Sunday, 26 September 2021

Before they had pictures: Wm. Stevenson gets one of Guelph's earliest postcards

When you think "postcard," you likely of a small paper rectangle with a picture on one side and some writing and maybe a stamp on the other. This postcard form has been almost ubiquitous since about 1900 and remains so today. Yet, the first postcards were in circulation decades earlier and did not usually feature pictures at all, apart from a small portrait of the Queen.

What might be called the "pre-history" of the postcard was recently outlined by Andrew Cunningham in Cardtalk (2021, v. 42, n. 2) the newsletter of the Toronto Postcard Club (of which I am a member). He explains that the idea of postcards as a specific and regulated piece of mail was introduced in Austria in 1869. Postcards could be sent through the mail just like letters but at a lesser rate (often half-price), the downside being that they could convey only short messages and afforded less privacy than regular mail.

The idea proved immediately popular and was soon copied elsewhere. In 1871, the Canadian government adopted rules allowing postcards in domestic mail. As abroad, "post cards" or "postals" were soon adopted by Canadians. Unlike later practice, postcards were then used chiefly for business correspondence, to request prices of goods or acknowledge receipt of payments, for example.

Here is an example of this type of card, sent to "Wm. Stephenson Esq." of Guelph on 25 Sep. 1872:

A brief inspection reveals that this item was indeed a novel form of mail, since it has strict instructions printed on it: "The address only to be written on this side." No chit-chat here! In place of a stamp, it has a portrait of Queen Victoria printed in the upper-right corner. This portrait assured the post office that the fee for mailing the card—one cent—had indeed been paid as part of the purchase price of the card. Since the right to print this "stamp" lay solely with the government, they were the only printers of these cards. Some very small type at the bottom of the card reveals that the printer contracted for the job was the "British American Bank Note Co., Montreal & Ottawa."

The back of the card could hardly be plainer: It was a complete blank—write whatever you like. This may sound potentially exciting but most messages are disappointinly uninspired. Here is the back of the card sent to the Mr. Stephenson:

The message says:
Deeds to you & Fleming duly executed. When will you & he be in to complete the purchase. W.M. Merrit // Sept. 25/72
Short and to the point—businesslike. Indeed, the point of the card is apparently to further a real estate transaction. Let's see who was in on the deal.

Mr. Wm. M. Merritt was a Guelph lawyer. He studied law in Toronto and was called to the bar in 1868, at which point he took up practice in Guelph in the firm Dunbar & Merritt (Globe, 1 Apr 1898). He specialized in commercial law, so handling the deed in a real estate transaction was right up his alley. So, it appears that this postcard was sent from a Guelph address to another one—a short trip!

The year after he sent this postcard, Mr. Merritt moved back to Toronto, where he remained for the rest of his life. Even so, Guelph seems to have made an impression. He returned briefly in 1876 to marry local girl Miss Elizabeth Robertson, in what the Mercury (23 Feb) described as a notably fashionable wedding.

The "Fleming" mentioned in the postcard was likely Mr. George Fleming, a recently retired farmer. Mr. Fleming was an early settler of Guelph, having emigrated from Paisley, Scotland around 1836, when the former was still mostly a set of modest, log buildings (Mercury, 6 Dec 1876). For 32 years, he farmed a 100-acre lot a short distance east of town and then relocated to a residence on Berlin st. (now Foster Ave.) upon retirement.

It seems that shortly after his arrival, Mr. Fleming was the victim of disrobement (Mercury, 12 Aug 1868):

Guelph Police Court.

James Fitzgerald was charged with the theft of a shirt from Geo. Fleming. He took it off the clothes line and put it on, and when the Chief Constable caught him he became pugnacious. At first we was for having the case tried at the County Court, but after the witnesses were examined he thought better of it, pleaded guilty, and consented to its being disposed of summarily. He was sent to gaol for a month at hard labour.
Perhaps this incident could be taken as a compliment to Mr. Fleming's good taste in shirts.

The recipient of the postcard was Mr. Wm. Stevenson, an important figure in Guelph's early days. Mr. Stevenson was born in 1817 near Thrumpton Hall, Nottinghamshire and immigrated to Guelph at the age of 20, at about the same time as Mr. Fleming. In religion, he was an active Methodist. He and James Hough were the prime movers behind the organization of the Norfolk Street Methodist Church in 1836, and he served as a preacher there from 1841.

(Norfolk Methodist Church, Guelph, ca. 1910., printed by the International Stationary Co.)

Wm. Stevenson took quite an active part in the governance of the city. He was a Town Councilor in 1851 when Guelph became an incorporated town, separate from the surrounding township. He also served as town alderman (Councilor) in 1854, 1872, 1879, and 1880–1884. In 1885 and 1886, he was Mayor of the Royal City. One of his accomplishments in that time was organizing the Guelph Junction Railway, which connected the city with the Canadian Pacific Railway, thus providing some competition with the Grand Trunk Railway. While this connection helped the commercial interests of the city, its adoption of the Priory as a station set that building on the road to ruin, an outcome that Mr. Stevenson certainly did not anticipate nor would have approved.

("William Stevenson," perhaps at the time he served as Mayor; Courtesy of Guelph Public Library Archives, F38-0-4-0-0-4.)

Apparently a fan of reading and education, Mr. Stevenson also served on the Board of Education and took an active part in the founding of the Central School which competed with the Church of Our Lady for attention on Guelph's downtown skyline from 1876 until its replacement with a more modest structure in 1968.

("Central School, Guelph," printed by A.L:. Merrill, Toronto, ca. 1910.)

Did I mention that Mr. Stevenson had a day job? He was a "nurseryman," that is, he grew and provided plants and trees to order. An ad from the Mercury (13 May 1874) gives an idea of what was on offer:

In 1872, when the postcard above was sent, Mr. Stevenson made a number of entries in Guelph's Central Exhibition, which was his usual practice. The Mercury (4 Oct) records that he won prizes in a number of categories, including Gravenstein apples, pears (variety and Bartlett), grapes (Adirondac, "ereveling," Hartford), and melons (scarlet flesh), not to mention his first prize showing in floral design.

All of this work was carried out at his ample residence of "Maple Bank," at the corner of Grange and what is now Stevenson Street (yes, named after Wm. Stevenson).

(The location of Wm. Stevenson's nursery and Maple Bank in Wellington County Atlas, 1877.)

The house itself was built sometime in the 1850s and is quite a nifty example of the Gothic Revival style in Ontario.

("Maple Bank," ca. 1960; Courtesy of Guelph Public Library Archives C6-0-0-0-0-466.)

Happily, Maple Bank survives today and can be glimpsed from Grange street, as in this Google Street view scene:

Here is a picture of the Stevenson family, posed at Maple Bank, ca. 1860:

("Stevenson family," ca. 1860; Courtesy of Guelph Public Library Archives, F38-0-14-0-0-473.)

In the back row stand Wm. Stevenson next to his second wife, Isabella, with Ephraim in behind. The girls are probably Miriam, Laura, Belvedera, Caroline, and Clara (ages, 10, 8, 6, 5, and 1, respectively, in the 1861 census). Given that Clara appears to be about 4–5 years old in the photo, it was likely taken around 1865.

Among Guelph history buffs, Mr. Stevenson is also remembered for the brief reminiscences he delivered in a speech in 1877. It follows the usual form of dates, names, and brief recollections, which the reader would like to know more about. For example, here is his brief recollection for 1854:

In October of 1854, about a dozen of the best stores on Wyndham and Macdonell Streets were burned down, causing a loss of many thousand dollars. About this time the town limits were enlarged, much to the disgust of those parties included in the new limits.
Why were the new Guelphites so disgusted, and what form did their distaste take? It would certainly have been nice to know more of Mr. Stevenson's thoughts on the matter, particularly since he was a town Councilor at the time.

In any event, our humble postcard serves to remind us of one of the influential figures of Victorian Guelph.

Wm. Stevenson died on 6 June 1899 at the age of 81 and is buried at the Woodlawn Cemetery.


It would be remiss of me not to mention that some of the Stevenson children became noted figures in town. Ephraim Stevenson was a member of the Guelph Maple Leafs baseball club that held the semi-professional world championship in the early 1870s.

In a reminiscence about his early years in Guelph, Frank Coffee describes his memory of the team in these words (Mercury, 26 Oct 1918):

The original Maple Leafs had won a Canadian championship; Jim Nichols, Bill Sunley, Eph. Stevenson, Johnnie Colson, Tommy and Billie Smith, Jack Goldie, Kenneth Maclean, Harry Steele, were names to conjure with, as in successive seasons they held, against all comers, the championship emblem—the first silver ball.
I have yet to find a labelled photo of Ephraim in his Maple Leafs uniform but I think that this photo from a collage assembled in 1871 is a good match for the young man posed on the porch of Maple Bank above:
(Detail from "Maple Leaf Baseball Team, 1871." Courtesy of Guelph Civic Museums, 1979X.00.762.)

Despite his prowess at baseball, Ephraim's calling was to be a Methodist clergyman.

William and Isabella's youngest daughter, Maud, achieved fame as a singer. A paragraph from a short biography provides some details of interest:

The Toronto Globe of November 4, 1899, carries an account of Miss Stevenson and mentions that she is known from coast to coast across Canada for her concert work. Also in London, England, she received flattering comments on the tone and quality of her voice as well as the keen dramatic instinct she possessed. She was, it said, able to sing with equal ease, the most difficult classical selections and Scottish ballads. Her soprano voice had a magnificent range and sweetness. She was called "Guelph's sweet-voiced singer."
There is a portrait of her from ca. 1880 in a Notman photograph in a dark outfit and looking rather severe:
She is identified by her married name of Maud Stevenson Pentelow. (Courtesy of Guelph Civic Museums, 2014.84.1066.)

Maud's older sister Clara was also an excellent singer, though she did not enjoy an international reputation. Nonetheless, she is commemorated in the name of Clara Street in the St. George's Park neighbourhood. The reason is not clear to me, although it may not be a coincidence that Clara was the second wife of local mover-and-shaker J.W. Lyon. Anyone who knows the story is invited to fill it in in the comments below.

A portrait of the children of William and Isabella Stevenson, taken ca. 1925, is shown below:

(Courtesy of Guelph Civic Museums, Grundy 12.)

From left to right, the figures are Belvedera, Clara, Carolina, Minnie (Miriam?), Maude, Rev. Ephriam, and Laura.


Sources consulted for this post include:
  • Sudbury, H. "Stevenson, William." Publication of the Guelph Historical Society 1965. 5,9: 1–2.

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: