Stamp Club

May 2019 Cover of the Month

Courtesy: Peter McCarthy

What Happened in Hamilton.

In 1992 I came across a cover in an auction catalogue addressed to the Great Western Railway in Hamilton and post marked Drummondville with enclosure. It was dated March 13, 1857. My interest was peaked because Drummondville, located midway between Montreal and Quebec was but twenty-five miles from my home in Richmond Quebec where the Grand Trunk Railway ran. I placed a high bid on the lot thinking there may have been non mentioned backstamps that would lead to the routing. You can imagine my surprise when the cover arrived and I discovered the post mark to read Drummondville, U.C. and not L.C. as anticipated. I had never heard of Drummondville, U.C. So, disappointedly I put the cover away and tried to forget about it and the twenty-five dollars it cost me.

Backstamp Hamilton March 14, 1857

But every time I opened the desk drawer this cover was staring me in the face. In 1998 we moved to London and in unpacking my philatelic boxes, the first item I came across was this famous cover. Because there was a Great Western Railway connection I felt at this point that the cover merited a closer look. There were at least two questions to be answered. Question number one; where is or was Drummondville, U.C. The query was a mild one only because the cover was addressed to the Great Western Railway. R.P.O.s on the G.W.R. being one of my interests led me to try and make some kind of connection. Anyway, I slowly began reading the enclosure that appears herein.

It spoke of a disaster in or around Hamilton. It's at this point where you need to read the transcript. I managed to decipher the enclosure word for word including Mr. Irving’s first name which was Æmelius.

My interest was now becoming a little more than mild. In fact, I was now in full search mode.

Beginning with the library it didn't take long to discover the disaster referred to was none other than the Desjardin Canal disaster of March 12, 1857, when a G.W.R. train out of Toronto bound for Hamilton went through the bridge while crossing the canal plunging into the frigid waters below killing some fifty-nine people.

Had I thought a little I could have saved a trip to the library and looked through my own meager collection of books to find an account of the incident in Lionel Gillam's book 'Canadian Mail By Rail - 1836 - 1967'. With the preliminaries of question number two answered, attention was now turned to question one. Where is Drummondville, U.C. located. Finding the answer proved far more difficult than anticipated. The local library was of absolutely no assistance, or, at least I wasn't looking in the right place. Queries put out to long time residents and stamp club members all brought the same answers. It's between Montreal and Quebec City. Right answer wrong Drummondville. Finally a fellow club member with a postal listing, the title which I have since forgotten quietly came forward with the answer I was seeking. Apparently Drummondville, U.C. was located in Stanford Township in Welland County, one quarter of a mile from Niagara Falls South. It had thirteen inhabitants and was in existence from 1830 to 1884 after which it became a part of Niagara Falls South which eventually became a part of Niagara Falls. The postal marking in question is, according to W. Bruce Graham's book 'Ontario Broken Circles' a 29 mm double broken circle that was proofed on May 31, 1842. It is the first of two hammers with the earliest date being May 2, 1845 and the latest July 3, 1867.

And now back to the contents of the letter. It has been established through another letter written at an earlier date that the grandson of Mrs. H.N. Irving was at one time a practicing lawyer in Galt, U.C. Therefore it is assumed that, because the letter was addressed to Mr. Irving at the Great Western Railway, he was doing legal work for that company. Hence, Mrs. Irving's concern. Mr. Street did survive whatever injuries he sustained. As for Zimmerman, he is none other than the famous or infamous Samuel Zimmerman, the prominent businessman and railway promoter with one of his major projects being the Great Western Railway. Zimmerman died in the accident at age 42. He was known to be very generous in both his charitable donations and his bribes. The train in question was headed by the 23 ton American built locomotive 'Oxford'. The crew consisted of the engineer Alex Burnfield, fireman George Knight, conductor Edward Burrett and several brakemen.

The acquisition of this cover, first thought to be a waste of money turned out to be an amazing piece of postal and railway history


Canadian Mail By Rail 1836 - 1867 by L.F. Gillam, F.C.P.S. Richard Printing Co., Rotherham, S. Yorks England

Encyclopaedia Britannica

Wreck! Canada's Worst Railway Accidents by Hugh A. Halliday published by Robin Brass, Toronto.

Ontario Broken Circles by W. Bruce Graham published by Postal History Society of Canada.