Canadian Horticultural Personalities
George Harvey “Hammy” Hamilton

 

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"George Hamilton as I remember him with his pipe and pipe tobacco at the NPC School of Horticulture."

It’s 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.
George Hamilton 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 them.
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.
One particular 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.
George Hamilton’s 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.

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"Peter Hamilton (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.