Tuesday, 17 August 2021

In "Dolly Varden" and Lillian Spencer, Guelph receives a comical treat

When you examine the scene below, what do you see?

One of the pleasures of looking at old postcard views, such as this one printed for the druggist A.B. Petrie & Son, is they can be enjoyed in many ways. They can be enjoyed simply for their aesthetic value. They can be enjoyed for the glimpses that they afford into the people and things depicted in them. They can also be enjoyed as puzzles, challenging viewers to figure out what is happening and when. What you see depends on what you are looking for.

Of course, the image in the postcard above is of St. George's Square, an image that was reproduced in several Edwardian postcards and that I have discussed in a previous post.

In aesthetic terms, the image is nicely layered. In the foreground is a woman with a parasoal strolling away from the camera, off on some unknown errand. In the middle ground is a two-wheeled cart. Although such an item would draw attention in the middle of the road today, no one is paying it any mind in the image. In fact, it is a sanitation cart, whose purpose was removal of horse droppings from the streets. In an era before motor vehicles, the sanitation cart was a familiar, unremarkable sight, as was its cargo.

Nearby is a wagon being drawn by two horses. The driver is speaking to someone on the street, who may well be the custodian of the sanitation cart. The errand of the wagon driver is not clear, although the sign on the side of the tank on the wagon is suggestive: "Gasoline." Why is a tank of gasoline being pulled down Wyndham Street on a wagon? Perhaps that is what the custodian wants to know.

In the middle of the Square is the Blacksmith Fountain, a symbol of "industry" and the industrial aspirations of the Royal City.

In the background stands the old Post Office/Customs House. The structure projects both forwards and upwards, presiding over the Square as a reminder of the authority of the Canadian state that it and the city belong to. Curiously, the clock face that one would expect in the circle at the top of the tower is missing. This little puzzle is easily resolved: Although the clock tower was added to the old Post Office in 1903, the clock itself was not installed until late in 1906—not an unusual sort of occurrence at the time. This fact also helps to date this image to that interval.

Although the image is largely static, there is one dynamic element, namely the streetcars approaching down Wyndham Street to the left. These cars were the small open ones (no windows) that were bought for the system when it began operations in 1895. A closeup of the front of the nearest car shows that it was carrying a sign on its fender:

The sign reads, "Dolly Varden // Opera House // To-Night." This little detail dates the image to exactly one day, since Dolly Varden played in Guelph on 19 Sep. 1906 only (Mercury):

As the ad states, Dolly Varden was a "dainty comic opera," that is, a musical comedy with a marriageable woman in the lead role. In fact, the character Dolly Varden has an interesting history of its own.

"Dolly Varden" was a character from Charles Dickens's Barnaby Rudge, a beautiful coquette distinguished by her colourful manner of dress. The character proved to be a popualar one and inspired a whole style of Victorian ladies' dress that was named the "Dolly Varden" after her. It was a Victorian reintepretation of the fashions of the 1780s, when Barnaby Rudge was set. Clothing stores advertised Dolly Varden dresses, hats, and shoes. Women could wear such outfits to costume parties, where they were sure to be recognized as a "Dolly Varden."

("Music sheet cover depicting women wearing Dolly Varden costumes." Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.)

With the commercial potential of this character in mind, it is no surpise that Dolly finally got her own day in the sun. Around 1900, writer Stanislaus Stange and composer Julian Edwards wrote a comic opera with her as the main character. The plot has little to do with Barnaby Rudge, beyond being set in the 1780s and featuring the gaily-dressed Miss Varden. In the opera, Dolly Varden is an very pretty, assertive, but somewhat unsophisticated orphan girl set to inherit a tidy fortune. She visits London with her jealous guardian, Jack Fairfax, who desires to have her to himself. However, she manages to outfox him and marry her true love, the dashing army officer Dick Belleville. Not only that, Dolly prevents her friend Letitia from marrying the inappropriate fop Lord Gayspark, instead setting her up with the manly Captain Harcourt.

Naturally, this sort of action called for a great deal of singing. The opera was packed with comic and romantic ditties including:

  • For the knot there's no untying;
  • An aural misunderstanding;
  • Song of the sword;
  • The girl you love;
  • The lay of the jay;
  • My ship's the girl for me;
  • Dolly Varden (of course);
  • We met in Lover's Lane; and
  • A cannibal maid!
Sheet music for the opera sold well and "We met in Lover's Lane" became a number one seller.

You can hear this hit single, sung by William F. Hooley in 1902 (courtesy of the Library of Congress):

The piece was cast and rehearsed in New York but opened in Toronto on 23 Sep. 1901. In brief, it was a smash. The review in the Globe gushed (24 Sep 1901):

A crowded house last night at the Princess Theatre gave an enthusiastic reception to the new comic opera, “Dolly Varden,” which was presented for the first time on any stage by the Lulu Glaser Opera Company. So emphatic was the success with the audience of the “premiere” that the composer, Mr. Julian Edwards, who conducted for this occasion only, the librettist, Mr. Stanislaus Stange, and the star, Miss Glaser, were repeatedly called before the curtain on the close of the first act, and Mr. Stange had to make a little speech on behalf of himself and colleagues, in acknowledgment.
The lush costumes and rich settings were praised to the roof. The music was praised as "bright and tuneful" and Sullivanesque.

The songs were well recieved, with the audience demanding encores and sometimes double encores on many occasions. The composition was ambitious and demanding, and much praise was heaped on how effectively it was presented:

The ensemble finale of this act is a clever bit of work. The composer has contrived to work up the volume of sound by simple means to a grandeur approaching the effect of grand opera, and here the excellent material he had at command in the number of leading voices, showed to advantage. In the second act, in addition to a taking dance and chorus at the opening, and a pretty minuet, with a flavor of an Offenbachian Tylorienne, there may be mentioned a double quintette of fine tonal effects and light and shade, and an octette that won instant approval. The quartette of leading women’s voices also showed to advantage in this act.
Naturally, the leading lady, Miss Lulu Glaser, won particular admiration:
The star of the company, Miss Lulu Glaser, is too well known as a clever and attractive comedienne to need much comment upon her performance. Vivacious and bright, with a superabundance of spirit, and possessing a voice of good quality, she held the stage whenever she had anything to do, and as the sprightly Dolly Varden, she was well suited with the role.
The show stayed in Toronto for a week before hitting the rails. As a big hit, and seeking to be worthy of the New York stage, it stuck to the big cities and did not visit Guelph, though Guelphites must have heard of it.

Certainly, it was a big breakthrough for its leading lady, Lulu Glaser. She featured prominently in promotional material, like this picture of what must be a key scene (Hamilton Times, 26 Sep. 1903):

Miss Glaser's image, in costume, appeared in the promotional postcard below:

("Lulu Glaser." Courtesy of the New York Public Library.)

A similar picture appeared on the cover of The Billboard trade magazine in 1902.

The show toured the continent twice. A company was formed to present it in Britain as well. It also achieved its highest aspiration, a lengthy run in New York. In fact, it was staged in Herald Square, New York City, for the entire summer of 1902. This was no small feat since theatres normally closed between May and September. In the days before air conditioning, it was simply not feasible to pack hundreds of people into a dark and poorly ventilated auditorium for hours while the mercury ascended the thermometer to sweltering heights. (Nor was it healthy for the performers.) The Billboard (17 May 1902) noted that the theatre was specially modified for the occasion:

Eight big noiseless fans are being set in different parts of the house and a large hole is being cut in the top of the dome of the auditorium, in which is being placed a “suck fan,” through which the hot air will be removed. New summer costumes for the whole cast are promised for Decoration Day.
Of course, all good things must come to an end and Lulu Glaser left "Dolly Varden" after the 1903–04 season. The show ran for one more season with Maud Hollins, who was Miss Glaser's understudy (I think).

There the matter may have rested, and Guelph deprived of this musical spectacular, but for the intervention of the Aborn Operatic Company. Milton and Sargent Aborn were on the lookout for a vehicle for a potential star they had picked out, Miss Lillian Spencer. She had attracted their attention after graduating suddenly from the chorus to the lead in the musical comedy "Florodora" along with her subsequent work. They felt that she would be a good fit for the lead role in "Dolly Varden" and so purchased the rights to stage another run of the show.

("The Aborn Company presents Dolly Varden;" ca. 1906. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.)

They had good reason for this judgement. Although only 21 years old, Lillian Spencer had a long history in showbusiness, particularly in comedy. At the tender age of three years, she trod the boards with American-German actor Joseph "Fritz" Emmet. Mr. Emmet cut his teeth in the post Civil War era in a minstrel troupe, where his claim to fame was singing songs in German while in blackface. He graduated to ethnic comedy, speaking and singing in a stagey German accent while yodelling and performing spectacular dance numbers.

He was most noted for his roles in the character of "Fritz," a German who experienced misadventures in various locales, while singing, dancing, and playing the guitar. The first "Fritz" show involved the character's arrival in America, with later reditions set in Ireland, Australia, etc. The plot and details of each play made little sense but that was of no consequence: The audience always wanted the same dances, the "Cuckoo song," and whatnot.

("Joseph K. Emmett in the stage production Fritz, Our Cousin German, 1869." Courtesy of the New York Public Library.)

Part of his act was interacting with children: searching for missing ones, singing them lullabies, and so on. So it was that a three-year-old Lillian Spencer tumbled out of a prop suitcase on stage in 1888, probably during a production of "Uncle Joe; or, Fritz in a Madhouse." Audiences took to the little waif immediately and she became a professional, child actor.

Why Lillian Spencer entered the theatre at such a young age is unclear. However, the 1900 US Census shows her living in a boarding house in Manhattan along with a Jessie Spencer, age 35, whose occupation is also listed as "actress." Her marital status is listed as divorced. Although records are sparse, it seems that Jessie was Lillian's mother and may have put her on stage as a way of earning a living while being a single mother, although that is speculation.

In her early career, she was often billed simply as "Baby Spencer" and made her way as an actor and a model (The Labor World, 1 Dec. 1906):

For a number of years, she played children’s parts, and at the same time, became noted as an artist’s model. Her piquant style of childish beauty made her much sought after for idealistic paintings, and her likeness was used by many famous artists.
It would be interesting to track down some of those images.

In any event, "Dolly Varden" returned to the rails for the 1906–07 season. It played in many of the same cities as the earlier runs, such as Toronto and Hamilton. However, although the show had been revised for its new rendition, some of the novelty had worn off and it played one-night stands in smaller cities that were bypassed in previous years. And so it was that "Dolly Varden" arrived in Guelph, where, as in many other small cities, advertisements that hung on streetcars carried with them Miss Lillian Spencer's hopes for a career as a mature performer.

(The Opera House Guelph—now the site of the Guelph Community Health Centre at Wyndham and Woolwich streets— printed by the Pugh Mfg. Co. of Toronto, ca. 1910.)

The Mercury did not review the show, so it is hard to say exactly what sort of reception it got. However, the publicity stills below, published in the Sep. 12 and 14 Chatham Daily Planet provide some idea of what audiences saw.

("Lillian Spencer with 'Dolly Varden.'" Miss Spencer appears to have a flower in her teeth and is covered in straw.)
("Lillian Spencer and Huntington May in 'Dolly Varden.'" Mr. May played Jack Fairfax.)

In lieu of a report from Guelph, this short review from the performance in Duluth, Minn. (26 Sep 1906) provides an idea of the show's reception:

“Dolly Varden” was very prettily produced at the Lyceum theater last evening. The production is worthy of its title of comic opera success. Its music is a delight, and the stage pictures and costumes are charming. When first in Duluth, with Lulu Glaser in the title role, it met with great public favor, and last night this success was repeated, although Miss Glaser is no longer with the company. For some reason or other the audience was a small one, but what there was of it was enthusiastically appreciative.
Lillian Spencer is the present Dolly Varden. She is a small, very active person, graceful and light of foot, with a piquant air and a contagious laugh. Her singing was well received, and her acting full of spirit. Her support was quite satisfactory.
Piquant to Miss Glaser's sprightly, it sounds as though Miss Spencer succeeded in putting her own impression on the role. We may assume that Guelphites gave it their approval also.

To my knowledge, Miss Spencer never returned to Guelph. Her encounter with the Royal City was fun but largely inconsequential to both. Even so, the incident is illustrative of the life of small cities of Ontario in the Edwardian era, and how they were connected to the larger world. In matters of popular entertainment, Guelphites relied on the theatrical circuits centered on the metropolises of the day, as also illustrated in the case of the play Officer 666. The entertainment world has changed substantially in the meantime but we may enjoy a glimpse back in time through media like old postcards, if we are willing to look for it.

Although "Dolly Varden" did not catapult Lillian Spencer to stardom, it does seem to have provided her with a lasting career separate from her early stint as Baby Spencer. She remained in New York and featured in many productions, although not usually as the star. In 1917, she joined the Charles Coburn company, which prompted the following review of her career up to that point (Sun, 27 Jan 1917):
A newcomer in the company now presenting “The yellow jacket” with Mr. and Mrs. Coburn at the Harris Theatre is Lillian Spencer, who plays the roles of Duc Jung Fah and See Quoc Fah (Fuchsia Flower and Four Season Flour). Miss Spencer’s interpretation of the role of the Second wife is a sprightly contribution to the performance and a somewhat intimate rendering of a part to which full justice has not heretofore been done. Miss Spencer may lay claim to the irregularly expressed but nevertheless clearly understood title of “natural born actress.” She has been on the stage since she was 5 years old. She was known as the youngest star in the theater when she appeared in the title role of “Dolly Varden” under the management of Milton Aborn. She has played important parts with Maude Adams in “What every woman knows,” “Chantacler” and “Jeanne d’Arc,” and although she never actually publicly appeared in place of Miss Adams, she was that eminent actress’s understudy and substituted for her at most of the rehearsals of these plays. Miss Spencer has appeared also in the support of Fritz Scheff, Blanche Ring and Julian Eltinge. More recently she enacted the role of the Lisping Girl in “The Girl who smiles” at the Longacre Theatre, and also impersonated one of the matrimonial chances offered to the hero of “Seven Chances” played originally at the Cohan Theatre.
The final record that I have found about her is a notice in Variety (17 Nov 1926) stating that she had a role in the Coburn production, "Ole Bill, M.P.".

If any reader has further information about her, please leave it in the comments below!

Pictures of Miss Lillian Spencer are not exactly common. Besides the publicity images shown above, there is a set of photographs taken in the 1910–1915 period by photographer Arnold Genthe, who was particulary known for his images of notable persons of the day. I will show a few here; the rest are accessible at the Library of Congress website.

A photo from Theatre Magazine (Jan 1918) shows Miss Lillian Spencer luxuriating in a Balch Price motor coat made of finest Australian opossum. She looks warm! Perhaps she continued to do modeling work in addition to acting.

Sunday, 25 July 2021

Guelph postcard producers: C. Anderson & Co.

The postcard below provides an interesting, though murky, view across St. George's Square, as it appeared around 1910. The caption, "Post Office and section of Wyndham st., Guelph, Canada", draws attention to the city's fancy and recently renovated post office, which appears to the left of Douglas Street.

As always, the Square is busy, with men and women walking around and through it. Horses with carts are coming and going. Someone is running away from the camera up Wyndham street—camera shy? A young man appears to be scooting through the square with his knee on a four-wheeled cart. Streetcar tracks bisect the space diagonally.

The alert viewer may note that the stamp is attached to the front of this postcard instead of the back as usual. It is also notable that the stamp is upside-down. The stamp's rotation may convey a message. In the "Language of stamps," an inverted stamp could be used to ask, "Do you remember me?" In other words, it was a subtle nag to the recipient that a card or letter was expected ASAP.

That this orientation was not an accident seems to be borne out by the message, sent to Miss Mary Elliott of Galt on 7 March 1910:

Dear Mollie. Have you been doing the Rip Van Winkle act lately[?] Haven’t heard for ages, poor Mrs. Fairley has been in the Hospital again this last month. Write soon. Helen Taylor
The postcard was printed by Warwick Bros. & Rutter, Toronto, for C. Anderson & Co., Guelph.

As fortune would have it, the C. Anderson store is visible in the postcard picture. At the right-hand edge lies Joseph Pequegnat's jewelery store. Immediately to its left, at 53 Wyndham street, is the storefront of C. Anderson & Co. The storefront can be better seen in the detail below.

C. Anderson & Co. was a popular bookstore that sold books, stationary, and "fancy goods." It was named after its founder and manager Christian Anderson. Besides being a highly successful Guelph merchant, Christian Anderson has the distinction of being one of the Royal City's few, early woman entrepreneurs.

Christian Anderson was born on 16 July 1855 to Alexander and Christian Anderson, somewhere in the vicinity of Guelph, and, clearly, named after her mother. Her father led a peripatetic life, which may account for the uncertainty of Christian's early whereabouts. He immigrated to Canada from Fyfeshire, Scotland with his parents and siblings around 1834 and settled on a farm in the Paisley Block near Guelph (Mercury, 11 Feb. 1889). As soon as he was able, he went into farming on his own account in "different localities." Then, his wanderings truly began:

Tiring of this he went into partnership with his brother Robert in the lumbering business, at what was known as Stumptown, in Halton Co., near Acton. After the partnership was dissolved he went to Georgetown and embarked in the grocery business which he carried on for a few years. About twenty years ago he removed to Guelph and taught in the public schools for about eight years. Giving this occupation up he went into the manufacture of brushes. He threw this business up also and went to Toronto, where he has since carried on a glassware agency.
He died in Toronto in 1889 but was buried in the Union (now Woodlawn) Cemetery at Guelph.

Ms. Anderson was educated in public schools in Georgetown and, later, Guelph, where the family located in 1868 (Mercury, 1 Oct. 1918). So, perhaps "Stumptown" was her place of birth. She seems not to have shared her father's wanderlust and remained in the Royal City for the rest of her life.

However, Ms. Anderson displayed independence. Upon graduating from public school, she entered the employ of T.J. Day, whose bookstore was a fixture at 29 Wyndham street since 1861. There she remained as a clerk for over 20 years. Evidently, she enjoyed the independence brought by her job and income and never married.

However, in 1898, she decided to set up shop for herself. It is unclear what led her to make this decision; much later, we are informed only that, "Miss Anderson was dissatisfied with working for another, so decided to branch out into business for herself" (Mercury, 28 Feb. 1948). Whatever the full story was, this move seems to speak further of Ms. Anderson's independent spirit. She was soon joined in the venture by her younger sister, Lydia, who also, as it happens, remained a spinster.

The 1908 Industrial number of the Mercury provides a fulsome description of C. Anderson & Co. in its early years:

The premises occupied comprise a large three-story building, located at 53 Wyndham street. On the first floor can be found every description of books, high-class stationary and the office. On the second floor is carried a comprehensive line of china toys and a variety of small articles. The third floor is devoted to stock. The store is thoroughly equipped, and employment is given to seven skilled and painstaking assistants. When we say to our readers, that at C. Anderson & Co’s. store they will one of the most complete and up-to-date establishments of this kind in the country, we have covered the ground. The individual members of the firm are C. Anderson and L. Anderson. C. Anderson, the manager of the concern, has had a wide experience in this line of business, having spent a number of years and thoroughly learned the business in T.J. Day’s store.
A contemporary advertisement for the bookstore, from the OAC Review (1909, v. 21, n. 5) of the nearby Ontario Agricultural College, shows that C. Anderson & Co. did a lot of business by supplying school needs for the College students.

The name "The Central Bookstore" suggested the importance of the shop and also its location in the middle of Guelph's downtown district.

In the Edwardian era, C. Anderson & Co. sold postcards, as did many bookstores. As suggested by the postcard above, they had a line of cards printed especially for them by Warwick Bros. & Rutter of Toronto. Warwick Bros. was one of largest publishers in Toronto and Canada at the time, and described as "The Big Kahuna" of postcard publishers in the nation by postcard researcher Mike Smith. The company was the first in Canada to print colour postcards domestically rather than having the work done in Germany or Britain as was the practise before.

It is quite likely that C. Anderson & Co. had a standing relationship with Warwick Bros. and so having them print up a special line was straightforward. Postmarks of cards in my collection range from 1910 to 1916, although it is likely that the store sold Warwick Bros. cards for some years earlier.

Some of this line of cards were printed in colour with a white bar across the front bottom, as was typical for Warwick Bros. cards of the time. These cards were from the publisher's own line of Guelph cards with the name of C. Anderson & Co. printed beneath the caption, as illustrated by the postcard featuring the old Heffernan street footbridge:

However, the majority of postcards in this line are printed in a murky, sepia tone like that of the first postcard above, probably to keep the cost of production down. What may be the first group in this line consists of postcards with hand-lettered captions. This group includes a series of views of Wyndham street, starting south of St. George's Square:

The Square itself is represented by the card already shown above:

The triptych is then completed with a view of Upper Wyndham Street, to the left of the old Post Office:

Some of the pictures were of scenes away from the downtown core. For example, this very murky view of the General Hospital is also included:

Anyone collecting this series of cards might assume that Guelph had a terrible smog problem!

What may be a later series is characterized by a clearer sepia tone and captions set in type. This group includes views of both of Guelph's new train stations that were opened in 1911. The first is the Grand Trunk (now Canadian National/VIA) station:

The baggage building east of the passenger area (since removed) can be seen at the right-hand end of the station's long roof.

The Canadian Pacific station built to replace the Priory is next:

Taken from the north side of the Speed River looking south over the Guelph Junction Railway tracks, the site is currently occupied by the Trafalgar Square apartments.

In addition to the commercial side of the stationary business, C. Anderson & Co. was involved in its professional organization. When the Booksellers’ and Stationers’ Association of the Province of Ontario was formed in 1907, C. Anderson & Co. was a charter member (Bookseller and stationer, v. 23, n. 2, p. 15). Charles Nelles, the owner of the City Book Store just a few doors down, was president of the Association, so Guelph was well represented in the local profession.

By the time the Company began to sell postcards, Christian and Lydia Anderson had settled into life at 76 Yarmouth Street. The 1911 Ontario Census lists Christian Anderson as the head of the household and describes the occupation of both women as "Stationer." Another woman, Kate Doerson, is listed as a "domestic," that is, a resident housekeeper.

By all indications, Christian and Lydia Anderson had achieved a comfortable, middle-class existence for themselves.

(76 Yarmouth street, courtesy of Google Street View.)

When the Anderson sisters lived there, the building was a single-storey cottage that had been built in the mid 1860s. The second floor was added after 1921.

Their brother Thomas Anderson worked as a press operator for the Kelso Printing Company, while brother Andrew worked for his sisters at the bookstore. A few years later, Andrew joined Thomas at Kelso.

By 1911, the Anderson sisters had set up a phone line for their store, with the three-digit number "256."

In the early morning of 1 October 1918, in her 64th year, Christian Anderson died at her home on Yarmouth street. Her obituary briefly describes her history in the stationary trade and, on a personal note, adds that she "was an active worker, for many years in Knox church, and was, for some time, a member of the choir, and teacher in the Sunday school" (Mercury, 1 Oct. 1918). After her funeral a couple of days later, the Mercury lists the pall bearers at the service (3 Oct. 1918):

The pall bearers were, W. Wood, of Warwick Bros. & Rutter, Toronto; W. Cunningham, of Buntin Gillies Co., Hamilton; F.G. Johnston, of H. Froude Co., Toronto, and R.E. Nelson, W. Macdonald, and A. Scott, of Guelph.
It is surely significant that representatives of three major Ontario publishers were present, including the company, Warwick Bros. & Rutter, that had printed the postcards for C. Anderson & Co. only a few years before.

After Christian's death, Lydia Anderson continued to run the business, apprently in much the same vein as before. An ad from the Mercury's Guelph Centennial edition (20 Jul. 1927) carries on the modest style of presentation from the previous decade—and even mentions postcards!

Lydia died in 1929. The business was run by the estate, probably the Andersons' little brother Andrew, until 1930, when the following announcement appeared in the Mercury (18 June):

We wish to announce the sale of the business of C. Anderson & Co., to Mr. Campbell Lamont, of Orangeville. In thanking our customers for the liberal patronage afforded us, we bespeak the same for Mr. Lamont. The business will be carried on under the same name.

Yours truly,
C. Anderson & Co
Per A.A. Anderson
Campbell Lamont was the husband of Janet Christian (Anderson), the daughter of Thomas, Christian and Lydia's brother. It seems fair to say that the business remained in the family! The Lamonts purchased the business from the estate, where Campbell then worked as manager and Janet as clerk. They moved in with Thomas at his house at 107 Palmer street.

(107 Palmer street; Courtesy of Google Street View.)

Although the business remained essentially the same, some changes were made (Mercury, 28 Feb. 1948):

In 1930 the new proprietors eliminated the counter system of sales, and instituted the self-serve system now in use, and is proving very effective. Under the present setup more goods can be displayed, and the entire floor space is open to the public to see and inspect the wide variety of articles for sale.
That half-century of activity has been a period of steady progress, and today they enjoy the patronage which covers and area, believed far in excess of any Guelph retail store. Besides serving all parts of Wellington County, considerable business is derived from Gray, Bruce, Huron and Dufferin Counties.
C. Anderson & Co. remained in business at the same location until 1958, an impressive 60-year run.

As noted above, women entrepreneurs (business owners) were unusual in Guelph and in Canada in general. It is difficult to say exactly how unusual. Most working women of the era were employees who worked for wages, stereotypically as typists, telephone operators, bookkeepers, and so on. However, the situation of women who owned businesses and derived income from their profits is less well studied.

Aston & Martino (2017) found that women played a significant role as entrepreneurs in Victorian and Edwardian Britain. Although it is usually thought that women were squeezed out of business in this period compared with the pre-industrial era, this seems not to have been the case. English women continued to own and operate businesses successfully in that era. To what extent this is true in Canada generally and Ontario in particular is hard to say. The experience of the Anderson sisters demonstrates that it could be done.

Buddle (2020) has found that a significant number of women owned businesses in comtemporary British Columbia. These tended to be in areas where women might be employed as laborers, such as hotel keeping, food preparation, laundry, and so on. Although not married, the Anderson sisters would seem to fit with this model, as clerking in bookstores was a common occupation for working women. Indeed, their own business careers began as wage earners in the book and stationary trade.

Certainly, it would be interesting to know more about Christian and Lydia Anderson and their experiences as women entrepreneurs in the early 20th century. Also, it would be great to find pictures of them! Although descriptions of Guelph entrepreneurs of the era were often accompanied by drawings or photos, I have yet to find a representaiton of either Christian or Lydia Anderson.

Works consulted for this post include:

Thursday, 1 July 2021

The early days of Speedside

Communities are always multifacted and mutable but are sometimes defined in memory by single events. In the case of the village of Speedside, in Guelph-Eramosa Township, that single event would be the founding of the current Speedside Congregational (now United) Church. On 24 June 1880 (Victoria Day), the ceremonial laying of the cornerstone took place. The local congregants, plus a good number of others from the surrounding area and other denominations, were on hand for the special services and to see James Goldie, a prominent miller and Congregationalist from Guelph, do the honours.
(James Goldie, from "Golden Jubilee of Nurses," 1938. Goldie was on the Hospital's Board of Directors.)

In the presence of the assembled, Mr. Goldie placed a jar containing historical materials beneath the stone and then, wielding the special silver trowel, mortared it into place, declaring it "well and truly laid" according to the accepted formula (“The Canadian Independent”, 1880: v. 27, n. 24, p. 6). Unusually, for ceremonial labour, Mr. Goldie laid the mortar quite well, causing a wag in the audience to proclaim, "He's a old mason."

This was followed by some of the customary speechifying: Mr. Goldie gave "a very neat little speech of congratulation and expression of his personal admiration of tasty country churches unburdened by debt. He was followed by the Rev. D. McGregor, M.A., Guelph, who spoke briefly but very appropriately on “Congregational Principles"."

Afterwards, the group repaired to the nearby garden for tea and more oratory:

The company then adjourned to the orchard of the parsonage for refreshments, where the ladies had provided in their usual good style a bountiful repast. Ample justice having been done to this part of the programme, Revs. J. Howie, Guelph, D. Smyth (Presbyterian), Eramosa, A. McGregor, and J.R. Black, together with Messrs. Leslie (M.E), Scott and McDonald (Presbyterians), and Deacon Thos. S. Armstrong, gave brief, racy impromptu speeches. The people then joined heartily in singing the Doxology and the national anthem, when the formal proceedings closed.
The Mercury (29 May 1880) report noted some of the details of the planned building itself: "The new church will be of stone material, octagon in shape, will seat 250 persons, and is estimated to cost $2,000." The choice of an octagonal shape was unusal and no record seems to explain this choice.
("Exhibition building" in Exhibition Park. Postcard published by A.B. Petrie ca. 1910. From the John Keleher Collection.)

The American phrenologist Orson S. Fowler had started a fashion for octagonal houses and other structures in the latter half of the 19th century, for a variety of idiosyncratic reasons. A number were built in Canada, including some in Guelph, of which the Exhibition Building in Exhibition Park is perhaps the best known. Perhaps the members of the Speedside church had caught the octangular bug.

However, octagonal churches had some currency with Protestant denominations outside of England at the time (Yates 2000, p. 104). New denominations could express their distance from established ones through different architecture, such as an octagonal place of worship rather than a long, rectagular one. The Methodist John Wesley, in particular, promoted the style. So, it may be that the building committee fixed on this design to display its distinctiveness.

(Postcard of Speedside Congregational Church, ca. 1905. Publisher unknown.)

It is also possible that some of them had fond memories of octagonal churches in the old country and favoured the plan for that reason. Recent immigrants often inscribed nostalgia for the old country into their new one in this way.

In any case, there is no way to be sure. (The Speedside United Church as it appears today. Courtesy of Google Street View.)

The church was completed and opened for services that September (Mercury, 20 September 1880). The unusual building got some rave reviews. The Rev. Thomas Hall, wrote to The Canadian Independent (1883, v. 2, n. 6, p. 178) of his impression during a subsequent visit:

The church is situated in the midst of a rich farming country. Some claim that Eramosa is the garden of Ontario. Be this as it may, in my opinion the Speedside people have a model church building. I imagine it will seat 400, yet you need only to speak in a whisper to be heard in every part. It is so constructed that the congregation is grouped round the pulpit, all near enough to hold conversation with the speaker in the desk. I thought after I had spoken why do not people build their places of worship after this style, when people can see, and hear, and sing, and speak with ease, and not those long, narrow, gothic, medieval, echoing, wilderness-like constructions, to please artists, kill preachers, and tempt the congregations to sleep.
Five stars!

Rev. Hall notes that, in spite of its magnificent edifice, the Speedside congregation had been without a pastor since Rev. Charles Duff had recently resigned. In fact, the local church had experienced chronic difficulties in maintaining their pastors. First organized in 1845, the local group originally relied on pastors from Guelph or other, nearby communities to drop by to preach periodically. As this arrangement proved unsatisfactory, the congregation secured the services of Rev. Richard J. Williams of Owen Sound in 1850.

This arrangement fell through when Rev. Williams resigned in 1854. The Reverend's salary had fallen considerably in arrears and he quarreled on various matters with the deacons, who described his schemes as "despotic" and "rascally."

("Shorthand class conducted by Rev. Enoch Barker in Eramosa Township during his ministry." Rev. Barker is seated at the right side. Courtesy of The United Church of Canada Archives, 93.049P4611 N.)

The next year, Rev. Enoch Barker agreed to take Williams's place. In 1856, Rev. Barker was duly installed in a stone chapel that the congregation had built. Although Rev. Barker was liked by the congregation, his salary too fell somewhat in arrears. In 1859, he received a letter from a congregation in Milton, Nova Scotia, offering him the pastorate there. The Speedside parish undertook to catch up on his salary and he remained. However, he did resign in 1861 due to failing health.

In 1862, Rev. John Brown took up the pastorate but resigned in 1864 due to continued ill health following being thrown from his horse.

In January, 1866, Rev. Charles Duff was installed in office. In March, the debt that the congregation owed for their chapel was removed when the church received a legacy from Mrs. William Armstrong. With a well-liked pastor and a major burden on their finances relieved, it was smooth sailing ahead. Yet, in December, Rev. Duff tendered his resignation! He had received a request from the congregation at Liverpool, Nova Scotia, and decided to accept it. Money, he said, was not the issue; rather, he felt that his services were more needed in Nova Scotia than in Eramosa.

The parishoners of Speedside wrote a furious communication to The Canadian Independent (Feb. 1867, v. 13, n. 8, pp. 348–349), presenting four resolutions condeming the practice of "some persons" who lure ministers from other congregations:

1. That so long as pastor and people are satisfied with each other, it cannot be right for any one to interfere with them. 2. It is vain to attempt to advance the Redeemer’s kingdom by building up one church at the expense of another. It is doing evil that good may come. Such efforts are not likely to succeed. 3. The conduct of those who endeavour to entice pastors from their charges, by holding out inducements of various kinds to them, is deserving of severe censure, as there is generally a selfish motive at the bottom of it, and they are always acting contrary to the will of Him who said, “Whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them.” 4. God is no respecter of person; sinners need his converting grace; His people and the bread of life; and souls are as precious to him in one part of his vineyard as in another.
Robert Wilson of Liverpool, the person who had also written the soliciting letter to Rev. Barker in 1859, responded to deny guilt and imply that the situation was the doing of the parishoners of Speedside themselves (April 1867, v. 13, n. 10, pp. 406–407):
I have no doubt that inadequate support is one great cause, if not the greatest which leads to pastoral changes. We cannot blame our ministers for removing to more eligible spheres when they are being half starved in those they occupy. Who will be so hard-hearted as to argue against a man leaving his situation if he cannot keep the wolf from the door. It is utterly unreasonable to find fault with him if he cannot find support for his family. The only remedy is to give support.

In the absence of their own pastor, the church at Speedside gained the services of Rev. William F. Clarke of Guelph, who traveled from the Royal City on Sunday afternoons to preach, then returning to town for his evening service. This was the same Rev. Clarke who played a crucial role in the founding of the Ontario Agricultural College and would be its first (and only) rector when it opened in 1874.

(Reverend William F. Clarke, from Cochrane 1893, p. 337.)

In June 1868, deacon James Peters published a job ad in The Canadian Independent (v. 14, n. 12, pp. 500–501), seeking a pastor for the Speedside church. The requirements were described as follows:

1st, we want a minister of undoubted piety; 2nd, one whose credentials are all right; 3rd, other things being equal, a classical scholar would be preferred; 4th, we think every minister should be a teetotaller; 5th, we do not want on who is a slave to the vile weed, in any shape; 6th, He must not be an ultra-Calvinist; 7th, we want one who can preach without crutches, that is, without reading his sermons; 8th, a minister with a small family would suit us best, we could not support one with a large family. ... Lastly, we would like our Bishop to rule well in his own house.
Sadly, it does not appear than anyone meeting these requirements responded to this advertisement.

In 1871, Rev. M.D. Archer, a Wesleyan, did express interest in the position. Perhaps this move proved premature: After assuming his post, Rev. Archer proposed to hold revival meetings in 1872. Although these affairs were not unsual for Congregationalists at the time, the Speedside congregration was against the plan. Rev. Archer duly resigned and Rev. Clarke resumed his supply duties.

(Detail of "Rev. Charles Duff, Eramosa Twp., ca. 1885". Courtesy of Wellington County Museum & Archives, A1984.17.)

In 1875, Rev. Duff agreed to return to Speedside. The deacons had been writing to him in Nova Scotia since the previous year to induce his return, to which he at last acceded. Perhaps construction of a new and more commodious parsonage in 1874 helped to sweeten the deal. In any case, Rev. Duff was reinstalled as pastor on 11 November. With the matter of the pastorate finally settled for the meantime, plans for a new church could go ahead. Rev. Duff was on hand for this defining event in 1880 (though he had removed to Toronto before Rev. Hall's visit in 1883).

These sorts of struggles were not uncommon for rural parishes and they certainly continued for the Speedside congregation. As the 20th century began, the Congregational church in the region was in decline. Church unions were widely considered; that is, the combination of congregations, even of different nominations, in order to share resources. Rev. A.E. Cooke of Speedside spoke in favour of union at a church meeting in 1909 (Globe, 14 June):

On the ground that the “sectarian cut-throatism” which was so evident in the small town and villages of the west was working harm to all branches of the Church, Rev. A.E. Cooke, of Speedside spoke in favor of Church union. “Coming into contact as I do in the west with that unchristian policy of competition and overlapping, if there is any scheme of Church union that is in accord with the teaching of Jesus Christ, for God’s sake let us have it.”
In 1911, the Speedside and Garafraxa congregations combined to support a single pastor, the Rev. John Lyall.

In 1924, the church combined with the Prebyterian church up the road at Barrie Hill. The next year, Speedside joined the union that created the United Church of Canada, which it has remained a part of ever since.

As noted earlier, the Congregational Church was central to the early days of Speedside. However, other forms of community were present in the village also. For example, the Mitchell & Co's Canadian Directory (1865) listing for Speedside contains the following entries:
Armstrong, Jamesblacksmith
Grierson, James; Hart, William carpenters & builders
Armstrong, Johncarriage & wagon makers
Coleman, Johngeneral merchant
Loghrin, JamesJustice of the Peace
Nelson, Georgesaw mill proprietor
Tait, Johnschool teacher
Clearly, the village had a mix of commercial enterprises normal for its time and place.
(The village of Speedside, from the Wellington County Atlas, 1906.)

The two Armstrongs in the list serve as a reminder of the prominent role this clan played in Speedside's early days. Originally from Roxburghshire, Scotland, William Armstrong Sr. arrived in Eramosa in 1822 and founded the dynasty. His son, William Jr., was one of the founders of the Congregational church and donated the land on which the building was later erected. (Courtesy of Google Maps.)

Another son, John S., became a noted local miller and farmer. His livestock breeding achievements received special notice by Professor William Brown, of the Ontario Agricultural College, in his report of the herds and flocks of Ontario (1883, p. 25):

Fergus has memorable surroundings, also—so many indeed that I beg indulgence for what may be omitted—the Rennies, the Dows, and others; and then to the west the prominent breeder of—allow me to call them—Scotch Shorthorns, John S. Armstrong, of Speedside, with his clever sons. Mr. Armstrong is certainly the most cunning fattener of a steer in our province. By cunning I mean the knowing everything and not blazing it abroad, as some like to do for the sake of notoriety. To know what a calf will be exactly when three years old, is just what we would all like to attain to. Mr. Armstrong can do this, can give two thousand dollars for a bull calf when needed; the finest finished steer I have seen in Ontario came from here. He has a grand herd led by “Butterfly’s Duke” [8190], and a very choice flock of over thirty head of Oxford Downs sheep.
Today, John's legacy lives on mainly in the form of Armstrong Mills, which he built in Guelph Township in 1856, despite serious setbacks due to floods and finances, and "aided by a wife [Mary Scott] of more than ordinary ability," notes the Wellington County Historical Atlas (1906).
("The Armstrongs of Armstrong Mills," ca. 1870? John Armstrong in the mid-left? Courtesy of Guelph Public Library, F38-0-15-0-0-397.)

In terms of government institutions, Speedside also acquired a post office when the Rev. John Brown established one in 1863. James Loghrin, the Justice of the Peace, took over from Rev. Brown after his departure in 1865. The post office continued in operation until 1913, when rural mail delivery was centralized from Fergus. As was the case with the village of Gourock to the west of Guelph, this loss was quite a blow to a small village.

Besides common institutions, communities are held together by informal ties. This fact is manifested in various ways in Speedside's history. For example, residents collaborated on barn raisings. Barns were necessary for storage of grain, hay, and animals but were beyond the means of most farmers to construct for themselves. To make up for this want, residents would gather to construct a barn for their neighbors, typically without pay.

("Men and women standing on beams at barn raising held on farm of Thomas Fines, 5th line Erin Twp., 1905." Courtesy of Wellington County Museum & Archives, A1991.193.)

Barn raising was a difficult task and involved some risk, as the following example shows (Mercury, 22 July 1884):

Barn raising.—About 160 of the neighbors and friends from town and country of Mr. James Davidson convened at his farm, known as the Loghran farm, on Monday afternoon to assist him in raising a new barn 82 by 60 feet. Mr. Geo. Armstrong, of Speedside, acted as captain on one side and Capt. Mutrie as captain on the other. One of the plates fell during the raising but no one was injured. Everything passed off most successfully, and all were more than satisfied with the generous treatment they received from Mr. Davidson.
Besides joining beams, barn raisings joined the community members together through mutual labor.

In sport, baseball seems to have been an interest that residents of Speedside had in common. It was, for example, included in a community gathering (Mercury, 9 July 1872):

The Speedside pic-nic.—A correspondent informs us that the Armstrong pic-nic held near Speedside, Eramosa, on Dominion Day, was in every respect a most creditable entertainment. Amongst the various diversions of the day was a game of base ball, in which the ladies took part, and exhibited considerable dexterity in pitching and catching, and also in using the bat. It is pleasing to know that this, now popular game, is in its character so fascinating, and we would add so striking also.
Perhaps interest was increased by the great success of the Guelph Maple Leafs of the day.

We are also told of a close contest in Fergus some years later (Globe, 22 June 1886):

Sporting news. Baseball. … Speedside v. Fergus. Fergus, June 19.—A game of baseball between the Speedside Club, of Speedside, and the Fergus Club, of this place, was played on the cricket ground here this afternoon, resulting in favour of the home club by the following score:—
Speedside 1 1 0 2 0 2 2 0 0—8
Fergus 4 0 0 1 1 2 1 0 0—9
The following year, the Mercury (30 March 1887) reported that the Speedside Club held an entertainment on their home turf in which the members played not baseball but "music, vocal and instrumental, readings, recitations, etc." It turns out the event was a fund raiser for their expenses during the upcoming season. (Alas, they likely didn't sing "Take me out to the ball game," which wasn't written until 1908.)

Unfortunately, it appears that the season was not kind to the Speedside side. The Mercury (15 June 1887) records a resounding reverse: "The Aetnas went to Speedside on Tuesday afternoon and defeated the crack team of that place by a score of 18 to 3. The boys speak highly of the treatment they received at the hands of their opponents."

The Acton Free Press (20 October 1887) also indulged in some trash talk:

Our base ball team [Acton, Ontario] has been very unfortunate this summer in being unable to secure opponents. Speedside club did some stout talking, but that is the way they play best. Even at this late date our boys would very much like to meet them on the diamond.
I hope the two clubs got to engage in more than merely a logomachy.
("Speedside baseball team float in Fergus Centennial parade, photograph, Fergus, 1933." Courtesy of Wellington County Museum & Archives, A1983.19.)
Communities are defined not only by things that hold them together but by things that divide or separate them. This applied to Speedside as well.

Perhaps no better demonstration could be found than the conflict that arose in Eramosa as a result of the Upper Canada rebellion of 1837–1838. Put briefly, the establishment in Upper Canada (later Ontario) was in the hands of a small elite known as the Tories or Family Compact, a situation that did not sit well with residents who looked for a more "responsible" form of government. Matters came to a head in December 1837 when Reform leader William Lyon Mackenzie organized an armed insurrection.

Mackenzie's attack was put down in short order but resistance continued elsewhere for some time. Rumours flew across the land and people had to decide how to respond to the uncertain situation. In Eramosa, a meeting of residents was hastily called on 7 December in the Central Schoolhouse to discuss the matter. Mr. James Peters, a church deacon and the Township clerk, was appointed secretary. Although many locals sympathized with the Reformers, it appears that no one recommended taking up arms. With all the uncertainty about what was actually going on, people's concerns seemd to focus on protection of their lives and property. In the end, the meeting resolved to "mind our own business" and had Mr. Peters draw up a resolution to that effect, which many attendees signed.

This resolution did not impress Tory sympathizers in the community, who seemed to regard inaction as tantamount to joining the insurrection. Walter King laid information against the meeting organizers with John Inglis, Justice of the Peace in Guelph. On the night of 13 December, Justice Inglis sent an armed party to "break up the rebel nest in Eramosa." Mr. Peters and several others were arrested at gunpoint.

I cannot do justice here to the whole tale of the trial and travails of Mr. Peters and the others at the hands of Tory authorities. Happily, the story is recounted in detail by Quaile (2007, pp. 202–214). Suffice it to say that feelings ran high. For example, Mr. Peters and his companions were nearly exploded when a fire broke out (not by accident) at night in the Hamilton jail where they were being held for trial and where the government had elected to store 50 kegs of gunpowder!

The Crown's case collapsed at the trial, when it become clear that the attendees of the meeting had not devised to "put our said lady the Queen to death," etc. Nonetheless, the not-guilty verdict did not dissuade the local authorities and Tory sympathizers from periodically raiding the houses of Reformers to look for illicit arms, charging them with various offences, and releasing them on bail, a practice that struck Mr. Peters as something of an extortion racket.

As can be imagined, the political animosities excited by the rebellion and its aftermath opened a rift in the community that lasted for many years.

On 3 December 1892, a number of Eramosa residents formed a chapter of the Canadian Order of Chosen Friends. The Order was a fraternal society focussed on mutual preferment and life & disability insurance for members. This sort of mutual aid is laudable but the constitution of the Order limited membership in some curious ways:

The objects of the Association were (1.) to unite all acceptable white persons of good character, steady habits, sound bodily health, reputable calling, and who believe in a Supreme Intelligent Being, the Creator and Preserver of the Universe...
The racial restriction may have originated with the American Order from which the Canadian one originated but it is telling that no one sought to remove it. There were no black residents in Speedside, although some lived in neighbouring Nassagaweya and in Guelph. Would members of the local chapter not have considered admitting a black person if one had applied?

There were also no indigenous residents in Eramosa at the time. That seems unfortunate, given that the name Eramosa itself seems to derive from an indigenous word (Un-ne-no-sa), meaning, "dog." (Why the name dog would apply to the area it would be good to uncover.) However, the Speedside Women's Insitute local history (1949; v. 1, p. 6) notes that an "old Indian graveyard" was located in the field of the Dow farm. It would be interesting to know more about those people and the community they had before the arrival of settlers.

The following works were consulted for this post:

Sunday, 30 May 2021

The early days of Eden Mills

Eden Mills, a short distance up the Eramosa River from Guelph, has a reputation as a quiet and picturesque rural village. But, it wasn't always so. When Aaron and Daniel Kribs arrived the site on 14 April 1842, it had a good water supply but not much else to recommend it (Mercury, 20 July 1927):
Finding that there was sufficient fall in the bed of the river to raise about eight feet head of water at that place, they proceeded, after building each a shanty, to clear the ground for the mill dam. This required a good deal of courage, for a more dreary or unsightly looking place could not be found in the whole township, than it was at that date.
Despite the rough nature of the terrain, the availability of water and timber, plus the determination of the brothers, made them press on:
However, the Messrs. Kribs pushed ahead, and by the 1st of October of the same year, had the dam completed, the saw mill running, and a good one it was too, for an old fashioned water mill. Having a good lot of pine trees convenient to the mill, they set to work sawing lumber, and very soon the people found a way to get it out from the place. Although they had only a miserable apology for a road, yet the lumber was taken away as fast as cut, and they did very well that fall and winter.
(Postcard of "Mill pond, Eden Mills," ca. 1955.)

Daniel Kribs was born near Hamilton in 1816 and moved with his family to Eramosa in 1826 (Globe, 6 December 1898). The new mill was evidently the Kribs brothers' chance to make a name for themselves. So, they called their new locale "Kribs Mills" (sometimes spelled "Cribbs Mills").

("Grist Mill," ca. 1923; Courtesy of Guelph Public Library F38-0-15-0-0-340. These stone buildings replaced the frame mills built by the Kribs.)

Flushed with success, the Kribs brothers added an oatmeal and a grist mill to their enterprise. Unfortunately, this addition proved their undoing. The millwright they hired to construct it did a poor job, resulting in an underpowered mechanism that could grind only a fraction of the capacity required to run at a profit.

The brothers persevered but could not make good their debts.

In the spring of 1846, Adam Lind Argo came to the town and saw an opportunity. He offered the Kribs $5000 for their operation and lands and, although it was only half their investment, they accepted and washed their hands of the operation. Daniel Kribs later moved to Guelph, where he became a court bailiff and a respected member of the community.

Adam Argo was born about 1809 in Foveran, Aberdeenshire, Scotland, and immigrated to Canada in 1836. He gained milling experiece in Bridgeport and Preston before striking out on his own. Thanks to his experience and acumen, he was able to remodel the Kribs's mills and keep them running in the black.

Unsurprisingly, Adam chose to rename Kribs Mills and selected "Eden Mills" instead. Various stories are told about his reason for this choice. One story is that the name "Eden" was adopted to help attract interest in the otherwise unappealing locale, rather as Erik the Red choose the name "Greenland" for the icy North Atlantic island he was trying to sell back in frosty Iceland. Another story is that the name "Eden" had a Biblical provenance: Just as the original Adam came from Eden, so this new Adam would return there, in a manner of speaking. Another possibility is that Mr. Argo choose "Eden" in memory of his homeland, where there are a number of places featuring that name, such as Eden Castle in Aberdeenshire.

(Postcard of street scene of Eden Mills, 1905; Courtesy of Wellington County Museum & Archives A1989.101.)

Whatever the reason, Eden Mills ultimately proved attractive. The Mitchell’s Canada gazeteer of 1864 gives the following description and list of village enterprises, suggesting a thriving community:

Eden Mills, C.W.—A village, situated on the river Speed, in the township of Eramosa, count of Wellington, containing a good female school, three churches and Mechanics’ Institute library with 460 volumes. Distant from Rockwood, a station on the Grand Trunk Railway, 3 miles; Guelph 7 miles. Daily mail. Population 250.
Antony, Jacksonshoemaker
Bardswell, Meshackretired
Boyle, Andrewblacksmith and wagon maker
Burrows, Wm.shoemaker
Cook, Charlescabinet maker
Cook, Frederickcabinet maker
Davidson, John A.carpenter and builder
Davisdon, John A.collector, land agent, issuer of marriage licenses, commissioner in B.R. conveyancer, &c.
Dowrie, Davidcarpenter
Esson, Johnbuilder
Fielding, Davidgrocer
Frain, Jameswagon maker
Harmston & Hendersonbuilders
Harris, Johnhotel keeper
Hay, Johnshoemaker
Hortop, Henryflour mill
Jackson, Anthonygeneral merchant
Krase, Greorgecabinet maker
Little, Jamesmiller
Malcolm, Mrs.female school
Meadows, Sam’lpostmaster, general merchant, sewing machine agent, and potash manufacturer
McDonald, Alextailor
McDonald, Johncooper
Richardson, Ralphwagon maker
Ritchie, Williambuilder
Stewart, Alexanderbuilder
Sullivan, Timothyblacksmith
Watson, Wm.mail stage proprietor
White, Jamesconstable and lime burner
White, Thomasretired
Wilson, JamesJ.P., and oatmeal mill
Wilson, Peterwoollen manufacturer
Zouart, Johnretired
The sharp-eyed reader will note that Mr. Argo had sold the mill by this time (1850), and relocated to Fergus.

Despite being largely cleared, local trees continued to play a significant role in the village. In 1872, some local men performing statute labour nearby discovered a human skeleton in an advanced state of decay with a flagstone laid across its breast (Mercury, 19 June 1872). They supposed that it was an Indian burial, as it was found under the roots of an old pine tree and must have predated the arrival of settlers. It crumbled to dust on removal.

In 1890, Mrs. William Geddes of Eden Mills was killed in an unfortunate accident involving a tree near the village (Mercury, 31 July 1890). She and her children had gone berrypicking with some friends in Mr. Anstee's swamp. The two parties had just gone their separate ways towards home when the children ran back saying that their mother had been struck by a tree. Her friends hurried to the spot to find that Mrs. Geddes had been killed outright and was lying next to the tree that had felled her.

In 1912, Eden Mills was hooked up to the electrical grid, like many towns in southwestern Ontario, to receive power generated a Niagara Falls. Construction of the Hydro corridors resulted in the felling of many trees, which met with some protest, reflecting a rise in interest in forest conservation advocated by people like Edmund Zavtiz of the Ontario Agricultural College (OAC). In a letter to the editor of the Globe (12 June 1918), J.E. Carter complained of "the great destruction of our beautiful shade trees along our highways by linemen who butcher them." He drew particular attention to "a fine row [of rock maples] near Eden Mills" that had recently suffered this fate. Carter noted that the Ontario Tree-Planting Act limited the powers of linemen to trim roadside trees and urged rural residents to exercise their rights to defend them.

(Postcard of Eden Mills showing General Store and post office, mill, and building located south of mill, 1912; Courtesy of Wellington Museum & Archives, A1989.66.)

Besides trees, water was a crucial part of Eden Mills early history. Of course, it powered the mills themselves but it also provided opportunities for recreation. In 1843, a party of young men were working on construction of Kribs's grist mill and decided to take a little break from the hot weather in the mill pond. Two of the party, Gerow and Duffield, got in over their heads and disappeared under the water. Daniel Kribs came upon the scene and managed to pull them out. Duffield appeared to be dead but local resident Stephen Ramage applied some "resuscitation techniques" and restored him to life.

Despite this close call, the mill pond continued to be a popular local swimming hole.

(Postcard, "Mill stream, Eden Mills, Ont.," ca. 1955.)

Of course, the mill pond and Eramosa River were popular places for locals to go fishing. So, it was the setting of many fish stories, such as (Globe, 20 July 1886):

An ex-student of the Agricultural College, now employed near Eden Mills, made loud professions of his abilities as a fisherman. Some persons, however, had so little faith in his attainments in this line that they made a wager that a young lady of the neighbourhood could outfish him, he however, to catch six to her one. The result was the young woman caught nine fish, one of which was a trout weighing a pound and a half, while the ex-student caught six shiners [minnows].
Grrl power! It would interesting to know who these fisher folk were. The young man whose angling pretensions were so ignominiously punctured may have been R.A. Ramsay, a local lad who had graduated from the OAC four years earlier.

In the great tradition of the pasttime, local anglers' exploits were always open to question, for example (Mercury, 17 June 1887):

The Rev. J.C. Smith, B.D., and Mr. Geo. Sandilands, manager of the Central Bank, were trout fishing in Eden Mills yesterday. Mr. Sandilands told a glowing story about trout, and trout fishing. The reporter would at any time take Mr. Sandilands’ word for $20,000, but when it comes down to veracity on a fishing expedition it is another matter. Mr. Smith was not seen on the streets to-day, and thus the promised one true fish story of the season is knocked on the head. It is privately whispered, however, that the catch was beautifully small.
Doubtless, more than a few whoppers were fished from the Eramosa at Eden Mills.

As it happens, more than water flowed through Eden Mills. In 1886, following a tip, police officers raided Johnston's Hotel there looking for violations of the Province's new Scott Act (Mercury, 24 December 1886):

Edward Johnston, who keeps a hotel there, was the suspected party. His premises were searched, and underneath the bar in the cellar was found a small still in full working order. The still was erected on the top of a common wood stove, with worm in a cold water tub near by. A considerable quantity of wort in different stages of fermentation was also found, together with distilled spirits. The whole was seized and the wort destroyed. The still and fermenting tuns were brought to Guelph.
Having been caught red-handed, Johnston pleaded guilty and was fined $50.
(Stone hotel building in Eden Mills, 1973; Courtesy of Wellington County Museum & Archives A1985.110.)

It seems that Johnston learned his lesson. A short time later, we learn of thirsty patrons being turned from the doors of his hotel (Mercury, 4 February 1888):

On Wednesday afternoon, it seems Mr. Arch. Robertson, living near Eden Mills, went home from Guelph with enough liquor to make him quarrelsome. Being refused entrance to Johnston’s hotel in the village, he ran foul of Mr. David Shannon, and in the encounter received a black eye. In the evening he returned with the assistance of James Rouse and William Hillis and visited Shannon’s house. Shannon was called to the door and assaulted by the trio, and had his window and sash broken. Shannon swore out an information and on the three parties appearing before Squire Strange they were fined $20 each, $5 costs each, $3 for the damage done, and bound over to keep the peace for 3 years. The villagers were much annoyed by the unseemly row, and trust that the result of this case may prove a warning to others disorderly disposed.
Unfortunately, it seems that later proprietors of the hotel were not so scrupulous. Joseph Zinger, who kept the hotel in the 1890s, was found guilty of illegally selling liquor on several occasions.

Matters came to a head in 1904 when the Prohibition League of Guelph complained to authorities about lax enforcement by W.S. Cowan, the license inspector for South Wellington. The Inspector, they said, took no action despite numerous complaints made by the League against establishments in Everton and Eden Mills. Indeed, his superiors were unimpressed with Cowan's defence (Globe, 27 February 1904):

The department wrote to him twice about the matter, and he replied that he had made an inspection, and at Eden Mills had confiscated so much liquor as to necessitate a team to take it away. The department decided that he should have known of the open violation long before, and that after such glaring evidence of incapacity there was no alternative but to ask for his resignation. He declined to resign, and the department removed him.
What did the neighbourhood think of a village where the license inspector hauls away a wagonload of illicit liquor and his bosses figure that he isn't trying hard enough?
(Postcard of Eden Mills showing General Store and post office, mill, and buildings located west and south of mill, 1912; Courtesy of Wellington County Museum & Archives A1989.66.)

Besides wood, flour, and whiskey, Eden Mills was once set to become a petro-town. Apparently, enough oil had been dug up in the vicinity to prompt villagers to form the Oil Company of Eden Mills (Globe, 19 January 1866). Directors were appointed and capital not less that $4,000 was sought. At the inaugural meeting, it was resolved that

the shareholders, owning land at a distance not greater than three miles from Eden Mills, agree to bond their land for oil digging purposes at a royalty of one-eighth of the proceeds of the well, or wells sunk by the Company—said shareholders binding themselves, at the time of taking stock, to hold their lands open for three years for the company for that purpose, and said contract, when executed, to extend to 99 years.
The village was said to be in "a fever of excitement." Test wells were dug and samples sent to Toronto for analysis. Yet, after a year or so, Eden Mills' search for black gold did not pan out and the village never did become the Calgary of South Wellington.
(A forest of oil derricks in Los Angeles, Toluca Street, ca.1895-1901. This failed to materialize in Eden Mills. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.)

One of the challenges for residents of the village was its relative isolation. When the Grand Trunk Railway from Toronto to Guelph was built in 1856, it went through nearby rival Rockwood instead of Eden Mills. So, when the Guelph Junction Railway was proposed in 1886, to connect Guelph to the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) line at Campbellville, residents saw a chance to catch up. After a village conference, Messrs. Laing and Nicol were sent to a meeting of the directors of the new railway to urge them to adopt a route through the village (Mercury, 6 April 1887). They acknowledeged that a route through Eden Mills would be a little longer than the one proposed near Arkell but argued that it would have compensating advantages. Eden Mills was home to many gravel pits that could supply building materials cheaply. It's grist, oatmeal, and shingle mills produced much material that could be shipped from a station in the village, not to mention the plenteous turnips! The directors promised to relay the proposal to Mr. Jennings, the CPR Engineer, though they were not optimistic for its prospects.

As residents contemplated this gloomy news, things suddenly looked up. A navvy, that is, a civil engineering construction worker, soon appeared in the village, equipped with boots, shovel, and spade. Residents inferred that the Junction railway was to grace their village after all! Alas, it was not so and the people of Eden Mills had to deal manfully with their disappoinment (Mercury, 19 April 1887):

The new arrival was received with open arms, but when he avowed, on being questioned, that he knew nothing about the Guelph Junction, he was treated to the cold shoulder, and plainly made to understand that his [ab]sence would be a relief, and if he did not go he would be assisted.
In the end, the CPR decided on the shorter route and Eden Mills was bypassed again.

However, the patience of villagers was finally rewarded when the Toronto Suburban Railway (TSR) was built between Toronto and Guelph in 1913–1917. This was made possible by the extension of Hydro power to Eden Mills in 1912. When it became operational in 1917, the TSR enabled residents to ship and receive goods from their local station. In addition, visitors could readily arrive by train to enjoy events such as dances put on in Edgewood Park (later Camp Edgewood). Residents could get to larger centres for their amusement and convenience.

(Oatmeal mill, Eden Mills, ca. 1923; Courtesy of Guelph Public Library F38-0-15-0-0-341.)

However, by the time the TSR arrived in town, a rival mode of transportation was taking hold, that is, the automobile. At first, cars were largely expensive summer amusements for wealthy urbanites. Early car owners from town would take their vehicles for joyrides through the countryside, spooking the horses and annoying rural residents.

Some residents occasionally lashed out against these urban elites by setting traps for them in the roadways. On one occasion, Mr. Walter Harland Smith, Liberal candidate in Halton County, met with just such an improvised obstacle (Globe, 12 September 1911). He had finished addressing a meeting at Eden Mills and was driving to Campbellville for another when, just near the top of a hill near Brookville, his car crashed into a barricade of logs and stones thrown over the road. He and his two companions were ejected from their auto and badly shaken up, though not seriously injured. However, their car was completely wrecked.

It may be that this attack was directed specifically at Mr. Smith as a form of politial opposition. If so, it nonetheless employed a tactic that was also directed indiscriminately against car operators in rural areas of Ontario, and elsewhere, at the time.

(Map of Eden Mills, 1906; Courtesy of Wellington County Museum & Archives A1985.110.)

However, by the end of the Great War, car ownership had become more common, including among rural residents. One news story about an unfortunate incident following a wedding in 1919 shows that there were at least two automobiles in Eden Mills by that time (Globe, 24 October 1919):

Death came quite suddenly to-day to Frank Ramshaw, a highly-respected citizen of Eden Mills. In company with Geo. Gordon, he was returning home in a motor car from a wedding.
In another car just behind him were his son and several others, and when about three or four miles from Rockwood this car overturned and went into the ditch. The car ahead stopped, and Mr. Ramshaw got out and went to a nearby farmhouse to secure assistance. He came back only to find that everything was all right and no person hurt.
While he stood there, however, he suddenly fell forward, and almost before anyone could reach him he expired. Death was no doubt due to heart failure brought on by the excitement due to the accident. Mr. Ramshaw was about sixty-five years of age, and was well known. He leaves a wife and several children.
Increasing popularity of private automobiles decreased interest in the TSR, which ran mostly at a deficit and ceased operations in 1931. Sections of it are now operated as trails by the Guelph Hiking Club, including in the vicinity of Eden Mills. (Mill pond, Eden Mills; Courtesy of Google Street View.)

Of course, there is much more to the history of Eden Mills, which is perhaps best known today for the Eden Mills Writers Festival. Suffice it to say that, despite initial appearances and a few challenges, Eden Mills did become an attractive and lively locale.

The following works were consulted for this post: