Category: Winnipeg

The Legacy

I was left with a rather unusual legacy by my grandfather on my father’s side, Dr. Thomas Glendenning Hamilton. He was a well-known psychical researcher in Winnipeg, Manitoba in the 1920s and early 1930s, so for me, the question of whether it is possible to communicate with the dead is personal.  

T.G. Hamilton, as he was known to his friends, was born in Ontario in 1873 and died in Winnipeg in 1935, many years before I was born, but his research left a complex legacy for me and my cousins,1  and it continues to influence many people.

In its most common definition, a legacy is an amount of money or property inherited following someone’s death. In broader terms, it is something that is a part of your history. A family legacy can include pride in an ancestor’s accomplishments, or shame, bitterness and secrecy stemming from an ancestor’s misdeeds.

T.G. was active and respected in his community as a physician, and he was president of the Manitoba Medical Association. He served on the local school board and, as a member of the provincial legislature, he helped introduce votes for women and a mothers’ allowance. He did not drink, was a strict Presbyterian and an elder in the church.

Hamilton family around 1934, left to right, top Glen, Jim; bottom Margaret, T.G., Lillian

He became interested in psychical phenomena when he and his wife, Lillian, received a message while table-tipping with friends one evening in 1920. Then another friend demonstrated powerful telekinetic abilities (telekinesis is the unexplained movement of objects) and they began experimenting in their living room. After a while, T.G. stopped the experiments. He was intrigued, but extremely skeptical. But in 1923, he received another message that he thought might be paranormal in origin, and he restarted his investigation under more controlled conditions.

They began holding weekly séances with a small group of friends, collaborating with two different mediums over a period of 15 years. T.G. tried to bring a scientific approach to his enquiries, photographing the séances, taking notes and keeping the séance room locked at all times to prevent fraud. Eventually, he overcame his initial skepticism and he began speaking publicly about psychical phenomena, giving lectures in Winnipeg, New York, London and other cities.

In a paper written shortly before he died, T.G. stated, “I used to the fullest extent my critical faculties in the examination and evaluation of results, and held above all a fixed determination to repeat productive séances over and over again until the phenomena were established not once but many times.… Of still another thing I am certain: this standard of workmanship I maintained throughout. We started with facts and with facts we have ended.”For T.G. this was all about the science, although his experiments do not meet the standards of today’s scientific method.

His interest in whether some aspect of human consciousness survives bodily death also needs to be seen in the light of his personal life, and of post-World War I society. In early 1919, a year before they started the experiments with telekinesis, T.G.’s and Lillian’s three-year-old son Arthur died during the great influenza epidemic. This devastating loss may have kindled T.G.’s interest in psychic phenomena. In addition, many people had lost loved ones in the war or from the flu, and interest in this field was common. As a result, and because of his personal reputation for integrity, T.G.’s professional standing as a physician did not suffer because of these experiments.  

So what has been the legacy of his enquiries for me? First, ambivalence. One day I think that my grandfather and his séance collaborators (including several doctors and lawyers) would not have met so frequently over such a long time period if they had believed their results were fraudulent. The next day, I suspect the table levitations, bell ringing and long conversations with a variety of deceased personalities were fake.  

I also feel a mixture of pride and embarrassment: pride in the fact that he was so well known, and embarrassment when people roll their eyes. At one time, this topic also elicited fear. When I was a child, the séance photos of images of the dead mysteriously appearing in ectoplasm (a white substance that looks suspiciously like cheesecloth) terrified me.

I often wonder what impact these séances had on the Hamilton family. Psychical research so distracted T.G. from his medical practice that, when he died of a heart attack, Lillian had no money and son Glen, by then a physician himself, had to support her. Lillian herself seems to have been the driving force behind these séances and was deeply involved in the research. All three of T.G.’s surviving children believed that what happened at those séances was authentic, and they no doubt paid a price for it. Glen later said that, when he was a child, his classmates teased him about living in a house full of ghosts.3

My father, the youngest of the Hamilton children, started attending the séances at age 15 and, in his 20s, he edited Intention and Survival, a book about his father’s work.4These experiences must have had a deep impact on my father’s life, but he seldom talked about it. As a physician in Montreal in the 1960s and 1970s, he was afraid this would harm his career.

As for daughter Margaret, she revered her father. She re-edited Intention and Survival and eventually wrote her own book about psychical research called Is Survival a Fact?  Her legacy includes the collection of documents and photos from T.G.’s research that now belongs to the University of Manitoba Archives.5 This material is used in courses on religion and social history, and it has inspired books, plays and works of art. Meanwhile, thousands of people have viewed the séance photos on the Internet.

Finally, my grandparent’s research has made me more curious than I might otherwise have been about the possibility of life after death. We all wonder about these things, but these questions have become part of my family history.

Updated April 29, 2019 to add more information. 

See also:

“Arthur’s Baby Book,” Writing Up the Ancestors, March 29, 2017,

Five Brothers,” Writing Up the Ancestors, Dec. 1, 2018,

“A Musician in the Family,” Writing Up the Ancestors, Dec. 15, 2018,

“Jim Hamilton: A Life,” Writing Up the Ancestors, Sept. 30, 2015,

Sources and Further Reading

  1. Janice Hamilton, “Bring on Your Ghosts”, Paranormal Review, London: The Society for Paranormal Research, issue 77, Winter 2016.
  2. Margaret Lillian Hamilton, Is Survival a Fact? Studies of Deep-Trance Automatic Scripts and the Bearing of Intentional Actions by the Trance Personalities on the Question of Human Survival, London: Psychic Press Ltd., 1969, p. 47.
  3. James B. Nickels. “Psychic Research in a Winnipeg Family: Reminiscences of Dr. Glen F. Hamilton.” Manitoba History, no 55, June 2007, p. 53.
  4. T. Glen Hamilton, Intention and Survival: Psychical Research Studies and the Bearing of Intentional Actions by Trance Personalities on the Problem of Human Survival, edited by James D. Hamilton, Toronto: the MacMillan Company of Canada, 1942.
  5. “Hamilton Fonds” University of Manitoba Libraries, (accessed Jan. 3, 2019)

A Musician in the Family

My Aunt Margaret was a liberated woman even if she didn’t want to be. She was divorced in 1957 – a time when divorce was considered scandalous — and from then on, she held her head high and supported herself as a musician.

Then again, she was fortunate to be so talented and well educated.

Margaret’s high school graduation

Born in 1909, Lillian Margaret Hamilton was the eldest child of Dr. Thomas Glendenning Hamilton (1873-1935), a Winnipeg physician and surgeon, and his wife Lillian Forrester (1880-1956).1 She was raised with her two younger brothers in suburban Elmwood, graduating from high school at age 15. She went on to study at the University of Manitoba, getting an honours BA in French and English in 1930. The following year, she obtained an Associateship in Piano from the University of Toronto.2

She met her future husband, James Reynolds Bach, at his father’s piano store and they married in Winnipeg in 1934. An electrical engineer and amateur cellist, his career took him first to Hamilton, Ontario, where their two daughters, Frances and Dorothy, were born. In 1942, a new job took Jim to London, Ontario and the family bought a house there. He eventually started his own company manufacturing electrical instruments and hospital equipment, and it was very successful.3

Jim and Margaret bought a property near Port Severn, on the shores of Georgian Bay, and built a rustic cottage there, adding on to it every season. “We had a four-mile boat ride up the Severn River to Gloucester Pool. There was no power for the first several years, so Mother cooked on a wood stove, and we used an icebox and a biffy (outhouse) back in the woods,” daughter Fran Solar recalls. “Mother loved it. We spent summers there from the end of June until school started again, and Dad came on weekends.”

While living in London, Margaret continued to study piano and singing, and she was active in the music community, including the London Chamber Music Society and the Women’s Music Club. She was pianist for the annual performance of Handel’s Messiah on several occasions, but the highlight was her 1952 solo performance of a Mendelssohn concerto with the London Civic Symphony.

Margaret Hamilton Bach

Meanwhile, Jim was also prominent in the city’s music scene through the Kiwanis Club and church choirs. Then he fell in love with another woman and decided he wanted to marry her. “He did not want two Mrs. Bachs in London, so he made it financially impossible for Mother to stay there,” Fran explains. In 1956, Margaret and her two daughters packed up, boarded a train and moved to Winnipeg.

The timing couldn’t have been worse: Margaret’s mother died just a few weeks later, in September, 1956. “It was the year from hell for Mother,” says Fran. Margaret moved into an apartment on the second floor of the old family home, above her brother Dr. Glen F. Hamilton’s medical office. It was a comfortable apartment, but it was not what she was used to.

Jim helped the girls pay for university, but he did not give Margaret much to live on, so she turned her love of music into a real career. With a grand piano in her apartment living room, she gave piano and voice lessons to many aspiring young Manitoba musicians. She also taught part-time at a local girls’ school, she was a rehearsal pianist for a city choir, and she was a frequent adjudicator at music festivals.

Margaret Hamilton Bach, date unknown

“She made a life for herself,” says Fran, “but she never had another love relationship. I think she was always ashamed of being divorced. She didn’t like talking about it.” She always kept her married name, Margaret Hamilton Bach.

As Margaret moved toward retirement, she dropped adjudicating, but she maintained her interest in music education, and she always enjoyed attending concerts in Winnipeg. Meanwhile, she pursued other interests and visited her daughters and grandchildren in Eastern Canada, and later on the West Coast.

When Hamilton House (the old family home is still known by that name today) was sold in 1980, Margaret moved into an apartment building. She continued to live on her own until she died unexpectedly in her sleep in 1986.4


  1. Hamilton family bible, scanned copy of the original family records
  2. “London Civic Symphony, Thursday, April 3rd, 1952, London, Ontario,” programme.
  3. Telephone interview with Fran Solar, Nov. 21, 2018
  4. “Margaret Hamilton Bach,” obituary, Winnipeg Free Press, Oct. 22, 1986,