Tag Archives: Hamilton

Write What You Know

Write what you know. That is good advice, but it can be hard to follow if you have poor health and seldom travel or even explore your own neighbourhood. This was the case for my mother. Nevertheless, several of her articles about her hobbies and personal memories were published in the local media.

As I write this, snow is falling outside my office window and, in the midst of a pandemic, the government has advised people to stay at home. These restrictions feel much like the limitations my mother experienced, so I dug out some of her articles to see what inspired her.

Joan Hamilton (1918-1994) was a prolific letter-writer: letters to the editor of The Montreal Star, letters to the newspaper’s television critic, and letters to federal and provincial politicians on a variety of topics. But what she really wanted was to write magazine articles, so she was very proud when several of her stories appeared in Montreal Scene, a magazine inserted every Saturday in The Montreal Star. It generally featured four or five articles, along with the weekly television listings, and there was always a painting of a local scene on the cover.

“Feathered Fun” by Joan Hamilton, which appeared in the January 15, 1977 issue, was about her own favourite pastime, armchair bird-watching.

My parents’ house had a sunroom with picture windows overlooking the backyard where a large crab-apple tree, laden with wizened fruit, attracted many birds in winter. “If you are lucky, anytime after mid-January, a group of evening grosbeaks or common redpolls may discover your garden treats,” she wrote, adding, “There is no better pick-me-up for the winter blues than to spot the beautiful yellow, black and white grosbeaks feeding on the snow.” Mother also attached small bird feeders to the sunroom windows and kept them full of seeds so she could watch the chickadees up close.

This photo was taken in Naples, Florida in 1977. After she returned to Montreal, Joan Hamilton wrote a travel article about Naples. photo by Janice Hamilton

In another article, “Winters Remembered,” in the March 25, 1978 issue, she suggested that Montrealers were getting soft, no longer able to cope with snow and cold weather. She recalled that the postman called twice a day when she was young, and if there was a time when he couldn’t get through the drifts, she didn’t remember it. Furthermore, “in those days, many deliveries were still made by horse-drawn sleighs, which always seemed to triumph over the highest snowbanks.”

She wrote, “We must have got our first car in the late ‘20s. A Hupmobile with glass flaps for windows, it didn’t have a heater, that’s for sure. Maybe that is why in those days nearly everyone put their car ‘up’ for the winter…. We relied on the trusty old streetcars. We lived near the crest of Côte-des-Neiges, and I don’t remember a time when they were not able to make the hill. They had cowcatchers that acted as snowplows in front, and during big snowstorms, there were special snow plow cars clearing the tracks, trailed by a string of streetcars, power lines crackling with light and windows steamed, but making it up the hill.”

Travel, both short and long distance, was by the invincible train, she recalled. “Trains may have been delayed, but at least you always got where you were going.” She had particularly fond memories of the Laurentian ski train which carried Montrealers to the slopes north of the city in the winter. “The gaiety on board was as much a part of the fun as skiing.”

She continued, “We never worried about freezing or starving during power failures. First of all, we had a coal furnace which, although it had to be stoked morning and night, was not subject to breakdowns…. We cooked with gas, so there was no worry about being unable to have a hot meal if the electricity went off. Lots of people still had wood or coal stoves.”

Towards the end of the article, Mother asked, “Was it really better back then, or has time blocked out the bad memories and left only the good?” Perhaps she did block out some of negative aspects of winter in the 1930s and 1940s, but her memories nevertheless made for entertaining reading.

Note: this article also appears in my family history blog, Writing Up the Ancestors, http://writinguptheancestors.blogspot.com.

My new book, Reinventing Themselves: A History of the Hamilton and Forrester Families, by Janice Hamilton, will be published this spring.

The Missing Gravestone of Robert Hamilton and Janet Renwick

Robert Hamilton & Janet Renwick Gravestone imp

Writing a family history blog is a lot of work, but the effort is rewarding in many ways. Since I started writing my own blog and contributing to http://www.genealogyensemble.com, I have heard from several relatives I never knew I had. A distant relation in Australia is helping me break through a brick wall in Ireland. A researcher in Vancouver has provided information about a great-great aunt who moved there from Montreal. And a distant cousin in Ontario forwarded some of the letters our newly immigrated Hamilton ancestors sent home to Scotland.

Another breakthrough came through the kindness of the parish archivist in Lesmahagow, Scotland, hometown of those Hamilton ancestors. He ran across the article I posted about my three-times great-great grandfather Robert Hamilton, a tailor in the town Lesmahagow near Glasgow. Robert’s son and grandchildren left Scotland in 1829 and settled as farmers in what is now Scarborough, a suburb of Toronto. Robert, an elderly widower, stayed behind and died in Lesmahagow two years later.

My uncle did some research on the family in the 1950s and copies of the documents he collected eventually made their way into my hands. One of the items I acquired was a sketch of the parish cemetery in Lesmahagow, showing the location of the grave of Robert Hamilton and his wife Janet Renwick. When my husband and I visited in 2012, there was only grass in that spot, so I was delighted when the parish archivist recently emailed me a photograph of the missing Hamilton gravestone. The photo was taken in 1999. Since then, the stone must have fallen over and been covered by dirt, or perhaps it became unstable and had to be removed for safety reasons.

The text shown in the photo says: Erected in memory of Robert Hamilton tailor of Abbey Green who died 18th Nov. 1831, aged 77 years, and of Janet Renwick, his spouse, who died 2nd May 1821, aged 63 years, and of their son Archibald, who died in infancy.

Most Scots could not afford gravestones in those days, and I am sure the Hamiltons were no different. Tailors did not make much money. This is a nice big stone, and I suspect it was erected by family members many years later, perhaps with money sent to Scotland from the farm in Canada.

Lesmahagow churchyard

See also: Robert Hamilton, Tailor of Lesmahagow, http://writinguptheancestors.blogspot.ca/2013/12/robert-hamilton-tailor-of-lesmahagow.html

This article is simultaneously posted on writinguptheancestors.blogspot.ca