The Art of Ectoplasm: a Book Review

When I was a teenager, I came across a book in my parents’ house called Intention and Survival, written by T. Glen Hamilton, my grandfather. Inside a plain beige cover, the text was illustrated with grainy black and white photographs. Many of them showed a middle-aged woman, her eyes closed, with a white substance coming from her mouth or nostrils. Tiny images of the faces of deceased individuals seemed to be embedded in this substance.

Those photos gave me nightmares, and for decades, I have been trying to figure out what to make of them. Now, a new book called The Art of Ectoplasm: Encounters with Winnipeg’s Ghost Photographs is helping me understand them.  

Edited by Serena Keshavjee, a professor of art and architectural history at the University of Winnipeg, and published by the University of Manitoba Press, The Art of Ectoplasm looks at the context in which my grandparents researched and photographed psychic phenomena, including that white substance called ectoplasm. The book describes their work and the many artistic projects it has inspired.   

Published on large-format paper, the book itself is a work of art. The black and white, sepia and contemporary colour photographs almost glow. Most of the old photos were taken during séances held at the Hamiltons’ Winnipeg, Manitoba home 100 years ago. Shot in a darkened room, lit by flash, with large-format cameras, these are sharp, high-contrast images that can be seen as both documentary photos and as art. Meanwhile, the 300-page text explores the history of these séances and includes an extensive bibliography.  Dr. Thomas Glendenning Hamilton (1879-1935), known to most of his friends as T.G., was a family physician and surgeon, president of the Manitoba Medical Association and member of the Manitoba Legislative Assembly. He was a strict Presbyterian and elder of his church. He and his wife, Lillian (Forrester) Hamilton (1880-1956), had four children, including twin boys. Everyone in the household got sick during the 1918-1919 influenza pandemic, and one of the twins, three-year-old Arthur, died of the flu.

At the time, many people were strongly religious and believed in personal survival after death. Some tried to communicate with deceased loved ones. Although T.G.’s experiments in telepathy date from 1918, before the influenza pandemic, Arthur’s death may have stimulated the Hamiltons’ interest in the psychic field. Lillian started experimenting with table movements and rapping, and eventually T.G. was encouraged to participate. He decided to take a scientific approach. He prepared a room in the family home where the conditions could be carefully controlled and, in 1923, he began to conduct a series of experiments related to telekinesis, trance and mediumship that included the appearance of ectoplasm. These séances took place once or twice a week over a twelve-year span.

Lillian encouraged and collaborated with her husband, conducted research to make sense of alleged trance communications, did much of the organizing and often chaperoned the mediums. After T.G.’s death, she compiled the notes taken during the séances, as well as the photographs, her husband’s speeches and other material. She also continued to attend séances. She has received little public credit for her contributions, but that is beginning to change as Katie Oates, of Western University in London, Ontario, contributed a chapter in this book that focuses on Lillian’s role.

In 1979, T.G. and Lillian’s daughter, Margaret Hamilton Bach (1909-1986), donated the original photographic glass negatives and documents to the archives at the University of Manitoba. Since then, the university has received many other collections of material related to psychical research and, as archivist Brian Hubner writes in The Art of Ectoplasm, the city has become known as “weird Winnipeg, an unlikely centre of the paranormal”.

Shelley Sweeney, archivist emerita and retired head of the University of Manitoba Archives and Special Collections, notes that the Hamilton Family Fonds has inspired a variety of projects, including books, plays and visual arts. It is the most utilized collection of personal records held by the archives, and photographs from the Hamilton collection have been exhibited in museums around the world.

In another article, Esyllt W. Jones, a professor of history and community health sciences at the University of Manitoba, puts the Hamiltons’ séances into the context of the couple’s grief following their child’s death. She also shows how their experience was an example of the trauma caused by the pandemic and the loss of loved ones during World War I.

Thanks to the movie Ghostbusters, the word ectoplasm became popular in the 1980s, long after T.G.’s research involving ectoplasm took place between 1928 and 1934. Ectoplasm has been described as a vaporous substance that appears from the mouth or other orifices of a medium. Formless at first, it can change to resemble muslin or cotton batting before being reabsorbed into the medium’s body. T.G. thought of it as a living thing, directed by an internal intelligence. Ectoplasm has not been tested in a laboratory and, since World War II, it has not been considered a topic for credible scientific study.

Miniature face of C.H. Spurgeon in ectoplasm with medium Mary Marshall, taken May 1, 1929, by T.G. Hamilton. UMASC H.A.V. Green Fonds.

The scientific methods that T.G. used in his “laboratory” are outdated today, but during his lifetime, as editor and contributor Keshavjee writes, psychical research was considered within the bounds of accepted scientific inquiry. There was a large body of literature on the topic and a number of well-respected scientists of the era accepted that strange things happened in the séance room. But, Keshavjee suggests, when the Hamilton séance activities began to be directed by an unseen personality called Walter, T.G.’s claims that he followed scientific methods lost credibility.

Today, questions about fraud hang over many psychic activities. Some people are convinced the Hamilton séances were fraudulent, others believe they were genuine. For the most part, this book accepts the Hamilton séance photographs without trying to address the issue.

In his chapter defending the Hamilton family psychical research legacy, Walter Meyer zu Erpen, founder of the Survival Research Institute of Canada and an archivist who has spent more than 30 years investigating these events and the people involved, concludes that the ectoplasm photographed by the Hamiltons was genuine.

Whether the appearance of ectoplasm was proof of survival after death is another question. In general, Keshavjee writes, there is little basis for belief that psychic phenomena inherently provide evidence of life after death. Meyer zu Erpen admits he is taking a middle-of-the-road position when he suggests that, in the Hamilton séances, only the ectoplasm samples with miniature faces of the deceased contribute to evidence for survival of human personality beyond death.

T.G. was convinced, however, that what he experienced in the séance room could only be the work of surviving spirts. For him, and for Lillian, survival was a fact.

The Art of Ectoplasm did not answer all my concerns, but for anyone interested in the Hamilton séances from an artistic, historical or psychical research perspective, it is worth going beyond the amazing photos and reading the text.

This post also appears on the collaborative family history blog


Full disclosure: as family historian, my research has been quoted several times in The Art of Ectoplasm, and my father edited Intention and Survival.

The Art of Ectoplasm is available from the University of Manitoba Press, It can also be ordered from Amazon, Indigo and other booksellers.

See also:

Hamilton Family Fonds, University of Manitoba, UM Digital Collections, Archives and Special Collections,

Walter Meyer zu Erpen, “Hamilton, Thomas Glendenning” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 16, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–,

Janice Hamilton, “Reinventing Themselves Has Been Launched”, Writing Up the Ancestors, June 23, 2021,

The Bagg Family Dispute, part 2

in collaboration with Justin Bur

When my great-great grandfather Stanley Clark Bagg died in 1873, his wife and five children inherited large tracts of farmland on the island of Montreal, land that they made a family business of selling.1 But misunderstandings over who owned what and how to keep track of the income created a lot of difficulties. 

Stanley Clark Bagg (I usually refer to him as SCB to differentiate him from his father, Stanley Bagg, and his son, Robert Stanley Bagg,) had inherited most of this property from his grandfather John Clark (1767-1827).2 But there were conditions attached to some of these bequests: Clark’s 1825 will stated that land that comprised the Durham House property, and land comprising Mile End Farm, should pass down through three generations of descendants before it could be sold. The legal term for this, in civil law, is a substitution. However, a change in the law, passed in 1866, limited substitutions to two generations.3 That meant that the generation of Robert Stanley Bagg and his sisters Katharine, Amelia, Mary and Helen were the last generation affected by the substitutions and they could do what they liked with these properties.

The substitution clause referring to Durham House was part of the 1819 marriage contract between SCB’s parents, in which John Clark gave that property to his daughter as a wedding present.4 (It is shown in dark green on the map below.)

Robert Stanley Bagg, # II-57308.1, 1880, Notman & Sandham, McCord-Stewart Museum; Bagg family collection

When SCB died at age 53, none of his family members was ready to manage these properties. His only son, Robert Stanley Bagg, or RSB, (1848-1912) had recently graduated in law, but he had no experience in renting or selling properties. Furthermore, neither the notary who completed the inventory of SCB’s estate in 1875,5 nor SCB’s widow, nor his children were aware of the substitutions. The Durham House and Mile End Farm properties were treated as though they were no different than the other properties belonging to the late SCB’s estate.

The 22-acre Durham House property (lots 19–28 and 101–115, cadastre of the Saint-Laurent ward) was located north of Sherbrooke Street, on the west side of today’s Saint-Laurent Boulevard. SCB had subdivided part of it and sold lots from it as early as 1846. In 1889, RSB, who was an executor of his father’s estate, subdivided the Upper Garden of Durham House (lot 19, Saint-Laurent ward) and began to sell those lots. He signed the property documents as “R. Stanley Bagg for the estate,” and his mother, Catharine Mitcheson Bagg, also signed.

But the Durham House property actually belonged jointly to the five Bagg siblings. It was not part of SCB’s estate, and his widow could not inherit this land, sell lots from it or acquire income from it. Yet that is what she did: the name Dame Catharine Mitcheson, widow of Stanley Clark Bagg, appeared on five deeds of sale in 1889.  

It is not clear who discovered the error, but perhaps someone close to the Bagg family took a good look at the property documents and noticed these details. SCB’s middle daughter, Amelia Bagg, was to marry Joseph Mulholland the following year, and he worked as a real estate agent for the Stanley Clark Bagg Estate. Also, Joseph’s brother-in-law, John Murray Smith, was about to purchase several of the Durham House lots. Any one of these people could have discovered the marriage contract and John Clark’s will, which SCB had registered at the provincial land registry office.6

As soon as they became aware of the situation, the Bagg siblings tried to remedy it with a notarized document called a Ratification.7 It said that, as the actual owners, they ratified and approved the five sales made by their mother. A few weeks later, in January and April of 1890, the Bagg siblings sold five lots to John Murray Smith and four to James Baxter, and this time, the vendors named in the deeds were correct.

This map shows details of several of the late Stanley Clark Bagg’s properties in 1875, when an inventory was made of his estate. Durham House and its upper garden, as well as a small part of the Mile End Farm and SCB’s home, Fairmount Villa, are overlaid over a modern map of the island of Montreal. Mile End Lodge had been John Clark’s home. At that time, the densely populated part of Montreal was south of Sherbrooke Street. Mount Royal Park, opened in 1876, is on the left. Map created by Justin Bur, based on two open data sources: physical geography from CanVec, Natural Resources Canada and modern streets from Geobase, City of Montreal.

Next, Catharine and her five children took a step to sort out the income from lots from the Durham House property that SCB had sold in his lifetime. They did not involve a notary, but tried to look after the issue as a family, signing a document called an Indenture on May 12, 1890.8

The indenture stated that neither Catharine nor her children had known about the marriage contract until December, 1889. The Bagg children (by now all were adults) declared the love and affection they had for their mother and their desire to settle the matter amicably, and released her from all claims and demands. For her part, Catharine agreed to repay to her children the capital sums she had received from the sale of these properties. Because she had paid taxes and expenses on them, the children made no claim for the interest payments she had received.

Action Demanded

No doubt confident that everything had been resolved, RSB took his wife and two young daughters on an extended trip to England, leaving his mother and sisters to handle offers for land sales during his absence. After his return, however, the family dispute blew up once more, this time over the Mile End Farm property. Two of the married sisters, Katharine Sophia Mills and Mary Heloise Lindsay, hired a notary to represent their interests.

Notary Henry Fry sent a complaint on their behalf to the three living executors of SCB’s will — Catharine Mitcheson Bagg, Robert Stanley Bagg and notary J.E.O. Labadie – demanding immediate action. Dated July 22, 1891 and titled Signification and Demand,9   this document stated that the executors of SCB’s will were bound, upon his death, to deliver over the Durham House and Mile End Farm properties to his children, and to produce an account of the administration of these properties.

Catharine Mitcheson Bagg, #71147, 1883, Wm. Notman & Son, McCord-Stewart Museum; Bagg family collection.

It stated that the executors “have wholly failed and neglected to render such account, but on the contrary, have, since the death of the said Stanley Clark Bagg, continued in possession of the said substituted property and have even sold and alienated portions thereof and have received the consideration money of such sales and have received and retained the entire revenues therefrom and that although they have been recently requested to render such account, the said executors have neglected and refused to do so.”

The executors had until August 10 to provide an account of the property belonging to the substitutions. They must have met this demand because no further complaints have turned up. Furthermore, the Bagg siblings seem to have found a better solution to their dilemma: they partitioned the Durham House property and sold a large chunk of the Mile End Farm.

In September 1891, the remaining unsold lots of the Durham House property were grouped into five batches, and the five siblings pulled numbers out of a hat to determine who got which ones.10 They could then sell these lots, or keep them, as they pleased.

Two months later, the five siblings sold 145 arpents of land, including most of the Mile End Farm and a section of the adjoining Black Gate Farm, to Clarence James McCuaig and Rienzi Athel Mainwaring,11 These Toronto land developers had plans to develop an exclusive housing development they called Montreal Annex in the area.12

As for keeping track of property sales, Amelia, the middle Bagg sibling who was now married to Joseph Mulholland, took on that responsibility. Starting in 1892, she kept a ledger in which she wrote down the dates, names of purchasers and prices paid for each of the lots that were part of the Mile End Farm and Durham House properties.13

This article is also posted on the collaborative blog

See also:

Janice Hamilton, “Bagg Family Dispute Part 1: Stanley Clark Bagg’s Estate”, Writing Up the Ancestors, Dec. 13, 2023,

Janice Hamilton, “Aunt Amelia’s Ledger” Writing Up the Ancestors, April 26, 2023,

Janice Hamilton, “Stanley Clark Bagg’s Family”, Writing Up the Ancestors, Feb. 29, 2020,

Janice Hamilton, “My Great-Great Aunts, Montreal Real-Estate Developers”, Writing Up the Ancestors, October 11, 2017, Janice Hamilton, “A Home Well Lived In”, Writing Up the Ancestors, Jan. 21, 2014,


The Indenture, the Deed of Ratification and several other documents mentioned in this article were donated to the archives of the McCord Stewart Museum in Montreal around 1975 by my cousin.

This article was written in collaboration with urban historian Justin Bur. Justin has done a great deal of historical research on the Mile End neighbourhood of Montreal (around Saint-Laurent Blvd. and Mount Royal Ave.) and is a longtime member of the Mile End Memories/Memoire du Mile-End community history group ( He is one of the authors of Dictionnaire historique du Plateau Mont-Royal (Montreal, Éditions Écosociété, 2017), along with Yves Desjardins, Jean-Claude Robert, Bernard Vallée and Joshua Wolfe. His most recent article about the Bagg family is La famille Bagg et le Mile End, published in Bulletin de la Société d’histoire du Plateau-Mont-Royal, Vol. 18, no. 3, Automne 2023.


  1. Stanley Clark Bagg will, J.A. Labadie, n.p. no 15635, 7 July 1866
  2. John Clark will, Henry Griffin, n.p. no 5989, 29 August 1825
  3. In 1866 the government of Lower Canada enacted the Civil Code. This was a compilation and revision of the civil law inherited from the French regime; article 932 of the code put a two-generation limit on substitutions.
  4. Marriage contract between Stanley Bagg and Mary Ann Clark, N.B. Doucet, n.p. no 6489, 5 August 1819
  5. Stanley Clark Bagg inventory, J.A. Labadie, n.p. no 16733, 7 June 1875
  6. John Clark’s will and the marriage contract between Stanley Bagg and Mary Ann Clark are still publicly available at the Registre foncier du Québec. John Clark’s will had been transcribed there in 1844 (Montréal ancien #4752). The marriage contract (Montréal Ouest #66032) was transcribed in 1872. SCB’s will was transcribed into the register (Montréal Ouest #74545) in 1873.
  7. Deed of Ratification, Adolphe Labadie, n.p. no 2063, December 12, 1889, register Montreal Est #25109, McCord Stewart Museum (P070/66,3) This notary was a son of notary J.E.O. Labadie, who was an executor of the will, and grandson of notary J.A. Labadie, who had handled SCB’s will and the inventory of his estate.
  8. Indenture, May 12, 1890, McCord Stewart Museum (P070/B6,3).
  9. Signification and Demand, Henry Fry, n.p. no. 2234, 22 July 1891, McCord Stewart Museum (P070/B6,3).
  10. Deed of Partition, John Fair, n.p no 3100, Sept. 10, 1891, register Montreal Est #29503, McCord Stewart Museum (P070/B8,4).
  11. Deed of Sale, William de Montmollin Marler, n.p. #17571, 20 November, 1891, register Hochelaga-Jacques-Cartier #40225
  12. Justin Bur, Yves Desjardins, Jean-Claude Robert, Bernard Vallée, Joshua Wolfe, Dictionnaire historique du Plateau Mont-Royal (Montreal, Éditions Écosociété, 2017), p 271.
  13. Amelia Josephine Bagg Mulholland, Grand livre, 1891-1927, McCord Museum, Fonds Bagg, P070/B07,1. (accessed April 3, 2023)