A “Mary” Christmas to all
Now that Hamilton has seen its first snow of the year and we’re officially into December, it seems the holiday spirit is in the air. As students, it might seem like the best option is to hole up in a library and tough it out until the end of exams. But now is as good a time as any to learn about things that aren’t in a textbook–maybe a little about Hamilton’s history.
Hamilton Civic Museums is putting on a series of events called “Mary Christmas” in honour of the various women named Mary who’ve figured prominently in local history.
But let’s start from the very beginning. The city was conceived by a man named George Hamilton after the end of the War of 1812, when he bought farmland from James Durand, a member of the British Legislative Assembly. Then Nathaniel Hughson, a property owner from the area, proposed that the area of land be the future site of a courthouse and jail. So Durand, Hamilton, and Hughson are all considered founders of the city we now call home. Hamilton then became part of the Gore District, officially earning city status in June of 1846.
One of Hamilton’s early industries was railway. As trains became more popular across Canada, businessmen in Ontario got in on the game, among them Sir Allan MacNab. In 1835, MacNab set up a “paper railway,” meaning it existed only on paper and was incorporated into a larger business. But although the line wasn’t constructed until the 1850s, MacNab, a successful lawyer and member of the Legislative Assembly, still had a substantial amount of money. So he built himself a nice home in Hamilton, known as Dundurn Castle.
This brings us to the first of the Marys. Dundurn Castle was, for many years, home to Mary Stuart, MacNab’s second wife. They had two daughters–one of them also named Mary. The former family home, now one of Hamilton’s most popular museums, will be decorated for a Victorian style Christmas, as it might have looked in 1855.
Battlefield House Museum and Park, once home to Mary Gage (1777-1853) and her ten children, will be offering “Christmas in the Pioneer Spirit.” The Gage family was from an earlier stage of Hamilton’s history, back to the War of 1812. The historic site is located in Stoney Creek–where the famous Battle of Stoney Creek happened in June 1813. While the battle raged, the family retreated to the cellar.
And the final famous Mary from Hamilton’s history is Mary McQuesten (1849-1934), mother to Thomas and Ruby McQuesten. The family lived at Whitehern Historic House and Garden, which will present the McQuesten’s Childhood Christmas. Thomas McQuesten has been called Hamilton’s “forgotten builder;” he established the Royal Botanical Gardens, built bridges and improved roadways, and most importantly to students, he encouraged McMaster’s move from Toronto to Hamilton. And, before all of that, he played for the Hamilton Tigers (before they were the TiCats). All in all, he was a pretty cool guy.
So there’s definitely a lot to learn about the city we’re in. And why not take advantage of the Christmas cheer (and the time off from classes!) to check it out now? Tours are available of all three historic sites Tuesday through Sunday from noon to 4pm, and the Christmas decorations will be up until the end of December.