Posted by: Cornwall Community Museum | February 17, 2016

Artifact of the Week. Dr. C.J. Hamilton donation.


A 1906 photograph of Dr. Charles J. Hamilton, GP.

Diana Masson, a great-granddaughter of Dr. Charles J. Hamilton recently donated a collection of artifacts and documents belonging to her great grandfather.


The following is just a small sample of the collection and a biography of the Dr. Hamilton.


The December 20, 1937 edition of “The Standard-Freeholder” noted:





Dr. Hamilton’s medical bag, with his initials “CJH” embossed in gold forms part of the donation.


Cornwall lost an old and highly esteemed adopted son, early Sunday morning, in the death of Dr. C.J. Hamilton, which occurred at his home, 11 4th St. E.  Dr. Hamilton was one of Canada’s oldest  practising physicians and holder of a record unique in medical annals – that having brought into the world no fewer than 6,807 babies (Dr. Hamilton was a GP) – many whom have grown to manhood and womanhood around him and who looked back on Dr. Hamilton as a close and dear friend.  He passed his 82nd birthday Sept. 15 last.


Dr. Hamilton’s cane top and foot, part of the collection just donated to  the Museum.


Although Dr. Hamilton announced his retirement 3 years ago, he literally died in harness.  Families to which he had administered for many years continued to call upon him and he never refused to answer a call, day or night…He was alert of mind…to within two hours of his death.  During Sat. he was as well as usual and conversed with those about him, but a change for the worse set in 2 hours before he died and the infirmities of age took their toll as life ebbed away.

Dr. Hamilton was one of the best known and most highly esteemed citizens of Cornwall.  He had practised his profession here for 58 years and in his own name for 53 years…

Dr. Hamilton was born in Goderich, ON., Sept. 15, 1885, a son of Dr. M.J. Hamilton…His father died when he was 3 years old, leaving his widow with 3 children.  He received his early education in the common schools of Goderich and graduated from the Grammar School and for 3 years studied as a druggist.  In 1875 he entered University of Toronto as a student in medicine and graduated May 10, 1879. For a short time he remained with his step-father Dr. G.C. Shannon, of Goderich, and then withdrew in favour of his half-brother, the late Dr. John R. Shannon.  He came to Cornwall and entered partnership with Dr. J.J. Dickinson on Nov. 27, 1879, and remained with Dr. Dickinson until his death in 1884, when Dr. Hamilton opened an office in his own name…

scan0057Dr. J.J. Dickinson’s home, 2nd St. West, across from Trinity Church, today on the site of the Post Office and a large parking lot.

Dr. Dickinson was a graduate of McGill University and Captain of the Cornwall Troop of Cavalry.  He went to Montreal with a sister to help care for Irish fever victims and returned to Cornwall and married a daughter of the Rev. Salter Mountain.  He built this home which was eventually demolished to make way for Loblaw’s now long gone.



Dr. Hamilton’s 1st position of public trust was his election to the town council as a councillor from the west ward in 1884. scan0061

A late 19th century photograph of Cornwall’s Town Hall Pitt Street and the Fire Brigade, by Marsden Kemp.


In Aug., 1885, during the progress of the great smallpox epidemic in Montreal, and the formation of the Provincial Board of Health of Ontario, he was appointed Medical Officer of Health for Cornwall by James T. Kirkpatrick, then Acting Mayor of Cornwall.  During the epidemic Hamilton had control of the Cornwall Canal, under the authority of provincial government of Ontario, of all ships coming from the Province of Quebec.  Cornwall, unfortunately, got her share of smallpox under Dr. Hamilton’s supervision a smallpox hospital was established on the Dingwall farm, on the east side of the city, the hospital being under the care of the late Dr. Wagner, with the late Frank Robidoux as his assistant.  There were some very sever cases, but very few deaths occurred, but the community was so panic stricken that Dr. Hamilton had great trouble in securing proper conveyances to attend the burial, and he and Dr. Wagner and Mr. Robidoux attended the burials of patients at night.  Later, there were other outbreaks of smallpox, during one which Dr. Hamilton, contracted the disease himself and was quarantined for 8 weeks.


A late 19th century photograph of Cornwall’s small pox hospital.


Dr. Hamilton continued to act as Cornwall’s Medical Health Officer from 1885 to the time of his death, a period of more than 52 years, having the longest service to his credit of any Medical Health Officer in the Province of Ontario.  During all that time his association with the various councils which came and went was of the kindliest and most satisfactory nature.

Dr. Hamilton was elected by both acclamation and in contests to the positions of councillor, reeve, deputy reeve and mayor filled the mayors chair on 2 occasions, in 1889, 1894.  During his 10 years in the council he continued his duties as medical officer of health without remuneration.scan0059



This silverplate tea service was made by Reed & Barton (1840) of Mass.

The Eastlake sofa in the background belonged to Annie Dingwall and came from a donation made in 2014 to the museum.


He always evinced a deep interest in education matters and for many years donated the Hamilton medal for General Proficiency in the Second Form of the former High School and present Collegiate Institute…scan0060

The Hamilton Medal awarded to Benson Stidwell (Stidwill) in 1924.  As fate would have it, Ben Stidwill met one Kathleen Hamilton, the Doctor’s grand daughter, and the two married.  The medal passed down through the family and forms part of the donation.


For some years Dr. Hamilton served as a member of the Board of School Trustees and filled the position of chairman of the Board several times.  He was re elected again for the 1937 – 38 term and died in service.  When the addition was built to the front of the Public School, Dr. Hamilton donated the corner stone, with vault, into which receptacle important local documents were deposited.

Dr. Hamilton was an ex-member of the Dominion Parliament, having been elected as Conservative representative for Stormont Co. in Oct. 1925, and held the seat until Parliament dissolved in July, 1926.

Dr. Hamilton was a faithful member of Trinity Church…scan0052

A paper copy of the Hamilton Family seal, and a wax impression on the right.


Dr. Hamilton was the last surviving member of the medical staff of Cornwall General Hospital and the staff of Hotel Dieu Hospital, in service when those institutions opened their doors.  He was present when the cornerstone of the General Hospital was laid by Hon. Arthur S. Hardy, then Premier of Ont., in June 1897, and when the hospital was opened on Dec. 29, 1897, and had the honour of placing the first patient in the Hotel Dieu…


Cornwall General Hospital, 2nd St. E., Cornwall, 1900.


A postcard showing the first Hotel Dieu on Water St., the original hospital in the former home of John Sandfield Macdonald is to the right of the postcard and only partially visible.


Other Offices

He acted as Mecical Referee for the Canada Life Assurance Co. for 52 years; filled a similar position for the Mutual Life of Canada for 33 years, and was physician for the Sons of England Benevolent Soc. for 52 years and the Independent Order of Oddfellows for 48 years.  For 52 years he has been Divisional Surgeon for the former Grand Trunk Railway and the present Canadian National Railways, covering a district from West of Aultsville to Coteau, Que.  The position of Coroner for the E. District he filled for close on 50 years.


Dr. Hamilton standing next to the RCMP officer and in front of Engine 6401.

“Standard Freeholder”

Son Died in War

Dr. Hamilton was twice married.  His first wife was Harriet Sara Dickinson, eldest daughter of Dr. J. Dickinson.  Of that union 5 sons were born…

Charles Dickinson Hamilton, after 4 years service in the Great War gave up his life for King and Country; Maurice Cayley Hamilton, after practising medicine for seven years died from that dreaded of all diseases, tuberculosis.  Both Charles “Dick” and Maurice graduated from McGill University, Montreal in medicine.


Dr. Charles Dickinson Hamilton’s military trunk.


The mother of the 5 sons died on June 20, 1897, on the day the Diamond Jubilee of the late Queen Victoria was observed.

Dr. Hamilton’s second wife was Miss Helen Cline, daughter of the late Samuel Cline, a member of one of the most highly respected families in Cornwall.  She died May 15 last.

Fraternal Circles

Dr. Hamilton was prominent in fraternal circles.  He was a member of Cornwall Lodge No. 125, A.F. & A.M., Covenant Chapter No. 113, Royal Arch Masons, Cornwall; Cornwall Presceptory No. 47, Knight’s Templar: 32nd degree Scotish Rite Mason and member of Rameses Temple of the Shrine, Toronto; Oriental Lodge No. 163, I.O.O.F. and Sons of England, Cornwall.

Besides the surviving son, C.R. Hamilton, Dr. Hamilton leaves a granddaughter, Miss Kathleen Helena Hamilton, Cornwall; a nephew, R.G. Hamilton, K.C., Regina Sask., a neice, Mrs. Ted Hill, Goderich, Ont.


The hilt and ivory handle of Dr. Hamilton’s Knight’s Templar ceremonial sword.


Dr. Hamilton, in his own quiet and unostentatious manner, was one of Cornwall’s leading philanthropists.  His hand was ever in his pocket to aid those in need and no appeal for funds or medical attendance, whether financial remuneration was forthcoming or not, was sought in vain, as many poor families in Cornwall and district can testify.  His record in this respect will never be known to the full, but true it is that many pages of his day book have been obliterated and their contents scattered to the 4 winds, so that many who received professional attendance have never been called upon to pay.


Dr. Hamilton’s day book, may have been scattered, but fortunately for us the family kept his letter copybook, from 1896 to 1913!

Dr. Hamilton came from a family of physicians.  His grandfather and his father were doctors.  His mother subsequently married a doctor; he had a half brother a doctor; 2 brothers-in-law were doctors; 2 of his sons were doctors; and he himself…

First Dominion Day

When Canada’s first Dominion Day was observed on July 1, 1867, Charles J. Hamilton, then a boy in his native town of Goderich, Ontario, heard the garrison battalion fire the royal salute at high noon and saw the soldiers hoist the Union Jack with the Canadian Ensign to the top of the town’s flagpole.  Two British gunboats…acknowledged the salute by firing 21 guns in return.  Troops numbering 3,500 were in Goderich at the time, as the Fenian Raid was then in progress.

The Funeral

The funeral will be held Tues. afternoon, leaving his home at 2:15 pm for service in Trinity Church.  Burial will be in Woodlawn cemetery.  Dr. Hamilton frequently having told friends that “Cornwall has always been good to me and when I die I want to be buried in the town which used me so well and in which I have some many warm friends.”

Out of respect to Dr. Hamilton’s memory flags are floating at half mast from the flagstaff on City Hall and at the Public School.


Dr. Hamilton in his later years.

The Hamilton collection is on permanent display at the Cornwall Community Museum.













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