Saturday, December 15, 2018

A Musician in the Family


My Aunt Margaret was a liberated woman even if she didn’t want to be. She was divorced in 1957 – a time when divorce was considered scandalous -- and from then on, she held her head high and supported herself as a musician.

Then again, she was fortunate to be so talented and well educated.

Margaret's high school graduation
Born in 1909, Lillian Margaret Hamilton was the eldest child of Dr. Thomas Glendenning Hamilton (1873-1935), a Winnipeg physician and surgeon, and his wife Lillian Forrester (1880-1956).1 She was raised with her two younger brothers in suburban Elmwood, graduating from high school at age 15. She went on to study at the University of Manitoba, getting an honours BA in French and English in 1930. The following year, she obtained an Associateship in Piano from the University of Toronto.2

She met her future husband, James Reynolds Bach, at his father’s piano store and they married in Winnipeg in 1934. An electrical engineer and amateur cellist, his career took him first to Hamilton, Ontario, where their two daughters, Frances and Dorothy, were born. In 1942, a new job took Jim to London, Ontario and the family bought a house there. He eventually started his own company manufacturing electrical instruments and hospital equipment, and it was very successful.3

Jim and Margaret bought a property near Port Severn, on the shores of Georgian Bay, and built a rustic cottage there, adding on to it every season. “We had a four-mile boat ride up the Severn River to Gloucester Pool. There was no power for the first several years, so Mother cooked on a wood stove, and we used an icebox and a biffy (outhouse) back in the woods,” daughter Fran Solar recalls. “Mother loved it. We spent summers there from the end of June until school started again, and Dad came on weekends.”

While living in London, Margaret continued to study piano and singing, and she was active in the music community, including the London Chamber Music Society and the Women’s Music Club. She was pianist for the annual performance of Handel’s Messiah on several occasions, but the highlight was her 1952 solo performance of a Mendelssohn concerto with the London Civic Symphony.

Meanwhile, Jim was also prominent in the city’s music scene through the Kiwanis Club and church choirs. Then he fell in love with another woman and decided he wanted to marry her. “He did not want two Mrs. Bachs in London, so he made it financially impossible for Mother to stay there,” Fran explains. In 1956, Margaret and her two daughters packed up, boarded a train and moved to Winnipeg.

The timing couldn’t have been worse: Margaret’s mother died just a few weeks later, in September, 1956. “It was the year from hell for Mother,” says Fran.

Margaret moved into an apartment on the second floor of the old family home, above her brother Dr. Glen F. Hamilton’s medical office. It was a comfortable apartment, but it was not what she was used to.

Jim helped the girls pay for university, but he did not give Margaret much to live on, so she turned her love of music into a real career. With a grand piano in her apartment living room, she gave piano and voice lessons to many aspiring young Manitoba musicians. She also taught part-time at a local girls’ school, she was a rehearsal pianist for a city choir, and she was a frequent adjudicator at music festivals.

Margaret Hamilton Bach, date unknown
“She made a life for herself,” says Fran, “but she never had another love relationship. I think she was always ashamed of being divorced. She didn’t like talking about it.” She always kept her married name, Margaret Hamilton Bach.

As Margaret moved toward retirement, she dropped adjudicating, but she maintained her interest in music education, and she always enjoyed attending concerts in Winnipeg. Meanwhile, she pursued other interests and visited her daughters and grandchildren in Eastern Canada, and later on the West Coast.

When Hamilton House (the old family home is still known by that name today) was sold in 1980, Margaret moved into an apartment building. She continued to live on her own until she died unexpectedly in her sleep in 1986.4

Sources
1. Hamilton family bible, scanned copy of the original family records
2. “London Civic Symphony, Thursday, April 3rd, 1952, London, Ontario,” programme.
3. Telephone interview with Fran Solar, Nov. 21, 2018
4. “Margaret Hamilton Bach,” obituary, Winnipeg Free Press, Oct. 22, 1986, https://newspaperarchive.com/winnipeg-free-press-oct-22-1986-p-44/



Saturday, December 1, 2018

Five Brothers

Clockwise from top left, Thomas Glendenning Hamilton, Robert Hamilton, James Archibald Hamilton, John Stobo Hamilton, William Oliver Hamilton

The five young men posing for a studio photograph in turn-of-the century Winnipeg look serious. They probably wouldn’t have been the life of any party, but if you needed help, no doubt each would have stepped up. They were, after all, of Scottish descent, professional men imbued with a strong Presbyterian ethic of hard work and responsibility.

They shared similar square faces, gentle eyes and wavy hair, and if you guess that they were brothers, you are right. They were my grandfather Thomas Glendenning Hamilton (known to his friends as T. G.) and his brothers Rob, Jim, John and Will.

What you couldn’t know is that there is someone missing from this photo: their only sister, Maggie, who died in 1886.

They grew up in Scarborough, Ontario on the land their immigrant grandfather had cleared. Their parents were farmer James Hamilton senior and his wife, Isabella Glendenning. Robert, born 1860, was the oldest, followed by Margaret, John Stobo, James Archibald and Thomas Glendenning. The youngest, William Oliver, was born in 1875.

James Hamilton Sr. was strongly opposed to alcohol consumption and, with western Canada opening to settlement, the family decided to help establish a temperance colony on the Prairies. In 1882, Rob accompanied his father in an advance party, leaving Isabella in Toronto with Maggie and the younger boys. The following year, the brothers and their mother joined James and Rob in the newly founded Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.

The pioneer settlement faced harsh winters, drought and food shortages, and the attempt to establish an alcohol-free community was a failure. Meanwhile, in 1885, the Northwest Rebellion took place almost on the Hamiltons’ doorstep. The rebels were the Métis people, angry that they were losing their hunting lands to the new settlers. James and Rob served as guides to the government militia forces sent to quash the rebellion, while Isabella and Maggie helped look after the wounded soldiers following the Battle of Batoche.

This may be Maggie Hamilton
James Sr. had an opportunity to go back east with the troops, so he decided to visit his relatives in Ontario. While there, he suffered a massive heart attack and he was buried in Scarborough. The following year brought another blow to the family when Maggie died of typhoid at age 24.

Finally, Isabella and her sons decided to move to Winnipeg. The boys wanted to continue their studies and it had become clear that farming was not for them.

The family members separated for several transitional years. Rob went to Toronto to study for a career as an electrical inspector, while John taught school in British Columbia. Meanwhile, Isabella took Will, who was then about 15 years old, to look for a house in Winnipeg, leaving T.G. and Jim in Saskatoon. In 1891, with their father’s estate finally settled, the two brothers, ages 18 and 21, travelled by pony and buckboard the 800 dusty kilometers from Saskatoon to Winnipeg.

Back in Winnipeg, Rob helped to support the family while his brothers studied. During their student years, they all helped to pay their own expenses by teaching school.

John was the first to graduate from university, obtaining a degree in philosophy in 1892, followed by a degree in theology in 1895. Jim became a doctor, and T. G. followed his older brother into medicine, graduating in 1903. That same year, John gave up his post as a minister when he finished his medical degree in the United States. Will taught for five years, then articled in law and opened a law firm, Beveridge and Hamilton, in 1911.

Four of the brothers remained in Winnipeg for the rest of their lives, although they didn’t see each other often. Jim, who was single, and T. G. were probably the closest of the brothers, sharing a medical office downtown. Rob and his family lived in another part of the city. A quiet person and in poor health, he did not socialize much with his brothers, and neither did Will. John and his wife and daughter lived in North Dakota, about 80 miles from Winnipeg, and they made frequent short visits to the city.

The Hamilton family plot, Winnipeg
In the 1920s, T. G. and his wife Lillian became interested in psychic phenomena. At the time, this was not unusual: many people wanted to communicate with loved ones who had died in the Great War or the flu epidemic. The couple had lost their three-year-old son to the flu in 1919. They hosted séances at their home almost weekly for more than a decade, and T. G. documented the paranormal events they observed. Jim attended these meetings regularly, but the other Hamilton brothers did not.

Finally, the brothers’ deaths reunited them. They all suffered from heart problems. Rob died in 1923 and Will died suddenly at his office in 1924, at age 49. John died of a heart attack in 1932, Jim in 1934, and T. G. followed in 1935. They are all buried beside their mother, their sister and other family members in Elmwood Cemetery, Winnipeg.

Sources and Further Reading

This article relies on family histories and letters written by my late aunt, Margaret Hamilton Bach, and by Alison Mossler Wright (John’s granddaughter) and the late Olive Hamilton (Rob’s daughter).

James B. Nickels, Manitoba History, “Psychic Research in a Winnipeg Family, Reminiscences of Dr. Glen F. Hamilton,” June, 2007, http://www.mhs.mb.ca/docs/mb_history/55/psychicresearch.shtml (accessed Nov. 23, 2018)

University of Manitoba, Libraries, Hamilton Family Fonds, http://umanitoba.ca/libraries/units/archives/digital/hamilton/index.html (accessed Nov. 23, 2018)

“Louis Riel, October 22 1844- November 16, 1885”, Library and Archives Canada, http://www.bac-lac.gc.ca/eng/discover/politics-government/canadian-confederation/Pages/louis-riel.aspx (accessed Nov 22, 2018)