p.2 Review of the State of Business in Kingston
The prospects of the shipping trade for the approaching season were never better. The details now being obtained indicate a determination on the part of forwarders to be prepared to an extent hitherto unequalled in the history of the transhipment trade, and work for a larger number of mechanics than are now employed in foundries and shipyards is on hand. The arrival of upwards of 1000 troops amongst us will increase the imports for local consumption, and economy among citizens and business men is alone needed to render the prosperity of the city equal to the task of successfully battling those reverses which almost prostrated the business of the city after the panic, and which, owing to the periodical ebb and flow of trade, it would be wise to be prepared for in the future. In times like these, it behoves the merchant not to extend his business beyond prudent limits, and to bear in mind that a safe investment for his gains outside of his business may stand him in good stead in the hour of trial; the artizan should also seize the opportunity to lay by the increase of his wages in the Savings Bank or Building Society.
The amount of grain in store here is but an unimportant item in the consideration of facilities for its transportation; and this in spite of the fact that until within a few days back the price of wheat was higher in proportion than in Toronto, Montreal or New York. When wheat was at $1.02 ex car in Montreal it was at .93 to .95 at Kingston; now, when at $1.06 at Montreal, it is down to 94 cents. These prices are evidently such as are dictated by local competition, or the exigencies of the few buyers in the market; and that either of these should sway the market is an evil - and one that will not be remedied until a Merchants' Exchange is established. To what extent Kingston may be made a market for grain is a question simply of capital, and the course of trade. If Montreal prices fluctuated less, and there was more confidence in that market, no doubt small local buyers on the line of the Grand Trunk Railway would find it convenient to ship for that port on account of the facility for receiving returns; but whilst New York affords a better market, so long will there be a possibility of increasing the grain trade here. Freights to Oswego or Cape Vincent from Kingston are so much less than from ports on the Bay of Quinte that grain might profitably be sent here in parcels for making up large shipments to New York. These operations might be extended to points on the Rideau Canal, from whence barges could proceed through the Wolfe Island Canal to Cape Vincent. The Rideau, however, is to be regarded rather as a source of lumber than grain, and its wood trade forms a not unimportant feature in the business it brings to this city. In connection with the mention of the lumber trade, we may state that the views of large holders of this staple are brightening with the prospect of a re-opening of the trade with the United States. The demand from the Continent for lumber will stimulate shipments from Quebec, and it is not unlikely that this great branch of our trade will be revived this year to an extent greater than when it was carried on under the stimulus of British protection.
Kingston enjoys better ship building advantages than any other inland Canadian port. Her keels have visited Great Britain, and even "farther India." The building of vessels for ocean traffic has been found not to be of a sufficiently renumerative character to make it a permanent enterprise; the attention of shipowners should, however, be turned towards some means for the employment of $12,000,000 capital during the winter months. It is hardly possible that so large an amount of capital could be entirely engaged, much of it being invested in small craft, and a serious obstacle in the way of the employment of large vessels is the late opening of the St. Lawrence; thereby preventing inward bound vessels from participating in the high rates of freight which are given early in the season. Still the profits of employment during the winter months would more than counterbalance any loss from this source, and would, no doubt, tend to bring our trade directly in contact with the West Indies, Central America, and the Mediterranean. Our exportable produce is yearly increasing in quantity and value; and it is the interest of the merchant and the agriculturalist that our foreign commerce should be sufficiently extensive to enable us to buy sugar, tea, coffee, fruit, spice, dye stuff, and wines, in the cheapest market, and sell our lumber, grain, coal oil, butter, and cheese, in the dearest.
There can be no doubt that the interests of a particular city are at times at variance with the general welfare of the country. Any measure that tends to reduce the cost of transportation of produce is a gain to the farmer and to the merchant; the gain to the farmer would be the greatest. If wheat could be transported from Windsor or London to Quebec two cents a bushel cheaper than at present, these two cents would go perhaps for the most part, perhaps altogether, to the farmer. This proposition may seem to require qualification, for in spite of the greater cheapness of the St. Lawrence over the Erie Canal route to the Ocean, nearly thirty times more grain sought the seaboard by the latter route than was conveyed by the former. That we, however, obtained so large a share of the carrying trade as we did, was an indication of the tendency of things to find their level; and it is within safe bounds to assert that at least two million bushels more would have sought the St. Lawrence had the forwarding trade at Montreal and Kingston been prepared for it.
Now, while urging on forwarders here to make the most of the present order of things, it would be unwise to become committed to its perpetuation. If Kingston can be made a permanent point of transhipment, and Montreal, in spite of the lack of a tithe of the natural advantages possessed by Quebec, the ultimate point of transhipment is the transportation of grain from the westward, it will be because that no cheaper route can be obtained. If Mr. Merritt's projected propeller line can carry grain from Port Dalhousie to Quebec cheaper than it can now be carried, it will obtain the carrying trade. If there are natural difficulties in the way of their doing so, the removal of which would be a paying investment, they will be removed. For the course of trade, like water, ever seeks the smoothest channel; sectional interests and governmental monopolies may be brought to curb its career; but the interest of the producer and consumer is against the carrier, and laying aside local prejudices in favor of any route or mode of transportation, no sensible merchant can but foresee that the interests of the agriculturalists of this country will eventually, in connection with local interests elsewhere, tend to the carrying out of any and every means by which grain may be transported cheaper than at present. The high rates of freight procured last year served to compensate vessel owners for serious losses sustained in previous years - but that these high rates will continue longer than the early part of next season is not probable, considering the periodical decline in the western harvest; and when another large harvest shall return it is to be hoped that the enterprise of western merchants and eastern shippers will have devised some other mode of carrying grain to the seaboard, more equitable to the prairie farmer than the present rate of 5 1/2 bushels of corn for one.
While the transhipment business last year was unprecedentedly great, there was a falling off in many articles exported to the United States. The returns given below, obtained from the Custom House, we are fully satisfied do not approximate correctness. So long as outward reports are required from the master of a vessel who has only the scanty matter contained in his Bill of lading to guide him, so long will outward reports be incorrect; and the system at present adopted should be changed so as to require forwarders weekly or otherwise to render a correct return of the description, weight and value of all produce shipped by them:- (followed by table listing exports, for years 1860 and 1861, to U.S. via Cape Vincent and Oswego)