Monday, 29 August 2022

A church off the old block: The origin of Chalmers Church

From the perspective of postcard collecting, the main issue relating to Chalmers Church in Guelph (now the Royal City Mission Church) is the rarity of postcards featuring views of it. The card below is the only one that I have yet come across.
("Chalmers Church, Guelph." Courtesy of the John Keleher collection. Publisher unknown.)

Comparison with a recent Google Streetview image shows that the exterior of the church has not changed a great deal since the postcard picture was taken sometime in the early 20th century.

Stone churches were a highly collectable category of picture postcard back in the day and the Chalmers Church was no slouch in the aesthetics department. Furthermore, the Knox Church just down the block was represented on a number of postcards.
(From "Knox Church fire of 1904.")

Like Knox, Chalmers was also a Presbyterian Church, a mainstream denomination that any city like Guelph would boast of. So, why Knox would be prominently featured while Chalmers was the Royal City's secret remains a head-scratcher.

Interestingly, Chalmers Church owes its existence to Knox Church. The first Knox Church edifice on Yarmouth Street was sold to the Raymond Sewing Machine company when it expanded its shop along that street. The congregation built itself a smart new home around the corner on Quebec Street, where the cornerstone was laid in October, 1868.

(The first Knox Presbyterian church on Yarmouth Street, to the right of the Raymond Sewing Machine factory, ca. 1870. Courtesy of Guelph Civic Museums, Grundy 249.)

By the early months of the following year, a sizeable portion of the congregation was looking to break away! Official histories are somewhat mum on the reason. C.A. Burrows (1877), in his Annals of the Town of Guelph, says only that there was an "unhappy divison" within the congregation, while Smith (1955, p. 96) says that some members were "at variance" with the minister, W.S. Ball.

(Rev. W.S. Ball, ca. 1880. Courtesy of Guelph Civic Museums 1997.21.2.)

Perhaps my favourite perspective is that of George B. Anderson, who reminisced about the incident, which occured when he was a boy (Mercury, 20 July 1927):

About the time I came to Guelph to live we all went to Knox Church. Knox Church was a barn-like structure on Yarmouth Street, a diagonal street running from Norfolk Street to Woolwich. There is, or was, a sewing machine factory on the site of the church. But two factions sprung up, over some question I could never quite understand what it was all about. However, the Chalmers Church faction broke away and worshipped in the Court House for some time, until the present church was built.
Luckily, issues of the Evening Mercury from 1868 survive and provide some details. As noted by Smith, the matter turned on some acrimony regarding Rev. Ball, to whom some parishoners took great exception (17 April):
Knox’s church, Guelph.—The Presbyterial investigation of charges preferred against the Rev. W.S. Ball by members of his congregation, which began on Tuesday evening, closed on Thursday afternoon. The decision of the Presbytery will be read to the congregation on Sunday first by the Rev. Mr. Smellie, of Fergus, who has been appointed to preach on that day.
The resolution adopted by the Presbytery as a result of their investigation was printed subsequently (Mercury, 20 April). To make a long story short, the resolution focusses on a few specifics. It notes that Rev. Ball continued to enjoy the support of many members of the church. However, some members had impugned his "pulpit abilities" and his spread gossip about his "moral character." Access to Sabbath School and pew rentals also seem to have underwhelmed some congregants. In fairness, the Presbytery found that Rev. Ball had addressed the situation using "imprudent language," thus feeding the fire afflicting the congregation.

It is hard to know exactly what to make of these points. However, the mention of pew rents is interesting. It was a custom brought from the old country that pews were rented to congregants. The best pews were at the very front and were rented to the wealthiest and most prominent families. Rents got cheaper the closer to the back they sat, while some at the very back were freely available to strangers and indigents.

Rents were not very expensive but were an important source of income for churches. Collecting pew rents, which were frequently in arrears, was a regular headache for the pastors of churches where rents were applied.

Of course, since the location of a family's pews was a signficant signal of social status, they could also be a source of social dispute. Since the Knox congregation had recently moved into a new building and thus had to negotiate pew rentals for everyone, it may well be that some members of the congregation took exception to their new arrangement, to which Rev. Ball may have responded with impatience.

Doubtless, the situation was complicated and particular to local circumstances. As Tolstoy wrote, “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

In any event, attempts at reconciliataion proved fruitless and a segment of the Knox Congregation applied to the Presbytery to form its own group named Chalmers Church, in honour of Thomas Chalmers, a luminary of the Free Church of Scotland. This petition was granted and the group began to hold services in the city Court House while making plans to establish its own place of worship.

(An ad from the Guelph Mercury, 24 July 1868, for the first meeting of the Chalmers church in the Court House.)

The founders' plans went well. In September of 1869, Rev. Thomas Wardrope of Knox Church, Ottawa, agreed to become minister of the new church. The cornerstone of the new building was officially laid by Rev. D.H. MacVicar, Principal of Montreal College, on 22 June 1870, and services began there in December of the following year.

("Laying Cornerstone—Chalmers United Church 1870." Courtesy of Guelph Civic Museums 1970.39.17. In the background on St. George's Square, note the original Wellington Hotel on the left, the old Bank of Montreal building in the centre, and the rear of the second St. George's Anglican church on the right.)

Leaders of the new church spared no expense in setting themselves up. They hired Toronto architect Henry Langley, "the undisputed dean of ecclesiastical architecture in Ontario during the last half of the 19th century." The Board of Managers were quite specific that they wanted a church in the latest taste, modeled on the Knox Church of Montreal, though on a smaller scale. Langley certainly delivered! The church cost a total of $25,000, a considerable amount for a new congregation.

(Henry Langley. Courtesty Wikipedia.)

Gilbert Stelter (1989) makes the following point about the relation of Chalmers Church to Knox Church down the block:

The choice of a site for the new church seems almost provocative, for it was almost next door on the same downtown street (Quebec) as Knox Church, from which they had split. And the use of a relatively sophisticated Gothic design must have been calculated to look more impressive than the very simple Gothic of Knox's new building, designed by James Smith of Toronto a year earlier. Knox Church was essentially a rectangular box ornamented only with plain pointed windows. Chalmers, however, was described as "the best constructed and the most elegantly furnished church in town" when it opened for services in 1871.
The building was also distinguished by the fact that it constructed of imported gray limestone rather than the plentiful, warm local material. No doubt, this measure also serveed to distinguish the church from Knox church.
("Knox Presbyterian Church, 1871." Courtesy of Guelph Civic Museums, Grundy 63.)

The congregtation grew during the Victorian era and the church was altered and expanded to meet additional demands for space. A substantial renovation was completed in 1896. Designed by the original architect, Henry Langley, the shingles on the roof were replaced by slate and a series of dormer windows were added as well. Each row on either side of the roof could be opened at once with a hand crank. The ventilation thus achieved served as an early form of air conditioning.

A new gallery was added around the main auditorium, which could seat 320 people, bringing the total capacity to 850 persons. In a pinch, partitions between the vestibule and the auditorium could be lowered mechanically and 200 seats added to the vestibule also, meaning that the church could hold over 1,000 souls.

A point of particular pride was that the lighting of the church was converted to electricity. A review in the Mercury (23 September 1896) speaks most highly of the two main electroliers suspended in the auditorium. (In fact, many of the fixtures were hybrids that combined incandescent lighting with gas, as a precaution in case the power went out, which was not so unusual in that era.)

The total cost of these renovations was $6,050, a considerable outlay.

Perhaps the most interesting alteration in that era was the purchase and installation of a pipe organ in 1890. Today, organ music and singing in church services is de rigeur but it was not so when Chalmers Church was founded. Until 1873, singing in Prebyterian church was "lined", that is, a leader or "precentor" read a line from a Psalm and the congregation sang it back. A tuning fork was sometimes deployed to assist everyone in hitting the appropriate pitch.

In 1867, just before Chalmers Church was founded, Knox Presbyterian Church in Montreal created a brouhaha by including organ music in its services. The issue of whether or not instrumental music was kosher for its churches was referred to the national Synod. This body made no decision, thus effectively leaving the matter to each Presbytery to decide for itself.

An "interesting discussion" was held on the matter in the Guelph Presbytery (Mercury, 15 January 1868), which voted down the idea. Even so, services gradually became more musical. Chalmers' first choir was formed in 1871. Hymn singing was introduced to service a few years following. The organ question was revisited again in 1884 and rejected in a vote of the congregation.

Finally, installation and use of an organ was approved in 1890. It may have helped that Knox Church had approved the use of an organ in 1887. True to form, the new organ was a top-of-the-line instrument featuring 900 pipes in all, powered hydraulically by connection with the city waterworks. Considerable renovations were required to accommodate it (Mercury, 8 September 1890).

("Chalmers Church, ca. 1890." Courtesy of Guelph Civic Museums, 1975.21.21.)

While Chalmers and Knox churches remained social rivals the actual division between their congregations was neither profound nor long-lasting. At the time Chalmers Church was formed, there were four different Presbyterian groups in Canada. These had been engaged in negotiations for a union for some time, a project that resulted in the amalgamation of all four into the Presbyterian Church in Canada in 1875. Thus, Chalmers and Knox congregations became equal members of a single, national body.

Both churches also became part of the United Church of Canada in 1925.

In his reminiscences, Geo. B. Anderson notes that many of the great and good of the Royal City were members of Chalmers Church in its early days:

  • Peter Gow, who ran a tannery business where Gow's bridge now lies, was twice Mayor, Guelph's first M.P.P. after confederation, and held the post of Provincial Secretary. He assumed the office of County Sheriff upon his retirement in 1876.
  • David Stirton, who owned a farm in Puslinch near town, was elected as the Member for the Legislative Assembly of the Province of Canada (1858–1867) and then Member of Parliament (1867–1876), after which point he retired to Guelph and assumed the office of Postmaster.
  • Donald Guthrie, a local lawyer, succeeded Stirton as M.P. for Wellington South (1876–1882), and then served as M.P.P. in the same area (1886–1894).
  • James Innes was for 36 years an editor and publisher of the Guelph Mercury.
  • Hugh Guthrie, son of Donald Guthrie, was also a local lawyer who had a long and eminent career as M.P. for Wellington South (1900–1935) during which time he held many high offices.
So, whatever it lacked in postcard representations, Chalmers Church was an eniment fixture in the culture and landscape of Victorian Guelph and, happily, continues to adorn Quebec street to this day.
Works consulted include:

Tuesday, 16 August 2022

Video talk: The origin of the Blacksmith Fountain, Guelph

My talk for the Guelph Historical Society on the Origin of the Blacksmith Fountain, once in the centre of St. George's Square, is now available on YouTube. Enjoy!
(St. George's Square, ca. 1880; Courtesy of Guelph Civic Museums 1975.21.94.)

Friday, 29 July 2022

Diamonds are a girl's best friend: The Ladies Softball League of Guelph in the 1920s

Under the title "Girl softballers play off tonight," the Evening Mercury (19 Aug 1926) sports column began with this observation:
In all the excitement of the men’s city softball finals, between the Tigers and the Stove Co., local fans have almost forgotten that there is a ladies’ city league operating in Guelph. To-night at Exhibition Park the first game of the playoffs will take place between the fast Woolworth and St. James’ teams. These two teams have been running neck and neck all season, and the St. James’ team is sitting on top of the heap with a slight margin. They will try conclusions again in a series of three games to decide which is the better team.
The Royal City, usually associated with the feats of the Maple Leafs baseball team, was home to a vibrant, young women's softball league in the 1920s and beyond.

The 1920s were something of a "golden era" in women's sport. Well-to-do women had entered various sports such as tennis and cycling by the dawn of the 20th century. However, women of all classes began to compete in all manner of sporting events following the First World War. Masculine preserves such as ice hockey and basketball were no exception.

Neither was softball. Informal competitions were translated into organized league play by 1923 in cities such as Toronto and London. Leagues were usually local or regional in extent and operated under different auspices. For example, the Toronto Ladies Major Softball League was organized by local sports clubs. Other leagues were organized by local businesses, often factories, that sought to use sporting competition as way to build corporate loyalty and morale. The Young Women's Christian Association (YWCA) organized girls softball leagues in many cities, such as London, in which school, business, and church teams might play against each other. In larger cities, leagues of all types often operated simultaneously.

Records of the early history of organized girls softball in Guelph are sparse, but the Globe does mention a softball tournament held in November, 1924, in which teams from Wentworth, Halton, Waterloo, Wellington, Bruce and the City of Guelph competed in a direct elimination format. The tournament was played inside the Guelph Winter Fair building on Carden street (softball had begun as an indoor version of baseball, so this was not unprecedented) and the Guelph team emerged victorious, defeating Wentworth 7 to 6 in an exciting finish (11 November).

(Guelph Winter Fair building, ca. 1915. Courtesy of Guelph Civic Museums 2002.92.1.)

It may be that the Guelph team was the local YWCA league champion, like the one shown in the picture below.

(Y.W.C.A. Softball Team, 1924; Courtesy of Guelph Civic Museums 1982.88.1.)

Indeed, it is tempting to infer that the trophy held by the young woman in the middle of the middle row, M. Fulton, is the prize won from exactly this event. Unfortunately, there is no way to be sure.

Another interesting feature of this picture is how many of the same young women appear in the real-photo postcard below:

The similarity in uniforms and the fact that five girls seem to appear in both photos suggests that the postcard is also a picture of the Guelph YWCA league champions, although of a subsequent year.

In particular, the five girls on the right of the postcard also appear in the 1924 photograph. To the right of the coach (who may be Hugh Stanley, coach of the 1928 GCVI girls softball team), stand girls named I. Kennard and F. Kenny in the earlier picture. These may well be Ivy Kennard and Florence Kenny. In front of them sit R. King (holding the trophy), L. Barton and M. Fulton. I am not sure who R. King is, although a "Mrs. King" is listed as a "fine first baseman" for a Guelph team in 1925 (Acton Free Press, 16 July 1925). L. Barton also remains obscure. M. Fulton may well be Minnie Fulton, who is listed as a player for St. James and Guelph teams in 1926.

The other two girls in the front row are much easier to identify. The one seated at the left end is Elma Earon and to the right of her is Helen "Curly" Bardwell. Happily, we are in possession of a photo album belonging to Elma Earon, which has many pictures of the two of them, plus another star softball player Isabel "Torchy" Grieve, ca. 1927 (Guelph Civic Museums 2017.1.35).

(Elma Earon)
(Helen Bardwell)
(Helen Bardwell and "Torchy" Grieve)

These three girls were senior students at the Guelph Collegiate an Vocational Institute together in 1926 and are described in the following terms in the school yearbook (Acta Nostra 1926, p. 33):

HELEN BARDWELL, "Curlie," 5 ft. 3 in., 117 lbs., 17 years—Captain of the Basketball team, and plays check; plays first-base on the Softball team; she does both well and is an all round sport.
ISABELLE GRIEVE, "Torchy," 5 ft. 3 1/2 in., 110 lbs., 17 years—Captain and pitcher of the Softball team. A glance at the "Review of Softball games" will show her an able pitcher. Forward on the Basketball team, and you should see her free shots! Sr. Field Day Champion.
ELMA EARON, "Blondy," 5 ft. 7 1/2 in. 120 lbs., 18 years—Captain of the Basketball team last year. She doesn't know how to miss the basket, and is half of the team. Plays short-stop on the Softball team, and is the star hitter.
The yearbook also provides the following photo the school team for 1926:
Altogether, the appearance of Elma and Helen in the postcard image suggests that it was taken in 1925 or 1926, when they were top players in the Guelph softball leagues.

Another interesting point about the postcard picture is that the girls all wear sashes that say "Guelph". Perhaps this means that they had won the title of city champions in the YWCA league. Records of competition for this period are spotty, so it is not clear who was competing and which team won the championships.

In any event, remaining records for the 1926 season suggest how league play unfolded in that era.

The Mercury (20 August 1926) states that the city championship that year had come down to a contest between the St. James's Church team and the Woolworth's team. The St. James's Church team was organized by the local Anglican Young People's Association (or AYPA) while the Woolworth's team was sponsored by the local store belonging to the famous department store chain.

(St. James Anglican Church, Guelph. Courtesy of Guelph Civic Museums 1986.18.116.)

(It is not clear what other teams were in the league that year, and membership in such organizations often varied from year to year. In any case, the 1927 league included the AYPA, Woolworth's, and teams from Northern Rubber and Guelph Carpet Mills. In any event, the AYPA and Woolworth's teams were the top contenders in both years.)

(Military parade, 1938, St. George's Square [F.W. Woolworth Co. store in the background]. Courtesy of Guelph Civic Museums 1978.32.10.)

In the first game of the 1926 series, the St. James's team defeated the Woolworth's side handily. The Mercury sports column provides an account of the play in the usual sportswriter's idiom:

It was quite evident from the opening innings that Miss Joy Pfaff, the star pitcher for the F.W.’s [Woolworth's] team, could not get her benders working, undoubtedly due to the cold, and the Saints lost no time in securing a safe lead, knowing that anything may happen in a softball game, and they added to their total in every innings but the fifth, in which frame they went down in order, the last two striking out. On the other hand, the heaver for the church ladies seemed to have better luck with her slants, and although she only struck out three, she had them waving at almost everything, she only allowed the usually heavy-slugging “fifteen-centers” seven hits, all singles, while she and her assistants hammered out fourteen, two of which were homers, one by “Pep” Hill, and the other by Helen herself.
Unfortunately, the Mercury did not report on the remaining games of the series, but the St. James's team was described as the "league leaders" in the first game of the 1927 season (Mercury, 22 June), so we may infer that they carried off the 1926 city title.

Play in women's softball was essentially the same as in the men's game. (The main adaptation was that the diamond in the women's game was a little smaller.) Unlike in earlier eras, when women athletes were required to compete in bulky dresses, girls in the 1920s could wear shorts and stockings, which allowed them to play a physical game.

As a result, injuries were common. Collisions and rough slides during base running produced bruises, abrasions and even broken limbs. Also, since only the catcher and first base player could use mitts, other players suffered contusions and broken fingers in both hands from fielding high-speed balls.

Injuries were reported in women's play in Guelph. During the Woolworth's vs. St. James 1926 game described above, the paper relates how the St. James's second base player "Pep" Hill was shaken up:

Every player on both teams turned in a good game, but the performance of “Pep” Hill, who cavorts around second for the Saints, was by far the outstanding feature. When coming home in the fourth innings, Miss Hill tried to evade the catcher who had the ball, and in so doing overbalanced herself sufficiently that when the receiver touched her with the ball she lost her balance completely, and received a terrible jolt when she hit the ground. It was several minutes before she could be brought around again, but showing the gameness for which she is known, she went right back into the game, and made even a better “fist” of it from then on, if that were possible.
Another example came during another play-off tilt between the Woolworth's and St. James teams in 1927, when they played to a 5–5 draw. During that game, Woolworth's Pearl Richardson was injured during an aggressive slide into base (Mercury, 22 July):
The game was marred by an accident to Woolworth’s good left fielder, who had the misfortune to break her ankle whilst sliding into the third station. The player was removed to the hospital and the injured member set. The sympathy of the whole softball community goes out to the injured player.
Interestingly, the two teams arranged to play an exhibition game as a benefit for the injured Miss Richardson. The reason for this arrangement is described as follows (Mercury, 23 July):
The members of the team feel that Miss Richardson should not be called upon to defray her own expenses since she was injured in playing in a league match, and it is for this reason that the benefit game is being played.
As was often the case, employers such as Woolworth's do not seem to have offered sick days or other health benefits to employees who lost work due to injuries, even those sustained while playing on the company softball team. The benefit game was evidently intended to raise money to help Miss Richardson make up for the salary she would lose during her recuperation.

The 1927 season seems to have been a very good one for the St. James's team. As usual, their main rivals were the Woolworth's nine and the inevitable playoff contest was closely fought. After winning one game each, the two teams battled to a 5–5 in game three (as noted above), necessitating a sudden-death final.

This proved to be an exciting game where the St. James's team had to come from behind in the late innings to carry off the honours (29 July 1927):

The battle was productive of some smart baseball, and was a nip and tuck struggle all the way. Woolworths led up to the eighth inning, but St. James’, by good batting and good base running, tied the score in their half of the eighth by notching five runs. Woolworths replied with one run in the last half of the same inning, and were leading by 12 to 11 at the start of the ninth frame. St. James’, however, were not to be denied, and cinched the game by scoring three runs in the ninth, whilst their opponents were held scoreless.
Happily, there is a picture of the winning, 1927 edition of the AYPA squad in Harold Cole's 1972 booklet, "Guelph sports hall of fame" (Wellington County Museum A1997.126.07).
The caption identifies the players, some of whom are now familiar:
In front: Elsie Hume, catcher.
First row seated (L. to R.): Torchy Grieve, Pitcher; Dorothy Richardson 2B; Dorothy Harris, Pitcher; Helen Bardwell, 1B; Maizie Barr, 3B; N. Wilson, OF.
Second row (L. to R.): M. Fulton, Catcher; Mildred Peer, OF; Dave Burnett, Mgr; Garson Davis, Dave McClosky, Coach; Helen McGibbon, OF & Pitcher; Adeline Leader, OF.
The uniforms are much splashier than earlier versions. The jersies identify the team sponsor, the AYPA, the shorts are more abbreviated than before, and the stockings are banded.

Cole notes that the St. James's team 1927 was undefeated in Western Ontario competition, which is, presumably, whey they were included in his booklet. The Mercury provides a zealous account of a game between the St. James's team and opponents from the Goodrich team from Kitchener (30 July):

St. James’ girl softballers handed Kitchener Goodrich ladies a 20-7 drubbing in Lyon Park last evening in an exhibition fixture. Outclassing the Twin City aggregation in every department of the game, they had no trouble at any stage of the proceedings.
The Saints were at the peak of their season’s form against the out-of-towners and played airtight ball behind Helen McGibbon, who was on the slab for the locals. Her battery-mate, Minnie Fulton, turned in her usual perfect performance, and every member of the team was right on her toes throughout. All the locals fattened their batting averages to a considerable extent at the expense of the Goodrich visitors, while Misses Wilson and McGibbon counted the two circuit blows of the tussle.
It would be lovely to know about more the teams' triumphs in regional play but the requiste issues of the Mercury are missing from the archives.

Ladies softball was firmly establiished in the Royal City. Local teams continued to compete and hone their skills each summer and fall. Regional play also carried on, when Guelph was represented in the 1930s by teams with names like the Supremes and the Leafettes.

Leagues in Toronto, London, and St. Catherines have been well researched. The history of ladies softball in Guelph awaits our efforts. So, if you have futher information on this matter, let us known in the comments!


Works consulted include:

Thursday, 9 June 2022

The Canada Ingot Iron Company was a long-lived Guelph business

For only about $22m, you could own an intersting piece of Guelph history. The Armtec properties, residing at 41–44 George Street, are now for sale. (The Armtec properties from above. Courtesy of Google Street View.)

Once developed, a substantial group of condominiums may soon loom over the banks of the Speed River from this site.

The company began as the Ontario Metal Culvert Company in 1907. The founders were R.W. and D. Gladstone in Guelph along with H.B. and A.L. Sharman in Russell, Manitoba (Contract Record 1908, v. 23, n. 4, p. 23). As the name suggests, the company made iron culverts of the type that resemble a series of large rings stuck together on their sides to form a tube. These pipes were commonly used to provide drainage under roadways and so on, and were made using a pattern owned by the American Rolling Mill Company (ARMCO) of Middletown, Ohio. In fact, investors from ARMCO had provided the money to begin the Guelph operation in order to move into the Canadian market.

(Ontario Metal Culvert Co. postcard, ca. 1910; printer unknown. From the author's collection.)

Robert William Gladstone was born on a farm in Kent County in 1880 and became a teacher after finishing school and taking a short teacher-training course at the age of 18. In 1899, he "went west," as the common expression then was, to seek his fortune in business. He became a salesman for Massey-Harris, then the largest agricultural machinery supplier in the British empire.

(R.W. Gladstone, MP, on a military stand on Wyndham street, Guelph, ca. 1943. He is the one with his hat off. Detail of Guelph Civic Museums 1979.75.45.)

In 1907, Gladstone became associated with ARMCO, which tapped him to lead their new venture in Canada. Guelph was chosen for its favourable location in south-western Ontario and the old Inglis-Hunter foundry beside the bridge at Norwich and Perth (now Arthur) streets was selected for its first home.

(The Inglis-Hunter foundry, built ca. 1850. Now condominiums at 196 Arthur St. N. Courtesy of Google Street View.)

Business was good and the company expanded. In 1910, it changed its name to the Canada Ingot Iron Co. to reflect both its expansion across the country and the fact that it had diversified its product line beyond culverts. By 1915, it employed 25 to 40 people in Guelph and had branches not only in Winnipeg but also Montreal and Calgary.

(An Armco culvert made by the Canada Ingot Iron Co. Courtesy the Globe, 23 April 1927.)

Gladstone's timing was impeccable. With the widespread adoption of automobiles in that era, public demands for road work increased dramatically. Iron culverts were much more durable and reliable than their wooden predecessors and cheaper than their concrete competitors. Burgeoning government road contracts led to a huge and profitable market. Other important customers were railways and airports, as air shipping and travel become more common.

The company began to expand its product line into other metalic, road-related hardware. For example, when the name of Berlin street was changed to Foster Avenune in the wake of the Great War, new street signs were donated to the city by R.W. Gladstone (Mercury, 18 December 1918).

By 1920, as the firm expanded its product line and sales, it sought out a bigger space to house larger facilities. It purchased a site between George and Clarence streets, and added adjacent properties where it could build factories to suit its needs. One building for culverts and another for other roadway supplies were put up at the direction of Donald Soper, engineer of the Beatty Brothers firm of Fergus, which had recently built similar structures for themselves.

(View down George St. to the Canada Ingot Iron Co. Limited foundry, ca. 1930. Courtesy of Guelph Civic Museums 2009.32.911.)

The site also had the advantage of lying beside the Canadian Pacific Railway line connecting Guelph to Goderich, making shipping trainloads of goods a straightforward proposition.

(Advertising card for the Canada Ingot Iron Co., date and publisher unknown. From the author's collection.)

Besides road signs, the new space allowed the Canada Ingot Iron Company to expand into items such as roadside guardrails and road graders, featured in its advertising of the period.

(Advertisement for the Canada Ingot Iron Co., showing road grader and guardrails of their manufacture; Mercury 20 July 1927.)

In 1946, the name of the company was chagned to the less inspired Armco Drainage and Metal Products of Canada, as the concern apparently became a subsidiary of its American parent.

("Aerial Photograph of Armco Company c. 1940." Courtesy of Guelph Civic Museums, 1979.57.11.)

One interesting development of this period was development of prefabricated metal buildings under the moniker of Steelox. The Steelox system consisted of standardized metal panels, connectors, etc., that could be assembled to form a building, such as a schoolroom.

In 1948, the Paisley Road Public School sought to rapidly expand its classroom space in order to accommodate the increasing population of the post-war suburb springing up in the district. By 1953, it had put up five different buildings, containing 11 classrooms, and a "spacious auditorium-gymnasium," all for the low price of $170,000 complete with furniture (which was not steel, I assume). A report in the Globe (24 June 1953) notes that, although not as pretty, the steel buildings may improve in eyes of residents as they behold their lower tax bills compared to the cost of a nicer, regular school building.

("New Grade One classroom of Armco STEELOX construction at the Paisley Road School—Guelph." Mercury, 31 January 1953.)

The article goes on to give a detailed description of the new campus:

The five buildings which make up the school are arranged in a semi-circle around a foreyard. The central unit contains the principal’s and nurse’s offices. The gymtorium, as it is called, is built on behind. All but one of the buildings have two classrooms each, and the odd one has an extra room built on behind to form a T.
Steel panels about one foot wide which lock together were used as walls and roof. Made by the Armco Drainage and Metal Products Co., here in Guelph, the panels make an airtight, strong building which needs no frame. Insulation is inserted in between the steel and plaster board which forms the inside wall. Teachers said their classrooms were warm all winter.
The classrooms have windows on two sides and each has two exit doors, one of them opening directly onto the playground. Each building has its own oil furnace, concealed in a small room opposite the main entrance.
Was the insulation made with asbestos? Could be.

The article notes that much of the cost saving of this modern school derived in no small part from not having any corridor space. As is usually the case with portables, when students move from one room to another one, they do so outside. The Principal, J.A. McCallum, also remarked that this arrangement had reduced discipline problems: With corridors gone, corridor infractions disappear too!

Curiously, enthusiasm for Steelox buildings did not extend to the administration, which built a conventional structure, with interior corridors, to house the school offices.

As it happens, Armco's own office building was also not made of steel.

("Armco Drainage and Metal Products Staff, 1957" in front of Armco's George St. offices. Courtesy of Guelph Civic Museums, 2013.9.100.)

All was not completely above board in the culvert business, however. In 1957, the the Restrictive Trade Practices Commission delivered a report to the federal Minister of Justice finding that Armco Drainage and Metal Products of Canada, Ltd., Guelph, along with other foundries, had been involved in a long-standing price-fixing scheme (Globe & Mail, 17 August 1957).

According to the report, the cartel had been organized 30 years previously among members of the Metal Culvert Council. In essence, they refused to undercut each other's unit prices and charged customers the same amount for shipping regardless of the distance between factory and delivery site. Of course, this practice reduced competition between manufacturers and raised prices for governments and other purchasers.

Another report by the same Commision in 1970 found that Armco Drainage and Metal Products of Canada Ltd., Guelph, among other suppliers, were again engaged in price fixing (Globe & Mail, 31 July 1970).

In 1987, Armco severed its relationship with its American parent and became Armtec. Now, after more than 100 years at its current site, Armtec is pulling up stakes. Like its culverts, this old Guelph concern will soon be out of sight.


Besides his leadership of the Canadian Ingot Iron Company, Bob Gladstone had political ambitions. In 1925, he entered the fray as the Liberal candidate for the Wellington South riding. This contest pitted him against the popular and ensconced Hugh Guthrie, who had been the MP for the riding since 1900, first as a Liberal then as a Conservative.
("Robert William Gladstone," ca. 1945. Courtesy of Library and Archives Canada, 3216073.)

Not as polished a campaigner as Guthrie, Gladstone made headway in Elora, Erin, and other rural townships. However, Guthrie's strong showing in Guelph and Fergus put him comfortably back in office.

In 1935, Guthrie retired from politics to assume an appointment to the Board of Railway Commissioners. Having steered the Canada Ingot Iron Company through the early years of the Great Depression (and being involved in a price-fixing scheme, it would seem), Bob Gladstone threw his hat into the ring once again. On this occasion, he was successful, defeating Hugh Guthrie jr. and punching his ticket to Ottawa, where he remained for the rest of his career.

One of the projects that Gladstone had a hand in was the construction of the Shand Dam, begun in 1939 and completed in 1942. He was also a member of an all-party committee that set out to design Canada a new flag. The committee approved Gladstone's proposal of the red ensign with a single maple leaf in place of the coat of arms. The proposal inspired little support and the matter was dropped for 20 years.

In 1949, Gladstone was in ill health and suffered a long stay in hospital. As a result, he was unable to run for office again. However, fortune smiled upon him and he was appointed to the Senate. Still a senator, he died two years later of a heart attack on 2 June 1951.


Another figure of distinction associated with the Canadian Ingot Iron Company was Louis Elgin Jones. Born in St. Thomas, Ontario, in 1877, he graduated in engineering from the Unviersity of Toronto and taken up the post of assistant city engineer at Vancouver until the outbreak of the Great War.
("Col. L.E. Jones." Mercury, 4 March 1949.)

In April, 1915, Jones enlisted with the Canadian Expeditionary Force and went overseas as a captain with the 18th Battalion. He had a distinguished career, receiving the Distinguished Service Order on two occasions, and being made a Commander of the Order of St. Michael and St. George. He also rose to the rank of Colonel.

After the war, he resumed his profession as a civil engineer, partly with the Ontario Department of Highways. He most likely became acquainted with the Canada Ingot Iron Company in that connection. In 1925, he became Ontario sales manager for the company and was appointed general manager of the Guelph operation ten years later. There he remained until his retirement in 1946.

He was also active in other walks of life. He was actively involved with the militia, being commander of the Wellington Rifles and, during World War II, was appointed honourary colonel of the 11th Field Regiment, Guelph.

In addition, he as a city alderman (councillor) in 1943, 1944, and 1947.

Finally, he had the additional distinction of being presented to King George and Queen Elizabeth in 1939 on their visit to the Royal City during their whirlwind tour of Canada.


So, the old Armtec site is in many ways a historic one.

If you do have $22m on hand, then you may be interested in the video tour below:


Works consulted include:

Sunday, 17 April 2022

Jubilee Singers come to Guelph

On 19 August 1879, the Guelph Mercury printed a review of a group of musicians who had apparently given their first performance in the Royal City. The Jubilee Singers (later the Canadian Jubilee Singers) had been formed in Hamilton, Ontario, some years earlier to perform in the musical genre that had swept North America and western Europe: the Spiritual.

The writer for the Mercury was very pleased with what he heard:

The singing was in every respect first-class, and the pieces sang were of a sacred character, mostly plantation songs, the composition of which went to show that although the black man was a slave and in the house of bondage, the spirit was unfettered, and that he was a freeman in the highest sense of the word. Whether in the low and plaintive wail of sorrow, or in the high and jubilant song of victory, there was alike displayed a pathos and vigor enchanting. While the clear intonation in which the words were uttered made it capable for everyone to catch the words distinctly, and while enjoying the music of the song were able to appreciate the words.
As the review suggests, the source material of Spirituals was songs sung by enslaved persons in the antebellum American South. Following the US Civil War, performance of this folk music had become the foundation of an entertainment industry that put black musical culture on the same stage as its European counterparts.

The review goes on to name some of the songs performed and the performers themselves:

In such songs as “Hard Trials,” “Ring dem bells, Peter,” etc., which were rendered very powerfully—the singers were loudly encored. Mr. J. O’Banyoun conducted the music, and was well supported by Mrs. O’Banyoun, who also presided at the organ, assisted by Master Ernest O’Banyoun, Mrs. Bland, Messrs. A. Johnston and J. Holland.
The Rev. Josephus O'Banyoun was born in Brantford, Upper Canada, in 1838. His father, Simon Peter O'Banyoun, had escaped slavery in Kentucky and sought freedom in Canada. He was pastor of an American Methodist Episcopal church in Brantford, which later joined with the British Methodist Episcopal (BME) church following its foundation in 1856.
("Rev. Josephus O'Banyoun," from Wright, R.R. and Hawkins J.R. Centennial encyclopaedia of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, 1916, p. 377.)

The apple did not fall far from the tree: Josephus became a minister in the BME church. He gained a reputation for his skill as a singer and became one of the most accomplished concert company managers in the country, leading the Canadian Jubilee Singers, in its various incarnations, on tours of North America and Western Europe.

("Famous Canadian Jubilee Singers," 1902; courtesy of Library Archives Canada R5500-363-9-E.)

On this occasion, the Jubilee Singers had embarked on tour for a particular purpose: To help raise money to reconstruct their church in Hamilton, which had been destroyed by fire. This mission reflected the origin of the Jubilee singing phenomenon, which was to raise money to support a black cultural institution.

Following the US Civil War, various liberal and activist groups sought to enhance educational opportunties for formerly enslaved people in the US South. One such initiative was Fisk Univerity, in Nashville, Tennessee, founded in 1865 by the American Missionary Association and named in honour of Clinton Fisk, a Union general who secured a site and funds for its inception.

Housed in decrepit former army barracks and in constant need of more cash, a group of its students went on a fundraising tour of northern states in 1871. The group had trained for several years and toured locally with some success but it was felt that performances for more liberal—and well-to-do—audiences in the North would be more productive.

("Fisk Jubilee Singers, 1875," courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.)

The tour was a do-or-die gamble: Arranging the tour took all the resources that Fisk University had left, so that failure of the tour could well mean closure of the school. At first, response to the group was tepid among white audiences: While their performances were techically superior, their repertoire was conventional popular music and failed to resonate. However, it was noticed that audiences responded well to pieces derived from so-called plantation songs. Performances were rearranged to feature these pieces and the group was christened "The Jubilee Singers" in November, a reference to the Jewish year of jubilee or emancipation, not to mention its general association with celebration of significant events. The troupe considered this name dignified and it struck a chord with the public as well.

("Steal away to Jesus," often first in programs of the Fisk Jubilee Singers. Courtesy of the Barbershop Harmony Society.)

The Jubilee singing phenomenon was born! By the end of 1872, the Fisk Jubilee Singers had featured at the World Peace Festival in Boston and sung for President Grant at the White House. Signature numbers such as "Roll Jordan, roll," "Steal away to Jesus," "Swing low, sweet chariot" became known to all. The tour raised $20,000 for a new building. In 1873, the troupe began a European tour.

("Roll, Jordan roll," from Twelve years a slave, 2013.)

Given this kind of success, it is no surprise that many Jubilee singers followed in the wake of the Fisk troupe. Many groups, such as the O'Banyoun Jubilee Singers, followed the Fisk model and sang spirituals arranged for performance in concerts to passive audiences. Others incorporated spirituals into other forms of entertainment. For example, they soon found their way into performances of Uncle Tom's Cabin, set on plantations in the antebellum south. In these shows, spirituals were presented in a traditional mode where everyone present (on stage) sang together, more like hymns sung in church by the congregation rather than by the choir only. Of course, spirituals were also incorporated into variety acts and minstrel shows, where parodies or comic pieces, such as "Oh, dem golden slippers," were performed.

Jubilee singers did not take long to get to Guelph. The ad below appears in the Mercury (13 Feb. 1878):

The ad certainly provides clues as to some of the attractions that jubilee concerts had for white audiences. Its emphasis on "genuine colored people" reflects the significance of authenticity to audiences. Accustomed to minstrel shows in which black people were portrayed and mocked by white people in blackface, the ad assures readers that the proposition in a Jubilee concert involved no imposture—it was the real deal.

As Graham (2018, pp. 249–250) comments, formal Jubilee concerts offerred white audiences an apparently direct connection with black performers:

Student jubilee concerts served as a forum in which whites with no previous experience of plantation slavery could imagine that they suddenly understood the pain of the freedmen.
The music was certainly touching and many audience members were moved to sympathy. Still, the effect itself was something of an illusion:
The singers were seen as a symbol rather than as individuals, and their spirituals represented an imaginery Other that encompassed essentialized notions of blackness, slavery, and ultimately Africa.
Of course, the singers did not see their performances in the same way. The Fisk singers had initially been reluctant to sing spirituals in public precisely because of their association with slavery. However, they came to see the music not as a throwback to that era but as a public assertion of their musical culture on terms at least signficantly under their own control. Their mission was to promote the education and advancement of black people by presenting themselves to the general public as performers with talents, skills, and material that were to be taken seriously. In this mission they certainly succeeded: Troupes like the Fisk and O'Banyoun singers raised significant amounts of money and support for their causes.
("Swing low, sweet chariot," Fisk University Jubilee Quartette, Victor Records, 1909.)

In addition, the Jubilee singing phenomenon became, as Graham puts it, the birth of a black entertainment industry. Despite its shortcomings, the demand for authenticity that it brought created a space where black performers could represent and promote themselves. The scope of demand also created career opportunities for black muscians, albeit in a system dominated by white businesses. Even after interest in Jubilee singing faded, its precedent made room for the growth of further black musical genres such as blues and jazz.

The Fisk Jubilee Singers, re-formed after their European tour, visited Guelph in 1880, 1881, 1882, 1883, 1888, 1889 and 1892 (on the last two occasions as the Tennessian Jubilee Singers). These performances were sell-outs and were praised rapturously in the Mercury (e.g., 26 Oct. 1881):

Nothing in the way of music could be sweeter or more harmonious than the blending of voices, now sinking to softness like the sound of distant chimes, then swelling into rich volume like the tintinnabulation of silver sounding bells wafted on the breeze.
The length of the concert was doubled by demands for encores, "and the audience dispersed delighted with the entertainment."

Other American troupes that performed in town included the Sheppard Jubilee Singers mentioned earlier, the Memphis Jubilee Singers, The Nashville Students, and the Ball Family Jubilee Singers.

The O'Banyoun Jubilee Singers performed in Guelph numerous times. Sometimes, these visits were meant to raise funds for their own purposes. On other occasions, they were in support of the local churches. For example, they gave a concert at the City Hall on 18 Sep. 1880 as part of the celebration of laying the cornerstone of the BME church on Essex street. When the church was officially opened the next year, the Singers performed a number of songs and the Rev. O'Banyoun presided over the ceremony.

A related troupe was the Canadian Jubilee Singers, organized by William and Sadie Carter, which included a number of Hamiltonians such as Mrs. Bland-O'Banyoun, Josephus O'Banyoun's fourth wife, and his son Earnest. Formed in 1878, the group was an international hit, touring Europe and the United States for a number of years.

(Postcard of "The Original Canadian Jubilee Singers," courtesy of the New York Public Library NYPG00-F335.)

This group performed in Guelph several times, such as on 19 June 1889, as indicated in the Mercury ad below.

A cakewalk was a dance in which black performers would perambulate about a square in an elaborate choreography that served to show off their agility and also mocked the stereotypical mannerisms of well-to-do white people. The couple that gave the best performance took the prize, which was an elaborate cake—thus the English expressions "to take the cake" and the ironic "easy as a cakewalk."

By the late 1880s, interest in Jubilee concerts had begun to wane due to familiarity and growing interest in other music genres. The presence of a cakewalk in the 1889 Guelph concert is evidence of this trend. After the US Civil War, cakewalks featured in minstrel shows but became a popular activity in many kinds of get-togethers. The music played during cakewalks became a predecessor of ragtime, so its presence in a Jubilee concert suggests that performance of spiritual songs was no longer sufficient to meet audiences's expectations.

Besides touring companies, Jubilee singing was also performed by local companies, and Guelph was no exception. Members of the congregation of the BME church on Essex street performed them for local audiences. It is not clear when this effort began, but the Mercury (26 June 1891) mentions that members of the BME choir assisted in the performance of a concert featuring members of O'Banyoun's company during an event the Norfolk street Methodist church.

(The Guelph Black Heritage Society Hall, formerly the British Methodist Episcopal Church; courtesy Google Street View.)

An early mention of Guelph's own Jubilee singers appears the following year (21 March 1892):

W.C.T.U. Concert.—The third of the series of Saturday night concerts under the auspices of the W.C.T.U. was held in the R.T. of T. hall. The attendance was large. The chair was occupied by P.C. Kenning, of Guelph Council. After the opening hymn and prayer, Rev. Mr. Cunningham delivered a short address on the evils of intemperance. The Guelph jubilee singers, eight in number, then gave a programme of jubilee songs and hymns, which was interspersed with readings by Miss Maddock and Mr. Payne. The jubilee singers were the chief attraction, and several of their selections were encored. A vote of thanks moved by Mrs. Jones, President of the W.C.T.U., and seconded by Mr. Payne, was tendered to the jubilee singers, and the singing of God Save the Queen brought a very pleasant evening’s programme to a close.
It seems clear that Jubilee singing was well established at the Guelph BME church by this time. This impression is confirmed by the fact that Miss Melissa Smith, a young member of the local congregation, toured with the Canadian Jubilee Singers for about six months at around this time.

Mentions in the Mercury of local Jubilee Singers connected with the BME church continue through the 1890s, where they are described as the "BME Jubilee Singers," the "Guelph Jubilee Singers," the "Royal City Jubilee Singers," and the "Evening Bell Jubilee Singers." There is even mention of Junior and Senior Jubilee groups, suggesting that the church had a deep bench of talent in the field.

The most fulsome description of a concert by the local group is connected with a church performance (Mercury, 21 Oct. 1896):

The concert given in the B.M.E. church on Tuesday evening by the Evening Bell Jubilee Singers was a success not only in the extensive programme, but also in attendance. The little church was well filled with people of all denominations and the programme was first-class in every respect. The jubilee songs and hymns by the company were excellently rendered, and the quartettes by Mrs. Waldron, Messrs. A. Waldron, J. Waldron, Miss Cromwell and Mr. A. Waldron were exceptionally well sung. Mr. A. Waldron’s solos were cleverly given. The Misses Williams also sang some pleasing duets. Their singing was the feature of the evening. They were accompanied on the organ by Miss Schofield. Another new candidate for public honors was Mr. J.H. Matthews who, in his solos and guitar accompaniments, stamped himself as a clever performer. The violin solos by Mr. Joseph Mallott were fairly well performed. The chair was occupied by Mr. E.J. Tovell, who, in his opening remarks, bade all a hearty welcome. It is the intention of the singers to give a concert once a month, the proceeds of which will go to pay the indebtedness of the church. The company give a concert in Freelton next week.
It's not clear yet how long Jubilee singing persisted as a genre at the BME church, although jubilee songs were on the program for the installation of a new organ in 1922 (Mercury, 14 Feb.).

In any event, it is clear that Jubilee singing was an important part of the musical scene in Guelph, as it was elsewhere, and that it played a significant role in the local black community as well.


Works consulted include:
("Swing Low, Sweet Chariot: 150 Years of the Fisk Jubilee Singers," courtesy of American Experience—PBS.)
(Jubilee Singers : Sacrifice and Glory, WGBH 2000.)
(Michigan J. Frog performs a cakewalk dance to the ragtime tune of "Hello! Ma baby," in the Warner Bros. Looney Tunes cartoon "One froggy evening," 1950; courtesy of WB Kids.)

Sunday, 30 January 2022

You would enjoy this sport: The Snow Shoe Club of Guelph

A propos of the winter season, this postcard was sent by A.N.B. from Guelph to Kathleen Tate of Bedford, Pennsylvania, on 21 December 1911.
A.N.B. writes cheerfully, "You would enjoy this sport. Hope you have a very merry Xmas and a Happy New Year." As the caption notes, the sport depicted is snowshoeing.

The card was printed by the large British publisher Raphael Tuck and Sons beginning in 1908. It was not a Guelph scene. In fact, it was adapted from a photograph taken by noted Montreal photographers William Notman & Son (Courtesy of the McCord Museum of Montreal, VIEW-3613). It was made to resemble an oil painting; thus the descriptor "Oilette" in the bottom-right corner.

The photo's title is, "A snowshoe tramp on the river ice, Montreal, QC, 1903." No doubt, it depicts members of one of the many Montreal snowshoe clubs out for one of their regular outings.

Snowshoeing, of course, was nothing new in Canada. French soldiers, farmers, coureurs de bois and voyageurs all learned to use snowshoes from the Indigenous peoples they encountered. Members of the NorthWest Company learned it from them. In their day, using snowshoes was a necessity for getting around in wintertime.

("Indiens voyageant en raquettes avec un traƮneau," Cornelius Kreighoff, ca. 1856. Courtesy of Library and Archives Canada, C-013458.)

As the nineteenth century wore on, the need for snowshoes declined. Lower and Upper Canada were becoming increasingly settled so that road networks and sleighs, then railways, tended to sideline snowshoeing as a form of winter travel. So, it was in 1840 that the Montreal Snow Shoe Club (MSSC) was formed to promote snowshoing as a sport and leisure activity.

Enthusiasm for the sport increased and reached a peak in the 1880s, when there were about 25 clubs in Montreal alone and dozens more throughout the country. Guelphites fell into line and the Guelph Snow Shoe Club was formed in 1882.

The Club kept to a regular schedule. One night each week of winter, club members would convene at a conveient site, often the Wellington Hotel, and set out for a "tramp," often to the house of someone who had invited them for the purpose.

For example, the Mercury (6 January 1883) describes a first-season tramp in some detail. Club members mustered at the residence of J.D. Williamson, across London Road from what is now Exhibition Park. At about 8pm, they tramped about 2.5 miles due west then "circled" to the south and called at the residence of Mrs. Armstrong, who was "delighted at the visit" and well prepared:

She extended the club the most cordial hospitality, and correctly perceived the preference of her company in the way of refreshments, when she set before them such a quantity of milk as would have seemed enormous in the eyes of men with ordinary appetites, but which so quickly disappeared before the sharpened appetites of the snow shoeists that one of their number was led to remark, it must have reminded the lady of calves in the spring-time.
The men departed and returned to the city at about 11pm, having covered about 5 miles in all.

The trip relates many of the attractions of snowshoeing as it was then practiced. The physical activity was cold but invigorating, which increased the snoeshoeists' relish for their pit-stop refreshments all the more. Navigating in the dark had its pitfalls:

Rough fields, with a snow drift here and a bare spot there, a hill in one place and a hollow in another, are not the most easy places traversed in the darkness, even with a pair of snow shoes as a means of locomotion. This was verified by numerous falls, and one of the tourists was unfortunate enough to tumble into a gravel pit, half filled with soft snow, in which he was almost buried out of sight.
Enduring these little setbacks was all part of the fun.

Of course, snowshoeing provided some enjoyable social opportunities. Besides being entertained by hosts, club members often entertained each other with song and competition. Consider one evening spent at the popular camp site called The Rocks (now the quarry site on the Reformatory lands; Mercury 30 January 1885):

About twenty-five members of the Guelph Snow Shoe Club went for a tramp last night. The snow was in splendid condition and the boys enjoyed themselves immensely. Taking a cut across the fields they struck the river at the Water Works and followed it up to the Rocks. There they lit a fire, and after enjoying themselves smoking and listening to some excellent songs by the Captain and others, they marked off a hundred yard track and had some exciting and closely contested snow shoe races.
Although certainly boisterous, Club events could be quite civilized. For example, a social event was held at "Springfield" (the farm of James Anderson, to the southwest of town) to raise money for the purchase of an organ for St. Andrew's church. The chief feature of this soirée was a musical programme including instrumentalists, soloists, and an ensemble of the choir. Although late, due to have gotten lost, the Snow Shoe Club arrived to play its part (Mercury, 13 February 1885):
The Snow Shoe Club which tramped out during the evening added a very interesting part to the programme. They signalled their arrival by singing the well known glee “There is a letter in the candle.” Their singing was heartily enjoyed and they presented a very pretty appearance as they stood around together with their blanket coats and tuques.
"There is a letter in the candle" seems like a charming tune. I cannot locate a recording but there is sheet music if you'd care to try it out.

The passage also mentions part of the snowshoeist's uniform: Blanket coats and tuques. In full, the dress consisted of a white blanket coat tied with a sash, tuque, leggings and moccasins.

("Snowshoer running, Montreal, QC, about 1875." Photograph by William Notman. Courtesy of McCord Museum VIEW-1018.1)

Different clubs often distinguished their uniforms with particular colours of hats, sashes and leggings, as well as special epaulettes and badges. Happily, David Allan jr., who was a member of the Club, later drew a picture of a member of the Guelph club (1936/2012, p. 97):

The figure wears a dark blue tuque, sash, and leggings, along with red epaulettes and trim on his coat, suggesting that these were perhaps the Club markings.

Besides uniforms, showshoe clubs adopted other aspects of military organization. In addition to presidents and board members, clubs had Captains, Lieutenants, and Whippers-in, whose job it was to direct the other members during tramps. The Whipper-in job was take up the rear of the column and ensure that no one got lost or left behind.

Also, snowshoe clubs were predominantly male. Board members and officers of the Guelph Club were all men, which seems to be typical. There is no mention of women joining the tramps, although women certainly did go snowshoeing. In some clubs, women would go for shorter excursions or join the men for part of theirs.

("Snowshoe group, Mount Royal, Montreal, QC, about 1901." N.M. Hinshelwood. Courtesty of McCord Museum, MP-1985.31.182.)

Also like military units, the Club also held occasional marches. Perhaps the biggest one occurred in February 1886, when the Club marched around the downtown core and then led the way to the great toboggan hill on Evan Macdonald's farm (now the Cutten Club) (Mercury, 5 February 1886):

Last evening the members of the Guelph Snow Shoe and Toboggan Club assembled on the Market Square in front of the office of Mr. John Davidson, President, and formed a torch light procession. There were close on fifty members bearing torches, and about a score more without. The President took the lead, having his toboggan attractively decorated with Chinese lanterns. The route taken was along Macdonell to Norfolk Street to the junction with Woolwich, thence along that street to Wyndham. On coming along this street in single file, serpentine fashion, and occasionally shooting off rockets as they proceeded, the effect was very good and the appearance attractive. On reaching St. George’s Square the procession filed around the fountain and discharged a number of rockets, after which they proceeded down Wyndham and Macdonell streets turning at Bell’s factory, and proceeding along Market Square and the Dundas Road to the slide on Macdonald’s hill, where they enjoyed themselves until ten o’clock.
In the days before winter street plowing, a pair of snowshoes may have made parading down the city streets quite a bit easier.

Besides recreation, snowshoeing was also done competitively. As noted above, casual events occurred during club outings. However, national competitions were held at the annual Winter Carnival in Montreal. Members of the Guelph Club did not compete at this level, although one entrant with Guelph connections did well: G.M. "Dooty" Watt, who won the 200-yard race (Mercury, 26 January 1883), was a former student at the Ontario Agricultural College.

("Hurdle race on snowshoes, Montreal, QC, 1892," William Notman & Son. Courtesy of McCord Museum, VIEW-3147.0.)

Given the popularity of the sport, it wasn't long before photographers began to offer snowshoe-related backdrops in their photography studios. In winter of 1885, Guelph photographer William Marshall advertised that he had a "snow shoe scene" available, which must have appealed to club members and their hangers-on. Unfortunately, no photographs of the Guelph Club have yet come to light, although we can get a sense of what was on offer from portraits of showshoeists from other Clubs.

("Miss R. Hamilton and snowshoe, Montreal, QC, 1886." William Notman & Son, II-80085.1.)

The Mercury (12 April 1883) also mentions "a very fine" sketch of the members of the Club, excuted by Mr. Hetherington. Twenty-seven men were depicted and the work was "the best of the kind that has yet been produced in Guelph" and many photographs of it were taken. This work seems not to have survived but many Clubs of the era had similar portraits done.

("Toronto Snowshoe Club, in front of fountain, Queen's Park, at head of University Avenue," ca. 1884. Courtesy of Toronto Public Library, PICTURES-R-5289.)

Mentions of the Club seem to end after the 1887–1888 season. It's not clear why. Poulter (2003) argues that the sport enjoyed a vogue, in part, because its associations with Indigenous and French Canadian culture distinguished it from British sports like curling and American sports like baseball (much like lacrosse). Perhaps the continuing rise of ice hockey took some of the wind from snowshoeing's sails in this connection.

In any event, Guelphites and other Canadians continued to enjoy snowshoeing, as our postcard suggests. Of course, it continues to be a popular winter activity to this day. If you are a snowshoer, then please enjoy your next tramp! If not, then consider trying it out.


Works consulted include: