A Year of Gloom
To be sure the people of Hamilton had their ups and downs, as did all pioneer communities, but they had their good times, too. In looking back over the course they had traveled they saw one year painted darker colours than the others--1832. The old saying assures us that troubles never come singly. In this year three major disasters struck (1) hard times, little work for the men and no money to buy the nice things that were beginning to be shown in the stores: (2) some fires big enough to destroy public buildings: (3) the first outbreak of Asiatic cholera, in epidemic proportions.
Although the farming community on Hamilton mountain developed slowly, with most of its interests purely local and centred around the doings of the schools and churches, relieved, perhaps, by a weekly trip into town, to exchange farm staples for such commodities as tea, sugar, flour, etc., yet the mountain people reacted, as did the folk below the hill, to good times and bad times. They had heard talk of improvements, about the power of steam which some predicted was strong enough to turn mill-wheels, even about carriages to ride in that would be drawn by a steam-powered engine. They had heard of stoves that would replace fire-places and coal-oil lamps to replace candles.
Their bad times consisted mainly of food shortage, no work at which men could make money, famines, floods and pestilence. They had them all in the year 1832! And this was just one year before the people planned to confer the dignified name of "town" on the ambitious little community at the head of the lake.
The first spectacular disaster consisted of a series of fires, very destructive to a town composed of wooden houses. No adequate water supply was available. At this time Hamilton relied chiefly on five wells, placed at strategic points near the centre of town, for drinking water. The fire hazard was left to whatever fate might throw in the their way.
And fate was not slow to take up the challenge. Following is an account of the fire, long remembered as the "great fire", taken from the pages of the Canadian Wesleyan, of 1832.
"With feelings of the most painful nature we proceed to describe the ravages of an accidental fire, which took place in the new tavern built by Mr. MacNab, by which the finest part of the town was reduced to ashes in an incredibly short space of time.
"The fire commenced between eleven and twelve o'clock a.m., on Friday, the 16th inst: and in about three-quarters of an hour communicated to five other buildings, exclusive of the one in which it originated, including the one of Messrs. Ferguson and Company and that of Mr. MacNab, the post office, the Desjardins Canal office, Western Mercury office, dwelling and shop of Mr. Scobie, Mr. A. Miller's tavern and out-buildings, all of which were consumed in less than three hours from the first appearance of the fire." Fire insurance had not been heard of in 1832.