Historical Hamilton

Why does Hamilton have so many heritage buildings? How has the historical character of its downtown area been so well preserved? The largest number of heritage easement properties at the Ontario Heritage Trust are from the City of Hamilton. The city has a wealth of history, because of its development as a great industrial city,  along with its location just south-west of the big city of York (Toronto) situated on Lake Ontario, and the Niagara Escarpment which provided the beautiful stone for some its magnificent heritage buildings. The answer to my question, is that with a decline in industrial prosperity during the 1980s and 1990s, due to competition from other developing cities around Toronto, including Oakville, Mississauga and Burlington, the city was not seeing much new growth. This lack of new growth meant that heritage buildings weren’t being taken down for that of high-rise developments. With a new surge in the economy in the last decade growth is beginning again in Hamilton, and many of the heritage buildings are being properly conserved, including a couple of properties that I got to see a couple weeks ago that have heritage easements.

The first was the Hamilton Museum of Steam and Technology, which was unbelievably cool to see. The museum is housed within the original 1859 Hamilton waterworks, a magnificent Italianate style stone building, with oculus windows, voussoir stone arches, detailed brackets under a wide eaves, highly detailed doors and one tall brick tower.



Inside houses two 45 foot high, 75-ton steam-powered pumping engines, that supplied drinking water to the city from 1859 to 1910. Today, they are the oldest surviving examples of their kind in North America. A must see if you are in the Hamilton area, it is like stepping back in time. I was amazed at the technology that they had in the late nineteenth century, still unsure of how they actually put all those heavy parts in place.




Next stop was the piece de resistance of Hamilton…in that of Dundurn Castle. How does one leave a legacy in a developing city and nation? Similarly to that of Casa Loma and Boldt Castle, one invests all their hard earned money into an extravagant over-the-top home (castle). Sir Allan Napier McNab, after not being able to rise in York, moved to Hamilton in 1826. Within a few years he was a successful lawyer in the city. In 1832 he purchased the property on which Dundurn sits on Burlington Heights overlooking Burlington Bay. The site originally was occupied by Richard Beasley in the early 1800s, who had built a red brick farmhouse. During the War of 1812, the Heights were utilized by British forces, in fending off the American forces. Remnants of these fortifications can still be seen on the property today. McNab wanted these elements incorporated into his castle, and under the design of Robert Weatherell, the magnificent building was completed in 1835. With more than 70 rooms, including highly detailed elaborate main rooms, bedrooms and servant quarters, along with a hand full of outbuildings and large gates, McNab created a picturesque estate worthy of being his legacy.


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The best part of being with the Trust was that I got to see behind every closed door, crossed the velvet roping and even got to go on the roof! Which had the most amazing view, one can see right across Lake Ontario to Toronto. Dundurn has been beautifully preserved for generations to enjoy its grandeur and imagine themselves hosting the elite of Hamilton and Upper Canada.

The battery lodge on the property, is now the Hamilton Military Museum, which currently has a fantastic exhibit on the evolution of the the property from First Nations occupation to the last owner of Dundurn Castle.

Next site visit: Eldon House, London Ontario



Doors Open Toronto 2014

A couple weekends ago I helped out with Doors Open Toronto (May 24-25) at the Ontario Heritage Trust Centre, downtown at 10 Adelaide Street East. Doors Open is a fantastic event operated throughout Ontario, with various communities participating and showing off their heritage buildings with open doors. I have volunteered in the past with Doors Open Huronia, in Penetanguishene, it is great to see the number of people who come out, ask questions and learn about a particular site. It was especially great this year as people got to see the beautiful place that I get to work in everyday. When I first arrived at the Trust I was in awe of the grandeur of the building, with the Beaux-Arts moulding on the facade, the marble detailing on the interior hallway and the wooden offices with transom windows in John White Hall.


The building was designed by George Gouinlock for the Canadian Birbeck Investments and Savings Company in 1908-1909. Originally intended to be several stories high, the building has not fallen short of its prominent location next to the Financial District.


Following Birbeck the building was owned by the Canadian Mortgage and Investment Company, and then in 1927 the Standard Bank. Its use as a bank is evident in the interior space and the vaults that still line the interior hallways on the first and second floors.

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                               Marble entrance hallway, with a recreation of the Birbeck Savings        Company logo painted on the above right.

                              Screen Shot 2014-06-02 at 7.58.27 PM                                                    The magnificent gallery space, once utilized as an open office area and for tellers

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                    The original elevator (with modern updating) that is operated by an elevator person. Only a handful of these still exist in the city.

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                          The oval board room (still used as a board room today for our meetings). The oak woodwork is exquisite, as  everything is slightly curved. Even the radiator is curved to the room. The original oval table is still in the room, as it is not easily removable…one way to protect heritage items. The fireplace is purely decorative as there is no chimney…but what is a swanky board office without a fireplace.


The vaults in the hallway (now where supplies and files are kept)

Throughout the weekend we had close to 1,400 people tour throughout the building, the highest on record in Doors Open history for the building. The favourite component was of course the elevator, which acts as a little time portal, that is surprisingly very quick for its age.

On Saturday I also got to do a little Doors Open exploring elsewhere in the city visiting Spadina House. I had gone by this beautiful home numerous times before on my visits to its neighbour Casa Loma. As it was part of Doors Open, it seemed the best time to tour the property and grounds. I have no idea why I never ventured through the Spadina House gates before, the house and gardens were beautiful.



                              Me after smelling all of the beautiful flowers in the garden

The property was originally owned and built on by Dr. William Warren Baldwin in 1818. He named his 200 acre estate Spadina. The original wood frame house burnt down in 1837, the following year he built a smaller country estate. The property was sold to James Austin in 1866, founder of Dominion Bank and Consumers Gas. The house was turned over to his son Albert Williams Austin in 1892, who significantly expanded and altered the building. When he died in 1933, his daughter Anna Kathleen Thompson lived in the estate from 1942, until 1982. The building has greatly witnessed the change and development of the city over the last one hundred and seventy-seven years from its position on Davenport Hill. One can only imagine the lavish parties in the 1920s, situated in the elite neighbourhood also called home by the Eaton’s and Pellat’s.

This upcoming weekend it is Doors Open Huronia (June 6-7) and I hope to get out and check out a few sites in the local area. I am particularly interested in seeing the old boys reformatory, built in the 1860s and now administrative offices for Waypoint Centre for Mental Health. Lots of interesting history on those grounds!

Look for Doors Opens events in your community, and get out to explore the rich history that is just inside an older building’s doorstep. You never know where one will take you!

A Slice of the Public History Real World… at the Ontario Heritage Trust

Hard to believe but today marks the fourth week of my internship with the Ontario Heritage Trust, in Toronto. It has been an awesome few weeks, I have been so busy that I haven’t had a chance to blog about it yet! The initial couple days were overwhelming with people and information, and I was thrown right into heritage easements and how properties are protected by the Trust.  The Ontario Heritage Trust (OHT), is the lead heritage agency for the province, that works to protect heritage properties for the people of Ontario today and for generations to come. They have some buildings in their collection that they maintain, this includes Elgin and Winter Garden Theatre, Fulford Place, Uncle Tom’s Cabin and Niagara Apothecary.



Fulford Place, OHT property Brockville. Edwardian Mansion built in 1899-1900.

They are also the ones that put up all those blue provincial heritage plaques you see in random places around Ontario.


And they put on a little something called Doors Open Ontario…which I will go into more later.

My role for the summer is as the Heritage Assistant helping conduct research on properties and put together the Statement of Significances (SOS). These SOS’s provide information on the historic background of a property, its architectural value and its contextual (where is it situated? landscape?) value. These statements are put up online and used internally by staff of the Trust when putting together an easement or monitoring a particular property.  I am currently working on one for Victoria Hall, in Brockville, which the stone exterior of the building and the interior ballroom are protected by an Ontario Heritage Trust conservation easement. This means that they cannot be altered without consultation with the OHT. While at the same time the OHT continues to monitor the property and provide the owner with maintenance suggestions that they should follow to preserve the building.


                          Victoria Hall was built in 1862, originally has a community market hall, in the 1880s it was altered into town offices. This included a two storey addition on the rectangular rear building. The bell and clock were added to the tower in 1904 and have been maintained in working order for over a hundred years.

The best part about putting together the SOS’s is that I actually get to visit a lot of the properties, to gain a better understanding of their architecture. In my first week I was back in my old stomping grounds of Guelph, visited the Town Hall in Acton and went to a Trust owned Natural Heritage property called the Cheltenham Badlands, which is just outside of Caledon.



The Badlands- created after years of erosion from farming.

I am learning a ton so far, as I am currently trying to gain an understanding of all the architectural terminology. My research usually leads me into looking up different window types (double hung, sash, fanlight), stair components (newel, baluster) or exterior moulding (voussoired arches, keystones, label stops). This is along with the variety of architectural styles that emerged in Ontario (Regency, Georgian, Italianate). I find myself now examining houses and buildings more closely on walks around the city and trying to determine their style and features. Very exciting happenings in the world of heritage preservation!

Next Blog: Doors Open Toronto 2014

Can You Survive History?- The Conclusion

After many weeks of creating and uploading videos the “Can You Survive History?” augmented reality board game is complete! Each space now has a corresponding historical trivia question video which comes to life through the Aurasma app and a digital device. Following testing yesterday with the help of some enthusiastic players, aka my Mom and boyfriend Jeff, and through the use of an iPad the game was brought to life and proved to be both fun and educational. As both players had a general understanding of history, they were the perfect test subjects in showing that the game isn’t just for those who study and have a love for the subject, but rather can be enjoyed by multiple users. It also helped having less of a history background for testing, as they didn’t jump through the game era by era, but instead got some questions wrong and moved from space to space.



After both players made it the finish, and ultimately survived history, they agreed that the game would be great for education in schools. The Aurasma application is fantastic, and can offer great creativity for teachers in making learning more fun! This includes bringing textbook pages to life or having students make an interactive project. The online program is well laid out, and lots of help is provided in creating auras, through uploading trigger images and overlays. When I emailed the Aurasma team a question a couple weeks ago, when I was having difficulties with the program, they emailed me back the next day and were very helpful. The limits to using this particular application for a board game is that the player must watch the full question video. Jeff remarked that it would be better if there was a button during the video to provide a hint, or to skip to the answer. This cannot be done right now with Aurasma, possibly with evolving technology in the future they will be able to make it more interactive.




Having a love for both board games and history, I wanted to create my own fun and interactive game for others to enjoy. The difficulties I faced through the creation of the game, was mostly with the trigger images being picked up by the Aurasma app through a digital device. As I have 75 spaces on one large board, there are a lot of videos close together, making it difficult sometimes to pick up a particular video from an image icon on a space. Also with the eras having the same basic space shape and colour, I had issues with some of the overlay question videos being picked up on the wrong era space. I fixed this through adding more detail to a trigger image for the Aurasma app to recognize, this included writing the name of the image icon next to it. Overall, I was very happy with the Aurasma app and the final product, and will definitely use the program again in creating an interactive exhibit or brochure for a museum.


Can You Survive History…A Snag in the Uploading Process

The uploading of question videos into the Aurasma online studio continues, I have created 55 Auras and added them to my ‘Can You Survive History Channel.’ With this many videos a problem is bound to ensue, and now I am faced with some technical difficulties, that I have not been able to figure out yet. The good news is that the Aurasma community help email is working again, so I will hopefully receive a helpful answer soon!

The problem is within the window where one creates a ‘New Aura.’ I can upload the overlay (the question video) but in the drop down menu to connect it to a trigger image (the game space icon), I can’t scroll down passed the letter ‘q’, this is of difficulty as I need the trigger image of an ‘umbrella.’ See the following image:



I have hit a road block. The only solution I can think of is changing my trigger image names for the ones I have left, by putting an ‘A’ in front of them so they will appear first in the drop down menu. This would require some re-uploading, so…for the moment I am going to wait and see if the masterminds at Aurasma have a helpful solution, and will hopefully reply to my email soon. In the meantime I will keep plugging away at the videos, which is starting to cause some wonderful extra bugs in iMovie, but everything is being backed up on USB 🙂 

Stay Tuned!

Can You Survive History Part 4

This weekend’s endeavour was to create a solid and useable board for the augmented reality game. This involved a trip to Dollarama, where I was able to find foam core, glue and packing tape. With these materials at hand, along with an x-acto knife and ruler, I began to craft the game board. I decided to have the fold in the board run horizontally so that none of the images would be cut off. The first step was to measure out the length and width needed for both sides of the board, after marking the measurements on the two pieces of foam core, I cut them out using a ruler and x-acto knife. The next step was to tape the two pieces together horizontally, to create a seem that would allow for flexible folding movement. 

Once the board was created, I was able to glue the printed game board to its surface, using a ruler to smooth out any bubbles.



The only minor issue with looking at the board now, is that the clear gap between the two halves is largely noticeable, and I would have liked to have it fold up into a smaller size, like the fancy board games today with multiple folds. Although neither of those issues interfere with the playing of the game, which is the most important part 🙂 

On the outside folds, I added game instructions to prepare players before they begin to sit down and play ‘Can You Survive History’, this will be helpful as a digital device is needed along with the Aurasma App. These instructions will also be given by holding the Aurasma app over the hourglass icon on the ‘Start’ box of the game board, which plays a video. 



Now that the board is good to go! Time to focus on creating the videos and uploading them to Aurasma. 

Stay tuned!

Can You Survive History Part 3

Day 1 of working on the game for Interactive Exhibits, was a good full day of frustrations with the digital tool Aurasma, which involved searching the internet for answers on why the iPhone app was not recognizing my trigger image and playing a video, along with trying to find contact information for Aurasma; which they did not have/their own query email box was not sending.

Day 2, was much more productive, after realizing that I needed to take the photos with my iPhone at a further out range, so that more detail was visible for the augmented reality app. At first I was just uploading images, that I had saved from online, but the printed game board images on the game spaces allowed for an image with more triggers to be recognized by the app. 

For the creation of trivia videos, I am using iMovie and the laptop camera:



I scoured my parents house to find old objects and books to create a historical office film set, then dressed as Athena; the goddess of wisdom, to ask the trivia questions and share my historical knowledge. For the question period time, I downloaded a 30 second countdown, which nicely separates the question and answer sections of the video. Each video has to be under 2 minutes to be added as an overlay in Aurasma. 

After uploading a trigger image into the Aurasma online studio:



I can add the video overlay onto the image, which creates an aura, that is visible to the app:



Now when a digital device is held over the trigger image on the game board, with the Aurasma app, the question video will play:



Very cool!! Now the long (but fun) process begins of putting together the videos in iMovie, and creating auras in the Aurasma studio for the 75 spaces. 

Stay tuned!