nationally famous, often referred to as Canada’s Mark Twain.)

The article started as the holiday began soon after sunrise when Little Willie Smith, the son of the main character, Pa. got celebrations going with a literal bang :

“ Little Willie Smith got up early yesterday morning before the family was awake and startled them all by letting off a great big batch of firecrackers. He had several bunches altogether. His father bought them for him the day before out of the money he expected to make by backing the Rochesters.

“Willie thought he would hold the firecrackers in his hand. The doctor was there half an hour afterwards. Willie didn’t have as much fun for the rest of the day as he had hoped for. Neither did his father.”1

1“How We Spent the Day : the I.P.B.S. at Dundurn Park.”

Hamilton Spectator.   July 02, 1886

The Rochesters was the name of the visiting baseball team which would play the Hamiltons at Dundurn later in the day.

Willie’s accident had painfully ruined his day, and it served as the first of a series of negative things to occur to Pa as the day unfolded.

No one could complain about the weather for the July 1, 1886 celebrations in Hamilton:

    “The firecracker explosion had aroused the whole family, and when they turned out of bed, they looked on a glorious day. The sun shone from a cloudless sky. The hills were partially hid by the pale blue haze that hung over them, and a light breeze stirred the air. It was a day to dream of.”1

A doctor had been summoned to attend to the burns on his sons hand, costing Pa some money but he remained confident that in betting against the home team, he would be flush with money once the game was over:

“After the doctor had bandaged Willie’s hand, the family had breakfast. Willie’s papa was quite cheerful. He felt sure that Rochester would beat Hamilton. He didn’t know that Jones and Knight were going to pitch. In imagination, he had that $20 stowed snugly away in his pocket, and he intimated in a casual way that he would make his wife happy by buying her that bonnet she fancied the other day.”1

Later in the morning, Pa left home, heading first to the downtown core, where would meet up with some of his friends at a saloon before going to the baseball game:

“Pa thought he would go and see the game and yell, “Rah for the Raws,” a couple of times just to encourage them, so he started out from the house and met the gang downtown. He saw an immense crowd streaking for Dundurn.

“They all smiled and smiled as if they meant it. Pa hadn’t been reading the newspapers recently and didn’t know there was anything there but the ball game.

“But there was. It was Dominion day, confederation’s anniversary, and the occasion of the annual I.P.B.S. Demonstration at Dundurn.

The procession was coming down the street and he stood and watched it. Thousands of people were around him. Young men and maidens, aged persons in stylish garments and summer before last’s clothes, boys, girls and babies – all were there. The irrepressible small boy howled and the itinerant with the hurdy gurdy worked his machine as if it had been called for.”1

Once Pa arrived at Dundurn, he walked all over the grounds noting the many types of people there and the brightly uniformed Knights of Pythias who performed marching drills to entertain the crowd :

“Spectators of every kind were on hand in abundance. The slopes and sward were dotted with spring suits and white lawn dresses. Pretty faces smiled from beneath attractive bangs and coquettish hats. The ball players skirmished around with their Sunday girls in tow, and all Dundurn looked as gay and festive as it only can look when the I.P.B.S. demonstration is on.

“While the games were in progress, the uniformed knights were drilling on the lawn. It is needless to say that they drilled well. Hamilton’s uniformed societies always do. The intricate movements and marching attracted large numbers of people and the drilling was vociferously applauded.”1

People-watching and marching drills were not on Pa’s list of things he was focusing on – he wanted a drink of cold beer and so ventured over to the dancing platform area where such could be purchased:

“Pa was getting restless. He strolled down towards the dancing platform and discovered a hole in the grandstand where he spent 15 cents. He felt better when he succeeded in getting outside of the foam-topped amber fluid. He lit a cigar and hit the toe of his right foot with a cane as he meditated on the vague unsatisfactory nature of various things.

“The dancing on the platform did not please him. He listened for a while to the monotonous drone of the music and the incessant shuffling of feet.

“Presently he heard a bell ring. He probed his vest pocket and discovered a flannel case with a gold watch in it. He had only got it from the jeweler’s the day before and found it quite handy for reference. He looked at it quite often when people were gazing at him. He learned this time that it wanted three and a quarter minutes to four.

“People were packed in the grandstand like sardines in a box, but he fought his way in and was in a good position when umpire Pearson twisted his moustache and shouted “Play ball!”1

Unfortunately for Pa, the Rochesters provided little effective opposition to the Hamiltons, the home team winning the tilt handily:

“A couple of hours afterward he walked across the diamond, feeling that life was a hollow mockery and a bitter delusion. For him, the sun didn’t shine, the birds didn’t twitter in the trees, the gentle breezes were like cyclones, the Thirteenth band’s exquisite music sounded like a funeral dirge. He was poor, sad and unhappy. And he mentioned to himself that he didn’t know anything more about baseball than a crowbar.”1

Pa went home to his family and had to face his wife who would not be getting that new hat he had promised her.

While Pa was at home as darkness descended, a huge number of people remained at Dundurn

“The fireworks were splendid. Prof. Hand and Co. never gave a better display. The grandstand was filled with people. Several strings of Chinese lanterns stretched from it to the ground, and the general effect was very beautiful. It was the generally expressed opinion that the day was one of the most successful that Hamilton has ever known.”1

There was an estimated 13,000 paid admissions to Dundurn Park on July 1, 1886, and except for Pa, everyone had a very pleasant day.

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