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Jan 1 1900

The 5 Museums of the City of Hamilton
41 Jackson Street West
Hamilton, ON L8P 1L3
(909) 546-2019
FAX:(905) 546-4933


Whitehern was home to three generations of the McQuesten family from 1852, when Dr. Calvin McQuesten originally purchased the home, until 1968. However, the doctor's first contribution to Hamilton, previous to establishing a permanent home, was his formation of the city's first iron foundry, which later evolved into the now defunct Massey-Ferguson Company. Following this successful venture into heavy industry, Dr. Calvin went on to live in the home with his third wife, Elizabeth, for 33 years. Upon Dr. Calvin's death in 1885, his son Isaac and Isaac's wife, Mary, moved in to Whitehern with their six children; these second and third generations resided in the home for some 83 years. Of Dr. Calvin's six grandchildren, none married. Not wishing to see their residence torn down, the thee surviving McQuestens (Mary, Rev. Calvin and Hilda) bequeathed their beautiful home and lovely gardens to the people of Hamilton.

In Dr. Calvin's day Whitehern was known as Willowbank, as it was shadowed by four willow trees at the corners of the house. In fact, much of the grounds and back garden of Willowbank were different in 1852 than they appear today. Dr. Calvin McQuesten preferred a more traditional garden, planting many of the maple and elm trees at the front and side of the property. As well, the front flower bed was originally round, attesting to a more conservative taste. Lending prominence to the home was Willowbank's raised position on a terraced lawn, enhanced by a graceful curve to the front walk.

While the front garden bespoke elegance and style, the back garden served more utilitarian purposes. The servants' work area was located along the east side and back of the home. A servant could be found scrubbing clothes in the washtubs, toiling away in the laundry yard. A few feet away in the stable yard, another servant could be seen milking the McQuesten cow. Indeed, still in existence is the original four stall stable which housed the family's horse, cow and pony after they had grazed in the back pastureland. Adjoined to the stable was the old carriage house in which the various sleighs and carriages were stored. Though it no longer stands, remnants of this building remain since the old stones were used to construct the back garden wall.

Prior to the construction of the stone addition, a wooden verandah with trellis ran the length of the house. It was here that Dr. Calvin would sit and read while his [third] wife, Elizabeth, sat close by doing her needlework on a summer's evening.

Dr. Calvin's kitchen garden was once located where the summer house and sunken lawn now appear. He grew a variety of vegetables such as peas, beans, asparagus, lettuce and squash, as well as tending a small herb garden in which sage and lavender were grown for their medicinal value. As well, Dr. Calvin grew grape-vines in his garden which in 1875 yielded between 130-140 gallons of wine! A variety of fruit trees, such as apple, pear and cherry, were planted bordering the kitchen garden; he often sent baskets of pears as gifts to his close friends and business associates.

The garden underwent noticeable changes after Dr. Calvin's death in 1885 when Isaac and Mary moved into the home. Dr. Calvin's lovely willow trees had withered, so at Mary's request the name of the home was changed from Willowbank to Whitehern, an historical residence in England.1 Mary transformed Whitehern's traditional garden into a much more ornamental one. Her heart-shaped bed at the front entrance is testimony to this transition. Mary took an artistic pleasure in her garden and planted more ornamental trees and shrubs such as catalpa, cotoneaster, lilac and magnolia. As well, she concealed the kitchen garden with a Russian mulberry hedge, part of which exists today. Later, as Mary planted a greater abundance of flowers, the kitchen garden was moved to a less prominent position behind the stables.

Although traces of both Dr. Calvin's and Mary's gardens are evident today, the garden underwent yet another phase through the influence of the third generation. Thomas Baker McQuesten, like his mother and grandfather, had a great appreciation of nature's beauty. In fact, as a member of public office, Thomas was instrumental in giving Hamilton and Niagara their many beautiful parks: Royal Botanical Gardens, Gage Park, Kings Forest, McMaster Campus, and the Oakes Garden Theatre to name a few.

Progressive developments in and around the property in the 1930s served to bring Thomas' attention back to his own garden. The decision to construct a modern kitchen wing, combined with the failure of the family to prevent the loss of a significant fifty feet of the rear property through TH&B's expansion of its tracks, motivated Thomas in his engagement of the prominent landscape architect H.B. Dunington-Grubb to redesign the grounds at Whitehern. Using the expertise both had garnered in such projects as Gage Park, the architect created the present ornamental rear property design including the sunken rock garden and summer house. The family was unfortunately forced to replace the latter's original thatched roof with copper after it was set afire by vandals.

The wrought iron flowers set into the stone wall continued to decorate the gardens all year round. Fred Flatman, a local craftsman, had continued the garden's ornamental theme when he fashioned these unique objects of folk art without the use of a mould; instead he worked the metal with anvil and hammer, creating each leaf in a unique and totally distinct way.2

Looking past the iron gate are Hilda's lovely rose beds, in which she grew miniature roses though fall and even into winter. On the west expanse of lawn, the young McQuesten family enjoyed a leisurely afternoon of lawn tennis: gone are those lazy, genteel summer days. Now only the McQuesten's sundial (George Bateman Co. 1942) marks the passage of time.

Department of Culture and Recreation, Corporation of the City of Hamilton.

1 It is also likely that Mary wanted to establish her authority at Whitehern, so she changed the name to one that could be fully associated with herself and Isaac.

2 The life-size iron flowers grace the top of the back wall of the garden at Whitehern. Fred Flatman was an artist in iron. He also made the Hendrie Gates at the RBG, and the Navy Hall Gates at Niagara, and possibly many other projects. See Box 14-126; Box 14-110; W-MCP7-1.111; W-MCP7-1.145.

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Copyright 2002 Whitehern Historic House and Garden
The development of this website was directed by Mary Anderson, Ph.D. and Janelle Baldwin, M.A.
Please direct questions and comments to Mary Anderson, Ph.D.

Hamilton Public Library This site was created in partnership with and is hosted by the Hamilton Public Library. Canada's Digital Collections This digital collection was produced with financial assistance from Canada's Digital Collections initiative, Industry Canada.