As the year 1875 was winding down, the weather was not wintry in the least. In fact, the warm temperatures did not really enliven the holiday spirits of Hamiltonians, because the mild conditions were not accompanied with sunny skies.
The damp, gloomy atmosphere was especially when citizens ventured out to attend church services on the 25th of December.
As noted in the Hamilton Times : “The Christmas of 1875 will long be remembered for its unseasonable and unchristmas-like weather, the depressing effect of which seemed to be pretty generally felt.”
On Christmas Eve, there was a considerable of imbibing of holiday cheer and the resulting drunken behaviour was notable throughout the city.
The Hamilton reporter on duty on Christmas eve saw many unfortunate situations because of the drinking that evening, including the following in his words :
“Christmas eve on John street was enlivened by a rough and tumble fight towards the wood market. Children yelled, women screamed, men shouted and swore, while eyes got blackened, noses cracked, and a general mutilation of human faces took place. The police arrived in time to save a few of the pieces.”
That same reporter filed the following story in which the protagonist was unnamed but a reasonable guess that the somewhat tipsy gentleman returning home after a late night at work may well have been the Times man himself:
“Things were somewhat mixed in some places on Christmas eve, especially towards the “witching hours.” It was awfully dark in some places, you know, so much so that a fellow could scarcely tell a lamp post from anybody else. Then, walking itself proved quite tiresome : you’d have to sit down occasionally and sometimes rather involuntarily on the pavement or street corners to take a rest awhile. Then it was wonderful how other people were so awkward or blind or something that they could not see you coming along and were sure to run into you or jostle you off the bee-line every time. The worst part of it was when a fellow got home, his wife or his sister or his mother appeared to be as bad as the rest, and began to make strange speeches about “ghastly beasts getting tight on Christmas” – all of which of course you applied to themselves, seeing that they would perversely introduce a stove or a chair or something continually in your way proving a great drawback to successful locomotion. Blue Monday opens up this morning with several parodies on Cicero’s philippic against Catiline, and dry meditations on the restorative powers of red herrings.”
Christmas day, 1875 was on a Saturday and a number of individuals apprehended by the police for misdemeanors would have to spend Boxing Day, the 26th, in custody awaiting the opening of the Police Court on Monday the 27th.
As described in the Times, the proceedings beginning at 9 a.m., at Police Court that morning were busier than normal:
“Quite an extended bulletin this morning. The cases are chiefly of a minor nature, and generally peculiar to the season. The unfortunates appeared very blue in more respects than one, and stood chewing the bitter end of recollection with feelings too full for utterance.
The results of a too free participation in the contents of the “flowing bowl” appeared to predominate.
August Lindsay, charged by Constable Castell with being drunk, was fined $1. Also charged by Henry McGregor, an ex-Confederate soldier, with having robbed him of a coat and $64.10 in money, and some documents, in Waterdown.
Adjourned till 1 p.m.
Robert Hendlay was picked up by Constable McMenemy three sheets in the wind. Allowed to go.
Joseph Summerfield, John Healy and William Watsch were charged by Constables Williams and Griggs respectively with being drunk. Being their first offense, all were discharged.
Wm. Murphy was accused of drunkenness and disorderly conduct by William Harper. Prosecutor failed to appear.
Patrick Carroll, charged by James Nolan with being drunk and disorderly, was fined $2.
Wm. Halloran was charged by Constable Castell with having “met a few friends.” Fined $1.
John Gildon, charged by Constable McFeggan with having swallowed a little much of the “O be joyful,” was fined $1.
In the usual practice of the day, the nominations for mayor and aldermen were held in the open air, on the Market Square. There were many names nominated to contest for the various positions as ward aldermen.
However, it was different matter as regards the mayoralty.
The complete Times coverage of that part of the nominations is quoted at length as follows :
“Precisely at ten o’clock the City Clerk as Returning Officer for the city, opened proceedings for the nomination of candidates for the office of Mayor of the City of Hamilton for the year 1876 in the presence of a large concourse of citizens.
Mr. George Roach was nominated by Mr. John Fields, seconded by Mr. Adam Brown.
Mr. Fields said : Mr. Returning Officer and gentlemen, it is usual upon occasions like the present for the gentleman nominating a candidate to fill the high, honorable and, I must not forget also, the responsible, position of Chief Magistrate of our city, for the person making such nomination to say at least a few words in support of the gentleman nominated. But, sir, as this is to be an acclamation election, it is quite unnecessary for me to say even a single word on behalf of my candidate. I will therefore content myself by simply saying that I believe, in making the present nomination, I am expressing the wishing of a very large portion of our citizens, and, gentlemen, I am quite sure that I speak the sentiments of every gentleman who has had the pleasure of a seat in the Council, and also of the public generally, when I say that His Worship the Mayor has, during the present year, discharged the duties of his office with credit alike to the country, to our city and to himself. I have had the pleasure of a seat at the Council Board for nearly two years with His Worship the Mayor, during which time I have never known that gentleman, either in Committee or in Council, favor any project which he did not believe to be strictly in the interest of our city and the citizens, and, gentlemen, I feel quite satisfied that his past conduct will be a fair index to the future. You are aware, gentlemen, that the Mayor, by virtue of his office, is a member ex offio, of every committee in connection with our Council, and it therefore behooves us as citizens to elect a gentleman to fill the office in whom we have the fullest confidence, and I believe the gentleman I have nominated to be the right man in the right place. Had I not every confidence in Mayor Roach, I can assure you I would not be here today to nominate him, but I do, sir, believing that he, as well as myself, has simply one end in view in his public capacity, namely the future prosperity of our city; and, gentlemen, I feel quite sure that at the expiration of 1876, we shall have no cause to regret the choice we haver this day made. One more word and I am done. I trust, gentlemen, that you will elect such men in your respective wards as Aldermen as will strengthen the hands of His Worship the Mayor in performing the arduous duties that must necessarily devolve upon him during this our Provincial Exhibition year. – (Applause.)
Mr. Adam Brown made a short speech, fully endorsing the sentiments of the last speaker.
Mr. George Roach then stepped forward and said :
GENTLEMEN – It is always pleasing to me to meet you, but on the present occasion I cannot express my gratification at being again honored as your chosen candidate for the Mayoralty of this city for the coming year, and I thank you most sincerely for the high compliment in selecting me the second time. As I value very much the estimation of my fellow citizens, I have therefore endeavored to retain their good will by faithfully endeavoring to discharge the duties of the important office entrusted to me. I have observed with much pleasure that on the requisition asking me to come forward as a candidate there appeared the names of prominent gentlemen on both sides of politics and of every nationality and creed. Party politics, which have provoked so much animosity and bitter feelings in other corporations, have fortunately never been introduced into any of our municipal questions during the past year. The position of Mayor is an arduous one, but I do not shrink from the duties if I can be of service to promote the public good. The coming year will require much of the time of the Mayo, whoever he may be, for there will be the Provincial Exhibition, and many other important duties to which the Mayor will require to devote much of his time. I regret very much that our Sewer Bylaw was rejected by the people, for had it carried, our laboring class would have found plenty of employment, and, as it is, there is a scarcity of work. I have always felt a kind sympathy and a deep interest in the welfare of the workingmen, and I can truly state that it would afford me much pleasure to see them all employed. I am pleased to think that the troubles and cloud of depression which have hovered over Canada, and almost every part of the world, are rapidly passing away, and that better and more prosperous days are in store for us, and if we can only tide over the next three months, there will be employment for all in the construction of the Hamilton & Northwestern Railway, to which we have been so anxiously looking forward for a very long time. The contract for the construction of another filtering basin has not progressed so rapidly as we had a right to expect, but we hope to see the work carried on in earnest as soon as the weather in the Spring will permit. I am one of those who believe that our Water Works, if properly managed, could be self-sustaining, and that Corporations, as well as individuals, should limit their expenditure by their income, and it affords me much satisfaction to state that the
Gross receipts from the Water Works
to the 23rd of December was ………… $75,348.42
Expenditure to the 30th November ……….. $36,751.29
Leaving a balance of …………………… $38,597.13
In former years, our fiscal year dated from the 15th October, which was most inconvenient; the past year we have changed it, as the Act required, from the 1st of January to the 31st of December. To the members of Council, for their kind and valuable assistance, and to the citizens, for their kind and esteemed appreciation of my services, I tender to both my most sincere thanks.”
A little later, the Times reporter walking along the main downtown streets noticed a rather respectable-looking man loitering :
“The wayfarer by the City Hall, down James street this morning, might have seen a figure enveloped in sundry overcoats, top boots, and fur cap, slowly pacing the walk at the foot of the clock tower. It was the City Clerk patiently waiting to hear the tones strike 11 and relieve him of his duties in the nomination for Mayor.”
Mayor Roach had made reference to the “cloud of depression and troubles.” Not only was the city of Hamilton suffering from severe economic problems, so was all of Canada, indeed as was the United States and England as well.
A financial collapse of Wall Street in 1873 had profound negative impacts on businesses on a widespread basis. In Hamilton, many businesses were working at less than full capacity with shortened hours for the employees who had not been laid off completely. Many businesses had gone bankrupt.
Unemployment and hardship for families was widespread.
The annual distribution of Christmas relief to those in want was a welcome event for many Hamiltonians.
The Times noted that a couple of organizations worked hard to bring some Christmas cheer, while others, that usually did the same did not that year:
“The St. George’s Society made their annual Christmas distribution to the poor on Friday. Mr. C. E. Pierce, President of the Society, and Mr. Bampfylde, Chairman of the Charitable Committee, arranged the distribution. Four hundred and sixty-six people were relieved, and the officers of the Society deserve the highest praise for their management and kindness. The Irish Protestant Benevolent Society also did good work among the poor. For some reason the St. Andrew’s and Caledonian societies did not make a distribution.”
An ongoing response to the hardship caused by the economic depression was the recent establishment of a Soup Kitchen and Dormitory in Hamilton.
In a bid to encourage increased support for that charity, the Times, on December 27, 1875, carried the following report on its work to that point:
“As an increasing interest is being manifested in this useful institution, which has been productive of incalculable benefit during the late inclement weather, the following statistics of its operation for the second week since its opening will, we are sure, be read with pleasure. No fewer than 764 warm and nourishing meals have been furnished to families and individuals throughout the city, as well as to those homeless and destitute ones who have gladly taken shelter at the Dormitory.; 76 applicants have enjoyed 223 lodgings, and their occupations are as follows : 1 axe-grinder, 1 bookbinder, 1 boiler-maker, 1 butcher, 2 clerks, 1 carpenter, 1 cooper, 1 carder, 1 dyer, 1 farm hand, 54 labourers, 3 machinists, 2 masons, 1 plumber, 2 plasterers, 1 sailor, 1 sausage maker, 1 shoemaker, 1 teacher, 1 weaver. Parties in want of any of these workmen will confer a favour by making application to Mr. Givin, General Secretary of the Y. M. C. A. Great care has been taken in the selection of those who are admitted as night lodgers. Anyone bringing liquor into the Dormitory, or being under the influence when applying for admission, is summarily dismissed, and only in two cases have such parties had to be ejected. The greatest order has always prevailed, and the Matron and Superintendent are most attentive to the wants of all applicants. The members of the Women’s Christian Association are in daily attendance, and family worship is conducted each evening by members of the Y. M. C. A. Let every family procure a supply of soup tickets, and thus make the institution self-sustaining.”
The membership of the Hamilton Garrick Club, an organization devoted to the presentation of amateur theatre in Hamilton, had decided to put on an entertainment, with all the proceeds to go to the support of the poor.
Again the Times gave liberal coverage of the plans of the Hamilton Garrick Club, and added an encouragement to Times readers to attend the Garrick Club’s performance :
“The plan for the second performance is now open at Grossman’s, and we no doubt will soon fill up. The programme is an excellent one, especially for this season of year, when the hearts are all joyous and happy and atra cura is flung to the four winds of heaven. The burlesque of “Guy Fawkes” is now out of print, and this eversion of it is the work of a prominent member of the Club. It is brimful of the liveliest humor and bristling with hits, in which our local and political luminaries are wittily handled. There are combats and choruses, conspirators and courtiers. The dresses have been carefully prepared for the occasion and the music is in the hands of Prof. Garrat. The spectacular features render it just the thing for children, while its real dramatic excellence will be appreciated by the older heads in the audience. “Little Toddlekins” is by Charles Mathews. When we say this, more is superfluous. Let us see a packed house on Thursday in order that a sum still larger than that resulting from the last performance may be placed at the disposal of our numerous poor. Every one has been bewailing the “hard times;” let every one do his share in the attempt to alleviate the suffering consequent upon the widespread commercial depression which we trust will soon disappear.”