Several months ago during a Friends committee meeting, the subject of Fred Hamilton came up, and we soon realized that no one in the group had a firm idea of who our largest park’s esteemed namesake was, or how it came to be named after him. Partly for fun (and fundraising), and partly to engage locals and the wider public on this topic, we had some t-shirts printed up with the burning question, “Who is Fred Hamilton?” on the front. For good measure, we added “Who is George Ben?” on the back, as further discussion revealed a knowledge gap on the namesake of our second largest park as well.
As they say, ask and ye shall receive: soon after the t-shirts became available online, we received an email from Fred Hamilton – not the park’s namesake, of course, but his son, whom we featured in our last post. As it turns out, he’s been interested in the upgrading of Fred Hamilton playground, had encouraged the Parks Department to improve the signage last year, and contributed funds to install two benches and a commemorative tree in the north end of the park. We are honoured to have him attending our upcoming meeting this Wednesday.
In advance of the meeting, we’re posting a wonderful bio that Fred Hamilton has written about his father, as a way to answer the question on our t-shirts. Many thanks to Mr. Hamilton for filling in the blanks on his father, a role model and important figure in local Toronto history.
Fred Hamilton was a celebrated athlete and well respected Alderman and Controller for the City of Toronto. He was dedicated to enhancing its facilities and particularly Toronto’s parks, sports sites and playgrounds for the benefit of young people.
Fred was born in Toronto in 1893 of Irish heritage, his grandparents having emigrated from Ireland in the 1850’s during the Potato Famines that gripped that Country. Margaret McMahon and Charles Hamilton, his parents, had a family of five children and lived in very modest circumstances at Bay and Queen Streets. Charles died of a heart attack at a young age so the family had to struggle on its own without him. Fred spent every waking moment in Toronto’s sports arenas — principally the baseball diamonds where he excelled from an early age.
His career can be best summed up in the words of the Souvenir Booklet of the Osler Baseball Club for its 1926 Western Tour, having been Champions in 1924-1925 in Toronto, in 1924 of Ontario and in 1924 and 1925 internationally:
“Fred Hamilton — Manager — has been Manager of the Osler’s for four years. Hamilton quit playing actively two years ago at the height of his career, and in his day was the outstanding second and third baseman in the city. A dangerous hitter in the pinch and the best judge of pitching that ever stood at the plate in Toronto. He was always the leadoff hitter for every team he ever played with and in his first four years of Senior Ball he was never struck out. He has played on more championship clubs than any other player and whether he was manager or player on the team, his work always stood out. Hamilton is looked on as the shrewdest manager in Eastern Canada and it is really his good selection of players that has made Osler’s the outstanding team that they are today.”
In 1919, Fred married young and vibrant Ruth Cormack, and they started their family, living first on Beatrice Avenue, and then on Montrose Avenue and Sylvan Avenue. They had three children — Charles, June and Fred, with all of them encouraged to take part in many sports. It must be remembered that puritanical Toronto of those days was a far different place than today’s liberal, open and multicultural city. Sabbath legal prohibitions decreed that no parks, playgrounds or recreational facilities could open on a Sunday lest they interfere with church attendance! Religion formed a strong element in obtaining employment — only Protestants who were members of the Orange Order need apply to work in the City’s employ, whether in police, fire or municipal works. Women were discharged upon marriage on the theory that men were the breadwinners and women belonged in the home. Consequently many marriages were hidden from their boss’s knowledge.
In spite of only an elementary school education because of his family’s financial straits, Fred used his baseball fame to run as an Alderman in Ward 5 in 1929. He was successful and started many years of civic service both as an Alderman and later as a Controller under the municipal form of government at the time. A review of his municipal record shows his top priority was to improve the City’s parks, playgrounds and sporting venues — he never forgot his early years in striving to enhance the lives and opportunities of young people, whatever their race, colour, creed or religion. The competitive spirit of fair play and equal treatment from the playing field was a shining beacon that he always lived by — and expected of others.
From 1937 Fred served as an elected City Controller until his retirement from politics in the mid 1940s. During this period he organized a Shinny Club that allowed young people to attend hockey games at Maple Leaf Gardens free of charge. He also organized the Sports Service League that raised thousands of dollars through Monster Bingos at Maple Leaf Gardens to buy sports equipment for servicemen and women during the Second World War here and abroad. After leaving politics, he was instrumental in initiating and participating in the City Plebiscite of 1950 to permit both amateur and professional sports to be played on Sunday in Toronto. In a vote strongly opposed by the Church, the vote favoured Sunday Sports by a very close margin. Legislation to permit Sunday Sports between 1:30 pm and 6 pm in Ontario was enacted the following year. This was his last public contest of his very successful career. He died in 1958 of a stroke leaving three children, and eleven grandchildren. His name is carried forward by his son Fred and his great grandson Freddie. (Editor’s note: Freddie Hamilton may be known to those of you who are hockey fans; he was drafted by the San Jose Sharks of the NHL and is currently playing for their affiliate, the Worcester Sharks in the AHL.)
The City of Toronto dedicated the Fred Hamilton Park and Playground in his memory. Those that knew him will tell you, “He was quite a guy!” He was constantly and enthusiastically promoting one good cause after another. He dreamed big, and making money for himself was way down his list of priorities. As Winston Churchill said, “We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.”
Everyone is welcome to attend this Wednesday’s meeting at the College-Shaw library. Details can be found here. RSVPs to firstname.lastname@example.org are appreciated, so that we can ensure adequate seating.
Also, t-shirts in various sizes are still available! We’ll have some on hand at the meeting, or you can order them online here. Proceeds benefit Friends of Roxton Road Parks activities and initiatives to revitalize Fred Hamilton and George Ben parks, and the Roxton Road Parkette. Thank you for your support!