Manitoba Historical Society
     Keeping history alive for over 144 years

Manitoba History: Review: Widows of Hamilton House by Christina Penner

by Shelley Sweeney
Head, Archives & Special Collections University of Manitoba

Number 59, October 2008

This article was published originally in Manitoba History by the Manitoba Historical Society on the above date. We make this online version available as a free, public service. As an historical document, the article may contain language and views that are no longer in common use and may be culturally sensitive in nature.

Please direct all inquiries to

Help us keep
history alive!

Widows of Hamilton House is a literary novel about love and loss by Christina Penner. As the title suggests, it is set against the backdrop of Hamilton House, the house of Dr. T. G. Hamilton, located on Henderson Highway in Winnipeg. In the early 1900s, Dr. Hamilton’s son Arthur died during the flu epidemic and shortly thereafter, the doctor and his wife Lillian began to hold séances at their home. Into this house some 70 years later comes Ruth, a young woman recovering from a failed love affair. At this point in time, a group of Mennonites have purchased the home and rent Ruth a suite on the second floor. Her subsequent relationship with a young doctor and his mother, and Ruth’s interest in what went on in Hamilton House during the time of the séances are parallel themes of the book. The archives at the University of Manitoba allow Ruth to delve into the lives of the Hamiltons and particularly into the personality and mind of Lillian, who lost her husband T. G. in 1935. Ruth uses this investigation as a foil to her own thinking and actions. Playing against this spiritualism is Ruth’s Mennonite background and her rebellion against the same.

While the historical content and local flavour of the novel pull the reader along, the relationships are perhaps more complicated than they need to be. Ruth’s love for Lon, her lover and later husband, is not entirely convincing. A more thorough editing of the book would help reduce inconsistencies: the song “Oh, Dem Golden Slippers” is referred to variously as “Them Golden Slippers,” “Those Golden Slippers,” and “Dem Golden Slippers.” One is also never quite sure about the accuracy of the facts presented in the novel, which is distracting. But the language of the novel can be quite lyrical, and in real life Penner is a friend of the Hamilton family, which infuses her commentary with a particular intimacy. That, combined with the rich historical context and the ideas about what really happened in Hamilton House, make for an intriguing read.

Page revised: 15 February 2015

MHS YouTube Channel

Back to top of page

For queries on the above page, please contact the MHS Webmaster.

Home  |  Terms & Conditions  |  FAQ  |  Contact Us  |  Privacy Policy  |  Donations

© 1998-2023 Manitoba Historical Society. All rights reserved.