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Local Hero, Tom Cross - c 1885

Tom rowed his skiff from the Hamilton harbour wharves, on the point on the right, and headed off towards the "Beach," marked by the Burlington Skyway in the left background, a ribbon of sand which separates Burlington Bay in the foreground from Lake Ontario beyond.

Some time later in the day, the skiff was found abandoned in the foreground here; beside the Desjardins Canal entrance which is just off to the right of the picture, where another Great Canadian Tragedy had taken place 25 years earlier.

















1 - Where Tom started just metres from where his house was beside the docks.

2 - The Beach were Tom was last seen before he was to row back to his house.

3 - Where his skiff was found with only one oar.

This is also where the Desjardins Canal Bridge saw the great train wreck of 1857.

4 - Where Elizabeth Simcoe sat to paint her picture of the bay in 1796, just beside where Dundurn Castle would be built in the 1830s.

5 - Where Mohawk Chief Joseph Brant, owned 3,000 acres, farmed 100, and built the first big house in the area in 1800.

Go to The Adam Fergusson House

6 - The Adam Fergusson House - 1833.

A view across Burlington Bay, as painted by Elizabeth Simcoe, on birch bark, in June 1796, looking towards the Beach from the heights to the right of where the Desjardins Canal would be cut in 1837.

Elizabeth visited the farm of Joseph Brant at the head of Burlington Bay on the trip where she painted this scene.

Dundurn Castle and the hills of the Niagara Escarpment here were featured in a famous Canadian dinnerware service in the 1840s, giving rise to a false controversy in Canadian ceramic historiography, which we finally set right, once and for all.

Go to Dundurn Castle
Great Canadian Heritage Treasure

Does Canadian folk art get any better than this? Unlike so much of the genre, which is not signed by the artist, or features anonymous faces peering out from the frame, this work is fabulous because the original artist, JB Anderson, not only signed it, but also named the subject and provided the explanation why he painted him from life.

It's a large watercolour, done probably in the 1880s, of Tom Cross, a local fisherman and waterfront handyman from Hamilton, Ontario.

He lived in a house at the corner of James and Guise Street, right next to the harbour, so he was always first to help when a boat capsized in squalls that suddenly whip up in Lake Ontario, or someone fell off a wharf.

He is memorialized in the painting as one who saved a lot of lives during the forty years he was a fixture on Burlington Bay.

He is pictured fishing while a can of worms sits at his feet.

Sadly Tom ultimately became a victim of the lake from which he had rescued so many others. In 1893 the Hamilton newspaper noted:

"On the afternoon of Tuesday, 11 April, Tom Cross, who had sailed for about 40 years and was well known along the waterfront, rented a skiff from H. L. Bastien and rowed across to the Beach. He visited Capt. Campbell and talked about anchors for buoys off the James St. Slip. After loading two castings, weighing about 40 lbs. each, he departed at 5:30 p.m., saying that he was returning via Dynes' on the Beach. He was not seen again, nor had he been seen at Dynes'. The skiff, with one casting still aboard, was found near the Desjardins Canal entrance. One oar was in the skiff and the other was found floating near McIlwraith's Wharf. Cross was born in Ireland and was believed to be about 66 years old. He had lived in Hamilton approximately 50 years."

Folk Art, Tom Cross, Fisherman, Hamilton, ON - c 1885
Orig. wc - Image Size - 23 x 31 cm
Found - Toronto, ON
Great Canadian Heritage Treasure
The Railway Disaster at Hamilton, CW (Canada West) - Mar. 12,1857
Orig. print 1857 - Size - 38 x 48 cm
Found - St. Catharines, ON

An extremely rare print from 1857 of the Desjardins Canal train disaster. It is a complete reverse angle of the photo above.

Tom Cross's abandoned skiff drifted ashore here in 1893.

The Desjardins Canal train accident, in March 1857, remains one of Canada's worst train disasters.

This extremely rare print dates from a time Hamilton was in CW or Canada West, which it was from 1840 to 1867, when CW became Ontario.

Another view from the time catches the high point of the action, with bodies falling to the ice below.

The engine from the train, coming from Toronto - then called York - from the right, broke through the ties and plunged down pulling some cars with it.

Some 59 of Hamilton's leading citizens drowned or were crushed to death.

The original stone piers still stand and both bridges remain in use today, the upper one for cars, and the lower one for freight and passenger trains going into Hamilton, a couple of kilometers further on.


Coming over the exact same pier 150 years later is a modern train engine.

It's exactly in the position that the old steam engine was in when it broke through the ties and plunged into the abyss below.








Thanks to global warming, no one can remember when this part of the bay froze over like it apparently used to, a century and a half ago, providing a welcome platform for rescuers and onlookers.

The coming of the railway in the 1840s sped up settlement into the rural areas of Ontario, and especially helped develop commerce by expanding markets for produce, and bringing in more goods and machinery, to promote civilizing the forested regions. Thousands of hectares of trees had to be cut down before people could build towns or hack out farms to grow produce.

But there were many deadly accidents until railway companies built better bridges, rails, and running stock.

In the days before TV, radio, and the movies, next to watching the drunks fall off rafters at a barn raising, going to watch the mayhem at a train wreck, was, just about the most exciting thing one could go to see in rural Ontario.

Later on people would go to watch paint dry, and later, when TV came, to watch Butt Gas... er sorry, we mean Corner Gas.

the reverse angle of the two scenes, with the Toronto side - from where the train came on the track nearest the bay, before plunging into the canal - on the left.

The Desjardins Canal only lasted from 1837 till 1853, when the Grand Trunk Railway provided a much faster way to deliver people and freight than cumbersome and slow barges and sailboats.

Below the same view but from further inside Coote's Paradise, the pond that connects to the town of Dundas a few kilometres to the rear.

Great Canadian Heritage Treasure
Coote's Paradise, JH Caddy, c 1852
Orig. wc - Size - 32 x 47 cm
Found - Hamilton, ON

A stunning painting by JH Caddy of Coote's Paradise, a pond connecting the town of Dundas - which the large sailboat has just left - to the Desjardins Canal, through the railway and road bridge over the short neck of land into Burlington Bay, and then Lake Ontario. In the 1840s this was a hub of activity. Today this bay is clear of boats, docks, and houses that Caddy painted; only hikers and school children walk along the path in the foreground.

The hot sun in the middle of the picture - a favourite Caddy technique - as well as the treatment of the clouds, the ground and the trees, the palette of colours used, and the overall tonality of the painting, are good clues to identify unsigned Caddys.

In the distance is the Desjardins Canal bridge where the railway disaster was to take place five years later.

Go to John Caddy
Great Canadian Heritage Treasure

A fabulous hand painted lithograph of Joseph Brant (Thayendanegea) from the famous McKenney and Hall series of American Indian Chiefs published in the 1830s.

Joseph Brant led the Mohawks on the side of the British during the American Revolution, and brought his people to Canada after the Americans were given independence.

His people were given a huge tract of land along the Grand River near Brantford, but Joseph settled on Burlington Bay on 3,000 acres of land.

In 1800 he built a huge house there and farmed on a 100 acres. The house was torn down in 1927, and a replica was built to replace it but moved a short distance away.

His farm was paved over to make a parking lot for Joseph Brant Memorial Hospital.

Joseph Brant was one of the most notable Indians of the 18th century. He met King George III, George Washington, and many important British and American political and military leaders of the day, in his quest to win a better deal for his people during a time of warfare between Americans and British over who should control the lands once owned only by First Nations peoples.

In 1850 Joseph's remains were carried by his people 55 kms to Brantford and installed in a tomb at the Mohawk Chapel there.

This fabulous print is a hand-coloured litho from the first series of folio prints issued by McKenney and Hall and published by FW Greenhaugh in 1838.

The image on the litho was based on the last known portrait done of Brant, an oil by Ezra Ames in 1806.

The books containing these prints sell for upwards of $25,000 US.

Go to McKenney & Hall

Thayendanegea, Joseph Brant - McKenney & Hall, 1838
Orig. hand-coloured litho - Image Size - 34 x 48 cm
Found - Seattle, OR

Go to Canada's First Peoples
Over 200 years after the death of Joseph Brant the legal fight over ownership of the lands of Canada's First People continues unabated on the ground and in the courts.
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