Navy; Domestic Service
Robert James Williamson was born and educated in East Hamilton. He received an Honours BA Degree in Geography from McMaster University in 1962 and a BEd from the University of Toronto. He is a retired Hamilton Secondary School Administrator and former Commanding Officer of H.M.C.S. Star. During his tenure as commanding officer, the Hamilton Division won the Admiral E. R. Mainguy Trophy as the most improved naval division in Canada.
Having been appointed to the Hamilton Historical Board in 1999, and the Joint Plaquing Sub Committee in 2000 as a volunteer, he is the longest serving member of the Board. However, his active involvement in the promotion and preservation of Hamilton's history and heritage goes back almost 25 years when he gratuitously created his famous "Hamilton Then and Now" slide program in response to a Ministry of Education directive to promote the Ontario bicentennial in our schools. Having caught the attention of local historians, he was invited to join the Head of the Lake Historical Society and the Board of Education Archives Committee in 1991.
His splendid teaching ability and commanding presence made him a natural advocate for voluntarily promoting our local heritage. His speaking topics expanded to 50 Canadian programs. His versatility and popularity have culminated in a resounding 1,200 public heritage presentations, more than all other local heritage speakers combined. This mile stone was achieved in June 2012 and recognized with the presentation of the Queen's Diamond Jubilee medal by Member of Parliament, Chris Charlton.
He has even achieved international acclaim having presented several lectures at the Conference on American Military Past and the Battle of Plattsburgh Commemoration in the United States. He has been a guest speaker of the McMaster Alumni Association on several occasions and featured in their Albert Lager Lecture Series. For the promotion of our Canadian heritage, he was presented with the Laura Secord Award in 1995.
For almost twenty years since his retirement, he has been honing his heritage public speaking skills. His forty heritage speaking topics that he has created include, The Untold Naval War of 1812, and Hamilton’s Sesquicentennial Story, a stunning collection of comparative “Then and Now” slides shown side by side. In addition to his lectures Commander Williamson has written numerous magazine and newspaper stories, and been a contributing author to “Hamilton Street Names – an illustrated guide”, “Vanished Hamilton”, and the “Dictionary of Hamilton Biography”. He has published several books including two naval histories and co-authored three pictorial histories: “Hamilton, Panorama of Our Past”, for which he received a Wentworth Heritage Association Citation; “150 Years of Excellence”, the illustrated history of education in Hamilton; and more recently, “Mountain Memories”, a picture history of Hamilton Mountain. Through the sale of these publications, he has helped to raise $75,000.00 for heritage projects in his community.
His most recent publications are a centennial anniversary book entitled, “Chedoke, More Than A Sanatorium” for which he volunteered as the editor, researcher, illustrator, photo interpreter and writing assistant. In 2005, for the Hamilton Mountain Heritage Society, he wrote a history of the famous George Summers theatrical family entitled, “Our World’s a Stage”. These efforts were contributing factors to receiving the 2006 Ontario Senior Achievement Award and the City of Hamilton V.I.P. Award.
As a volunteer member of the Hamilton Historical Board and Plaquing Sub-committee Chairman, he has composed the wording for 16 historic plaques: The Kings Head Inn, First Place (an early settlement), Gage Park, Municipal Airport, The Hamilton Psychiatric Hospital, Fernwood Park, Chedoke Hospital, The Summers Family Legacy, Rymal Family, Wilson Mills, the Red Mill, Bruce Park, Oakwood (Prime Minister Pearson's boyhood home), Nora Frances Henderson, The Burlington Races and General Brock (for the local Bicentennial of the War of 1812), an Aviation Memorial (They Slipped the Surly Bonds of Earth) and a Naval Heritage Recognition plaque for the bicentennial of HMCS Star.
To give our children a sense of ownership of their heritage, he organized a program where plastic replicas of City Plaques were ceremoniously unveiled and presented to neighbourhood schools.
He has prepared and conducted a number of heritage bus / walking tours that include the Hamilton Mountain, the Grand River, the Welland Canal and the Township of Ancaster. He has just finished co-writing and transcribing two guide booklets entitled “Roadside History Tour of Ancaster Township” and “Waterfalls of Ancaster”. These free guide booklets are very popular.
For his voluntary work in managing a Canadian student cultural exchange program he received the 125th Canadian Confederation Anniversary Commemorative Medal from the Government of Canada in 1993.
Most recently, in June 2004, he received a Silver Medallion from the Naval Officers’ Association of Canada for exemplary achievement in service to the Naval Officers' Association, and the Naval Service of Canada through the promotion of Canadian naval history. In 1993, he published the History of HMCS Star, Hamilton's Naval Reserve Division whose heritage dates back to the War of 1812. More recently he launched a new 425 page book, an anecdotal collection of Tales of Naval Officer Cadets, the story of Canada's University Naval Training program that produced many of Canada's outstanding leaders and citizens. Through his research and application of naval knowledge, he has written several magazine and newspaper articles significantly changing the history of the War of 1812 and cleared up erroneous interpretations of the navy's role in that conflict that preserved Canadian sovereignty.
In recognition of his outstanding and selfless contributions to his community and Canada in 2000, Bob Williamson received the Governor General’s Caring Canadian Award and In 2008 he was recognized for his humanitarian work in the community, receiving a Distinguished Service Medal from the Canadian Corps of Commissionaires for 20 years of outstanding voluntary work in support of Canadian veterans.
In 2011, Bob's long record of outstanding community achievement came to the attention of the McMaster University Alumni Association and he was inducted into the Alumni Gallery making the general public aware of the outstanding accomplishments of McMaster graduates.
In preparation for the commemoration of the Bicentennial of the War of 1812, the Hamilton Historical Board (HHB) wanted to create a memorable experience for children and heritage groups. Based on a theme from a quote by Pierre Berton that, "Our Canadian way of life had its origins in the invasion of Canada during the War of 1812", HHB member, Bob Williamson proposed that he write a special revised version of our patriotic song, "The Maple Leaf Forever" as a musical tribute to the Bicentennial. With the assistance of a musical colleague, he produced a four part harmony arrangement that is now inclusive of all Canadians and through storied phrases celebrates the development of our human rights and nationhood. (see attachment below). This rare four-part harmony rendition was recorded by the world renown Hamilton Children's Choir and first performed at Hamilton City Hall on Heritage Day, February 23, 2013. In May, 2013 it was also sung at the National Convention of the United Empire Loyalist in Hamilton and a Children's School Choir sang it at a ceremony at the Stoney Creek Battlefield Monument. Copies of the Bicentennial wording were sent to all Hamilton Schools.
Married with three children and six grandchildren, Commander Williamson is Past President of the Kaleidoscope Singers. He is also Past President of the Hamilton Mountain Heritage Society, and Past Chairman of the Board of Governors for the Canadian Corps of Commissionaires. As the Program Chairman for the Ancaster Township Historical Society over the last several years, he arranged a monthly series of historical speakers that proved most entertaining. He is a former member of the Board of Education Archives and the St. George's Benevolent Society.
Robert Williamson, over his fifty years of community service has attained a high level of distinction at all levels of society. His scholarship is demonstrated by his many written works to preserve our heritage. His research skills have uncovered information that changes the interpretation of Canadian history. With over 1,200 public speaking appearances, his teaching continues long after his retirement as an educator. He still serves our society whether they be veterans, school children, community groups or shut-ins. He has led many fascinating lives as an award winning military leader, outstanding teacher , innovative school administrator, creative writer, popular public speaker and industrious civic heritage volunteer.
* CD Canadian Forces Decoration and clasp for almost 30 years of service to the Canadian Naval Reserve.