"Ambitious little city"
I don't want to give the impression that no one enjoyed Hamilton . On the contrary, most reports (excepting the ever pessimistic Mr. Talbot) were glowing. Samuel Philips Day, visiting in 1864, was very impressed:
"...one of the most thriving, if not the largest cities of Upper Canada . Somewhat less than half a century ago this flourishing town, or 'ambitious little city' as it is familiarly termed, was but a wilderness. Now it possesses a happy population of over twenty thousand souls; is ornamented by several elegant churches - always a pleasing sight, - imposing lofty stores, a fine public market, and commodious dwellings, in addition to a 'monster hotel' that would be considered worthy of laudation in New York, Washington, or Philadelphia."
Note the use of the phrase ambitious city. This enthusiasm for Hamilton was continued even though he arrived during the sheriff's sale of the contents of the City Hall to satisfy the creditors (the city having embarrassed itself in the area of finance). Even after all this he can say:
"Few towns or people in Canada have impressed me more favourably than did Hamilton and its citizens. In point of construction and beauty the former is faultless, while the latter seemed to me a plain honest, well-to-do people, almost as primitively simple in their costumes and manners as the Quakers of a century back. I am inclined to regard Hamilton as the modern 'Arcadia' of British America , where the citizens dwell in happiness and brotherhood, where actual poverty is unknown, and where the only predominant passion observable amongst the population resolves itself into a sort of harmless rivalry, or more properly, emulation of Toronto ."
The more things change, the more they stay the same.
Many more tourists wrote books about their travels in those days than do now of course so it is easier to find a multitude of descriptions, both good and bad, during the nineteenth century. However, I thought I would conclude with a source of commentary that is still common, even today, the letter to the editor.
"To the editor of the Spectator.
May 30, 1857
Sir - Will you allow a stranger to say a few words in your columns, concerning what he considers to be the greatest nuisance of Hamilton. I have but recently arrived here and in speaking of your flourishing city, which is day by day appearing to greater advantage, I think there is a little room still left for improving the condition of some of the streets, and more particularly the sidewalks. Every one must experience the discomforts resulting from the imperfect state of the thoroughfares, - that is, dust filling the eyes, the ears, and the mouth when it gets the chance; and the other extreme of mud is not a whit the less disagreeable. Of course, I don't know anything of the town authorities and the public purse; and it would be improper in me to say anything on the subject, further than to wish them every success in paving and watering the streets. Another grievance is the dogs that swarm the town, pouncing upon the passers by at every corner. It happened only yesterday evening, that in crossing King-street I was assailed by a huge grisly animal; fortunately its bark proved worse than the bite, and thus I escaped what inevitably appeared to be at the moment personal mutilation. I could arrive at no satisfactory conclusion as to why such ugly and unserviceable looking animals are allowed to roam at large to the annoyance, if not danger, of the inhabitants...But dogs and mud are nasty things to treat of in your journal, and if you allow one, two or three lines more I would speak of higher classed matter. I have greatly admired the activity and business habits of the Hamiltonians, and the energy and enterprise put forth by the leading houses of your city. I can bear testimony to the hospitality and generous courtesies that distinguish the homes of Hamilton . Your merchants are gentlemen and men of metal. Your ladies are beautiful in every sense of the word, and dress most tastefully; but these things they know a great deal better than I can tell them. In this remote part of the British sovereignty you are most loyal subjects, as the display of Sunday last can testify. The Artillery Company, and the Rifles, with the stalwart Highlandmen as well, have been deservedly spoken of in the newspapers; and I am certain nowhere else away from the home of Her Gracious Majesty and the dear baby could there have been more earnest manifestations of loyalty. It may be needless of me to say what has been so often said, that the Radio and Telegraphic advantages of Hamilton with many other features favourable to its rapid growth must ensure for it ere long a place of primary importance among the cities of Canada, and if I don't offend the Toronto people, I would say Hamilton is destined to be the leading city of the Western Province. With success to your city and every thing belonging to it, save the dust, the mud and the dogs, and apologising for intruding so far on your valuable space,