Category: Winnipeg

Jim Hamilton: A Life

My father, James Drummond Hamilton, was born 100 years ago this week, on Sept. 27,1915. The son of Winnipeg physician Thomas Glendenning (T.G.) Hamilton and of Lillian (Forrester) Hamilton, Jim had an identical twin, Arthur. In photos, the twins were always together, usually dressed similarly. 

In February, 1919, the influenza epidemic that was sweeping the world hit the Hamilton household. Jim lost his right eardrum as a result of the flu and was deaf in that ear for the rest of his life. He also lost his twin brother.

Twins Jimmy and Arthur at the cottage, summer, 1918.

Dad didn’t talk about his childhood often, but he told me that his happiest childhood memories were of summers spent at the family cottage on Lake Winnipeg. Undoubtedly, the most unusual aspect of his childhood was the fact that his parents spent many evenings attending séances in the family’s home. Meeting with a medium and a small group of friends, they watched tables rise into the air on their own and they tried to communicate with deceased individuals. This didn’t frighten Jim, but perhaps his school friends teased him about it. 

Jim was a very good student, and he graduated from the University of Manitoba in 1937 with a degree in physics. In 1938, he received an M.A. in physics, mathematics and chemistry from the University of Toronto. 

When World War II broke out, he wanted to enlist but, despite strong character references, he was rejected several times because of his perforated ear drum and poor eyesight. Finally the military changed its medical requirements and he became eligible for service, but by that time he was making documentaries for the National Film Board of Canada, including a public health film on the transmission and treatment of venereal disease.  

He met my mother, Joan Murray Smith, in Ottawa and they were married in 1946. They then moved to London, Ontario, where my father did cancer research at the University of Western Ontario and obtained a PhD in Medical Research. About the time I started kindergarten, Dad made another career move and enrolled in medical school. Eventually our family moved to Montreal and my father opened his own office in the Westmount Medical Building.    

He enjoyed being a family doctor, partly because he liked people. Many of his patients were elderly and they appreciated the fact that he would make house calls. But his real passion was for the theory he called triads. He thought about it and talked about it constantly.

On holiday in Florida, 1976

  He said that the theory he developed in collaboration with John Q. Stewart, a retired astrophysicist from Princeton University, explained problem solving by humans — and all animals — as a two-step process: first, P, the path to the goal, and second, F, the exchange of material, such as food or waste. He created the term merge, M, to describe mental ideas and images, which are formed by the interaction between P and F. He spent months with his slide-rule, working out a mathematical equation of his theory, then many more years at the typewriter, describing his ideas and their applications. 

His biggest disappointment in life was probably that most people could not understand this theory (especially the math), nor could he convince many people of its significance. On April 15, 1980, he wrote to a friend that he had been reading philosophy and was planning to rewrite his triads paper from a different perspective. Two days later, he suffered a fatal heart attack.  

His ashes are buried in Winnpeg, beside his twin’s grave.

Exploring Emerson

Ruth Breckman, her sister Jean Hewko, and recently discovered cousin Janice Hamilton (that’s me) visit the Forrester family plot in Emerson cemetery, Manitoba.

A few years ago, I was telling someone at the Quebec Family History Society library about the research I was doing on my Forrester ancestors. Someone else overheard me and asked, “Is that the Forresters of Manitoba?” Indeed it was! She told me that she had met a nice woman at a genealogy conference some years before who was also researching that family.

She put me in touch with Ruth Breckman, who turned out to be a distant cousin. Last fall, my husband and I visited Winnipeg, Manitoba. Ruth and her sister took us to the Aux Marais district, about 45 minutes south of the city, to visit the old Forrester farm. That was where Ruth grew up, and where my father’s mother, Lillian Forrester, spent her childhood.

Lillian was born near Belleville, Ontario in 1880. When she was about a year old, her grandparents, parents and most of her aunts and uncles moved west, along with thousands of other settlers. There, Lillian grew up on a prairie grain farm. As a young adult, she taught school for a year, then moved to Winnipeg to study nursing. In 1906, she married Dr. Thomas Glendenning Hamilton, and she spent the rest of her life in that city.

Lillian was not the only Forrester to leave the farm. Lillian’s parents, Jack and Mattie, retired in California, her uncle David became a lawyer in the nearby town of Emerson, uncle Don was a land developer, her aunt Jenny lived in Minnesota and uncle Jim also eventually moved to Winnipeg. Only her uncle William’s family kept on farming in the Aux Marais district, and Ruth is one of his descendants.

During our day-long excursion, Ruth showed us where the old one-room Marais schoolhouse used to be, and the historic community center. We crossed the Marais River, an apt name for a waterway that is more a marsh than a river. She also took us to Emerson Cemetery where my great-great grandparents (and her great-grandparents) Janet and James Forrester are buried.

Emerson was a boom town in the early 1880s. Located on the banks of the Red River and adjacent to the United States border, it was on the only rail line connecting eastern Canada with the prairies, a line that went through the U.S. When the Canadian Pacific Railroad completed the transcontinental railroad through Winnipeg in 1885, Emerson quickly declined. Today, just a few grand buildings remain, hinting at the town’s promising past.  

Members of the Forrester family still run the family farm.

After lunch, Ruth took us to visit the farm where the current generation of Forresters  grow corn, beans and other crops. The 3,000-acre farm they operate today includes the same four quarters, or 640 acres, that James and Janet Forrester and their sons purchased more than 130 years ago. They will most likely be the last members of the family on the farm.

Research Remarks:  The Manitoba Historical Society website,, has links to a number of resources, including photos, maps and articles, as well as links to  other historical and genealogical organizations, museums and archives in the province. The society’s list of Memorable Manitobans includes several members of the Forrester family, and there is an article about Emerson at