The City of Hamilton was a little over seventy years old when the Wentworth Historical Society was formed in January 1889 to promote study into and publicise the "history, archaeology…and genealogy" of the area around the City of Hamilton, at the western end of Lake Ontario, known as the Head-of-the-Lake. As one way of achieving its objectives, the society undertook an active publishing program, most notably through its occasional periodical, Wentworth Historical Society and Records, which printed the best talks given by members at society meetings. The Wentworth Historical Society ceased functioning in 1925.
In January of 1944 C. R. McCullough convened a meeting of historically minded citizens at his home, “Hillside” on John Street South for the purpose of meeting Dr. Charles W. Jefferys, president of the Ontario Historical Society, and discussing the possibility of re-establishing in Hamilton a society to sustain interest in local History.
Present at this first meeting were: Lt.-Col. C. R. McCullough, Miss Freda F. Waldon, Miss Isabelle Lougheed, George Laidler, T. Melville Bailey, Walter H. Carroll, Dr. Charles W. Jefferys, Mrs. J. Bryce Mundie, Dr. A. H. Wingfield, T. Roy Woodhouse, Edwin Mills and William F. Johnson.
Further meetings were held February 12, 18 and 24, 1944 with George Laidler acting as chairman.
At the February 18th meeting an executive was chosen from a proposed list. Another meeting was held on February 24th and the constitution of the new society was drafted.
On Thursday, March 2, 1944 the above named group met with twenty other interested citizens and, after a discussion, chose the name, The Head-of-the-Lake Historical Society, adopted the constitution and elected the first slate of officers.
The Spectator reported: “A representation of History-minded citizens was present on Thursday evening in the public library, when the Head-of-the-Lake Historical Society came into formal being. After months of careful planning by an appointed committee, the constitution and list of officers for the ensuing year was presented to the public for acceptance. The executive council of the society includes: Honorary President, Lt.-Col. Charles R. McCullough; honorary vice presidents, Prof. Chester W. New, W. P. Witton; president, Dr. Alex H. Wingfield,; vice-presidents, Miss Freda F. Waldon, T. Roy Woodhouse; recording secretary, T. Melville Bailey; corresponding secretary, William F. Johnson (Beach Bungalow School); publications editor, George Laidler; treasurer, Walter H. Carroll; auditor, John Fee; custodian, Miss Isabelle Locheed. Councillors – Mrs. Bryce Mundie (U.E.), Miss Mabel Burkholder (U.E.), Edwin W. Mills (U.E.), Milton Watson (public schools), J. V. Scanlan (separate schools). Honorary members – Dr. Charles A. Jefferys (president Ontario Historical Society), Professor Fred Landon, F. I. Ker, C.B.E., Col. James Chisholm, Hon. T. B. McQuesten, K. C.”
The first meeting of the Head-of-the-Lake Historical Society took place on Friday, March 31, 1944 in the Bruce Room of the Art Gallery of Hamilton. The guest speaker was Professor J. J. Talman, assistant librarian of the University of Western Ontario. His topic was “The Romance of Local History”. Dr. Talman specifically noted that he liked the name of the society. “I like the name of your society. It gets away from the limits of political divisions of the country and takes care of the geographical overlapping which in history is inevitable. The Head-of-the-Lake was the name given this part by the early immigrants coming out to the lands of the Canada Company, who proceeded this far by boat and then on by road.”
“Dr. Talman impressed upon the society the need for scrupulous accuracy and advised that no incidents be overlooked. Nor should the distant past alone be dealt with, the middle past was equally worthy of attention and he believed there was a place for the collection of current records as well. People 100 years hence would want to know all kinds of little things about the people of to-day that are not being recorded, personal matters which seemed trivial now.”
In June of that year the society took a walk through the Hamilton Cemetery under the guidance of George Laidler. They visited the graves of many local pioneers and important early settlers. They also visited the Earthworks left over from the British occupation of the site during the War of 1812.
In the fall of 1944 the meetings moved to the Y.W.C.A. Over the summer the members had been busy researching and cataloguing the materials of the old Wentworth Historical Society which they took over as the successor to that group.
The first annual meeting of the society took place at the Hamilton Public Library in March of 1945. The treasurer’s report showed a bank balance of $255.40.
In 1949 they highlighted the local history collections of the Hamilton Public Library for the first time. Mrs. E. L. Skelly, reference librarian for the Main Library gave an introduction to the resources of the library. The newspaper report of the meeting noted that “All too few Hamilton people realize what a storehouse of local history’s records is to be found in the reference section of the Hamilton Public Library.” Mrs. Skelly noted that for the last 25 years the library staff had been clipping the local newspaper and now had a large file of clippings about Hamilton. This was the genesis of the clipping file that now exists in Local History & Archives.
In 1950 the first female president of the society, Nina L. Edwards, was elected.
In 1953 the Society made a request for a grant of $500 from the city which, as reported by the Spectator, “met outright refusal”.
The first trivia offered up to the society came in the form of a series of questions posed by Roy Woodhouse at their November 1953 meeting. The questions included: Who was the first child born in Hamilton? Who was the first to die and be buried here? Is there any picture of George Hamilton, after whom the city is named, still in existence? Who was the last to be cuffed into the stocks on the Courthouse lawn? Where are Allan McNab’s papers? Who beat up William Lyon Mackenzie one night near the present post office? Who hanged the lieutenant-governor in front of the court house the night of January 29, 1829 – in effigy? When was this city first known as Hamilton? The reporter noted that “Silence reigned supreme. The audience was floored.” Unfortunately, the reporter did not note the answers to the questions posed.
For the September meeting in 1954 they convened at Dundurn Castle and Rev. T. Melville Bailey gave a talk on “The Macnab” an eccentric cousin of Sir Allan MacNab. In keeping with the eccentric theme, the entire executive of the society attended the meeting dressed in period costumes of the 1850s.
In 1958 the Society published their first issue of what would eventually run to 15 volumes of “Wentworth Bygones”, containing copies of speeches given to the society. The price was $1. That was also the year that they sponsored the filming of “When the Moon is High” directed and produced by Hungarian film producer Dr. Leslie Meszaros. The film was written by Mabel Burkholder and Meszaros who “compiled a film based on local history with the additional entertaining and salable commodity of fantasy and romance.” The Hamilton Spectator reporter was kind in her assessment noting that “it missed, not because it lacked ideas, but because it had too many.” [If anyone knows of a copy of this film we would love to get it and show it at a meeting]
The Society grew and prospered over the coming years and in March of 2014 we celebrate our 70th anniversary.
In fulfilling the motto “Explore, Preserve, Relate” the Society has undertaken many activities.
Guest speakers at its monthly meetings cover a broad range
EXPLORE, PRESERVE, RELATE
Join us for an introduction to the Cottonwood Mansion Museum by The Head-of-the-Lake's own Dave Pearson, one of Cottonwood's most enthusiastic and interesting volunteers....
Dr. John Deadman will join us for a fascinating foray into the problems of forensic psychiatry in the world, Canada and Ontario with particular reference to the...
Canadian author Trevor Cole will join us to speak about his fascinating book "The Whiskey King" recounting the infamous deeds of Rocco Perri, one of Hamilton's most...
Join your fellow Head-of-the-Lake Historical Society members for our annual evening of fun, competition and conversation. Margaret's Famous Trivia contest! Food!...
Join McMaster Historians Dr. Nancy Bouchier and Dr. Ken Cruickshank as they present stories of the people of Hamilton from their Canadian Historical Association...
Dermot Nolan, local lawyer and proud Hamiltonian, will talk about taking the real life of Father of Confederation Thomas D'Arcy McGee and turning it into a play...
Join us to celebrate Dundurn Castle’s 50th Anniversary as a museum. One of the Castle’s very knowledgeable and entertaining historical interpreters will share...
Join our own (& newly retired) Margaret Houghton as she reminisces about her career in the Local History & Archives section of the Main Branch of the Hamilton Public...
Join your fellow Head-of-the-Lake Historical Society members for an evening of fun, food and conversation. Margaret's Famous Trivia contest! Prizes! Not a member????...