Manitoba History: Psychic Research in a Winnipeg Family: Reminiscences of Dr. Glen F. Hamilton
by James B. Nickels
I first learned of Dr. Glen Forrester Hamilton through the psychic research of his father, Dr. Thomas Glendenning Hamilton. TG, as Glen’s father was affectionately known, engaged in a wide variety of studies in the psychic area during the 1900s. I obtained a research grant from the Archives & Special Collections at the University of Manitoba in order to interview Margaret, TG’s only daughter, as to her recollections and reminiscences about her father and her father’s psychic work. Margaret was eager to participate, so an interview was scheduled for 27 October 1986. When I returned from an extended trip to Churchill, however, I was told the heartbreaking news that, on 18 October, Margaret had died.
The death of Margaret left Dr. Glen as the sole surviving offspring of TG Hamilton. I suggested to several persons who knew Dr. Glen that, perhaps, I might contact him to see if he would agree to the sort of interviews I had planned for his sister. Unfortunately, I was always told that it would be a waste of time, because Dr. Glen never gave interviews about his own beliefs or his father’s psychic research. With completely unwarranted confidence that Glen would agree to videotaped interviews and after a sufficient time interval had elapsed following his sister’s death, I telephoned Glen on 8 May 1987. To my relief, he was most gracious, and immediately agreed to our working together. Our first face to face meeting was 11 June, at which time he proudly gave me a tour of his home at 123 Greene Avenue in Winnipeg, and showed me the family scrapbooks, his bagpipes, his figurines, and his models of ships and trains. Glen and I worked together taping interviews during July. To my knowledge, Glen’s recollections and views of his family history, his father’s psychic research, and his own beliefs have never been made public before. What follows is a summary of the reminiscences of Dr. Glen, much of which is presented through photographs as well as in his own words. 
Dr. Glen always presented himself as a proud Scot. His favourite song was “Road to the Isles,” played on bagpipes. He also was a dedicated physician. He graduated from the Medical College of the University of Manitoba in 1934. After a brief post-graduate experience in Edinburgh, Scotland, he returned to Canada to practice medicine in Huntsville, Ontario in 1938. The next year he was back in Winnipeg, practicing from the family home in Elmwood. Between 1939 and 1944, he served with the Army Medical Corps, retiring as a Major. He became Chairman of the Medical Staff at Concordia Hospital and was for a time on the staff of St. Boniface Hospital.
Dr. Glen, like his parents, believed in personal survival after death. Though his beliefs were held with strong conviction, he came across to me as exceedingly tolerant of those whose beliefs did not coincide with his own. He approached life scientifically, though he believed in things not yet verified or perhaps even testable by the scientific method. He was fiercely independent, a sort of rebel or loner. He was a brutal realist. He confronted life simply, directly, and honestly. Yet, despite this sometimes cold, pragmatic, and practical side, I found him to be sensitive, warm, and even vulnerable with a great sense of humour and hope and optimism. Dr. Glen admitted to being a very private and shy person, shunning most celebrations and personal recognition. When I suggested that the videotaped interviews might be titled, “Psychic Research in a Famous Winnipeg Family,” he modestly asked that the word, “Famous,” be left out. His unique background, his broad-based expertise, and his personal charm made my meetings with him both informative and enjoyable.
According to Dr. Glen, his father was a highly principled, Presbyterian Scot physician, born to James Hamilton and Isabella Glendenning on 27 November 1873, in Agincourt, Ontario. Nine years later, TG’s father and oldest brother, Robert, left their Agincourt farm as members of the Temperance Colonization Society and traveled west to homestead on the west side of the South Saskatchewan River near Saskatoon. The following year, Isabella, TG, and the other four children joined the family in Saskatchewan, living for a time in a sod house. Unfortunately, the family suffered severely through farming problems as well as the Northwest Rebellion of 1885. It was in this year that James Hamilton died. Calamity struck once more when in the next year, James’ only daughter, Margaret, also died. Because of these devastating events, the family left the Saskatchewan farm, dispersed briefly, but finally reunited in Winnipeg, in 1891.
TG and his siblings attended school in Winnipeg. TG taught school in order to put himself through medicine. In 1903, he obtained his MD degree from the Manitoba Medical College (now the Medical School of the University of Manitoba). He was the first physician in Elmwood, specialized in internal medicine and obstetrics, and did his rounds by bicycle, then by horse and buggy, and only later by an open-topped touring car. Soon, TG met Lillian May Forrester, who was born in Belleville, Ontario, lived on a farm, served for a while as a school teacher, and in 1905 graduated from the Winnipeg General Hospital School of Nursing (now the School of Nursing of the University of Manitoba). In 1906, TG and Lillian married, and TG was elected to the Winnipeg School Board. Their first child, Margaret Lillian, was born on 23 February 1909. In 1910, the family moved into “Old One Eighty Five,” a large two storey house at 185 Kelvin Street (now Henderson Highway). Soon it became known throughout Winnipeg as “Hamilton House.” Offices were on the main floor, surgery in the basement with its own entrance from the street, and living quarters upstairs. Glen Forrester Hamilton, whose recollections form the basis of the present article, was born on 16 August 1911. According to Margaret, “Glen Forrester soon grew to become my playmate, my opponent, and my best friend.”  In 1912, Isabella, who had been living with the family in Hamilton House, died. Three years later, TG was elected by Elmwood constituents to be their Liberal Member in the Manitoba Legislative Assembly. This honour came in the same year as the birth on 27 September of twin boys: Arthur Lamont and James Drummond.
To the great shock of the entire family, on 27 January 1919, Arthur died of the widespread influenza outbreak at the end of the First World War. In 1920, TG was up for re-election as Elmwood’s MLA but was defeated. On a more positive note, in this same year, TG was named a Fellow of the American College of Surgeons, started the Manitoba Medical Review, and became its first editor. In 1921, TG became President of the Manitoba Medical Association and the first President of the University of Manitoba Alumni Association.
Between 1918 and 1935, TG developed a strong interest in psychic research. Although it did not seem to interfere with his medical practice, TG spent more and more time investigating psychic events as well as writing and lecturing on the work he was doing in this field. At first, he kept the two areas completely separate. His medical practice was his public profession, while his psychic research was his private secret. However, in May 1926, TG went public when he delivered a lecture on his research on telekinesis to the Winnipeg Medical Society. From then until his death, he became a national and international spokesperson—in personal appearances and in print—for psychic research. In 1931, TG became the first President of the Winnipeg Society for Psychical Research. In 1934, the Hamilton family was photographed together as a stable and secure unit. This image was shattered when, on 7 April 1935, after a year of failing health, TG died of a heart attack.
Although many articles on psychic research had been written by TG prior to his death, it was his posthumous volume, Intention and Survival (1942), under the editorship of Lillian and James Drummond, which represents the most complete summary of his work. Lillian continued TG’s work until her death on 18 September 1956. In 1977, the second edition of Intention and Survival was printed under Margaret’s editorship. James Drummond, who had been a physician in the US and Canada, died on 8 April 1980. Margaret carried on the family task of publicizing the Hamilton research through talks and writings for the next thirty years.
Although TG had read books on spiritualism and psychic work during the First World War, his concern over his recently deceased son, Arthur, may have increased significantly his strong attraction to the field of psychic research. As Dr. Glen expressed his explanation of his father’s deepening interest in the psychic field:
Interestingly, Glen’s sister, Margaret, expressed a similar view of her father in a 1980 interview:
The investigations of TG were wide in scope and many in number. Glen referred to them as “psychic research.”
TG at one time or other investigated the Ouija board, mental telepathy, table rapping, table tipping, table traveling, table flipping, bell-box ringing, bell-box cables, super-normal lights, automatic writing, scripts, deep-trance drawings, direct voice, communications from deceased persons, dictatorial spirit guides, trance personalities, and ectoplasmic constructions. The results of these investigations contributed greatly to TG becoming convinced that there were capabilities of the human spirit that go beyond mere physical capabilities, that these capabilities are particularly high in special people, that deceased persons can communicate with and produce material through these special people, and that these communications and productions show intelligence and intentionality and, thereby, provide proof for the survival of the human spirit after death. In addition, one may surmise that TG’s experiences during these investigations played a major part in his eventually coming to terms with Arthur’s death through the belief that Arthur’s life was ongoing in another world.
In 1918, Dr. William Talbot Allison, an English Professor at Wesley College (now the University of Winnipeg) introduced TG and Lillian to the “Patience Worth Phenomenon,” which involved spiritual communication and inspiration through the Ouija board and other means based on the mediumship of Pearl Lenore Pollard Curran of St. Louis, Missouri. In Dr. Glen’s description of the family’s use of the Ouija board around the time of the First World War, he also refers to Elizabeth Poole, TG’s first medium.
TG also experimented with mental telepathy with his United Church minister, Reverend Daniel Norman McLachlan. Telepathy or thought transference involves communication from one mind to another through mental (rather than sensory) channels. The two men tried to send mental messages to each other from different rooms rather than merely receiving public messages through the Ouija board. By restricting conditions so misinterpretation could be avoided, they soon became convinced that their telepathic experiments were successful.
About 1920, TG and Lillian became involved in table rapping, the listening for table raps to provide “yes” and “no” answers to questions similar to those previously posed to the Ouija board. (Interestingly, Lillian and the other Forresters came from Belleville, Ontario, near Consecon, where the famous Fox sisters, Margaret and Kate, were born and later initiated a spiritualistic resurgence because of their table rapping feats in Hydesville, New York in 1848. ) The involvement in table rapping led to other table-related phenomena, namely, table tipping, table moving, and table flipping. Of particular importance to TG’s investigations into the psychic world was the time in 1920 when TG, Lillian, and Mrs. Poole were introduced to the popular parlour game of that era, table tipping. It was thought that as the alphabet was verbally repeated, a table would stop tipping when the “correct” letter was reached; in time, a series of letters could then be expected to spell out a message. On the first occasion, in dim light, the table began to move, tilt up on two legs, and finally spell out a meaningful message. This event impressed Lillian, who continued working with Mrs. Poole to develop her surprising psychic capabilities further. Only later did TG take over this work from Lillian. One evening, a table rose up on two legs, and Lillian could not force it down. After considerable effort, TG pushed it down with what he estimated was about fifty pounds of pressure.
Despite these message-bearing occurrences, TG was becoming more critical of his psychic work. Somewhat reluctantly, in 1921, TG initiated his investigation into telekinesis, the movement of physical objects through mental (rather than physical) activity. Despite his waning interest, TG received a message in early 1923 through table raps that said “Go on with your work.” Within a year, this message was to stimulate a whole new direction of study for the Hamiltons.
These were the days in which Mrs. Poole did her most productive work. Glen describes how his father in conjunction with sitters and Mrs. Poole set up experiments in table moving.
By now, TG had established a separate room on the second floor of Hamilton House specifically for his psychic research. (I have visited the house and the old research room twice, both times with Eileen Sykes, TG’s medical and séance secretary.) TG not only succeeded at table moving, but table flipping as well. About this time, TG began to pursue another capability of Mrs. Poole, namely, spontaneous deep trance. TG as a medical man performed many measurements on her performance in various psychological states, including automatic writing (continuous longhand scripts written supposedly without conscious control). All of these phenomena were strange, yet they were to evolve into something even stranger.
TG and a group of other similarly interested people regularly witnessed and documented the construction and appearance of teleplasms, or manifestations of cloud-like faces, bodies, and objects. Most of the work was accomplished between 1928 and 1935. Over a thousand trance-periods were held in a darkened room, in the Hamilton home, with over 500 photographs taken by a bank of cameras recording teleplasms which appeared inside TG’s wooden cabinet. A significant change occurred in the formation and direction of the Hamilton research.
Mary Marshall began her work with the Hamiltons in January of 1928. As the focus on Mary Marshall increased, the focus on Mrs. Poole decreased to the point that in September 1933, Mrs. Poole retired from mediumship due to failing health. In 1928, in addition to teleplasms, TG became aware of certain auditory communications through Mary Marshall that appeared to come from a “voice box,” thought to be external to the vocal organs of the medium. This “direct voice phenomenon” occurred only infrequently in the Hamilton research, because it supposedly took too much power to accomplish. The major purpose of the séances was the building up of teleplasms, and their production supposedly required considerable energy input itself. About this time, another observation was reported concerning “supernormal light” (psychic light). A light varying between a dull glow and a brightly illuminated watch dial infrequently appeared about a foot from Mary Marshall, as low as a few inches from the floor to a position level with her head. Sometimes it moved rapidly; sometimes only slowly; sometimes only some sitters saw it; but never was TG able to photograph it.
Occasionally, famous people arrived in Winnipeg and came to Hamilton House, some attending sittings and some even taking their own photographs of the proceedings. Three of the most noted visitors were Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1-3 July 1923), who wrote the Sherlock Holmes stories, Dr. and Mrs. L. R. G. Crandon (21-24 December 1926), who were associated with the Houdini versus Margery controversy, and the Right Honourable William Lyon Mackenzie King (20 August 1933), who was former Prime Minister of Canada, then Leader of the Opposition, and soon to return once more as Prime Minister. In May, June, and July of 1932, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle returned once more to Hamilton House—through séances—because he died on 7 July 1930. Another post-death visitor was TG himself, who “came through” in a séance in Dr. Allison’s study the night of TG’s funeral in 1935 as well as in the picture-producing séance of 22 May 1939 and in numerous scripts written to Lillian between 1940 and 1944.
An important category of people coming to Hamilton House was visitors. However, six other categories of people, who were essential to the Hamilton research, must also be mentioned: mediums, sensitives, or channelers, who were to provide a doorway to the so-called “other side”; sitters, members, and witnesses, that circle of hand holding helpers who were to assist in bringing in the spirits through the doorway provided by the mediums; recorders or séance secretaries, who were to provide written reports and documented testimonials as to the events taking place during the séance; controls, spirit guides, or contacts from the “other side”; scrutineers, checkers, or inspectors of sealed doors, séance participants, and film plates in order to prevent cheating; and experimenters, principal investigators, or persons running the séances and triggering the cameras. The major mediums in the Hamilton research were Elizabeth Poole (known as Elizabeth M), Mary Marshall (known as Dawn), and Susan Marshall (Mary’s sister-in-law known as Mercedes). Code names were supposedly given to the mediums so they would not be alerted to and distracted by hearing their own names spoken while they were in a trance. An interesting aspect of the Hamilton research was the use of multiple mediums. Two of the sitters were Dr. James A. Hamilton (TG’s brother) and young Glen Hamilton (TG’s son). Recorders at times were Lillian (TG’s wife); Eileen Sykes (TG’s secretary); and Margaret (TG’s daughter). Two of the major controls in the Hamilton research were Walter Stinson (the deceased brother of Boston psychic Margery Crandon) and Black Cloud (an aboriginal spirit), both of whom primarily came through Mary Marshall; two others were Lucy (an unknown but presumably deceased Irish woman connected to a religious order) and Katie King (the presumed daughter of John King, alias Henry Morgan, a buccaneer of the Spanish Main and eventual Governor of Jamaica), both of whom primarily came through Susan Marshall. Scrutineers at times were prominent Winnipeg lawyer, Isaac Pitblado, and Ada Turner, Head of the English Department of a Winnipeg secondary school. Experimenters were typically either TG or, in his absence, Winnipeg pediatrician and pathologist Dr. Bruce Chown. As Dr. Glen describes the séances:
Singing was an integral part of the séances. The group would sing a wide range of songs, some with a calming quality such as “Unto the Hills” or “Lead, Kindly Light,” but others much more upbeat such as “Oh, Dem Golden Slippers.” Walter often requested stirring songs, and there was much foot stomping, laughing, and good humour.
Dr. Glen mentioned that the early photographs of the darkened séance room were taken by means of removing and then replacing the lens cover of some of the cameras with the light source being magnesium flash powder, which would create noise and smoke as well as light. He also said that at times the small séance room was stifling after a shot. According to Glen, a more sophisticated technique used later by TG was his pneumatic control of the exposure mechanism through air pressure coming from a noisy compressor downstairs. Ultimately, a handheld remote control unit and fast-firing flash bulbs were used. Sometimes a picture would be taken (intentionally or inadvertently) immediately after a previous one, showing the result of the supposed destruction of a teleplasm after exposure to white light.
Another aspect of the Hamilton séances was the use of a bell-box, which alerted the sitters that a spirit was near or a picture should be taken. TG constructed it according to the specifications of one used in Dr. Crandon’s investigations with “Margery.” It was a six-inch deep, wooden box, powered by two dry cell batteries wired to a bell. The spring loaded top was hinged to the box in such a way that, when depressed by a pressure of about ten grams, it would complete the circuit, and the bell would ring. One or two of the boxes would be placed high on the side of the wooden cabinet. Occasionally, bell-cords (sometimes thought to be ectoplasmic in nature) were photographed leading from the box to positions near the mediums, although it was concluded that the mediums could not have touched these cords with their hands or pulled them sufficiently with their heads to activate the bell.
Finally, because the major control in the Hamilton research was Walter, it may be informative to indicate just how dictatorial he was. Quite early he convinced TG that successful results would be achieved only if everyone followed his directions completely, for without this obedience, either the teleplasm would be delayed or he would simply leave. For example, as recorded in the séance of 3 November 1929,
TG instituted a number of precautions in order to prevent deception and fraud. For example:
Pitblado ensured that the female participants would be examined in a private room by one of the women in the group. Often, a medium would be disrobed with the upper portion of her body sponged, after which she would be dressed in silk bloomers with a loose, sleeveless gown supplied by Lillian. If suspicion was to be directed toward anyone, of course, it would most likely be toward the mediums.
Glen gave the following explanation for his previous reluctance to discuss his father’s work:
In the interviews I had with Dr. Glen, he mentioned several instances in which he encountered evidence for the validity of psychic events. One example was his recollection of an event in a séance with Mary Marshall:
The above information attests to the fact that Dr. Glen viewed his own life as continuing after death. He also had specific ideas as to his impending death and what he expected to occur.
In 1979, Margaret donated the papers, photos, and paraphernalia of TG’s psychic research to the Archives & Special Collections at the University of Manitoba. They reveal that TG was a man of high integrity with a solid reputation. I have spoken to several physicians who knew him, and they praised him highly, even if they questioned some of his beliefs. My own evaluation of TG’s work is that it was really a joint effort, because Lillian provided him with ideas, direction, and security all the way through his investigations. I have tried to show that TG began his inquiry in 1918, attempting to set up scientific conditions to minimize the likelihood of coming to erroneous conclusions. Later on, however, he became convinced that he would obtain more useful results if he cooperated with spirit guides and did their bidding. In other words, he later followed the demands of “psychic controls” by reducing the number of “scientific controls.” He, thus, at first, functioned more as a scientist (trying to eliminate possible bias and contamination in his research). Then, at a later time, he functioned more as a technician (trying to carry out the specific demands of the spirit guides). Fortunately, examples of his work—through his writings and photos—are available for public scrutiny.
Because of ill health, Dr. Glen Hamilton retired and sold Hamilton House in 1980. I met with Glen and Phyllis many times beyond the actual interviews. My wife and daughter visited them, too. My family and I considered them to be very special people. On one occasion, Glen even played the bagpipes for me and my wife. Glen believed in his father and his father’s work; he believed in life after death; and he also believed that there are many strange things in this world, but they may not be as strange as we sometimes think.
Glen’s wife (Phyllis Farinia Ellis), whom Glen had married on 23 July 1938, suffered a heart attack on 21 June 1987 and was confined to bed during the interviews I had with her husband. But on 5 July 1988, it was Glen who died, leaving Phyllis, four children and ten grandchildren. At Glen’s memorial service in Winnipeg, I was deeply moved by a piper unexpectedly playing “Road to the Isles” behind the congregation. One evening after the service, I returned to the Greene Avenue home to play my videotape  of the interviews for Glen’s family. As I was leaving, Phyllis said to me, “If I hear from Glen, I’ll call you.” Although Phyllis and I were in contact several times until her death on 2 January 1997, she never indicated to me that a contact with Glen was ever made.
Without the participation of Glen and Phyllis Hamilton, of course, there would be no article. I also much appreciate the assistance of Linda Lillian Hamilton Klassen, John Glendenning Hamilton, and Melanie McKay as well as two Directors of the Archives & Special Collections at the University of Manitoba, Richard E. Bennett and Shelley Sweeney. Thanks are also given to Janice Catherine Hamilton for her permission to use the photograph of the Hamilton family. Special thanks are given to Walter Meyer zu Erpen, who provided a preliminary review of and valuable comments on an earlier draft of the article.
1. Unless otherwise noted, the indented statements are the exact words of Dr. Glen F. Hamilton, as taken from the transcripts of the interviews; and the non-indented statements are paraphrases of his statements. Occasionally, specific details, such as dates, may have been obtained from other sources: Bennett, R. E. (1980). An Interview with Margaret Hamilton Bach. Unpublished manuscript, Archives & Special Collections, University of Manitoba, Winnipeg. Hamilton, M. L. (1955). Is Survival a Fact? Reprinted from the Winnipeg Free Press, January & February 1958. Hamilton, M. L. (n.d.). If These Walls Could Speak. Drafts of an unpublished manuscript, Archives & Special Collections, University of Manitoba, Winnipeg. Hamilton, T. G. (1977). Intention and Survival. (2nd edition edited by M. L. Hamilton), Regency Press, New York.
2. Hamilton, M. L. (n.d.). If These Walls Could Speak. Drafts of an unpublished manuscript, Archives & Special Collections, University of Manitoba, Winnipeg.
3. Bennett, R.E. (1980). An Interview with Margaret Hamilton Bach. Unpublished manuscript, Archives & Special Collections, University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, p. 6.
6. Nickels, J. B. (1987). Psychic Research in a Winnipeg Family: Reminiscences of Dr. Glen F. Hamilton. DVD, Archives & Special Collections, University of Manitoba, Winnipeg.
Page revised: 24 November 2012