Historic Hamilton, Ont. for the holidays

Decorating Dundurn Castle in Hamilton for a traditional Victorian Christmas. (QMI Agency files)

Decorating Dundurn Castle in Hamilton for a traditional Victorian Christmas. (QMI Agency files)

GEORGE BAILEY, Special to QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 2:41 PM ET

Smack in the middle of downtown Hamilton, Ont. is a time capsule. But it's no ordinary time capsule -- it's the national historic site of Whitehern House and Garden at 41 Jackson St. W., behind city hall.

I learned this is one of the finest examples of an intact historic home in Canada. Three generations of one of Canada's prominent families, the McQuestens, lived in this Georgian-style home from 1849 until 1968. Nearly everything from that time period remains in the home.

When I stepped inside the massive front door, it was like stepping back in time. I was met by historical interpreter Nonni Iler, who was dressed as Ann, the cook for the McQuesten family from 1939 to 1959.

She was itching to show off the place and I soon found out she had a gift for rolling back the years and making the dead live again. She knew her stuff and mysteriously transported me back in time.

The home was adorned with holiday decor, including cedar garland, rich satin ribbon and a four-metre-high tree trimmed with tinsel and glass ornaments. There were even Christmas cards going back to 1849.

There were also original toys that three generations of children's had played with. Rooms were filled with furniture from the Georgian, Victorian and Edwardian periods.

When it was time to step outside, I experienced an oasis of tranquility in the lovely gardens that surround the home. Behind the home is the MacNab Presbyterian Church, where the McQuestens attended for decades. When I left, I was filled with the impression that the McQuesten family lived in a slower, kinder, gentler world.

Getting a parking spot here can be tricky, though. There is limited on-street parking and a small lot nearby, but bring lots of loonies (not the new ones, the meters won't accept them). If you can, visit on Sunday when the streets are quieter.

Hamilton for the holidays

-- Holiday tours are offered at Dundurn Castle, 610 York Blvd. where you can experience a Victorian Christmas as original owners of the home Sir Allan MacNab, his wife Mary and their children enjoyed between 1812 and 1846.

Restored to the year 1855, the castle tells the story of the family and the numerous servants who lived and worked there to support this gracious lifestyle. There is lots of free parking.

-- Battlefield House Museum and Park Historic Site, at 77 King St. W. in Stoney Creek is decked out for the holidays.

This is an early century homestead once home to the Gage family. The Gages worked this land with 10 children and became a strong voice in the once small hamlet of Stoney Creek. During the War of 1812, the family retreated to the cellar as the Battle of Stoney Creek raged outside June 6, 1813.

A 30-metre high Battlefield Monument stands outside on a hill to commemorate the soldiers who died on this site. There's plenty of free parking. You can purchase your tickets at nearby historic Nash-Jackson House near the base of the hill.

All of these attractions are owned and operated by the City of Hamilton. For more information, visit www.hamilton.ca/museums or phone 905-546-2489.


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