Canadian Horticultural Personalities
Harvey “Hammy” Hamilton
Hamilton as I remember him with his pipe and pipe tobacco at the NPC
School of Horticulture."
hard for me to believe that George Hamilton, or “Hammy” as we
affectionately knew him, died over 23 years ago. He was such a great
presence in hundreds of young lives for almost four decades. I first knew
him in the spring of 1958 as an evening instructor in botany and related
topics at The Niagara Parks Commission [NPC] School of Gardening (just a
year later it became the NPC School of Horticulture, and now it’s
officially known as the NPC Botanical Garden and School of Horticulture).
But that was only a ‘minor’ career for this great botanist.
graduated with a BA degree in biology and chemistry from Queen’s
University, at Kingston Ontario in 1931. He went on then to study at
McGill in Montreal. He received his MSc there in 1933. George was born in
Kingston in 1908, but went to high school in Hanover Ontario.
In 1934 Hammy became an assistant teacher at Dundas Ontario where he
stayed just two years. Then he moved to his beloved Niagara Falls as a
science teacher at Niagara Falls Collegiate and Vocation school for the
next nine years. He received a fellowship in biology from the University
of Chicago in 1936. In 1944 the Niagara board named him head of science at
NFCV which position he held for over two decades. He also served as the
board’s science consultant for many years.
That was what I
call the academic side of his career. Then there was his avocation of
botany, horticulture and plants, and the teaching of and writing about
From 1936 to
1944, Hammy was an instructor at the NPC School and virtually all of that
school’s grads who attended from its inception to the late 60s,
experienced not only his instruction, but also his lore and life
experiences. From 1944 until his retirement in 1970 he was botanist for
the NPC, and remained an evening lecturer to the students at the School.
As botanist, he loved to explore the Niagara Glen, a natural area just
south of the NPC School on the Niagara River Parkway. His first book, Plants
of the Niagara Parks System of Ontario, illustrated this point well.
The Ryerson Press in Toronto published it in December 1943.
Having told you
he wrote the book about the plants in the NPC system (which included both
identification keys and mention of where to find each), I should tell you
that he actually wrote three books. The second book was published just ten
years later (in 1953) by J.M. Dent & Sons (Canada) Limited. A
Gardener’s Source Book was an excellent how-to gardening book
arranged in a month-by-month format. It included many photos and charts
and graphs. His final book was Horticulture for profit and pleasure
published in 1969 also by Dent, for which he was senior author along with
four NPC grads (Harold Crawford, Richard Hook, Lester Wilker, and Bruce
Savage) who each taught horticulture and contributed various chapters. I
am pleased to have all three of these books in my library.
Books were not
the only writing Hammy did! He also wrote a weekly gardening column for
the Niagara Falls (New York) Gazette, and was garden features
editor for the Toronto Globe and Mail for 18 years. These two
columns were not just writing assignments--virtually every column he wrote
was accompanied by a black and white photo that he took himself, and the
film for which he processed in a tiny darkroom he had in the basement of
the residence building at the NPC School.
While I was one
of those students who returned to my home (in Toronto) on weekends, about
every eight weeks we were required to stay and play the role of “duty
student” for a Saturday and Sunday. Hammy was a familiar face at the
School on Sundays as he developed his photos and talked about the topic of
his column for that particular week.
happening that very much sticks in my mind occurred in 1960, or
thereabouts. Hammy was developing his pictures on a sunny Sunday and
seemed to want to talk about a recent happening. It seemed that about a
month earlier he had written a column that featured the Dutch greenhouse
grower, Ben Vedlhuis Ltd. at Dundas Ontario. I think the column had
included a photo he had taken there. Apparently the Globe and Mail
had misspelled Ben’s surname, although Hammy had spelled it correctly in
his typed copy supplied to the paper. Ben (whom I knew well a decade after
this incident) apparently had complained to the paper, and they had passed
the letter on to Hammy for comment.
Well, I don’t
think I had ever seen him so upset! He told me that he would see to it
that Ben Veldhuis never got mentioned again in any newspaper that he had
any-thing to do with. As he saw it, and as most journalists would have
seen it then, and most would now as well, if you complain about publicity
received (particularly about typos), you don’t deserve any more! That
incident stuck with me and I often use it if someone suggests writing to
complain to any media where a mistake has been made. We should likely take
the advice of politicians--any publicity is better than none!
Hammy was a
busy individual, but he also found time to serve non-profit groups such as
libraries. He served as chairman of the Niagara Falls Library Board, and
worked with the Canadian Library Trustees Association, and the American
Library Association. He was a member of the University Council of Queen’s
University from 1956 to 1962 and later served as a governor of Niagara
College in Welland.
honours were many: an Award of Merit from the Canadian Library Association
for his achievements in library promotion in 1961, an award from the
Association of Professional Engineers of Ontario for contributions to
engineering as a science teacher in 1964, a Canadian Centennial Medal in
1967, and the Queen’s Silver Jubilee Medal in 1977.
(now Dr. Peter Hamilton) in Hammy's Niagara Falls garden shows the
height of a beautiful Eremurus."
Very much a family man, George had three children: Peter, Ruthanne and
Jim. All are now retired, but from the B&W photo here, it appears that
George had them working at a young age! That’s Peter modeling beside an
excellent Eremurus in Hammy’s 849 Stamford Street garden in
Niagara Falls. All three children are now retired but it’s interesting
to note that Ruthanne, a former teacher and librarian, is now a volunteer
with Toronto’s Civic Garden Centre where she spends consider-able time
in the centre’s library.