It was a common sight in the winter months of Hamilton. Particularly after a heavy snowfall, the streets which went up and down steep hills would be crowded with young people coasting, sharing the public thoroughfare with all other traffic..
On January 25, 1886, a coasting accident on James street south nearly coast a young Hamilton boy his life.
At the time, those who liked tobogganing were generally young adults and members of one of Hamilton’s toboggan clubs. They used the clubs’ own slides, constructed to keep the toboggan on the course, no matter how quickly it was going.
“Coasting” was far less structured, and usually was a sport pursued by young boys and girls, using sleighs for individuals or slightly larger ones which could transport tow or three ‘coasters.”
Norman Counsell was the twelve year old son of prominent city lawyer, C. M. Counsell. Along with his brother and some friends, he was coasting down the steep portion of James street south near the mountain :
“As they came down the last trip, Norman, who was steering, turned off the center of the road to pass a wood rack which was going slowly down the hill in front of them. As the bob sleigh got opposite the rack, from four to six feet away from it, one of the horses suddenly jumped clear out of the traces, and made a kick at it. Little Norman Counsell received the full weight of the kick. The other two boys were thrown off, but picked themselves up unhurt. Norman remained still and unconscious. The accident occurred very near the lad’s home and just as Mr. Counsell was coming from his door …. The apparently lifeless form was taken into the house.”1
1 “Terrible Coasting Accident : A Little Son of C. M. Counsell Has His Skull Fractured.”
Hamilton Spectator. January 25, 1886.
Norman was later taken to the nearby St. Joseph’s hospital where an emergency operation removed about 2 ½ inches of his skull which had been pressed against his brain by the kick.
Police Chief A. D. Stewart, once again, made a call for a city bylaw to be passed to prohibit coasting on Hamilton’s public streets. Uncharacteristically, the city council moved quickly, and such a bylaw was within a day.
The anonymous Spectator columnist, known only as The Kicker, had the following to say regarding his own memories coasting and regarding the new bylaw:
“I sympathize with the boys who have been just deprived, by bylaw, of one of the greatest delights of boyish existence, to wit, coasting on the public thoroughfares. Well do I remember the ecstatic pleasure of riding down hil, either singly or on my own steel ‘belly whacker,’ or in company with three or four congenial spirits, rushing along on the delectable bobs. The glory and freshness of that intoxicating sport on the hilly streets live only in remembrance, but, even yet, I never see urchins rushing past on their sleighs without feeling a strong impulse to ‘pile on’ and complete the journey with them. I don’t sympathize with the tobogganers. They have their artificial slides, and are able to maintain them; but if you banish the boys from the streets, where are they to go? You can’t expect them to go to half-broken, unfrequented country roads., where they have not the delicious danger of running close to the legs of horses, nor the supreme delight of scaring unwary pedestrians, nor the occasional luxury of upsetting some stately dame or reverend senior. I don’t kick against the action of city council in legislating against the boys; I merely wish to express some sympathy with the young folks. They are being taught a lesson in social science – that the interests of individuals must often be sacrificed to the interests of society in general. It was right for the city council to pass the bylaw, and it is a pity that those guardians of public interests did not think of they were suddenly reminded of it by the recent painful accident on James street.”2
2 “The Kicker”
Hamilton Spectator. January 25, 1886