This story first published Fall 2018 – Hespeler Happenings, Lary Turner
Editor’s note: While researching the article on Riverbank Condos, the name McQuesten appeared. On mentioning the name, I was met with shrugs and blank stares by most friends and associates.
The well known pen & ink drawing of Jacob Hespeler’s campus was originally created for the Harvey, McQuesten company. Courtesy Bob Falle collection.
In 1888, Isaac died from an overdose of sleeping pills following the failure of his company, leaving the family near bankrupt and barely able to avoid their home from being sold to cover debts.
After the family move to Hamilton, Thomas completed his primary education and enrolled at Hamilton Collegiate Institute. He played on the football team that won the Ontario Championship in 1900. He later graduated from the University of Toronto with a B. A. in English, was a member of the rowing team, President of the Zeta Psi Fraternity and was editor of “The Varsity” newspaper. (His education was near fully paid by his eldest sister Ruby, a school teacher).
McQuesten family home, Whitehern, is located in Hamilton, Ontario. Three generations of McQuestens lived in the home. It is now a museum open to the public.
Attending Osgoode Hall, he received his LL.B and was called to the bar in 1907. He practiced law with firms in Toronto, Elk Lake and Hamilton before embarking on a political career.
Between 1913 and 1920, he was a Hamilton alderman serving on the “Works Committee”. Around 1917, he began his climb in the Liberal Party of Ontario and by 1920 was an executive of the Hamilton Liberal Assoc. By the 1930s he was the Liberal Provincial President. In the election of 1934 he was elected as an MLA. Named to the government cabinet, he was concurrently the Minister of Highways (until 1943) and the Minister of Public Works.
Among the many projects he is credited with spearheading are: the Queen Elizabeth Way, the Burlington Bay Skyway Bridge, the Niagara Parkway, the Rainbow Bridge, the Blue Water Bridge, the Highway 20 link to the Niagara Escarpment and Highway 2A through Oshawa (now Hwy 401).
During the early years of WW2, he also held other portfolios: Minister of Highways, Minister of Mines, Minister of Municipal Affairs and Minister of Public Works again. Defeated in the election of 1943, he was subsequently appointed to head many agencies and boards: Hamilton Board of Park Management, Royal Botanical Gardens, served on the committee that brought McMaster University to Hamilton, Chairman of the Niagara Parks Commission, oversaw the rebuilding of Old Fort George, and Chairman of the Canada-U.S. Niagara Falls Bridge Commission.
Shortly before his death, he was named Hamilton’s Citizen of the Year. Thomas Baker McQuesten died of cancer January 13, 1948. A bridge in Hamilton was renamed in his honour and his stately home was designed a National Historic Site in 1962. Many other plaques and memorials bear his name.
Not bad for a little boy from Hespeler Ontario!
Hilda, Thomas, Mary Baker, Margaret Edna, Mary Baldwin, Ruby, Calvin
c. 1890, two years after Isaac died.