Friday, 31 March 2017

1886 - Bachelors' Ball

A Spectator reporter was sent out to the Grand Opera House to witness and describe for the paper’s readers what was promised to be the social event of the season. His description of the anticipation of, the preparations for and the scene presented by, the Bachelors’ Ball of 1886 was vivid, occasionally humorous and very well done indeed:

“ Many young hearts have been looking forward to the evening of December 17 will all the keen expectancy and joyful flutterings of anticipation which in their younger days they awaited the arrival of Christmas morning with unshakable faith in the bounty of Santa Claus. First, there were vague rumors and whisperings in the girlhood world, then the shadows materialized, and, finally, the nebulous uncertainty took the form of a ball, and dainty cards of invitation got started on their diverse ways, and then the fun began.

“All the elder daughters, who had already came out, at once upon its advent into the family circle, lifted up their voices and demanded new dresses with one accord, and with such a unanimity of sentiment and solitariness of purpose as to carry conviction to every reasonable mind.

“Likewise all the brevet daughters, who have not come out, made one wild clutch for freedom, and pa’s permission.

“At last, the eventful night has arrived, and decked for the conquest, or, as the vulgar young brother remarks, loaded for bear and warranted to kill with telescope sight at sixteen hundred yards, each blushing debutante holds her little levee for the benefit of the children, and then she is off.

“She was numerously represented at the Bachelors’ Ball last evening, and, if arrayed in all the glory of youthful beauty by the reflecting radiance of triumphant millinery art, she was worthy of the occasion, the occasion was, no less, was certainly worthy of her, for the brilliancy of the gathering which assembled to enjoy the hospitality of the bachelors from Hamilton last eveing has seldom, if ever, been equalled in this city.

“About 9 p.m., the guests commenced to arrive, and by an hour later, fully five hundred ladies and gentlemen were assembled on the floor and in the boxes and gallery of the Grand Opera House.

“A magnificent dancing floor had been made by building a platform on a level with the stage back to the pillars of the gallery. The band was placed in the center of the gallery, and played a fine program of dance music.

“The scene presented at the opening of the ball was indeed magnificent. The boxes and the front of the gallery were handsomely draped with flags and variegated bunting, while the pillars were festooned and wreathed with flowers and long streamers of red, white and blue. The gallery and floor were thronged with ladies and gentlemen, the magnificent mass of color represented by the costumes of the fair guests being blended together by the darker figures of their escorts and with the artistic decorations of the room until the whole formed one harmonious picture, while the hum of conversation and the sound of footsteps of the dancers, mingling with the music of the band all contributed to make up a scene of rare beauty and picturesqueness.”1

1 “The Bachelors’ Ball : A Brilliant and Successful Event.”

Hamilton Spectator.   December 18, 1886
Grand Opera House
Image courtesy PreVIEW, Local History and Archives, Hamilton Public Library.


Saturday, 25 March 2017

1886 - Collision at the Junction

Just beyond the far western end of the Hamilton Bay, the main east-west line of the Grand Trunk Railway met a junction at which switches could be set to direct trains to the line heading towards the city of Hamilton.

The junction had been the scene of many accidents over the years, some not too serious only involving damage to railway cars, or steam engines, some accidents were of a more serious nature involving serious injuries even death.

On November 31, 1886, a call was received at the Hamilton Spectator’s office indicating that a serious accident had occurred near the junction. Immediately, two reporters headed out by horse-drawn carriage to investigate the report.

In the article published the following day, the location of the accident, and access to it was described as follows:

 “The quickest way to get to the spot where the accident happened is to drive to the Valley Inn, leave your horse there, and climb the side of the embankment, taking a foot path leading from the rear of the inn. You reach the track near the junction, and, after a walk of about a quarter of a mile you are there.”1

1 “Collision on the G.T.R. : Serious Smash Up on the Toronto Branch”

Hamilton Spectator.  December 1, 1886.

As the men approached the area where the accident had occurred, they came a surreal, not soon to be forgotten sight:

“It was a remarkable scene that presented itself to a pair of SPECTATOR reporters last night. A huge fire, made of dry bushes and pine wood lit up the scene and was visible at a distance of two miles. In its red light, two dozen of more men moved rapidly about, a look of anxiety on their set features, and a tone of awe in their voices as they went about their work, that of removing the debris. A number of torches, from which black smoke poured forth continually, moved around the crowd of busy, hardworking people, and the effect of the moonlight and the glaring fire upon the steam and smoke gave to the scene a wild, unearthly appearance which is very seldom seen anywhere.”1

The accident involved a pilot engine which was being backed towards Hamilton from Waterdown about 5:30 p.m. As it was December, the sun had already gone down and the area near the junction was enveloped in pitch blackness.

The pilot engine driver was unable to see that there was a Grand Trunk Railway express train which had just descended the escarpment and was heading full steam for Toronto. Unfortunately Pilot Engine #917 and the fast moving express collided. The huge steam engine left the tracks as a result of the impact, and was heavily damaged.

The Spectator reporters, as well as the other men who made their way to the scene of the accident made a horrifying discovery. Two men, whose identities could not been discovered, had been stealing a ride on the G.T.R. train.. They had been on the front platform of the baggage car when the collision occurred and both were instantly killed, crushed beyond recognition.

Sunday, 19 March 2017

1886 - Fire at the Asylum

Sunday October 31, 1886 was just an ordinary day at the Hamilton Asylum for the Insane. Behind the large building close to the edge of the escarpment were other smaller buildings, containing the kitchen facilities, the laundry room and the dead house.

Shortly after 1 p.m., two of the Asylum attendants were taking the body of a patient who had passed away during the morning to the dead house. As they passed the drying room portion of the laundry, they discovered that a fire had broken out there.

An alarm was sent to the Hamilton Fire department. From the station on John street, the reels raced up a mountain access and were on the scene of the fire in very short order. The wagon which carried the steam engine, a significantly heavier load, did not arrive at the asylum grounds as quickly:

“The steam engine got up as far as the turn on John street, where it stuck, and the horses couldn’t budge it. Several men got at the back, pushed it and managed to get around the turn, but the ascent was so steep that it was impossible to proceed. More horses were sent for, and when three teams had been hitched to the engine, it was hauled up, reaching the asylum grounds about a half hour after the reels.”1

1 “Fighting Fierce Fire : Big Blaze at Insane Asylum.”

Hamilton Spectator.   November  01, 1886.

The fire which was spreading quickly could readily be seen by residents in the lower city. As it was a Sunday afternoon, there were many more people home than would be the case during a normal workday. The attraction of a big blaze was irresistible to many people and soon the roads up the escarpment were jammed:

“Thousands of people flocked up the roads, and it is doubtful if a larger crowd has ever gathered on the mountain top. Half the people in the city seemed to be there, and a good many of them were willing workers and did all they could, which wasn’t much. Fences, outbuildings, trees, wherever a vantage point offered a better view of the flames, there the crowd was the thickest. There must have been 15,000 or 20,000 people present.”

The Spectator reporter was part of the rush and he was soon able to find out how and where the fire started :

“South of the laundry was a coal shed and dead house. The fire was discovered by a couple of attendants, who were carrying the body of a dead patient, who had died in the morning into the dead house. They gave the alarm at once, and an effort was made to put the fire out with hand grenades

“The room was finished with pine, and the flames spread like lightning.

“The attendants got to work at once, and broke hand grenades by the score where they thought they would do good, but they might as well have piled shavings on. The fire seemed to think grenades were pretty nice things and kept right at work. The grenades were both of Canadian and American manufacture, and, as one of the attendants said to a Spectator reporter, didn’t do the slightest good.

“ ‘I broke about a hundred of them myself,’ he said,

‘and they were of no earthly use.’1

                Although on the mountain, asylum was technically part of the Hamilton of 1886, mainly because of its proximity to the edge of the brow. City service such fire and police protection, as well as the provision of water were legally due to the Asylum:

          “The asylum is supplied with city water, which is forced up by a pump on the grounds. The pressure was very poor, and for some time, only two streams were playing.

          “Seeing how slight a check the water was, Chief Aitchison became convinced  that the only way to save the main building was by chopping down the connecting passageways between it and the ballroom addition. Men were accordingly set to work at once, and the main roof, the halls, floors, ceilings and all the wood that might lead the flames through was torn away.”1

          In the early part of the fire fighting effort, the firemen were not only hampered by low water pressure, but by the presence of the huge crowd of onlookers were surrounding the scene of the blaze

“The crowd was ordered out of the yards and the patients brought out and guarded there. Men and boys clambered upon the high fences around the yards, but watchful policemen and others drove them back.

          By 3:30 p.m., almost two and a half hours after the alarm was sent in, it was declared that the fire was, if not completely extinguished, it was at least under control:

          “When it was seen that the firemen had the upper hand of the flames, the male patients were put back in their apartments.”

          The building which contained the laundry facilities, also had bedrooms for the farm hands, butchers and the engine men, eight workers, was completely burnt to the ground. For men who used those bedrooms, they lost everything they owned:

“ ‘None of us have anything but what we have on our backs,’ one of them said. Poor fellow, he didn’t have much on. He was minus boots, hat, collar and coat.”1

The laundry girls and kitchen help. 10 female workers slept in bedrooms next to the kitchen, and they also lost all their possessions.

Another building affected was the ball room where entertainments were frequently provided for the patients. The piano, organ, stage scenery and a large number of chairs in the ball room were lost to the flames.

        The Spectator reporter was quick to learn the cause of fire; steam heating pipes had been located too close to pine wainscoting. The excess heat caused the wood to ignite. There was no hint of incendiarism, and the estimated loss was pegged at $40,000 to $60,000 (1886 dollars).

          In his article published the following day, the Spectator reporter praised many people for their actions during the fire:

“The firemen worked like heroes, crippled as they were by lack of water and a supply of hose that was inadequate for the occasion. Foreman Ten Eyck balanced himself on the top of the narrow brick wall, where the hall from the main building joined the ballroom. He stood on the perilous and insecure foothold and chopped down the burning rafters. Stiff streams of water squirted all around him, and, if any one of them had struck him on any side, he was sure of a trip to the ground. His bravery was commented upon by all who witnessed it.

          “Major Moore was on the ground, in uniform, shortly after the fire started. His services in controlling the crowd and getting people away from where they had no business to be were very valuable. The battalion was ordered out, and about 80 members placed on the gates to keep the people out, and, subsequently, a squad swept around the building, and finally the grounds were cleared. There were only a few policemen present, and the services of the military were the more valuable on that account.”1

                The asylum staff worked tirelessly to help all the patients, most of whom were quite afraid of the situation:

 “When the fire was observed sweeping towards the main building, the women whose quarters are in the west half of it, grew terribly excited, and the cries and appeals of the more sensible of them were piteous to hear.

          “ ‘Let us out, Let us out!’ they cried, ‘don’t let us burn.’ Many of the women, however, stared out of the windows at the confusion with stupid indifference.

          “At length, it was thought wise to allow all the patients into the private yards, and this was done. As soon as they got into the open air, their fears seemed to vanish, and they paid little attention to the excitement all around them:

          “The men were kept in the yards, but the majority of the women – probably a couple hundred of them – were transferred to the new building for acute patients, called the east building. In order to reach there, it was necessary to pass through the crowd. The police patrol wagon was pressed into service. Ex-Chief Stewart, who had been working hard inside the building, came out and took charge of the transportation service. He drove the wagon, and constable Bainbridge assisted the female keepers to put the patients into it. Some of the poor creatures went along quietly, but many of them fought like wild beasts, and had to be subdued by main force. The keepers – fine-looking, robust young women – worked nobly, exercising a vast amount of patience and skill, as well as strength. Load after load of the unfortunate inmates were rapidly driven out of the yard to the east house.

          “Two or three of the keepers went with each load to hold the lunatics in, and several times Mr. Stewart drove with one hand and grasped a refractory patient with the other. At last the horse was so worn out that it could with difficulty bear its own weight, and another horse was seized, unharnessed from a wagon and pressed into service.

          While the man from the Spectator reporter had complimentary remarks for the firemen, the military men and the policemen who assisted with crowd control, he had comments of an opposite nature for others he observed at the fire, while the asylum staff were trying to help the female patients:

“It must be said that the conduct of the crowd during the passage of the patients was brutal and cowardly. The poor creatures had to run the gauntlet of a running fire of laughs and jeers, and by the time they arrived at the east house, many of them were trembling with fear and excitement, and others were enraged. One woman was so maddened by the jeers of the crowd, that when the east house was reached, it was impossible to control her, and she smashed a dozen panes of glass and a door panel. While the patients were confined in the yard, they were also subjected to cruel and insulting remarks from men and boys, who climbed the fences to stare at them. It was painful and disgusting to see men so lost to all sense of humanity as to make coarse fun out of the misfortune of their fellow creatures.”




Hamilton Asylum for the Insane
Photo Courtesy PreVIEW, Local History and Archives, Hamilton Public Library.

Saturday, 18 March 2017

1886 - Hamilton's Police Force


In the morning edition of the Hamilton Spectator,  May 29, 1886, it was announced that annual inspection of the police force would be held that afternoon.

          Prompted by the inspection, the following day’s Spectator contained the following editorial on the state of the Hamilton Police Force in the spring of 1886:

“The annual inspection of the Hamilton police force was held yesterday. The appearance of the men comprising the force was quite satisfactory, and it is a satisfaction to know that in the matter of zeal and attention to duty they are worthy of all praise. The sergeants are intelligent and capable men who take much of the work of supervision from the chief, and the whole force has been so well-drilled and is so successfully handled by Mr. Stewart that it is in the very highest state of efficiency. The work of a good police force is felt in the absence of professional criminals from the city rather than in their frequent arrest. Prevention is much better than cure. The very best testimony to the efficiency of our force is found in the fact that Habitual criminals give Hamilton a wide berth.

“The force comprises 45 men all told, including the Chief. But several of the men are too old for ordinary duty. They are retained because they have done good service in times past and because light work can be found for them now. It would be most unjust to turn these old servitors out now that their best days are past. But it must not be forgotten that the really effective strength of the force is hardly so great as it appears on paper. The men are well-equipped, except that there are only 15 revolvers and twenty lanterns for the whole force. Each man should have a revolver and a lantern for the proper care of which he can be held responsible. The hours of service are eight daily; but in addition the men must attend at the police court when their testimony is needed; and all are required to hold themselves in readiness as at all times for emergent calls. Two-thirds of the roundsmen are on duty at night, and one-third in the daytime. The patrol wagon has proved a valuable addition to the police force as the roundsmen need not now leave their beats when arrests are made. Though the force is fully up to the strength usually considered desirable – one man to each 1,000 of the population – the chief thinks that as the city covers so considerable an area, he ought to have more men. Our knowledge of the situation does not enable us to express an opinion on that matter.

“The appearance of the men yesterday, the reports of their conduct on duty, and the freedom of the city from serious crime, warrant a belief that the police force of Hamilton is one which citizens have every reason to be satisfied.”1

1 “Hamilton’s Police Force.”

Hamilton Spectator. May 29, 1886





1883 - A Sad Encounter

“A Little Episode.”

A reporter for the Hamilton Spectator, passing by the City Hall on James Street north had the following encounter which he wrote up to be published in the paper the following day, November 08, 1883.
The headline read, " A Little Episode."

“Yesterday morning an old woman sat on the city hall steps. She was old and gray-haired, and her face was lined with deep furrows from sorrow, care and age. She was poorly-dressed in a black stiff gown, worn threadbare and which, in places, gave evidence of careful darning. A faded woolen shawl hung over her bent shoulders. Her hands were covered with black thread gloves, cruelly torn in places, and with gaping fingertips. Tears were streaming from her light blue eyes, and she gazed with a world of sorrow and love on the photograph of a baby boy she held in her hand.

“ A reporter stood in the doorway above, and looked down upon her. ‘Poor Willie !,’ she said, in a half-incoherent voice, broken with sobs. ‘Poor Willie. My child ! My baby ! What have they done with you, Willie ? Oh !, my boy, my boy.!’

“The reporter came down the steps and stood curiously looking at her. His heart was touched by this woman’s sorrow. ‘Can I do anything for you?,’ he asked.

“She looked at him vacantly, then at the photograph. ‘My Willie, my boy !,’ she sobbed again. ‘My darling, darling boy.”  A policeman came up and stood by the reporter.

“ ‘Do you know her?’ the scribe asked.

“ ‘Yes. That Mrs.--. She’s been half-crazy ever since her baby died, 40 years or so ago. Don’t say anything to her. She’ll go home presently.’

“The woman continued sobbing and muttering over the picture. By and by she rose with a weary sigh, and put it away in her pocket. The tears continued to fall from her eyes as she gazed straight ahead of her, seeing nothing, hearing nothing.

“The reporter and the policeman walked on.

James North in front of the Hamilton City Hall as it appeared in the 1880s.                           Photo courtesy PreVIEW, Local History and Archives, Hamilton Public Library.



Saturday, 11 March 2017

1885 - The Town Tramp

In the fall of 1885, a Spectator reporter was given free rein to fill some space in the paper when needed with some creative writing. Hence, one reporter, adopted the name and persona of The Town Tramp.

The experiences of The Town Tramp were, more or less, real and they contained some sly observations about human nature as he recorded his experiences walking about downtown Hamilton.

On September 3, 1885, The Town Tramp made an appearance in the Spectator with a column which included his views on insurance salesmen, the appearance of a beautiful home on Jackson street, on the use of the newly (block) paved James street north by heavy vehicles and an interview with the driver of a horse-drawn Hamilton Street Railway car:

“Cheek has brought him on his way”

-      S. S. Ballad (improved)

“Cheek, or to put it more elegantly, assurance, is a most important qualification for a professional traveler, although The Town Tramp is doubtful of the truth of the popular belief that gentlemen of his profession never attempt to travel on anything but their cheek. Assurance, undoubtedly, is a good thing, and report of the Canada Life Assurance company, published a short time ago, it was evident that hundreds of people in Canada thought life assurance most desirable. A few shares in the Canada Life ought to assure anyone a competence in these days of large profits and small expenses.

“N.B. – This is no attempt to equal the interesting story style advertising adopted by Horner’s Sure Cure firm. The Canada Life men will be just as much surprised that The Town Tramp knows anything about assurance as the reader will be.

“One Sunday, not too long ago, The Town Tramp stopped in his afternoon walk to look at a delightful lawn and handsome residence on Jackson street west, near the corner of Park street. The house is constructed on an artistic plan, the prevailing tone being dark and harmonizing beautifully with the emerald of the lawn, and the dark green of the vines and rare trees. Mr. Hills has a beautiful home, and has arranged the grounds as to compel the admiration of the most prosaic beholder. The Town Tramp felt quite grateful to the owner for going to so much trouble for his benefit.

“It came to the notice of The Town Tramp that since the block paving has been laid on James Street North, many heavily loaded vehicles which formerly passed between the Grand Trunk railway station and King street by way of Macnab street now take the James street route. They cannot be blamed for taking the best road, but the paving is likely to suffer.

“ ‘Do you see that little horse there in the Wild West show picture?’

“ ‘Yes.’

“ ‘Well, that’s a regular photograph of a horse I drive on the King Street East car. Why, I’ve passed that picture sometimes when I wasn’t thinking and started to yell at the little Frenchy, as if he was right there.’

“ ‘That’s queer,’ said The Town Tramp.

‘ ‘Oh, we have lots of queer things happening on these cars,’ said the street car driver.

“Just then, a lady came along James street, about half a block off, she hesitated, looked at the car, walked on toward it, eyed the driver very hard, and let the car go by.

“ ‘Didn’t that lady want this car?’

“ ‘No; there’s half a dozen women go through that performance along here every afternoon, but I’ve got so’s I can tell pretty near when a woman does not want to ride. There’s some of them, though, let you drive right along, and never look at you till you’ree swinging by, then they’ll shove up their nightshade or wave a bag or something and get hoppin’ because you can’t stop the car right up. They’re the aggravatin’ ones. It’s hard on cars and hard on horses to do that kind of work. Now, a man never does that. If he wants a car, he makes his mind up and holds up his hand at the same time, mostly in time for me to see it, and else hops on while the car is going. Then again, I’ve seen women get in the middle of a crossing while I was a block off, wavin’ parasols like mad, and run down to meet the car. But after they’ve done it a few times and had to walk back to the crossin’ they get worse than the other kind, and look sour if it don’t bring the hind steps just on the crossin’. Women is queer.

“ ‘So they are agreed The Town Tramp. And so are preachers. He knew one once, and a good man too, who made him walk the carpet for going on a Sunday excursion, who afterward preached a powerful sermon on the wickedness of visiting friends on Sunday. The day was too sacred for that.’”




Tuesday, 7 March 2017

1886 - Dominion Building

As it was nearing completion, the huge federal government facility at King and John streets in downtown Hamilton was ready for inspection.

On May 17, 1886, a Spectator reporter, armed with detailed specifications and costs given to him, toured the building. The following day, his lengthy, and very detailed description of the massive structure was published as follows:

 “Although the new government buildings are not yet finished, they are so near completion that a full and detailed description of them can be given, and the general public, which has been excluded while the work was in progress, can now enter and inspect the interior from cellar to attic. There is much to see and admire in the main building, for it is perhaps the most magnificent edifice of its kind in the country.

“On Aug. 1, 1882, the contract was let to Messrs. Van Allen, Brown and Love; the work on the foundation was begun in the autumn of the same year; and the buildings will be handed over to the government on June 1. The work has been pushed forward with great energy by the contractors, but there is no evidence of heaste in it; it is solid and enduring, and when the present century has rolled away, and the next is no longer young, and the present generation of Hamiltonians has disappeared from the earth, the citizens of Hamilton will point to the building as a sample of honest workmanship; the taste and skill of the building of a past age.


“It would be difficult to say exactly what is the style of architecture of the handsome pile which graces the corner of King and John streets. Perhaps it is best described as a mixture of Elizabethan and Corinthian. The walls are built principally of the reddish brown sandstone from Chisholm’s quarry in the forks of the Credit, 40 miles north of Hamilton. The face of the walls is elaborately ornamented with carving, all done by Hamilton and Toronto workmen. The caps and ponds of the pilasters, the keystones of the windows and the cornice are all rich with elegant devices, chiseled out of the stone. From the sidewalk to the eaves, the building is 80 feet high, and the measurement to the top of the main tower is 140 feet high: the slated spire 35 feet and the lead pinnacle 19 feet. The frontage of the building on King street is 96 feet; on John street 146.

“There are three public entrances to the building – one on King street and two on John street. The King street entrance leads into the Post Office. At the entrance inside is a wide vestibule of cherry wood, handsomely carved and elegantly finished. The public part of the office, from the screen to the front wall, measures 20 feet and 50 feet long. The ceiling is 25 feet high. In the center of the screen which separates the public from the private office is the semi-circular general delivery wicket, and on each side of it are 400 brass boxes. At the right end of the public office is the money order and savings bank office, fitted up with the necessary counters, vaults, etc. and at the opposite end is the office in which the registered letter clerk will preside. Behind the screen, the office is already provided with all the necessary tables, sorting cases, and a large, circulating ‘sortation box’ for sorting newspapers and parcels, which looks on the outside like a Brobdignagian beer keg, and on the inside like an immense cupboard upended by an earthquake. There are, opening from the main office, private offices for the postmaster, accountants, etc. A large room in rear of the general office, and opening from it, will be devoted to the letter carriers. The city mail will be sorted there before delivery.

“The first entrance on John street is a private entrance to the post office, and the general entrance to the customs office upstairs. At the foot of the staircase, preparations are now being made for putting in a passenger elevator which will run from cellar to attic.

“The second John street entrance leads into a wide corridor, which extends to the other side of the building. The rooms to the left of the corridor are to be used as a weights and measures office; the front one is 22 feet square and near one is 22 x 36 feet. The room to the right is the gas inspector’s office – 24 x 36 feet in dimensions and furnished with a fireproof vault, etc. From the west end of the corridor, a narrow staircase winds all the way to the attic.

“There are a few things in or about the building which the visitor will admire as much as the main staircase, the foot of which is at the first John street entrance. It has been pronounced by good judges the finest staircase in any public building in the Dominion. It is Elizabethan in style, and is built of cherry – steps, risers, newels, panel work, balusters and all. The balusters and newel posts are all richly carved. The cost of this massive and magnificent staircase was $4,000, and the cost of carving alone reaching nearly $1,000.

“It takes a long time to reach the first floor for the first time, there is so much to examine and admire on the way up. Once there, however, the visitor finds himself in a corridor 15 feet wide, and extending nearly the whole length of the building. At the right end of the corridor – occupying the whole north end of the building on this floor – are the customs offices.

“The general office, or ‘long room, is the handsomest room in the building. It is 40 feet wide and 50 feet long. Its lofty ceiling – 37 feet from the floor – is paneled, and the walls are covered with pilasters and panels. The panels and caps of the pilasters are finished in very elaborate stucco work, and high up, in the spaces between the pilasters, are large medallion heads in plaster of Paris. The room is wainscoted with cherry wood, 3 ½ feet high, and the counters are also cherry, with brass wire screens. There is a very large vault in this room.

Opening from the corridors is the collector’s general office, and his private box adjoins it. These two rooms are about 18 feet square. They are already carpeted and are being furnished and made ready for occupation. Adjoining these rooms and facing John street is the room which inspector Mewburn will occupy – a comfortable cosy apartment 16 x 20 feet. The ceilings in these rooms and throughout the remainder of this flat (except in the general customs office), have a uniform height of 17 feet. At the opposite side of the corridor, and opening into the general customs office, is the assistant collector’s office, fitted up with counter, railing, bells and all the necessary appointments.


“At the south end of the corridor is the main room of the inland revenue department – a room 30 feet square, with paneled ceiling, enriched cornices, carved caps and paneled pilasters. This room is divided by a semi-circular counter, with screens similar to those in the customs office. The collector’s private room adjoins the general office and opens into it as well as into the main corridor. In the rear of the main office is the accountant’s room, quite a large apartment.

“There are two or three other rooms on this flat, which will be utilized by customs and inland revenue officials.

On the second floor are nine large handsome rooms. The largest – a splendid apartment at the south end – has been looked at with covetous eyes by the city board of trade, which would like to secure it as a board room.; but it is hardly probable that the government will allow the board to have it. The purposes for which these rooms are to be utilized does not yet appear, but the time will probably come when they will be found useful. The ceilings of all these rooms are the same height – 17 feet, and the woodwork, though not as ornate, is elegantly finished.

“The attic is pilastered and finished, and is intended to be used as the private quarters of the caretaker – a position, by the way, for which there are several score of applicants.

          THE WOODWORK

“Just a word here about the way in which the woodwork has been done. All through the building, one cannot help noticing the elegance of finish and the lavish and tasteful ornamentation in this department of the work. The woodwork is all cherry. Mention has already been made of the fine decorative work on the main staircase, the carving on the doors of the rooms on the first floor is much more elaborately tasteful and profuse. Hours might be spent in examining the really artistic work on the panels of these doors, and even then the wealth and beauty of design and the excellence of workmanship which they display would not be fully appreciated. In the public part of the post office, too, some very elegant carving is to be seen; but the best is in the customs department ipstairs. Some idea of the wealth of invention lavished on the woodcarving may be obtained from the fact that, though there are about 300 panels, and something like 600 caps for columns’ pilasters in various parts of the building, the carving on not two of them is the same, each one having a design of its own.

          THE CELLAR

“To the practical builder, however, the cellar has greater attractions than all the ornamentation of the upper stories. Down here is seen the sketch of the building – its backbone – all the well-thought-out preparations for its stability and endurance. It is like some fortification is this cellar. The walls are very massive – ranging in thickness from 5 to 9 feet of solid masonry – and are built of unusually large stones, some of which weigh three tons each. The floor is all concrete, the 12 foot ceiling is plastered, and the walls are whitened. Down here are the three Garth furnaces which heat the building by means of hot water. Every room has its marble-topped radiator. Last winter, the furnaces were kept constantly going, and the results were quite satisfactory.


“The building which fronts on Main street is built of stone and white brick. Its dimensions are 32 x 128. The greater part of it is one-storied, but there are two or three upper rooms, and these will be set apart for the use of the caretaker. The large room on the ground floor is to be used as a customs warehouse; it is 82 x 32 feet in size. There are four offices opening from it.


“The different offices in each department are connected by electric bells and speaking tubes.

"There are fifteen fireproof vaults in the main building.

"The slate used on the roof is all from Nova Scotia quarries.

"Hoodless & Son have the contract for supplying the furniture, carpets etc.

“The total of the work has been $320,000, and the price of the ground was $45,000.

"The different offices in each department are connected by electric bells and speak-tubes.

"The walls in the customs department are left in condition for frescoing, which is likely to be done at some future time.

"All private offices are provided with marble-topped washstands, silver-plated taps etc. There are closets on every floor.

"Men have been at work on the foundation and building for nearly four years, yet not a single accident has occurred in all that time by which a man has lost a day's work.

"It was generally supposed that the government would fix an opening day and have a big celebration before the building was occupied; and a women's benevolent association and the three national benevolent societies applied for permission to take a prominent part in the ceremonies. It is likely that the government will allow the building to be quietly occupied without any demonstration whatever.

"The sidewalk fronting the main building, on King and John streets, deserves a word of commendation. It is Forsyth's granolithic pavement. The material is much superior to ordinary flagstone. It is more durable and easier to walk on.

"Provision has been made for a clock in the main tower. It will probably be put in this summer. Its height from the street will be 125 feet.”1

1 “The Palatial Offices : Of the Dominion Government’s Hamilton Officers.”

Hamilton Spectator.   May 19, 1886.




Monday, 6 March 2017

1886 - Ainslie's Wood

The creation of both the Hamilton and Dundas Street Railway and the public park known as Ainslie Wood was a co-ordinated effort. While the street railway certainly served commuters and was used to transport goods between the Ambitious City and the Valley Town, the place of amusement, Ainslie Wood, would not have been created without the railway to bring paying attendees to it.
On Saturday May 15, 1886, Ainslie Wood opened for the season, prompting the following article which appeared in the Hamilton Spectator of May 17, 1886:
“About 200 people went to Ainslie Wood Saturday afternoon by the Hamilton and Dundas street railway. But for the threatening state of the weather, and the heavy rains of the previous night, the opening doubtless would have been an auspicious one. Those who went out seemed to enjoy themselves very much. The wood this season looks exceedingly well, and will doubtless be as popular as ever.

“A game of baseball between two junior teams, one representing the southeast of the city, and one the southwest, afforded plenty of amusement for a good many boys who went out. In the evening about 150 people went out and enjoyed two or three hours’ dancing, a string band in attendance.”

Sunday, 5 March 2017

1886 - Near Fatality on the Hamilton and Dundas Railway

        The Hamilton and Dundas Railway track ran from downtown Hamilton to downtown Dundas in 1886. It ran down the middle of city, or town, streets except in the undeveloped areas between the two communities.

Coming into the city from the west, past Ainslie’s Woods, a small steam engine, popularly known as The Dummy, usually pulled two passenger cars along Concession street (now Aberdeen avenue.) At the corner of Queen street south, the track curved to the north before turning right onto Herkimer street.

On May 14, 1886, the train was proceeding normally when the following incident, as reported in the following day’s Spectator, occurred:

 “A little girl toddled out on the Hamilton and Dundas street railway track near the corner of Queen and Concession streets yesterday, and played there by herself. Nobody saw her, or, if anybody did, they did not think of the danger.

“The Hamilton and Dundas train came sweeping around the corner. The engineer saw the danger, but the distance was too short for the train to be stopped in time to save the child.

“But fortunately, there was on the engine a young man with a cool head and a brave heart. His name was Daniel Branigan. He took in the situation at a glance, and without a moment’s pause, he rushed to the front of the cab, leaped out on the track, clutched the child and jumped aside just in time to save himself.

“The engine, in passing, just grazed him. If the train had not been goiung at a slackened speed at the time, Branigan’s deed could not have been successfully accomplished; but the deed was a heroic one.”1

1 “A Heroic Deed.”

Hamilton Spectator.   May 15, 1886.

Saturday, 4 March 2017

1886 - Controversial Performance at the Grand

The name of the upcoming performance was certainly titillating and it was noticed, not by potential paying customers to the show at the Grand Opera house, but also by many of those leading various churches in Hamilton who made their concerns known to the proper authorities.

As reported in the Hamilton Spectator:

“Several city clergymen requested the chief of police to prevent the performance of an Adamless Eden last night in the Grand Opera House. The chief did not stop it, but he was there in uniform and a proscenium box, ready to interfere if anything were said, sung or done that would cause the blush of shame to suffuse the cheeks of the modest occupants of the front row.”1

1“Music and the Drama : Information Concerning Singers and Players : Music, Mirth and Undraped Limbs.”

Hamilton Spectator.   May 15, 1886.

The Spectator reporter, present at the Grand Opera House to review The Adamless Eden, was withering in his comments:

“The house was about half full of men; there was only one female in front of the footlight – an elderly lady who stoically sat out the whole performance. It was not a good show. The company was not nearly as good the one which produced burlesque here last season.

“There were some score of women in it, including the orchestra which, by the way, was an inexecrable one. The burlesque has been cut down and altered to suit the company, and every vestige of artistic coherence, if ever it had any, has disappeared from it. As presented by the company, it is simply without any cleverness to sugarcoat its inherent vulgarity. Nothing openly indecent was uttered last night, but the prurient portion of the audience was not disappointed, for there were many covert remarks and gestures which made men giggle and poke one another’s ribs in ecstasy.

“The costumes looked as if they had seen long service, and so did the wearer. Actually, big Marie Sanger looked young and charming among this company of archaic and uncomely chestnuts of the burlesque stage. The spectators, however, satisfied, because there was plenty of lower limb on view, and each anatomical extremity was as sprightly and expressive as possible.1