Visiting the Workers Arts and Heritage Centre

By Irina Stanciu-Casin

Having never been to a museum in Hamilton, I felt the need to do a little digging into the different sites available for visitation to get a good grasp of what Hamilton has to offer. I was entranced by the virtual tours offered on the city of Hamilton’s website used to advertise their civic museums and ended up looking through all of them relatively quickly.  Many sites will have to be put off until this following summer as they are only open seasonally, and the quantity of civic museums open year-round was limited.  I wondered if there were any additional heritage sites not advertised on the website’s museums link, and later ended up on a third party website (tourismhamilton.com) that had a longer list of Hamilton museums under their ‘What to do’ tab.  It was here that I found the Workers Arts and Heritage Centre (WAHC) and was intrigued by their approach to conveying the heritage of industrial workers who worked and died building the foundations of industry in Hamilton through the display of artifacts, modern art, and memorable events. I was confused as to why this museum was not advertised on the city of Hamilton’s website, despite its captivating subject matter, and decided to visit the museum in person in order to find out more.  This post will consist of an overview of my visit, a discussion on how the WAHC approaches heritage, and how they cater to various demographic groups.

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The interior and exterior of the Custom House (above), the Shuttered exhibition (below).

My Visit

The museum was just a short bus ride from McMaster, tucked away in a family neighbourhood just 5 minutes from Jackson Square. The museum is located within an important heritage building, the Custom House, which was used in the 1800s to regulate trade into the Port of Hamilton. I quickly noticed that the exterior of the building was not equipped with a wheelchair accessible ramp, however once indoors I was immediately made aware of the building’s accessibility services including an elevator and ramp through the remainder of the stairs at the entrance. The friendly staff provided valuable information on their exhibits and noted that I am free to explore the museum at my leisure, though they do have guided tours for larger groups.

The WAHC has numerous permanent exhibits and one non-permanent exhibit which rotates every four months out of the year. Each exhibit I encountered had ample information either presented in a colourful fashion on the walls or through pamphlets that visitors were free to take home. The museum consisted of three floors, with the main floor being the primary attraction for visitors. Once I made my way upstairs and saw the final parts of the museum, I was met with warm smiles by the museums staff who answered any additional questions I had.

Heritage and the WAHC

Serving to preserve, honour, and promote the culture & history of all working people.  – WAHC

Initially investing over $1.5 million in the restoration of the Custom House in the late 1990s, the WAHC began as a private institution concerned with honouring and preserving the “the historical, cultural and contemporary experience of working people in their diverse identities” (WAHC Mission Statement). The WAHC managed to stay true to their mission statement despite limited funding from private donors and the city of Hamilton, by displaying contemporary art and material culture pertinent to the heritage of Hamilton Steel and industrial workers. Heritage, as defined through their exhibitions, is the acknowledgement of the past and present of Hamilton’s industrial workers, commemorating, and respecting those who worked, built, and died for the industry.

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Various images of Steel workers and their families in the Shuttered exhibit.

The WAHC approaches the concept of Heritage at both the individual and societal level. Individuals from the past and present are represented through photographs in the main hall to create a continuum of cultural heritage for local steel workers, maintaining and displaying records of individuals who worked for or were influenced by the steel industry. The presence of contemporary photographers such as Andreas Rutkauskas in his project entitled ‘Petrolia’ notes the impact of industry at the societal level, looking at the intersection of industry and culture in Canada in the ‘Chemical Valley’. Rutkauskas’ series displays the dense social landscape of First Nations sites as they converge with abandoned chemical facilities. Finally, published newsletters and magazines for steel workers emphasise the lived experiences of steel workers and display pertinent information regarding the culture of the work experience in the steel industry.

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One of two images by Andreas Rutkauskas in Petrolia
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Company magazine: Steelmaker

Audience

As the WAHC is not part of the Hamilton civic museums, it lacks a virtual tour program online and must maintain its own website for tourists, donors, and others interested in the WAHC. The staff noted the WAHC’s reliance on private donors and the city of Hamilton for both financial support and museum content. The museum recently launched their first app available for Android and Apple named ‘Worker’s City’ for anyone interested in learning about “the streets, parks, factories, and neighbourhoods where Hamilton was made” (workerscity.ca/mobile-app).  Despite having a limited budget the WAHC has no entry fee, allowing anyone interested to pay a visit during open hours. Museum staff further noted that walk-in traffic is largely composed of local adults and they often host guided tours for school groups and social events for local workers, artists, and anyone interested. For instance, this march break, the WAHC is hosting a four day camp for children aged 8-12 to learn about the Custom House and the heritage of Hamilton’s workers.

In terms of the content, there exists variation in exhibition presentation that caters to both younger and older individuals. The “Shuttered” exhibition, housing contemporary artists for a limited time,  is a more mature subject where touching the exhibit is not permitted. Other aspects of the museum offer demonstrations on how knitting machines work, and allow visitors to touch and listen to industrial workers’ processes, such as using a conveyor belt. Varying forms of media are always used within the context of engaging and captivating guests of all ages in this museum, while staying true to their mission statement in creating awareness and honouring the hard work of the founders of the industry and all those who contributed to making Hamilton the city it is today.

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Various exhibitions at the WAHC

Website:

http://wahc-museum.ca/

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Century Manor: Issues Surrounding the Preservation of Stigmatized Heritage

 

Hamilton is an area with a rich, dynamic history that the city is often eager to preserve and celebrate with its citizens. However, how does the treatment of heritage sites change when they reflect a darker chapter in our collective history? What is the danger in omitting uncomfortable truths?

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For Century Mansion, the last remaining vestige of Hamilton’s Asylum for the Insane, the lack of attention paid by the city is immediately apparent. After you first notice the beautiful, if imposing, Victorian-era architecture, your eye is immediately drawn to the signs of neglect, be it the rusted staircases, the broken or boarded windows and the littering of graffiti around this historic building.

Built in 1876, the asylum’s original purpose was to house alcoholics but expanded to include the growing need to contain the mentally ill of Hamilton, with the criteria for “mental illness” often extending to groups of the population deemed undesirable. The residents of the asylum were considered popular entertainment, with families often gathering to watch the patients on Sundays, bringing picnics to the fields of the hospital.

The building has been in disuse since 1995, opening for a brief window for tours in 2009 as part of the Doors Open Hamilton initiative, only to be abruptly closed off after that. Hamilton’s municipal heritage committee has tried to appeal Infrastructure Ontario to enter Century Manor but the building has remained inaccessible to both the committee and the public since then, despite consistent interest. These actions have caused Patricia Saunders, a member of the task force to save Century Manor, to make accusations against the city for “demolition by neglect”.

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Infrastructure Ontario has announced that they are putting the property up for sale, and must first be considered by the provincial, municipal and federal government, other government agencies, and registered not-for-profit group for public uses before it can be put on the open-market. While Core Urban Inc., a property development group who focus on repurposing local heritage sites, have expressed an interest in turning it into student housing for Mohawk College, I feel that this is an opportunity for the government to offer an authentic account of Ontario’s history and use it as a platform to show the developments that have been made.

In terms of the future purpose of Century Manor, advocates for the building, including the founder and owner of Haunted Hamilton, Stephanie Lechniak, believe that it is an ideal space to convert into a museum about the history of mental health treatment in Canada. Lechniak explains that there have been several important artifacts recovered from Century Manor, including actual equipment used in patient treatment dating back to the institution’s opening in 1876. These include surgical implements, handcuffs, wheelchairs, electroconvulsive therapy machines, a cold water dunk tank and a Utica crib, a coffin-like structure with a caged lid used to confine patients. The range of now discredited “cures” patients in Hamilton received, sometimes to treat conditions as dire as insomnia or being a woman who didn’t conform to societal standards, included hydrotherapy (ranging from being submerged in ice baths, being wrapped in layers of wet cloth for hours and using powerful hoses on patients), tractotomies (severing the nerve tracts of the brain, which was done without opening the skull to see the areas being operated on) and lobotomies (which entailed removing sections of the brains and was popularly performed with an actual icepick and without anesthesia). As discussed by journalist Joachim Brouwer, a museum focusing on the evolution of mental health practices could start important discourses on the historical stigmatization of mental illness, allow us to celebrate how far we have come and acknowledge the ground we still have to gain.

 

The move to transform Century Manor into a museum would coincide with the emerging movement to reclaim sites where systemic injustices took place to transform them into empowering, educational spaces. An example of this is Brantford’s restoration plans for the Mohawk Institute Indian Residential School, which will be repurposed into a museum dedicated to educating the public about the historical context surrounding residential schools, the cruelty of the transgressions against the Indigenous children sent there and the ongoing damage these institutions have caused for Indigenous culture at large.

In short, while the government continues to neglect heritage sites that do not reflect the aspects of Canadian identity they want to celebrate, the public is beginning to demand a more complete narrative of the authentic experiences of all Canadians, including the often muffled voices of marginalized members of this country. Repurposing a landmark with a shameful past like Century Manor or the Mohawk Residential School into an educational tool would send a message to Canadians that we live in a country that is willing to own up to its past transgressions and learn from our mistakes moving forward.

 

References

Brouwer, Joachim 2014. Century Manor: A Grim Reminder. Thespec.Com. http://www.thespec.com/opinion-story/5179736-century-manor-a-grim-reminder/, accessed March 6 , 2016.

Craggs, Samantha 2014. No, You Can’t Come Inside Century Manor, Province Says. Cbc.Ca. http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/hamilton/news/no-you-can-t-come-inside-century-manor-province-says-1.2832976, accessed March 6 , 2016.

Cumerlato, Daniel. Century Manor Insane Asylum : Hamilton, Ontario. Ghostwalks.Com. http://www.ghostwalks.com/centurymanor-hamilton.htm, accessed March 6 , 2016.

Lechniak, Stephanie 2015. Historic Century Manor | Haunted Hamilton. Urbanicity. http://urbanicity.ca/2015/01/historic-century-manor-haunted-hamilton/, accessed March 6 , 2016.

Meskell, Lynn 2002. Negative Heritage And Past Mastering In Archaeology. Anthropological Quarterly 75(3). Johns Hopkins University Press: 557-574.

Nolan, Daniel 2015. Ontario Puts Hospital Land Up For Sale. Thespec.Com. http://www.thespec.com/news-story/5476830-ontario-puts-hospital-land-up-for-sale/, accessed March 6 , 2016.

Save Century Manor. Facebook.Com. https://www.facebook.com/groups/SaveCenturyManor#_=_, accessed March 6 , 2016.

Vincent, Donovan 2015. Aboriginals Push To Save Former Ontario Residential School Known As ‘Mush Hole’ | Toronto Star. Thestar.Com. http://www.thestar.com/news/canada/2015/06/13/aboriginals-push-to-save-former-ontario-residential-school-known-as-mush-hole.html, accessed March 7 , 2016.

 

 

The Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum – Preservation or Authenticity?

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Image courtesy of Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum

Growing up I was always fascinated with anything that had a motor in it. I was constantly around vehicles and aircraft as both my father and my grandfather were and have been involved in both of these industries. I remember playing with various toys such as Hot Wheels and remote controlled airplanes as a child and partaking in airshow flights with family friends. As such when I was trying to decide on a heritage site in Hamilton to discuss, the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum was at the top of the list.

Map Directions

Screenshot from Google Maps

The Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum located in Hamilton (Mount Hope), Ontario is a museum that is dedicated to preserving the heritage and history of war aircraft and war in Canada and abroad. The Warplane Heritage Museum is mainly funded though community donations and by other donors who have helped work on the aircraft and who have donated various planes. Locating and getting to the museum is fairly easy as it is located right beside the John C. Munro airport on the Hamilton Mountain. Throughout its history the museum has gone through numerous changes and expansions that have molded it into the unique centre that it is today. As you arrive to the museum you are welcomed by a Lockheed CF-104D Starfighter that is on display outside of the museum. The plane is an iconic piece of Canadian war heritage that was one of the most innovative planes ever built. As you walk in the museum, it itself, is very accommodating in nature. Furthermore the museum offers free parking and has an overflow lot during large events or busy times. The museum is also laid out in a fairly accessible which allows guests with special needs to enjoy the museum in an interactive manner. Wheelchairs are also available free of charge at the guest services desk within the museum. When you first attempt to take in all the museum has to offer it can seem a little overwhelming at first. Thankfully the museum has guided tours that allow you to fully engage with and enjoy all of the different features and displays that are available to the public. The tour guides are very knowledgeable about the planes and the history behind them. I myself have been to the Canadian Warplane heritage museum numerous times and each time that I have been I learn something new that I did not know before. The gentlemen that gave the tour that our group was a part of was an actual mechanic and was able to explain the numerous aspects of each plane and was able to provide an in-depth history of the aircraft.

One of the interesting features of the museum is that there is a lot of preservation that takes place as many of the planes are used in historical displays and various other airshows. This is an interesting topic especially as it relates to several themes in this course that deal with preservation, heritage and portraying the past. On the one hand you have the issue of losing the authenticity associated with the original aircraft and how it is portrayed on the museum. On the other hand though you have the fact that the aircraft are also used to help support the museum and the aircraft need to be in working condition in order to run aircraft tours and flying events. These events and flying tours provide valuable funds to the museum that are required in order to help support and maintain the vast array of aircraft that are on display. The general public is allowed to register for various flying tours in some of the different aircraft from something small such as a Boeing Stearman to something large as the Avro Lancaster Bomber. These tours provide a unique experience that allow guests to physically engage with and experience a part of the past in a manner which is not normally available. I remember my first time going up in a historic aircraft. I was about eight at the time and I was very enthusiastic to be able to experience and fly in something that was used during the war. The experience that the flight gives you is breathtaking. It allows you to reflect on the world around you while flying around and thinking about all of the various things that the plane and the people flying it may have had experienced.

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Image courtesy of Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum

As such I would recommend the Canadian Warplane heritage museum to all of those who are interested in Canadian history and want an opportunity to experience a part of the past at the same time. You won’t be disappointed, that’s for sure! For more information please visit http://www.warplane.com/

Neglected Mental Asylum to Student Dormitory?

It took me a while to think of something to write about for Hamilton Heritage. For one, I am not from Hamilton and also heritage can be hard to distinguish in places that you are familiar with. After some thinking, I remembered about learning about the old Hamilton Asylum for the Insane in a class on mental health. I remembered being interested at the time and so I thought I would look into the site. After some research, I found out that there is still a building left over which is classified as a Hamilton Heritage Site.

The old Hamilton Asylum for the Insane was initially created to be an asylum for alcoholics when it opened its doors in 1876 and later expanded to other mental illnesses. The asylum encompassed five hundred acres and was self-sufficient with its own farms, shops and services. In 1890 the asylum housed 915 patients and employed 119 and quickly became a big part of Hamilton’s community.   In 1884 the Century Manor, or at the time, it was known as the ‘East House’ was created. This three floor mansion which held hundreds of mentally ill over a century is the only building left from the massive asylum today.

Map Showing Century Manor
Screenshot taken from Google Maps

Over this weekend I visited what remains of the old Hamilton Asylum for the Insane. When I arrived I was in awe with the beautiful Victorian Gothic architecture and the sheer size of the mansion. The building certainly stands out in the community even with the large buildings that now surround it. Although I was in awe with the architecture, as I got closer I noticed that it has clearly been neglected. The windows have all been boarded up, there is rust all over, and areas are starting to rot out. The Century Manor is blocked off from community access and is a shame that such a nice building that plays an integral role in Hamilton’s history is both being neglected and not made accessible to the public.

Blocked off Century Manor
Source: Samantha Craggs/CBC
Example of Damages
Source: Samantha Craggs/CBC

For the most part, society has changed its perspective on mental illness since the opening of the Hamilton asylum. New insights into mental health have rightfully led to an overall less stigmatized view on mental illness. I do not think this makes the Hamilton Asylum for the Insane a piece of negative heritage. The asylum has adapted overtime with the views of Hamiltonians and therefore is a significant and valuable piece of Hamilton Heritage.

For over twenty years the Century Manor has been vacant and blocked off from public access. After the building was declared a heritage building it was put under the responsibility of Infrastructure Ontario (IO). Access by the public was taken away due to the building being ‘structurally unsafe,’ some concerned Hamiltonians have asked why the building was allowed to become structurally unsafe if the IO was put in charge of maintaining it.

Since then, there have been talks that the building may be sold to private investors. Among those interested is Steve Kulakowsky who has a track record of taking old buildings, preserving their heritage but at the same time changing them into something new. Kulakowsky, if given the chance, envisions the building to be fixed up and used as a dormitory for students studying at Mohawk College.

I think that if this piece of heritage is being left to rot by the province, and someone is offering a way to make use of it while taking over the responsibility of restoring and maintaining it, than I think why not? It is also relevant to housing students as in its later years was used to teach a forensic psychiatry program before it was closed in 1995 (the last time the building was occupied). St. Joseph’s has a museum of the items left inside the building and that will remain, all that is left is an empty building, but not if the building is left to rot. By using this space, the heritage of the architecture and the site will be preserved as well as the history in the museum. Now the building can continue to adapt with Hamilton and be used to house students of Mohawk College.

I think selling the Century Manor to fulfill Steve Kulakowsy’s vision of a preserved heritage building, adapted to a dormitory that will house Mohawk students, would be a good use of this old building while also maintaining the Victorian Gothic architecture and the history of the building along with it.

Here are some links to learn more about the history of Century Manor and other news about the old Hamilton Mental Asylum: Continue reading

Hamilton Museum of Steam & Technology National Historic Site

Hamilton Museum of Steam & Technology National Historic Site

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During my search for a heritage site to visit in Hamilton I came across the Hamilton Museum of Steam and Technology.  I discovered the Museum through the city of Hamilton website under the attractions section.  Information about the Museum such as location, phone number, and hours of operation was easy to find.  One important feature of the www.hamilton.ca website was that all of the links to the different Heritage sites were in the same section.  This is significant because some people may only be familiar with more popular heritage sites such as Dundurn Castle.  While they are looking for more information about Dundurn Castle they are likely to come across other Heritage sites.  This is an effective way to expand the audience of those interested in heritage sites.  Although, there is a downside of having most of the advertising for the heritage sites online.  Elderly people who are not as literate with technology as the younger generation may have a hard time accessing the websites and therefore learning about the heritage sites available to the,.  This may unintentionally exclude older individuals from visiting the heritage sites.

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The Museum itself was not difficult to find.  The entrance was well labelled and easy to access.  When I arrived I took part in a guided tour along with 3 other groups of people.  The cost of the tour was only 7 dollars for adults.  At this price the tour is easily affordable by the majority of the public and inclusive to all interested in learning.  The two tour guides working at the Museum did a fantastic job of explaining how the steam technology worked, its relevance to Hamilton, the history of the building and its people, and the individual roles of each worker.  The tour was in three parts.

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The tour began with an introduction.  The tour guide began her introduction around a scale model of Hamilton in the 1850’s.  The introduction was meant to establish the context of the situation in Hamilton and the need for water to be pumped using steam technology.  The next section included several scale models of the technology used in the factory.  Each of the models were powered using electricity to show how they would have interacted with each other in the factory.  The final section was of the factory itself.  The full scale machines were powered up using electricity but only ran at 1/5 speed.  The previous two sections were necessary to fully understand how the steam engine worked and its importance to the community.

In terms of accessibility, the museum had a sign at the beginning of the tour which served as a checklist to show the different ways in which the museum was accessible.  For instance, the museum had a FM system (an assistive listening device), but did not have accessible ramps.  The sign also said that special accommodation could be made upon request.  I assume that this meant that individuals who were not able to use the narrow staircase could call in beforehand and make a request for a private tour so their needs could be met.  This is a smart and cost effective way to be more inclusive.  It may not have been feasible to build ramps around the museum without altering the factory permanently, but it is possible to accommodate on a case by case basis to those interested in learning about the museum.

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The tour guides provided interesting background information about the site.  For example the large tower seen in the photo above was 150 feet tall.  The tower did not need to be this big.  100 feet would have sufficed, but the extra 50 feet served as an advertisement for the factory, and served as a symbol for what Hamilton could accomplish.

Overall, my trip to the Hamilton Museum of Steam and Technology was a great experience.  The tour guides were very informative, passionate about the museum, and eager to teach the community about the history and significance of steam and technology.  It is a shame that I only found out recently about this location.  I think Hamilton would benefit from finding a way to better advertise these heritage sites to its community.  These sites serve as important experiences for learning about our shared past and I strongly encourage others to check them out by starting here: https://www.hamilton.ca/attractions/hamilton-civic-museums.

 

Dundurn Castle: Accessing and Authenticating Heritage

Dundurn Castle

In Hamilton, Ontario, probably one of the most important and popular heritage sites for Hamiltonians and tourists alike is Dundurn Castle. However, do not let its name, fancy porticos and columns fool you! This is not actually a castle (*gasp*) and the tour guides are very upfront with this miscommunication.

Formerly the site of a fortified military escarpment during the War of 1812, Sir Allen Napier MacNab, a businessman and Premier of the United Canadas between 1854 and 1856, built the castle in 1835. It was designed by architect, Robert Wetherall, who combined classical and Italianate villa styles, and features French windows, two towers and a portico added in the 1850s. The castle has since been purchased by the City of Hamilton, and continues to be restored and renovated to 1855 when MacNab was at the height of his career.

As work continues to be done on Dundurn Castle, important issues such as accessibility and authenticity begin to emerge and conflict with future design plans. Having recently visited the castle myself, I’d like to address some of these challenges and open discussion on the authenticity versus accessibility debate.

Dundurn CastleDundurn Castle

First of all, it is important to note that this site appeals to a wide audience and makes it suitable for all ages. Particularly, the Hamilton Military Museum included in the castle’s admission price, offers a whole children’s section where they can pretend to be soldiers from 1812 and appeals to more hands on learning. The castle also offers activities for non-history buffs including historical cooking classes and gardening tours. So there is something for everyone! The castle is also open year round with tours every 20-30 minutes between 12 and 4pm, Tuesday to Sunday, making it very accessible to families and individuals with busy schedules.

Dundurn CastleDon’t feel you can make it during any of those times, or live far away and transportation costs are expensive? Fear not! There is a virtual tour of the grounds and the castle! The virtual tour is actually quite impressive as it takes you all over the property and through the rooms of the castle (it even goes through the military museum). It also lets you click on highlighted features within a room such as the many portraits or chandeliers to learn more information and get a better look. Each section/area/room also comes with a brief description similar to what you would hear on a guided tour. You can also listen to the description with the audio option. So though you might not be able to go in person, you can still enjoy the castle as if you were there on the tour. The only thing I would have liked to have seen is more language options for the audio and written descriptions in order to allow non-English speakers to be able to access the site.

The actual physical tour is quite good as well and you even get to try food made using historical cooking methods at the end. The shortbread is amazing! Additionally, the tour guides dress in period costumes and lead you through the house adding to its authentic feel. Overall, they were very good at answering any questions my group and I had including ones about broader historical themes. In an article by Jonathan Rix, Ticky Lowe and the Heritage Forum (2010) on increasing accessibility in heritage sites, they suggested that one of the ways to enhance site accessibility for individuals with various learning disabilities was to include guides who are engaging and build on their understandings. Costumes were also found to be helpful. Therefore, these tours could help provide access to many individuals with different disabilities.

Dundurn Castle

Nonetheless, the biggest challenge for accessibility at Dundurn Castle is probably its wheelchair accessibility. The website for the site is clear that the castle is only partially wheelchair accessible. This is evident with the narrow and uneven staircases leading to the basement and upper floors of the castle. In trying to make this more accessible to these individuals, issues of authenticity come into play. Do we potentially damage the original structure of the building in order to put in elevators or other accessibility options? Would these projects completely change the grounds? I believe with more research and consultation, Dundurn Castle could potentially find an effective solution and become more accessible to the public which should be a priority in future developments. Durdurn Castle is an important marker of Hamilton’s identity and heritage, should we not all be able to share it?

References Cited:

Rix, Jonathan, Ticky Lowe, and the Heritage Forum. (2010). Including people with learning difficulties in cultural and heritage sites. International Journal of Heritage Studies 16(3):207-224. DOI: 10.1080/13527251003620743.

For More Information Please Visit: 

https://www.hamilton.ca/attractions/hamilton-civic-museums/dundurn-national-historic-site

Virtual Museum Tour

A Visit to One of Hamilton’s Civic Museums: WHITEHERN

The city of Hamilton is known for many things, including being:

     With regard to heritage, Hamilton is known to possess a vast amount of historical sites and civic museums. By definition, heritage is known as the basic human need that connects a particular group of people, community, or culture to their past. As something that is handed down from the past to following generations, the management of heritage generates a sense of identity, tradition, and belonging. Perspectives of heritage may also differ depending on its context – I will be focussing on the local perspective of heritage. 

     One particular civic museum located at the heart of downtown Hamilton is known as the Whitehern Historic House and Garden. Originally the property of the McQuesten family (from 1852-1968), but bequeathed to the city of Hamilton after the remainder of their family members passed. 

MY VISIT 

     As per request, I rang the doorbell and waited for an attendant to let me into the house. To my surprise, a lady in a servant’s costume answered the door, gave me a warm welcome, and introduced herself. Her name was Katherine (Fig. 1). I had explained to her the purpose of my visit and so she offered to give me a guided tour. After giving a brief history of the house, she took me to each room and talked about what they were used for, when they were occupied, and who used them. I was impressed at how well-kept the place was, and even more so when I was told that everything in the house was original, except for the wallpaper in the parlour room (Fig. 2). The interior design and decorations were very telling of when this house was mainly occupied in – the eclectic Victorian period. 

    The second floor was where all five bedrooms were located and in the main hall was a family tree of the McQuestens (Fig. 3). Katherine gave a run-down of each family member, describing their occupations, hobbies, and even causes of death. Some interesting facts include:

  • Dr. Calvin McQuesten (1st generation) – moved to Hamilton from New York to get into the steel and iron industry. 
  • Thomas McQuesten (2nd generation) – received a degree in Law at the University of Toronto and was a member of the Hamilton Tigers.
  • Calvin McQuesten (3rd generation) – was part of the Ministry of Highway and opened up the QEW. He also helped with the construction of the Rainbow Bridge, along with other roads, parks, and recreations.

Following that, Katherine led me to the rest of the house even taking me to a mini exhibit found at the basement (Fig. 4). After the tour had ended, she had advised me to search online for more information about the Whitehern and the McQuestens. 

HERITAGE: Management, Community, and Accessibility 

    Establishing the Whitehern Historic House and Garden as a civic museum is a good example of contemporary archaeology through its involvement in heritage management, community stewardship, cultural tourism, and accessibility of knowledge and information.

Heritage Management.  It is evident that the city of Hamilton is taking the right measures in maintaining the Whitehern civic museum. Extra precaution is being taken to continuously maintain the artefacts and objects found within it. This includes making the rooms off-limits by having a fence placed on the doorways, only allowing employees in proper attire to enter the rooms (i.e. clean footwear and gloves on), as well as moving more fragile artefacts to a more secure warehouse to prevent damage due to time, weathering, and bad conditions. Essentially, heritage management is put into effect by actively preserving the tangible artefacts.

Community Stewardship.  Events and activities are held in the Whitehern house throughout the year, involving members of the local and surrounding communities. Such events include school field trips where children are taught how to scrub with a washboard, roll dough, or  mending/sewing (i.e. a good way to experience the daily activities that people took part in in the past). Other activities also include “Wednesdays at Whitehern” where live music is set up on the lawn, for local musicians to perform, and where tea and lemonade are provided. This active engagement with the community embellishes the importance of this site, especially since the original residents, the McQuestens, were key members of the development of history in Hamilton. 

Cultural Tourism.   This civic museum gets especially busy during the holidays, with local residents and other tourists visiting. It seems that the Whitehern Historic House and Garden is involved with the Ministry of Tourism in some way as it has its own page on Tourism Hamilton

Accessibility. Although the hours of operation seem to be limited (12PM-4PM; closed on Mondays), admission costs are fairly reasonable. Being a McMaster student, one benefit was that admission was FREE. The one thing that this building lacked was a ramp to provide access for those who are in wheelchairs. This however is understandable since adding a ramp would require reconstruction at the site which could potentially damage important artefacts. To compensate for this, a virtual tour is available online. However, this could bring up issues and concerns as to why admission is required from those who visit the site whereas the same tour online is provided for free. It could be argued that the full experience is not received through the virtual tour, especially since the exhibit is not included. Also, the virtual tour does not provide the same sensations one would get on the actual tour at the house, with a tour guide dressed as a servant and music from the earlier time periods playing in the background (Fig. 5).

All-in-all, the Whitehern is a fine-example of a historic home. It is a perfect place to discover and explore the heritage of Victorian ideas and possessions as well as the heritage of the city of Hamilton. 

ADDITIONAL PHOTOS

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References:
Atalay, S. (2012). Chapter 2: Origins of Community-Based Participatory Research. In Community-Based Archaeology: Research with, by, and for Indigenous and Local Communities, pp. 33-52. University of California Press.
Cultural heritage: a basic human need – Sada Mire at TEDxEuston. (2016). YouTube. Retrieved 6 March 2016, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V4UQYem6Dvc.
Rix, J., Lowe, T. and the Heritage Forum (2010). Including people with learning diffficulties in cultural and heritage sites. International Journal of Heritage Studies 16(3): 207-224. DOI: 10.1080/13527251003620743.