The Silver Spoon

In this article I refer to Robert Stanley Bagg by his middle name since it was the name by which he was best known. In other articles I have referred to him as RSB to differentiate him from his father, Stanley Clark Bagg (SCB) and his grandfather, Stanley Bagg.

My great-grandfather Robert Stanley Clark Bagg, or R. Stanley Bagg (1848-1912), was born with the proverbial silver spoon in his mouth, however, working in the family real estate business was not what he really wanted to do in life. It wasn’t until after he retired that he was able to follow his true passion: politics.

I never heard any family stories about Stanley, perhaps because he died several years before my mother was born. It wasn’t until Montreal’s two major English-language newspapers were digitized a few years ago that I learned about his various interests and activities. In fact, his name appeared in Montreal newspapers frequently, especially after the late 1890s when he became active in the Conservative party.  

Robert Stanley Bagg, portrait by Adam Sheriff Scott. Private collection.

Stanley was the second child of Montreal notary and land-owner Stanley Clark Bagg (1820-1873) and Philadelphia-born Catharine Mitcheson (1821-1914). The couple’s first child died before Stanley was born. Three younger sisters, Katharine, Amelia and Mary, were born in 1850, 1852 and 1854, and a fourth sister, Helen, arrived in 1861. Even as a child, Stanley must have been told that he would have a leadership role in the family, not only as the eldest, but also as the only male.

According to his obituary in the Montreal Gazette,1 Stanley studied law at McGill University and passed the bar in 1873. He then left Montreal for England, intending to further his studies, however, his father died unexpectedly in August of that year and Stanley came home. For a short time, he was in partnership with lawyer Donald Macmaster, sharing an office on St. James Street, in the old business heart of the city, but he gave up his legal practice to concentrate on the administration of his late father’s real estate. Nevertheless, throughout his life, Stanley identified himself as a lawyer or an advocate, a term used to refer to the practice of Quebec’s civil law.  

The job Stanley undertook as administrator of his father’s estate was not an easy one. Montreal was rapidly expanding, with thousands of new immigrants arriving, manufacturing, railroads and industries expanding and construction of new residences ongoing. The farmland that comprised the vast S. C. Bagg Estate, mostly located on the west side of St. Laurent Boulevard in a corridor north of Sherbrooke Street, benefited from the city’s growth. Sales, mainly of residential properties, became a profitable business.

This map shows the extent of the late Stanley Clark Bagg’s properties, shaded in beige, in 1875, when an inventory was made of his estate. These properties are overlaid over a modern map of the island of Montreal. At that time, the actual city of Montreal was south of Sherbrooke Street, extending down to the banks of the Saint Lawrence River. The eastern slope of Mount Royal is adjacent to the Mile End properties. 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.

Stanley does not seem to have been interested in developing and promoting housing or commercial real estate projects himself, but he did decide which pieces of land to subdivide into lots and he supervised sales. The estate also rented small residential and commercial buildings, and some of the land was sold to the city for civic projects such as parks.

He encountered many unexpected headaches over the years. He had to ask the provincial government to pass a special law in 1875 to override a provision in SCB’s will in order to make the lot prices competitive.2 There were misunderstandings in 1889-91 over which properties were part of the estate and which belonged to the five children. And Sister Helen’s husband disappeared under mysterious circumstances in 1897, owing the Baggs large sums of money. Although Stanley was the main administrator of his father’s estate, several family members acted as advisors. His mother had a great deal of input, and sister Amelia kept track of some of the property sales. When a major decision had to be made, family members got together to discuss it, or if that was not possible, they communicated through letters.

When Stanley announced his retirement as of January, 1901, his mother arranged to hire someone to succeed him, and she wrote Stanley a thank-you letter.3 She described her husband’s unexpected death as a calamity for the family, especially for Stanley who was “so young and inexperienced in the ways of the world.”  She commended Stanley for the “able, honourable and efficient manner” in which he had performed his arduous duties for 27 years. She added, “I am most anxious that you should have a complete rest from all the worry and anxiety that is unavoidably connected with the responsible position you have occupied for such a long time – and while personally I shall greatly miss you, I hope that your absence and a complete change will allow you to regain your usual health and strength.”

One activity Stanley found helped to restore his health was travel, especially ocean voyages. Perhaps he got the travel bug when he was 20 and spent a year exploring the highlights of Europe with his parents, his aunt and his sisters. In 1875, Stanley visited England again with his mother and one of his sisters, and he returned to Europe with his new wife, Clara Smithers, on their two-month-long honeymoon in the summer of 1882.

Robert Stanley Bagg and Clara Smithers were married at St. Martin’s Anglican Church, on what was then the corner of St. Urbain and Bagg Streets. Bagg street was later renamed Prince Arthur and the current Bagg Street is located several blocks further north. St. Martin’s never acquired a spire and it was eventually demolished.
Image source: St. Martin’s Church, Historical Sketch of St. Martin’s Church : 1874-1902, Montreal, Canada, 1902?; Canadiana,  Accessed June 14, 2023.

In 1891, he and Clara spent an extended period of time in England, taking along their two young daughters. That year’s Census of England showed Stanley, Clara, the children, a governess and a cook staying in a lodging house in St. George Hanover Square, in central London. Ten years later, after his retirement, Stanley returned to Europe, this time touring for eight months.

While real estate management, legal training and travel seem to have been family traditions, so was military service. Stanley’s father served in the military, and his grandfather was a major in the 1st Battalion Loyal Volunteers during the Rebellion of 1837. His great-grandfather Phineas Bagg had served during the American Revolution ((1775-1783) before immigrating to Canada.

In 1877, the Canada Gazette reported that R. Stanley Bagg, gentleman, began his military service as an ensign with the 5th Battalion, Royal Fusiliers, Montreal. When he retired in 1882, he retained the rank of captain from what had become the Royal Scots Fusiliers. Although his military career was relatively short, it appears to have been a success. The Montreal Star quoted the following article about Stanley that had appeared in the paper 30 years earlier:4

“There are few better-known figures in Montreal than Captain Stanley Bagg. He was an enthusiastic volunteer and belonged to the old 5th Royals before and after they had become a kilted regiment. At the time of the ship laborers’ riots in Quebec, when several regiments of Montreal were sent to restore order and liberate the regular garrison, who were practically prisoners in the Citadel, the 5th Royal Scots were marched up Mountain Hill and the honor of leading them was conferred by the colonel of the regiment on Captain Bagg owing to his height and commanding presence. Captain Bagg has always been an ardent supporter of and participant in athletic sports. A good rider and one of the old Dowell school of boxers, he kept himself in such first-class condition that he can stand almost any fatigue.”

I had read the letter written by Stanley’s mother about his retirement many years ago, and it had left me with an image of my great-grandfather as a tired and anxious man. It was a revelation to find this newspaper article and realize that he had indeed once been a strong leader and an athlete.

This article is also posted on the collaborative family history blog Genealogy Ensemble.


1. “R. Stanley Bagg Died Yesterday,” The Gazette, July 23, 1912, p. 4, accessed June 9, 2024.

2. “38 Vict. cap. XCIV, assented to 23 February 1875”, Statutes of the Province of Quebec passed in the thirty-eighth year of the reign of Her Majesty Queen Victoria, part 1, p. 474,, accessed June 9, 2024

3. Catharine Mitcheson Bagg, Correspondence, P070/B6.4, Bagg Family Fonds, McCord Stewart Museum,; classification scheme; personal documents; correspondence. Accessed June 14, 2024.

4. “From the Star Files 30 Years Ago Today” The Montreal Star, Sept. 17, 1909, p. 10,, accessed June 9, 2024.

See also:

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

Janice Hamilton, “The Bagg Family Dispute part 2”, Writing Up the Ancestors, Feb. 14, 2024,

Janice Hamilton, “Helen Frances Bagg: A Happy Exile”, Writing Up the Ancestors, Jan. 6, 2016,

Janice Hamilton, “Continental Notes for Public Circulation”, Writing Up the Ancestors, April 8, 2020,

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

Clara Smithers Weds R. Stanley Bagg, Writing Up the Ancestors, March 2, 2014,

Janice Hamilton, “The Life and Times of Stanley Bagg, 1788-1853”, Writing Up the Ancestors, Oct. 5, 2016,

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,