Thomas McQuesten (June 30,
1882 - January 13, 1948) was an athlete, militiaman, lawyer,
politician and government appointee who lived in Hamilton,
Although he once played football for the Hamilton Tigers
now part of the Hamilton
of the Canadian
, he is best known for his work in elected and
appointed offices. Neither he nor his brothers and sisters married,
so his legacies are the parks, roads and monuments in Hamilton and
throughout Ontario that he was instrumental in creating.
Baker McQuesten was born in Hespeler (now Cambridge,
Ontario) in nearby Waterloo County on June 30, 1882,
the youngest son of Calvin McQuesten Sr., and Mary Baker
His father died almost bankrupt when he was six
years old, and the family homestead narrowly avoided being sold to
cover these debts. His family remained staunch Presbyterians
, except one
(Rev. Calvin, Chaplain
of the Hamilton
Sanitarium) and rejected joining the United Church of Canada
He received his primary and secondary education in Hamilton
Central School, Queen Victoria Schools and the Hamilton Collegiate
Institute. In his graduating year of 1900, the HCI football team
won the Ontario Championship.
Since there was no university in Hamilton at the time, McQuesten
had to leave the city for his post-secondary education.
a B.A. in English, history, and
classics at the University of Toronto. Extracurricular activity included rowing for
the Toronto Argonauts (which was
also a football team), president of Zeta
Psi fraternity and editor of The Varsity newspaper.
fellow U of T student beat his application for a Rhodes scholarship, McQuesten continued his
education at Osgoode
Hall, also in Toronto.
He received his LL.B.
law degree and was admitted to the bar in 1907.
practicing law as a prelude to a planned political career, serving
in firms in Toronto, Elk Lake and
During his early adulthood, McQuesten served part-time in the
. In 1902, he was in the Royal Canadian Artillery
1904 he was a military surveyor. When the First World War
began, he wanted to enlist
but his family pressured him not to.
McQuesten served as an alderman
1913 and 1920, and tirelessly promoted parks
chairman of the Works Committee. In 1917, he and others presented a
well-written but ultimately unadopted report on town planning
with emphasis on railway
Since his electoral ambitions reached higher, he began his climb in
the Liberal Party of
. In the early 1920s, he was an executive of the
Hamilton Liberal Association and by the early 1930s he rose to
provincial president. Finally, in 1934, he was elected as an MLA
(later styled MPP) for Hamilton (the Legislative Assembly site says
the riding was Hamilton Wentworth, but other sources say Hamilton West
The newly elected MLA entered the provincial cabinet, serving
concurrently as minister of highways (a position he held until
1943) and minister of public works. Among the many construction
projects he spearheaded across Ontario were:
Due in part to the start Second World
, Liberal Premier Mitchell Hepburn
decided to keep the
legislature and its second term government going longer than was
popular. McQuesten participated in this strategy, adding a shifting
number of portfolios to highways: mines (1940, 1942-43), municipal
affairs (1940-43), and public works again (1942-43).
McQuesten did not stand for re-election in 1943 and the Liberal
Party was defeated by the Conservatives
banished from government until David
became premier in 1985. His government appointments,
however, continued after he left elected office.
Throughout his life, McQuesten was able to parlay electoral success
into permanent appointments to non-partisan agencies. This suited
his technocratic (and sometimes autocratic) nature, allowing him to
focus on necessary and useful but rarely politically interesting or
For instance, his advocacy for parks on Hamilton City Council
earned him an
appointment to the permanent position on the Board of Parks
Management in 1922, where he remained until his death in 1948.
position, he supported the construction of the Rock Gardens at the
Botanical Gardens in the 1920s and 1930s.
After his retirement
from electoral politics, McQuesten resumed his interest in the RBG
and became and executive member of that organization, active there
until almost before he died.
many Hamilton civic leaders and boosters, McQuesten helped
University to relocate from downtown Toronto to the west
Hamilton in 1930.
His motivations may have included the fact
he had to move himself to attend university and that while there he
lost the Rhodes Scholarship to a fulltime Toronto resident in what
was regarded as a slight against Hamilton.
After being elected an MLA in 1934, he served for a decade as the
appointed chairman of the Niagara Parks Commission
Fort George at Niagara-on-the-Lake was rebuilt during his tenure.
He used his role as transportation minister to secure appointment
as chairman of the Canada-U.S. Niagara Falls Bridge
in 1939. In addition to the more usual
transportation aspects of the job, he used his position to engage
in petty rivalry with wartime Prime Minister of Canada
Liberal Mackenzie King
over an inscription on carillon
Death and tributes
In his last year of life, McQuesten suffered from intestinal cancer
which had metastasized to his throat and he died on January 13,
1948. Shortly before dying, he was named Hamilton's Citizen of the
After his death, the Hamilton High Level Bridge on York Boulevard
renamed Thomas B. McQuesten High Level Bridge. The structure was
planned and built in the 1920s and '30s by the parks board when he
was most active on it. It spans the channel linking Cootes
Paradise and the
Canal to Hamilton
His historic downtown family home was willed to the City of
Hamilton after the death of the last of his five unmarried siblings
in 1968. After its restoration was complete in 1971, Whitehern
has been open as a civic museum
and has occasionally served as a period film
neighbourhood in Hamilton is named after him. It is bounded by
Barton Street East
(south), Parkdale Avenue North
(west) and the Red Hill Valley
. Landmarks in this neighbourhood include the Red Hill Valley Parkway
Hill Valley Trail
and Hillcrest Park
(some revision required!)