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Hamilton’s Historic Whitehern haunted by Past – Part 1 of 4

Ghostly activity greets visitors to historic Whitehern in Hamilton, Ontario.
Ghostly activity greets visitors to historic Whitehern in Hamilton, Ontario.
Photo by Martha Jette

Whitehern, which was once home to prominent lawyer and provincial minister, Thomas Baker McQuesten (1882-1949) is now the site of ethereal piano music, which has been heard both inside and outside of this historic Hamilton, Ontario landmark.

During a walking tour presented by Haunted Hamilton participants learned that music is sometimes heard on the street when the site – now a museum – is closed. A woman’s singing has also been heard and is credited to the wife of Isaac (Tom’s brother), who was a soprano. Inside Whitehern at 41 Jackson Street West folks who were setting up an installation heard music emanating from upstairs but as soon as they reached the top of the stairs, the music stopped.

Dark figures have also been seen racing down the stairs. Could it be Tom or one of his siblings in a hurry to leave the house? More recently, a worker inside the museum saw a man’s feet beside her – just the apparition of his shoes and pants.

Tom’s family moved to this stately residence in the late 1880’s. His family was certainly interesting. His mother, Mary was well known as a staunch Protestant, a vocal bigoted and domineering figure in all of her children’s lives. She was so possessive and manipulative with her children that none of them ever married. To her, their suitors were just not good enough according to her own social standing.

At the same time, she might have feared that the family was “subject to some sort of hereditary mental instability,” according to John C. Best in his book entitled Thomas Baker McQuesten: Public Works, Politics, and Imagination. Her husband was an alcoholic and after claiming bankruptcy, “entered the Homewood sanitarium in Rockwood, near Guelph.” In 1888, Many found him “lying in an insensible condition” that led the local paper to believe he may have overdosed.

Tom’s sister, Margaret Edna attended Queen’s University in Toronto but when she returned after one year, she did not seem right. She seemed to suffer from “a violent fit of hysteria such as I have never seen before,” Mary said. Soon afterward, she was taken to Homewood (a mental hospital) in Guelph. She remained there until her death at the age of 50.

His brother Calvin, who was born with a deformed hand, became first a Presbyterian missionary and in 1911, took over as pastor of a Presbyterian church in Stoney Brae, Muskoka in northern Ontario. Unable to keep up, he moved back to Hamilton and took up the post of chaplain at the Hamilton Sanitarium. Interestingly, Calvin also suffered from chronic insomnia and “bouts of irrationality,” as well as depression.

In 1897, Mary suffered her own collapse and “was treated in a sanitarium in upstate New York.” The only truly sane members of the McQuesten family seemed to be Tom and his sisters, Ruby and Hilda. However, Ruby contracted tuberculosis and died in 1911. Ruby had wanted to marry and had a suitor but her mother made sure that did not happen.

With Mary’s dominant hand over the entire household and the various problems most of the McQuestens had, it is no wonder that ‘dark’ figures are still seen here today.

See Part 2: Tom also had a ‘Dark’ Side

Reference: Thomas Baker McQuesten by John C. Best, © 1991, Corinth Press, Hamilton, Ontario

Video: Doors Open at Whitehern in Hamilton, Ontario


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