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The following extract (in quotes) is from Will C. van den Hoonaard, The Origins of the Baha'i Community of Canada, 1898-1948.

The Bahá’í Faith comes to Hamilton 

image002.jpg
Abdu’l-Bahá boarding a train

Monday, September 9, 1912 (Labour Day Weekend)

"The train route taking ‘Abdu’l-Bahá from Montreal to Toronto, and then on to Niagara Falls and Buffalo, N.Y., passed through many villages and towns (Farran’s Point, Brockville, Belleville, Toronto, Burlington, Hamilton, St. Catharines and Niagara Falls) that were home to individuals who would soon thereafter declare their belief in the new revelation."

After leaving Montreal in the morning, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá spent time on the train going over newspaper articles that had been translated for him.  He also admired the “verdure, luxuriance and beauty” of the scenery as the train sped along its way at sixty to sixty-five km per hour.  When ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s train reached Toronto at 4:30 p.m. he was very tired, and he walked along the length of the south-facing platform of Union Station which overlooked the harbour and lake.  The Victorian station, the largest of its kind in Canada, had a 200-foot long façade.  Only the name “Station Street,” railway tracks and a CN office building now mark the site where Abdu’l-Bahà once walked.

‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s train left Toronto at 6:05 p.m. and stopped briefly in Hamilton to let off and take on passengers.  After leaving Hamilton, it passed through Niagara Falls on its way to Buffalo.  As ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s train rolled past the harvested fields of Ontario, there were only three other believers in that entire province: the Carmichaels and David Spence in Brantford.

Hamilton Railway Station, June, 1913

Photo credit: The Valentine & Sons' Publishing Co., Ltd. 
Montreal and Toronto. Printed in Great Britain
 Hamilton Railway Station, June, 1913

 

The steel town of Hamilton was visited eleven years later in 1923 by Marion Jack, but it was the systematic teaching campaign undertaken by Mabel Ives and Mary Barton of Toronto that led to the enrollment of Lulu Barr, a school teacher and former Baptist missionary to Japan, as the first Hamilton Bahá’í in May, 1939. That same year, three other Hamiltonians became adherents to the Faith through the work of Mabel Ives: Sarah Davies, Amy E. Putnam (both in June) and Charles Ernest Pottier (in August).  Lulu’s brother Erland and sister Gertrude later also converted. 

The Hamilton Bahá’í community soon comprised at least three married couples, namely, the MacGregors, the Marshalls and the Ortmans.  The enrollment of a mother and her daughter was not unusual, as in the case of Frances and Gladys Young and Amilia and Dorothy Clarke.  Other Bahá’ís such as Muriel Wells (later Mrs. Erland Barr), married into one of these Bahá’í families.   

View of Hamilton, 1911

Photo credit: The Valentine & Sons' Publishing Co., Ltd.
Montreal and Toronto. Printed in Great Britain
View of Hamilton, 1911

 

Election of the First Local Spiritual Assembly of Hamilton

With nine Bahá’ís living in Hamilton, the group was able to form the city’s first Local Spiritual Assembly (LSA), the sixth in Canada (after Montreal, Quebec; Vancouver, British Columbia; Moncton, New Brunswick; St. Lambert, Quebec and Toronto, Ontario) on April 21st, 1940, during the Bahá’í festival of Ridván. Within a few days several members of the LSA traveled to Montreal for the election of the first Canadian National Spiritual Assembly. Before this time the Canadian and U.S. Assembly had been a joint body.

In addition to family ties, these Bahá’ís formed “a lively sort of creative community” (interview, G.B.) that included a bookshop owner (Erland Barr), a piano teacher (Gertrude Barr), an artist (Amy E. Putnam), a copy editor (Muriel Hutchings), a dance teacher (Nancy Campbell), and an elocutionist (Nancy Fairclough).  The remainder of the Bahá’ís represented more typical occupations, including a toolmaker (Arthur Lehman), a hairdresser (Hazel Marshall), a teacher and a public health nurse (Frances Young).  Like many of the other new believers to follow in Hamilton, these new Bahá’ís were of English and Scottish background and were members of the United Church and in some instances, the Anglican Church.

The Hamilton Bahá’ís derived considerable strength and steady support from the Toronto Bahá’í community.  In 1940, Hamilton was adopted by the Local Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of Toronto as an “extension goal.”  A slight variation of the systematic teaching campaign took place when John Robarts, an insurance salesman from Toronto, spent one night a week at the Royal Connaught Hotel and invited anyone to come to weekly public meetings, featuring himself and other Bahá’í speakers from Toronto (Laura Davis, Doris Richardson and George Spendlove).  Soon, in 1941, he would speak at a fireside arranged in the dance studio of Nancy Campbell, who became a Bahá’í in November that same year, and around whom formed a nucleus of other Bahá’ís such as Amy Putnam and Gertrude Barr. Firesides were subsequently held at Nancy Campbell’s studio and Dorothy Boys’s (neé Clarke) home.

Later, Doris McKay of New York State, was asked by the National Spiritual Assembly to visit Hamilton and to complement what John Robarts was trying to do.  McKay would spend one week per month in Hamilton, using the occasion to visit the Bahá’ís in Toronto during the weekend and returning to New York before her night classes started on Monday.  The relative enduring strength of the Hamilton community can be traced to the fact that a number of interlocking families joined the new faith.  In Hamilton it was rarer to find individuals who enrolled in the Faith, than to find families such as the Barrs, the MacGregors, the Ortmans and the Youngs.

Although not re-formed in 1944, three Assembly members: Muriel and Erland  Edward Barr and Muriel Wells (all bookshop owners) home front pioneered to Scarborough, Ontario to help form that community’s first Assembly in 1947.  Some communities like Scarborough, seemed to pull in pioneers from Hamilton.

Hamilton Bahá’ís, December, 1943.

Hamilton Bahá’ís, December, 1943.

Back row, left to right: Erland Barr, Bill MacGregor, Amy Putnam, Mrs. L.J. Robinson, Amilia Clarke, John Mills, Arthur Lehman.

Front row, left to right: Hazel Marshall, Dorothy Clarke, Muriel Barr, Nancy Campbell, Sarah Davies, Bessie MacGregor.

Later Developments

1980s - The number of Bahá’ís of Persian background is significantly increased with the arrival of many refugees and family members of immigrants fleeing persecution in Iran. A number of families moved to Hamilton and first generation Bahá’ís start to raise children.

1990s - The Hamilton community begins to become more racially diverse as does the city in general. Too large to meet in people’s homes, the Bahá’í community uses a variety of public meeting spaces such as the Hamilton Public Library.  There is increasing community involvement in interfaith and unity-in-diversity activities and presentation of Race Unity awards".

2001 - The municipal amalgamation of Ancaster, Dundas, Flamborough, Hamilton and Stoney Creek, leads to the election of a single Local Spiritual Assembly for the Bahá'ís of the New City of Hamilton.

Bibliography

Bahá’í News, (September, 1939), p. 7.

Bahá’í News, (June, 1940), pp. 14-15.

Mahmoud-i-Zarqání, no date.

Van den Hoonaard, W. C. (1996).  The Origins of the Bahá’í Community of Canada, 1898-1948. Waterloo, Ontario: Wilfrid Laurier University Press.