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Box 14-129 THOMAS BAKER MCQUESTEN: biography from Biographical Encyclopedia of the World by Jessie Yorston
Jan 1 1949

The late Thomas Baker McQuesten, B.A., LLB., LL.D., Q.C. was born at Hespeler, Ontario, on June 30th, 1882, being the younger son of Isaac Baldwin McQuesten and Mary Jane Baker McQuesten. Hespeler was the family's summer home as his father was owner of the Hespeler Wool and Cotton Mills, although he was a lawyer and was still practising his legal profession in Hamilton.1

His paternal grandfather was Dr. Calvin McQuesten whose family left Argylshire, Scotland and in 1735 they set sail for the United States establishing themselves at Litchfield, New Hampshire. Dr. McQuesten, a medical doctor, came to Canada at the request of his cousin, John Fisher, one of the first manufacturers of Agricultural machinery in the Province and the forerunner of the Massey-Harris Company.

On his Mother's side he was the grandson of Commander the Rev. Thomas Baker, R.N. who as Officer in charge came from England to Canada in 1814 of H.M.S. The St. Lawrence, whose complement was one thousand including officers and men. This was the largest man-of-war to sail the Great Lakes and her formidable appearance and armament ended the conflict between Canada and the U.S. without firing a shot.

Thomas McQuesten attended Ryerson, Central and Queen Victoria Schools, Hamilton Collegiate, graduating with honors in English history and classics; and the University of Toronto where he was a Gold Medalist in Classics and Political science. During his High School days he played football on the Hamilton Collegiate team that won the Ontario Championship in 1900, later he played with the Hamilton Tigers. He rowed with the Argonauts while at the Toronto University.

During his freshman year in the University he worked his way to England on a cattle boat and often referred to himself as the chambermaid to the cattle; the major portion of the return trip apent [sic] in the galley peeling potatoes. In his later College years he spent the summer months in the lumber camps rolling logs down the Ottawa river, and so became an expert swimmer. Mr. McQuesten had a great interest in the North as after his graduation from Osgoode Hall he practised law at Elk Lake from 1908 to 1911 and he knew the country, the people and what was needed there. This perhaps was responsible for his sympathy, interest and understanding of the working men, and many friendships were formed which continued throughout the years.

Minister of Highways, 1934-1943.

In this capacity he launched a province wide program of highway improvement which over the period involved expenditures of upwards of two hundred million dollars. The particular works included the development of the Queen Elizabeth Highway (which the Queen of England officially opened in 1939) which was a new departure in Highway construction from Toronto to Fort Erie and its easterly extension to Oshawa. This is the most modern piece of highway construction in America. The Western Entrance to Toronto and the Eastern Entrance are outstanding works unexcelled in any city. In the same class is the link of dual highway extending from Gananoque to Brockville along the St. Lawrence River past the Thousand Islands. This was a very expensive and difficult piece of engineering, but open up one of the most beautiful sections in the province.

The work done on the highways through Northern Ontario was outstanding, particularly in the high standard and grade of construction and the difficulties resulting from rocky terrain and drainage. This particularly includes the highway from North Bay through Temagami to Kirkland Lake much of which is paved; highway including entrance into and through Timmins; the completion of the Trans-Canada, Highway by the construction of the link from Hearst through Geraldton to Nipigon at the mouth of the Nipigon River. This road is of the highest character and grade, a pattern of highway construction and formed the basis of experience for contractors and engineers which was afterward used in the construction of the Alaska Highway through Canada.

The Northern Highway from North Bay west to Sault Ste Marie built to modern high grades and standards and was about one-half completed. This included the entrance to North Bay from the west, the entrance to Sudbury from the east, a work of great engineering difficulty, the entrance to Sault Ste Marie and large stretches or paving and grading over the distance. The initiation of grading and paving to a high standard extending North of Sault Ste Marie along the shore of lake Superior about one hundred and fifty miles to a point well beyond the Montreal River. This is probably one of the most beautiful scenic roads in the world. The other end at Schrieber heading easterly was also undertaken and a considerable mileage graded. At the extreme west end of the province the highway extending notherly from Fort Francis to Kenora, westerly from Kenora to the Manitoba boundary, and easterly from Kenora to connect with the Trans-Canada Highway was completely re-graded and much of it paved. This work is all through very difficult and rocky country and the engineering and standard of work were of the highest character.

He also completed the three great international Bridges at Ivy Lee across the St. Lawrence, Rainbow Bridge across the Niagara River and the Blue Water Bridge at Sarnia across the St. Clair River. These were projects involving the expenditure of three million, five million and three million respectively.

Among other notable bridge structures built by him is the large bridge at Kenora over an arm of Lake of the Woods; the bridge at Henley on the Queen Elizabeth Way; the bridges over the Bronte and Oakville Creeks and Highland Creek; the bridge over Longlac and the bridge over Nipigon. Also the re-construction of Fort William Henry and the Martello Towers at Kingston. This tremendous great structure had become a ruin. It was rebuilt by the Highways Department at a cost of upwards of $800.000. and got together a collection of furniture, equipment, guns and fittings belonging to the period of very large proportions. The property was then turned over at the request of the Dominion Government to the Department of Defence during the war, and we had to rent a three storey warehouse to house the furniture alone. This is a much larger structure than Quebec, and is most interesting and historical.

Minister of Public Works from 1934-1937 and 1942-1943

During this period he established the Ontario Hospital in the County of Elgin, settled plans and let contracts from the most modern and up-to-date Ontario hospital. This is a very large stone structure consisting of numerous buildings. He was not Minister on completion of the work, but let the contracts and settled the plans with the architect.

Member of Board of Parks Management, City of Hamilton 1920-1948

As Chairman of the Works Committee of this Board over a period of years with his colleagues established the Parks System of Hamilton with the acquisition of the King's Forest, Mountain Face Lands, Mountain Park, Right of way to Ancaster, Hamilton Civic Golf Club, Westdale lands including lands at Rock Chapel, Mountain Face from Sydenham Road easterly, lands surrounding the Marsh, Marsh Lands, Northwestern Entrance lands, Hendrie Park, Bay Front Lands at Bay Street and Stewart Park on the eastern Water Front, Gage Park, Mahomey Park, Donohue Park, King's Forest, Bruce Park, Inch Park in all an area of upwards of 2500- acres comprising all the choice landscape sites in the district and being a larger acreage than that of any other city in Canada irrespective of size. In this period formal park developments were undertaken at Gage Park, Mountainside Park, Civic Golf Club, McMaster Entrance and Northwestern Entrance, Rock Garden, Athletic Centres, Scott Park and Gage Park.

President- Royal Botanical Gardens- of Hamilton-

In July 1929- wrote the first letter in the matter asking permission to use the word "Royal" (copies of letter in files) Mr. McQuesten's sole idea).

This project was then started in 1930 when permission was granted by Lord Willingdon (on behalf of His Majesty King George the Fifth the King assent) to the use of the word "Royal" in connection with the establishment of the Royal Botanical Gardens at Hamilton. Prior to this date, however, the Board had commenced the acquisition of a suitable area for this purpose. Following its establishment a good deal of work was undertaken in the sections at the Northwestern Entrance to Hamilton, and in and around McMaster University in the design and completion of the City entrance and approach to McMaster University. A very considerable contribution was made by relief labour at this time in work which in every way was suitable to this class of labour and a valuable contribution was made by the unemployed in the beautiful results obtained.

The initial acquisition of lands and work was undertaken by the Board of Parks Management of the City of Hamilton a public body established under the Public Parks Act of the Province. Then came one of the happiest days of Mr. McQuesten's life--the day he introduced the Bill-- (incorporated by Special Ontario Act in 1941) First Reading on the 18th day of March 1941 "Bill--An Act respecting the Royal Botanical Gardens" 5 Geo VI 1941 C. 75 by which a separate Board of Provincial character was set up and provision made for some financial support from the City and a transfer to the Board of lands the owner of approximately 1200--acres and the establishment of a School of Instruction in Parks and Recreation Administration. A three year course is projected which will qualify men to assume positions as Managers of Parks, Secretaries and managers of Golf Courses, Managers of Arenas, Superintendents of grounds maintenance in and about Government and Municipal Buildings etc. It is to house the students in one building in which they will board and lodge and which will contain lecture room accommodation for lectures in the evenings and various times throughout the week. Mr. McQuesten also established a Boarding School at Niagara Falls for Apprentice Gardeners, the course to run for three years with a diploma for successful graduates.


As Chairman--The property of the Niagara Parks Commission extends from Fort George to Lake Erie to Fort Mississauga on Lake Ontario, a distance of about 32 miles. In 1934 the whole frontier had been largely neglected and presented a most shabby and disreputable appearance. For the whole distance the Highways extends along the river and is the property of the Commission. He repaired and renovated this Highway, widening and improving its many bridges, and planting large mileages of the area and modernizing the paving of a number of sections. Also added to the lands some five or six hundred acres. The notable works done consisted of the re-construction of Fort Erie, and the establishment of collections of war relics and furniture within the fort; the improvement of the grounds; the building of a picnic pavillion and the rehabilitation and construction of a number of monumental features. He also constructed some miles of sea wall (stone); graded and built up the waterfront for the whole distance through the town of Fort Erie; built the Mather gateway and Park entrance and constructed new approaches to the Peace Bridge; and roads and pavements throughout the new park development; rebuilt the highway through the Village of Chippawa and along the Chippawa Creek, paving and extending from the road through that village. Re-located and paved the highway extending from the Chippawa village through the whirlpool; removed the old international railway rails and structures, and rebuilt this whole frontier. Other notable works were the acquisition from Sir Harry Oakes of the Clifton Hotel site which was developed by the Commission into the Oakes Garden theatre; the construction of the new Rainbow Bridge and Gardens and the approaches and Highway leading to the Queen Elizabeth Highway with all necessary subways. The Apprentice Gardening School was established and the necessary buildings constructed. He built the restaurant at Queenston and did much work in the rehabilitation of Brock Monument. He re-constructed the home of William Lyon Mackenzie at Queenston and built the memorial on the hundredth anniversary of the establishment of Responsible Government. He re-built Fort George according to original plans which was quite an elaborate work involving the expenditure of $300,000. He also renovated and re-constructed Navy Hall, the seat of the First Legislature of the Province. He also completely renovated and rebuilt the area around Fort George.

NIAGARA FALLS BRIDGE COMMISSION- Appointed Vice-Chairman July 8th, 1938 and Chairman Dec. 8th, 1939 until June 18th, 1947

This Commission was created by Special Act of Congress at Washington in 1937. It empowers eight Commissioners, of whom one-half are appointed by Canada, and one-half by the United States, to raise money by the issue of bonds and build an International Bridge (the Rainbow Bridge) at Niagara Falls. The Province of Ontario and the State of New York on their respective sides also appropriated money to improve and complete the Highway Approaches and terminal facilities in addition to the bondholders money. Upon payment of the bonded indebtedness the whole structure comes into public ownership reverting respectively to the State of New York and the Province of Ontario on each side of the International boundary which is the centre line of the Niagara River. The total cost was approximately seven million dollars. This money was raised by a bond issue in New York, not one cent from Canada. On the Ontario side a belfrey has been completed 165' high designed to contain a Carillon of the largest size, 55 bells. The carillon was erected with the money of American bondholders, who had the say as to what inscription they wanted on the bell. There is cast on the Great Bell (20,000 Lbs.) the following inscription:

"To God's Glory and in grateful memory of our Nations' Leaders
- and -

Ottawa had contributed nothing to the whole project.2
This bridge has never been officially opened.

Sworn in as Minister of Mines for Province of Ontario September 30th, 1940, resigned October 8th, 1940.

APPOINTED: Commissioner of the Hydro-Electric Power Commission of Ontario July 11th, 1934, resigned October 12th, 1937.

Vice-President Ontario Liberal Association 1931

President from 1933-1943. It was during his term of office that the Hepburn Government came into power - and upon his retirement the Government changed.

He also received Honourary Certificate by the Guild of Carillonneurs--in North America for his interest in the art of the Carillon with respect to Niagara Falls.

Mr. McQuesten was a devout Churchman--brought up as a Presbyterian he remained steadfast to the faith of his fathers and unless presented by uncontrollable circumstances never missed a service. When MacNab Street Presbyterian Church was rehabilitated he had the windows imported from Scotland, but due to the destruction of war the firm's office containing the designs for the windows were demolished and because after the death of the designer and painter in an air-raid the series was not completed and cannot be duplicated. The exisiting windows are medieval in design and colouring, and are said to be the only ones in Canada.

Mr. McQuesten was chosen for the gold medal award of the Advertising and Sales Club as the citizen of the year for 1947 for the public service rendered to the community and his contribution to the enhancement of the Province and Dominion. He was not only one of Hamilton's great, but one of Canada's great men. A man of unusual capacity for achievement, and perhaps the secret of his success in accomplishing things lie in his gift of personality which infected his associates with his enthusiasm. He had a pecular talent for attempting big things, but never accepted full credit for the various works which are rightfully associated with his name.

The great Hamiltonian, Mr. McQuesten, passed away on January 13th, 1948. Before he entered the Hospital he ordered a taxi and took a final look at the fine expanse of Gage Park, now white in winter--and under the snow. Where people enter Hamilton from the West was the Rock Garden, which would again burst into gay summer bloom. Further along near McMaster the Royal Botanical Gardens with all their classic beauty and peace--next summer would know them too.

He might have thought further of the great Elizabeth Way, the highway that stretched to the Rushing Niagara--A Queen of England had given her name to it, and had officially opened it in 1939, where a monument just outside of Toronto on which the King and Queen's profiles are engraved, and at the end of it the Rainbow Bridge, where Canadian and American voices woulds stir long memories of holiday hours and peace.

All his work--the work of a politician, a stern partisan if you like, but of a politician with an iron will and a heart as big as the happiness of the people in his parks. All his work, with those many battles through the legislature as Ontario's Minister of Highways, defence on the hustlings, bitterness, rebukes and worry, but in the end triumph. He wanted the best for his Province, and that was one of the driving motives of his life.

In his farewell trip that day he might well have said goodbye not to monuments, but to old friends, echoes would come from far back, from loved and familiar places and landscapes. Then ahead there would be new and younger voices, picking up the threads of a city's proud and human growth--out of a winter into summer. Just a little better for what Tom McQuesten had done for it.

This was published in the Biographical Encyclopedia of the World in New York.3 Very few Canadians have ever been mentioned in this Biographical, but Mr. McQuesten served as Chairman of the Niagara Bridge Commission (Rainbow Bridge) when it was erected--he received no remuneration but the Bond Holders from New York State had the Carillon erected on the Canadian side to show gratitude.

Mr. McQuesten went to Elk Lake, Northern Ontario, 1908-1909, practised law with Graham, Kearney, Wright & McQuesten. Wright later became a Judge.

[Obituary of T.B. McQuesten, from a newspaper clipping, with photo]
McQuesten, Thomas Baker, K.C., Member of law firm of Chisholm, McQuesten & Welby. Hamilton, Ont.: born June 30, 1882, Hespeler Ont., Canada; son of Isaac Baldwin and Mary Jane Baker McQuesten, educated at Hamilton Collegiate, University of Toronto, B.A. [1904?] Osgoode Hall Law School, LL.B. 1907 LL.D. [?] Called to Ontario Bar [1907?], read law with Royce & Henderson Toronto, and Chisholm & Logie Hamilton. Engaged in practice of law & partnership with Graham, Kearney, Wright & McQuesten at Elk Lake, Northern Ontario, 1908-09. Returned to Hamilton [?] and practiced law with Chisholm [?] & McQuesten, Alderman, City of Hamilton. 1913-20: Member, Board of Parks Management since 1920. Elected to Ontario Legislature for Hamilton-Wentworth as a member of Liberal Party. 1934; sworn in as Minister of Public Works and Highways, Member Executive Council for Ontario. July, 1934; served as Minister of Highways for nine years, resigned as Minister of Public Works. 1937; reappointed. 1942. Commissioner, Hydro-Electric Commission of Ontario 1934-37. Sworn in as Minister of Mines for Province of Ontario Sept. 1940. resigning Oct. 1940. Minister of Municipal Affairs for Province of Ontario Nov. 1940; resigned as Minister of Public Works and Municipal Affairs and as Minister of Highways 1943, Chairman Niagara Parks Commission, Niagara Falls, Ont., 1934-44. Member of and Chairman of Niagara Falls Bridge Commission (Rainbow Bridge). Niagara Falls since 1938. Member: Ontario Liberal Ass., Vice-President, 1931, President, 1933-43; Law Society of Upper Canada [?].

1 This document is in the Hamilton Public Library Archives under the name of Thomas Baker McQuesten By Jessie Yorston (R B M242y HA). Yorston was McQuesten's secretary for many years in Hamilton and at Queen's Park.

See Tom's biography for more information on his family life and public works and W8265a for a passage similar to this text.

2 This sentence repeats the statement made by Thomas McQuesten to the press in June of 1947. In this speech, McQuesten outlined the cost of the Carillon tower erected at Niagara: "The value of the carillon is in the order of $100,000 and the destruction of the great bell would be a very serious loss. The whole steel framework and bells would have to be taken out of the tower and the bell request. It is improper that this should be forced upon the bondholders. Ottawa has contributed nothing to the whole project." For a full transcription of his speech, see Box 14-122.

3 We have been unable to determine an accurate date when this biography was either written or published, but it would have been some time after Tom's death on January 13th 1948. The date January 1, 1949 is an estimate.

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