WINGFIELD, ALEXANDER HAMILTON, mechanic, landing-waiter, and poet; b. 1 Aug. 1828 in Blantyre, Scotland; m. Margaret Malcolmson, and they had two sons and two daughters; d. 8 Aug. 1896 in Hamilton, Ont.
At six weeks of age, Alexander Hamilton Wingfield was taken to Glasgow by his parents. By the age of ten he was working in a cotton factory; it is not likely that he received much formal education. In 1847 he emigrated to the United States, living for three years in Auburn, N.Y., before moving to Hamilton, Upper Canada. Wingfield worked as a mechanic in the boiler-room of the Great Western Railway for 18 years. He then became a landing-waiter, or customs officer, at the port of Hamilton.
In Hamilton, Wingfield was popular as a poet. He wrote about common scenes and everyday life, about people, his love for Scotland, and his pride in Canada. In 1873 he published in Hamilton Poems and songs, in Scotch and English, a 255-page volume of his verse that he dedicated to Joseph Price, the general manager of the Great Western. The 1,500 copies of the book were sold within three weeks. Able to compose verse spontaneously, Wingfield was a popular entertainer at banquets and meetings, including those of the Victoria Lodge of the Independent Order of Foresters, of which he was a member.
As a poet, Wingfield followed the “hamely lays” of his beloved Robert Burns. Certain poems, “There is no royal road to heaven” among them, have an egalitarian, albeit Christian cast. He also composed poems of moral reflection such as “Ne’er talk lightly o’ a women” or “It’s best to ha’e ceevility” and sentimental elegies on the death of children such as “Crape on the door.” Of his writing as a proud Scot and a proud Canadian, “The land that’s truly free” provides a representative example:
For whaur’s the Scot whose heart ne’er warms
Whene’er he thinks o’ hame?
But there’s anither land I trow
That’s just as dear to me –
Tis Canada, the only land
Whose sons are truly free.
In addition, his poems express local pride in Hamilton and its institutions, for example the 13th Battalion Volunteer Militia Infantry.
In his preface to Poems and songs, Wingfield states, “This is the age not only of mechanical invention, supposed to be the very antithesis of poetry, but – more dreadful still – of criticism; the terrors of which make timorous poets pause.” He proceeds to pose the question, “But can poetry be born amid the noisy rattle of the loom, the birr of wheels, the clang of hammers, the screaming whistle and thundering rush of the locomotive?” Yet in publishing his poems in local newspapers – which he often did – Wingfield found a happy solution to his problems. “And so it comes to pass that in the joint result and triumph of two supposed anti-poetical powers, that of mechanics and criticism together – the newspaper press – the poet finds, if not the wings to fly aloft with, at least the medium in which he may easily bear himself up.” Like the work of his fellow Scots-Canadian contemporary Evan MacColl, Wingfield’s poetry shows Scottish poetry readily transplanting itself in Canada.
In addition to Poems and songs, in Scotch and English (Hamilton, Ont., 1873), Alexander Hamilton Wingfield’s publications include The centennial: an international poem (Toronto, 1878) and the lyrics for two compositions by local musicians: Fair Canada: patriotic song (Ottawa, 1873), set to music by George Frederick De Vine, and Under the snow (not lost but gone before) (Toronto, 1878), composed by Robert Steele Ambrose*. The latter song is reproduced in The Canadian musical heritage, ed. Elaine Keillor et al. (9v. to date, Ottawa, 1983– ), 3: 175–77.
AO, RG 22, ser.205, no.4329. HPL, Clipping file, Hamilton biog., Alexander Wingfield (poet) (1828–96); Katharine Greenfield, “Some authors of Victorian Hamilton” (typescript, 1968); Picture coll., Hamilton portraits, A. H. Wingfield; Scrapbooks, R. Butler, “Saturday musings”; J. Tinsley, “Old Hamiltonians.” Hamilton Spectator, 10 Aug. 1896. DHB. C. C. James, A bibliography of Canadian poetry (English) (Toronto, 1899). Watters, Checklist of Canadian literature (1972).