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W-MCP7-1.263 Hamilton Spectator clipping.
Dec 28 1968

Hamilton Spectator, Saturday, December 28, 1968

Poor Man's Dundurn Castle,
Whitehern Opens Next Year1

By Liam O'Cooney
Spectator Staff

The poor man's Dundurn Castle--Whitehern, home of the famous McQuestens--will be open to the public early next summer.

Built in the 1840s by Richard Duggan, and occupied for more than a century by the history-shaping McQuestens, Whitehern (White House) is living memory of a way of life that died with the coming of the motor car and the radio.

Duggan bought the land in 1843 and the house he built on it cost $10,000, although labor was then only 50 cents a day. He never lived there (one report says he declared a lunatic), but rented it to a New Hampshire stove-maker, Dr. Calvin McQuesten.

An enterprising steelman, Dr. McQuesten soon accumulated a snug $500,000, and retired to his garden to read the popular Puritan writers.

His son, Isaac, moved in with his wife and six children--and the family cow--and they renamed the house Whitehern.

One of Isaac's sons, T.B. McQuesten made himself one of the best ever politicians in Hamilton, and as Ontario's minister of highways laid some of the best roads in the province.

THE LOVELY, lonely mansion on Jackson Street West was bequeathed to the Parks Board by the last of the great family, Rev. Calvin McQuesten in 1959. Formerly a newspaper reporter and cowboy preacher, Mr. McQuesten made a provision in the bequest that he and his two sisters be allowed to live in the house until their deaths.

Pre-deceased by his sisters, Mr. McQuesten died last August and the home automatically came under the control of the Parks Board. Immediately the board invited a [two lines illegible] takers, and began photographing the entire building so that the 19th Century flavour could be retained when restoration work is completed.

LETTERS, diaries, photographs, some silver and jewelry were returned to Mr. McQuesten's closest relatives and valuable paintings and crockery were removed for safe-keeping.

Only one or two rooms of the spacious mansion were used by Mr. McQuesten while he lived there alone, so the restoration committee found that that most rooms were layered with dust and household objects were disarranged.

A city auctioneer and appraiser was asked to catalogue each item, to establish its condition and recommend any repair work.

Thousands of antiques--tables, lamps, stick barometers, poster beds, deer heads, picture silhouettes, plates, copper kettles, sailing ship models and trinket boxes were numbered and valued.

SOMEHOW, vandals left their mark. A basement window was broken, glass in a cabinet was smashed, and a model sailing ship was found flung on the floor with its masts crushed.

"We don't know if this happened before or after Mr. McQuesten left the house," said the Whitehern Committee chairman, Ald. Reg Wheeler. "With the caretakers here now, everything should be quite safe."

He said that the red carpets and fireside rugs had been sent to a carpet company for cleaning and drapes were being examined to see if they should be repaired or replaced.

"Unlike Dundurn, we're not going to ship in artifacts from the 19th Century. This won't be a collection place for antiques. When it's finished--and we hope that's early next summer--Whitehern will look as real as it was when people ate and slept here."

ALD. WHEELER said the house would be restored in the way that the Bell homestead in Brantford was--with piano, writing desks and shoe horns in their natural setting.

The head of the Lake Historical Society has volunteered to help in any way, he said, and a consultant on historical decor Mrs. Jeanne Minhinnick had been asked to advise on the repair or replacement of damaged furniture.

For many years, the parks board has supplied plants for the garden, now being prepared for the summer opening, and a fourth stone wall may be built on the west wide.

"Let's dream for a while" said Parks Board secretary, Ernie Seager, "In a few years the civic square project will be finished, with the auditorium, and possibly the hall of fame--and right in the middle we'll have the White House. It will be like an oasis in a downtown desert, as the history brochure says."

ABOUT $3,000 has been spent in cleaning and cataloguing, said Ald. Wheeler, and the committee would meet the board of control soon to negotiate more funds for actual restoration. He emphasized that no structural changes would be made to the building.

The Committee has not decided if staff will be hired when Whitehern opens, or if there will be an admission charge.

"We'll play it by ear for a while," said the committee chairman.

Whitehern could be a ceremonial meeting place for visiting dignitaries, said Jim Waters, director of the Parks Board.

"Wouldn't it be fine if the mayor could hold receptions here in a historical setting when prime ministers or famous people came to Hamilton? An ancient building like this would be unique in a modern city surrounding."

1 Reverend Calvin McQuesten put a great deal of effort in convincing the city to take over the care of Whitehern and enlisted the aid of Dr. Eric Arthur at the University of Toronto who praised Whitehern's architecture. See Box 04-111 for more information.

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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.
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