Sunday, 11 April 2021

Hanlon Creek, Horace Mack and the Kortright Waterfowl Park

("The only breeding pair of Whistling Swans in captivity in the world. These birds are among the more than 2,000 waterfowl on display to the public year around at Kortright Waterfowl Park located in Guelph, Ontario. Photo by Paul Ferris." Published by Peterborough Airways Ltd., ca. 1970. Courtesy of the author.)

In 1948, Horace Mack purchased a property at the mouth of Hanlon Creek in Puslinch. There, he set up what he called the "Niska Farm" with a specific mission (Aviculture Magazine 1951, v. 57, n. 5):

Here at Niska (Niska is a Cree Indian word for Canada Goose) Farm, we keep a collection of approximately a hundred wild geese of fifteen species, as well as some ducks, swans, pheasants, and peafowl.
The object of the Niska Farm was to find out how to breed wild geese for, as Mack pointed out, this process was not well understood and, "the more experience one has, the more one realizes how little one knows."

The term "Farm" was something of a misnomer. It is true that part of Mack's plan for the property was to continue his interest in breeding geese, swans, ducks, and other fowl, often for sale other zoos or collectors. However, he had a broader, more public purpose in mind: To prevent threatened birds from following the Passenger Pigeon into extinction. The purpose of the Niska Farm was focussed on conservation of waterfowl throughout the region.

Protection of wildlife was a novel concept in the use of this farm. Its history began over a hundred years earlier with Felix Hanlon. Hanlon's early life is not well recorded but he emigrated from County Monahan, Ireland, to Upper Canada (now Ontario) in 1825. He arrived in Guelph in 1827, only a couple of months after the founding of the town by John Galt and his party. It seems that he worked in town until 1833, cutting trees to clear up lots and roadways.

(Felix Hanlon, ca. 1860. Courtesy of Guelph Civic Museums 2012.45.1.)

That year, Hanlon decided to go into farming. One story has it that he walked down the Speed River looking for a good location. Upon finding a creek that flowed into the River and tracing it to its source, Hanlon purchased the surrounding 500 acres. In due course, the creek was called Hanlon's Creek in his honour.

Roads were not plentiful in Puslinch in those days, so early settlers had to walk a great deal. One story that Hanlon was known to recount involved venturing out alone on foot (McPhatter 1897/1991, p. 23):

... when carrying flour home from Guelph, and how the wolves overtook him in the bush and treed him up a tree and kept him there till the next morning, leaving the flour at the bottom of the tree, and the wolves trampled and destroyed the flour so that it was of no more use.
Accounts of settler life in Puslinch are replete with similar stories. Wolves were constantly in pursuit of people's sheep and cattle, not to mention their owners, while bears seemed to favour pigs. There are also several mentions of Indians in Puslinch, both passing through the area and living in it. Deer and trees combined to provide plentiful food and lodging, as recorded by Martin Cassin (McPhatter, p. 8):
I can remember when the Indians would camp in the district and I have seen as many as 65 deer laying dead in their camp, on their return from a hunting tour and we would trade a loaf of bread for a whole carcass of deer after the hide was taken. The Indian wigwams were very large that I can remember. Where the hole in the centre went out was built of poles and shingled with hemlock brush, and the fire in the centre of the wigwam.
The settlers had a more antagonistic relationship with the bush and cleared trees as fast as they could. The letters make frequent mention of logging bees, in which a groups of settlers would converge at a farm and cut down as many trees as they could. Indeed, "improving" the land in this way was one of the conditions that farmers had to meet in order to assume full ownership of it. As an experienced tree cutter, Felix Hanlon would have done quite a bit of logging himself on his new farm.
(The Hanlon Farm house, ca. 1995, by Fred Dahms. Courtesy of Guelph Civic Museums 2013.51.649.)

(As I noted in an earlier post, this is exactly the sort of deforestation that conservationists like Edmund Zavitz tried hard to reverse in the following century.)

In the 1970s, a highway was built across part of Hanlon's old property and named the Hanlon Expressway in his honour. This may be considered a fitting or ironic tribute to a man who so often walked (or climbed) through the sylvan trails formerly located there.

In the early 1860s, the farm lots near the mouth of Hanlon's Creek were sold to a Mr. Ramsey, who operated a sawmill there. The property passed through a few other hands until it was purchased by Horace Mack. Of course, Mack was not looking to cut up any more trees but rather to set up a waterfowl sanctuary and had identified the mouth of Hanlon Creek as a promising place to situate it.

Born in Guelph on 6 December 1895, Horace Mack began his working career in 1911 with the Gilson Manufacturing Company. Located on York Road (across from where the Owens Corning plant now stands), the plant opened in 1907 as a branch of an American firm headquartered in Port Washington, Wisconsin. The company was then noted for its small engines, which it promoted with the motto, "Goes like sixty!" The American manager, Ed Barelman, bought the Guelph operation after the Gilson family sold the firm in 1914, which he ran until his death in 1927.

(Edward Barelman, n.d. Courtesty of Guelph Civic Museums 2009.32.932.)

Although starting out as an office boy, Horace Mack quickly climbed the corporate ladder, ascending to President after Barelman's death. An article in the Globe (28 April 1927) notes that Mack was a "close associate" of Barelman, which is amply affirmed by the fact that Mack inherited $52,399.61 of Barelman's $64,800.61 estate. No doubt, this legacy helped Mack materially with his wildlife protection plans. The Globe article does not provide any comments by the Barelman family on this arrangement.

("Horace Mack stands proudly (about 1922) beside the Gilson car he helped build. All told, three of these cars were built in Guelph: one wasn't finished, one burned in a garage and the third was driven by Gilson executive, Mack" (Coulman 1977, photo 129). Courtesy of Guelph Civic Museums 2009.32.3233.)

The Gilson company itself reflected Mack's pet project. Mack's obituary (Mercury, 26 May 1956) notes that the lawns of the factory were graced by an aviary for many years. Besides rare birds, there is an old photo of "Barry" the white wolf in a pen on the factory's grounds, who shared the zoo with dingos, black bears and other exotic creatures. Who's treed who now!

("Barry the white wolf at Gilson Co.," 1933. Courtesy of Guelph Public Library F5-0-3-2-1-5.)

Up to a point, Mack was following in the footsteps of industrialists like James Goldie, who had an aviary that included two swans that used to swim on Goldie Mill pond. Such animals were kept for pleasure and display. Mack's collection of wolves, black bears, exotic geese, and similar animals can probably by understood in this way.

At some point, Mack's ambitions become too great for the company zoo. He next purchased a property near Eden Mills. It served as a rescue farm, housing and nursing injured animals, as well as a destination for educational excursions for local schoolchildren. It also seems to have been where his breeding program got started in earnest and where Mack began to learn about the challenges of protecting his own flock, not to mention regional bird populations (1951):

In 1927, I acquired a pair of European Gray Lag Geese from a New York importer. Doubtless they were wild caught, and I never expected them to lay. However, in 1938, after 11 years, the female laid in an elevated steel barrel and started incubating. Unfortunately an Egyptian gander escaped from his enclosure and finding the Grey Lag Goose on the nest, promptly killed her. When discovered, the eggs were spoiled.
Two years later, in 1940, I was fortunate in getting another female. She mated the following spring, and has been successful in rearing a brood in at least five of the succeeding years. The old gander, “Clarence,” is not less than twenty-four years old, and quite possibly much older. He is not very nimble any more, but he and his mate “Lizzie” are still inseparable, and I am hoping he will be spared for a few more seasons to father some more fluffy yellow goslings.
In the end, Mack decided that his ambitions required a new farm, specially designed for breeding waterfowl, which became the Niska Farm at the end of Hanlon Creek. There he built a dam to create a system of waterfowl-friendly ponds and protective pens.
(Horace Mack. Detail from "50th Anniversary Booklet & Envelope, Gilson Manufacturing Co. Limited," 1957, p. 3. Courtesy of Guelph Civic Museums 1980.1.7.2.)

Mack applauded federal efforts to protect migratory waterfowl and had the Niska Farm declared a federal waterfowl sanctuary in 1952. We learn something about the birds being bred there in descriptions of an attack on them by three boys on 26 August 1958 (Globe). Armed with home-made spears, the boys climbed fences around the bird pens and attacked a number of birds:

In one pen, a Chinese mandarin duck was killed, the leg of another broken and three carried off; four escaped.
A rare South American ashy-headed goose was stabbed to death in another pen; one Canada Goose was killed, two others had their legs broken and another was slashed. The ashy-headed goose is one of a pair believed to be the only breeding pair in North America. Its mate and 12 Canadas survived.
A young swan, one of four being raised by a breeding pair was left with its back broken and another was injured.
The boys carried off at least two dead birds to roast and eat at a nearby campsite. They were located by RCMP officers and charged with violations of the Migratory Bird Treaty of 1916. They were fined and placed on probabation.

It will surprise many readers to learn that Canada geese ("Niska") were among the birds whose population Horace Mack sought to increase. By the early twentieth century, hunting and habitat destruction had made the birds uncommon in southern Ontario. Efforts to conserve and reintroduce them in the region were sanctioned under the Migratory Bird Treaty and by conservationists such as Jack Miner, founder of the Jack Miner bird sanctuary in Kingsville, Ontario in 1904, and likely a model for Mack. Efforts to regulate hunting, to breed and reintroduce birds, and to provide migratory sanctuaries bore fruit, allowing Ontarians to enjoy the fulsome flocks of Canada geese that the province features today.

Establishment of the Niska ("Canada goose") Farm contributed materially to that effort.

On 25 May 1959, Horace Mack died. His many contributions to local conservation efforts were summarized in his obituary:

His advice was sought by authorities at Stratford when the now-famous swans were given a home on the Avon River when the Canadian cultural centre was developed.
Mr. Mack represented the city of Guelph on the Grand Valley Conservation Authority since it was organized. He was also a member of the Speed River Flood Control committee, which brought out the great improvement at Royal City Park.
As a member of the Grand Authority he was also prominently identified with the development of the Elora Gorge Park and in planning for the Rockwood Park area now under consideration by the authority.
... His game farms in this area have been visited by most Guelph School children.
The question of how the Niska Farm would continue was answered when it was purchased by the newly-formed Ontario Waterfowl Research Foundation in 1961. Executive Secretary A.T. Crignan, Professor of Zoology at the nearby Ontario Agricultural College in Guelph, explained their plans for the new Niska Waterfowl Research Foundation (Journals of the Legislative Assembly 1962, Appendix p. 57):
This will serve as the Foundation’s physical headquarters, and will be developed to support a wide range of research activities. A library, a laboratory and demonstrations of waterfowl management, all essential to the organization’s ultimate objectives, are planned for the future.
As a non-profit organization, the Foundation depended upon donations for its funding. In addition, it planned to further develop the site as a tourist attraction, with proceeds to support research. To this end, it maintained a sizeable stock of exotic birds and designed parking and other facilities for visitors (Globe, 22 September 1962).

On 21 October 1965, the Foundation renamed the farm as the Frank Kortright Waterfowl Park (KWP). Francis Kortright was founder and President of the Toronto Sportsmen's Show. The popular annual exhibition generated a substantial amount of money, which Kortright was keen to spend on waterfowl conservation measures. So, the Niska Farm was a good match.

("Geese bathe in spring-like weather at Kortright" 1968. Courtesty of Guelph Public Library F45-0-15-0-0-37.)

Kortright's friend, former Ontario Premier Leslie Frost (the "Silver Fox") helped to cut the ribbon and explained the need for systematic waterfowl study (Globe, 22 October 1965):

In this day of mechanization, of planes, outboard motors, new types of fire-arms, and in view of increasing water pollution, the question is whether wildlife can survive.
Prospects for the survival of the Park seemed good. Research undertaken there began to appear in academic journals. Writers began to publish favourable accounts of the KWP and to recommend trips there to others. For example, the Hamilton Naturalists' Club commented on how much they enjoyed their tour ("The wood duck" 1967, v. 20, n. 9, p. 126), despite a recent flood. The tour was led by none other than Robert Bateman, the noted naturalist and painter, who was a supporter of the Park.
(Robert Bateman, 2014. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.)

On 12 June 1971, Guelph Mayor Norm Jary officially opened the new Royal City Kiwanis Club Lookout Tower at the KWP (Daily Mercury, 14 June 1971). Feeling more optimistic than Premier Leslie, Jary commented that the existence of Parks like the KWP expressed a "great vote of confidence" in the ability of people to preserve the environment and its denizens. He added that the city, which had encompassed the park in a boundary extension, planned to preserve the KWP itself:

“I hope that his Kiwanis Lookout Tower will stand as a warning to those who would desecrate the environment that they had better look out.”
Unfortunately, tensions that surrounded the Park since its inception could not be denied indefinitely. One such tension was the use of the KWP for research and as a public attraction. Gate receipts provided crucial funding but the needs of visitors for space and exotic birds to gander at competed with room and calm needed to conduct local waterfowl research.

In addition, the expansion of the City of Guelph intruded more and more on the KWP. In 1966, the city annexed a section of Puslinch that contained the KWP for construction of more housing and roads. In preparation, the city made plans to install a storm sewer system that would empty into Hanlon Creek (Globe, 12 November 1969). Such a system would increase the already troublesome risk of flooding there (such as 22 May 1974), rendering the site unusable. A letter-writing campaign disuaded the city but development in the area could only bring more environmental woes to the Park.

An engineering report for the Grand River Conservation Authority (GRCA) on the Hanlon Creek watershed proposed that much of the watershed should be incorporated into the city as a conservation area with the KWP serving as "a general nature or zoological park," an attraction rather than a research facility. The city and GRCA agreed to acquire lands in the area with this sort of scheme in mind. It seemed that the change was in the air for the waterfowl.

On 11 June 1975, Chairman R.T.D. Birchall announced that the Ontario Waterfowl Research Foundation could no longer operate the KWP (Globe):

He said the Canadian National Sportsmen’s Show, which provided two thirds of the park’s operating costs last year, has announced it can not continue its extensive support of the park. The show has provided more than $550,000 to the park since 1965.
Birchall said the foundation would like to sell the park to a public organization such as the Grand River Conservation Authority.
The GRCA did acquire the property while the KWP was operated by the Niska Wildlife Foundation (NWF), a citizens' group supported by grants and donations.
("Kortright For Sale—Foundation Can't Afford To Operate Sanctuary," featuring Mrs. Eileen Hammill—Horace Mack's daughter—Executive Director of Kortright Park, 10 June 1975. Courtesy of Guelph Public Library F45-0-15-0-0-55.)

To raise money, the Foundation continued to operate the KWP as an attraction. It continued sales of waterfowl to other zoos and conservation groups. It also sought grants and held regular art auctions, which frequently included prints donated by Robert Bateman, among other artists. It also sold postcards such as the one heading this post. This approach sustained the KWP for many years, during which the Park played host to picnickers, school trips, and bird watchers.

(Map of Kortright Waterfowl Park, ca. 1980. Courtesy of Guelph Civic Museums 1997.16.17.)

However, attendance tended to drop off through the 1990s. On 23 June 2005, the Park closed its doors. Long-time Park manager Rick Ortlieb explained that he was no longer able to operate the facility. Decline in his health made his job difficult. Also, intruders were attacking birds in their pens. Although two men were caught attacking geese with a home-made spear, apparently to feed them to their pet iguana, attacks continued that Ortlieb was unable to stop (Mercury; 24 April 2014).

It was hoped that the KWP could be re-opened the next year but Niska Wildlife Foundation was unable to do so. Control of the property reverted to the GRCA in 2014. At that time, Rick Ortlieb and his wife Jeane Kannenberg left the site. Buildings and other structures were removed in 2016 with the object of "re-naturalizing" the property. In 2018, upon an appeal to the Ontario Municipal Board, the GRCA agreed to a robust public consultation about the future of the lands, after an inventory of the property.

The GRCA Niska website provides a map of their Niska land holdings.

There the matter stands today. What public purpose the old "Niska Farm" might next serve remains to be seen.

The following works were consulted for this post:

Sunday, 7 March 2021

Edmund Zavitz, the OAC, and the reforestation of Ontario

In the afternoon of 31 May 1985, a tornado outbreak swept through southwestern Ontario and neighbouring US states. Known locally as "the Barrie tornado outbreak" after the big one that hit Barrie, the system spawned twisters from Wiarton south to Grand Valley.

Although no twister struck Guelph, high winds caused extensive damage. Some of the casualities included a number of mature white pines in the University of Guelph's Arboretum. These were sometimes known as the "Zavitz pines" or "the Zavitz Pine Plantation" because the trees were the work of Edmund John Zavitz, the OAC's first professor of forestry and a pioneer of reforestation in Ontario. The plantation was part of a project to assess and promote the suitability of white pines for the purpose of reforesting the province.

Edmund Zavitz was born on 9 July 1875 on a farm near Ridgeway, Ontario. From an early age, Zavitz was much influenced by family who lamented deforestation of the land. For example, he spent some time in his early years at the farm of his maternal grandfather Edmund Prout in the Ganaraska region. His grandfather and uncle John Squair had grown concerned about the consequences of comphrensive deforestation of the region, including soil erosion, flooding, and fires. Young Edmund came to share their concerns and developed his interest in understanding what had been lost.

In early days, settlers in southern Ontario had adopted a somewhat adversarial relationship with the region's forests. In order to make their farms more productive, settlers removed woodlands as quickly as possible. This goal was accomplished sometimes by logging but also by simply setting large fires.

Although these measures produced results in the short term, they also had harmful consequences. Removal of trees encouraged soil erosion, which reduced productivity. Forest removal also had the effect of reducing the capacity of the landscape to store water, resulting in springtime floods and summer droughts. By Zavitz's day, forest cover in southern Ontario had been reduced to about 15%, with many townships reduced to about 5%. Zavitz would later estimate that about 30% forest cover would be ideal.

It occured to young Edmund that reforestation would be an appropriate and constructive response. While attending McMaster University (then in Toronto) in 1903, Zavitz read a biography of Gifford Pinchot, head of the US Division of Forestry and an instrumental figure in the professionalization of forestry. This encounter inspired Zavitz to follow in Pinchot's footsteps and become a professional forester. He transferred to Yale, whose forestry program had been founded by Pinchot, and then to graduate studies at the University of Michigan.

In 1904, Zavitz arrived in Guelph to direct establishment of a tree nursery on the grounds of the Macdonald Institute. Trees including ash, maple, white-wood, black locust, and elm were planted (OAC Review, 1904, v. 16. n. 7, p. 39). The goal of the nursery was to provide seedlings for farmers to employ for reforestation. This idea had been promoted, in part, by Charles Zavitz, a cousin of Edmund, who was a professor of crop science at the Ontairo Agricultural College (OAC). Charles Zavitz had recognized the importance of healthy woodlots to farm productivity and promoted them to farmers whom he taught and collaborated with.

(Edmund Zavitz portrait, OAC Review, 1905, v. 18, n. 1, p. 1.)

The OAC set up a Department of Forestry, in part to help direct work in its tree nurseries and to improve instruction in the subject. In 1905, upon his graduation from the University of Michigan, Edmund Zavitz joined the faculty in the new department. Zavitz immediately organized an outreach program to the province's farmers (OAC Review, 1907, v. 19, n. 9, pp. 449):

The chief problem confronting the Forestry Department is that of waste land planting. It is desired to demonstrate throughout the Province the practicability of reforesting waste land which may exist in various forms as sandy, gravelly or stony soils, steep hillsides or other untillable soil.
The department will furnish free the planting material, but the person receiving such shall pay cost of transportation.
The owner, on his part, must prepare the soil, plant and care for the trees, and do all the actual work in connection with the plantations in accordance with the directions of the officer of the department. The owner shall also agree to provide reasonable protection for the plantation against [live]stock or other harmful agencies.
No fruit or ornamental trees will be sent out by this department, and all trees must be used for protection or wood producing purposes.
Zavitz also mentions the establishment of a nursery for evergreens such as white pine and Norway spruce. Perhaps this refers to the white pines found in the Arboretum.
(Edmund Zavitz portrait, Canadian Forestry Journal, 1913, v. 9, n. 2, p. 28.)

Zavitz taught courses in forestry and related areas such as entomology. A postcard apparently featuring Zavitz is likely connected with his work as an instructor.

This real-photo card features an oval framed picture of a group of men in a forest, many carrying notebooks and binoculars, arranged somewhat carelessly for the event. Postmarks show that it was mailed from Guelph to Hamilton on 3 December 1907. The message on the back reads:
Exams begin a week from Monday. Plugging is the order of the day and most of the night. How about Xmas holidays? K. B. C. // box 163 O.A.C.
I'm not sure who K.B.C. was but it seems likely that he was an OAC student who is included in the portrait.

The card does not identify anyone in the picture but the figure third from the right in the back row remsembles Edmund Zavitz pretty well. Zoom and enhance! See the close-up below and judge for yourself.

As it happens, beside his academic specialties, Zavitz was a keen photographer. This was a skill he regarded as important for his work and sought to promote among his students. Shortly before this postcard was mailed, Zavitz helped to set up the the campus Camera Club (OAC Review, 1907, v. 20, n. 3, p. 159):
On Monday evening, November 4th, a meeting of those interested in photography was held for the purpose of forming a Camera Club. The officers elected are as follows:—President, E.J. Zavitz; vice-president, W.R. Thompson, ’09; secretary, J.W. Jones, ’10.
The organization of this Club is a much needed step in the right direction and will no doubt encourage the use of photography in the procuring of more accurate and reliable results in research and treatise work. We understand that Mr. Zavitz has kindly consented to deliver lectures upon photography to the members. Arrangements are now under way for the provision of a commodious and up-to-date dark-room, to be fitted with all the requirements of the camera enthusiast. A constitution is being drawn up and it is expected that by the commencement of the winter term, the “Camera Club” will add one more to the sum total of active and effective student organizations.
It could even be that the postcard photo was one of the first photos taken by members of the Club.

Zavitz's keenness on photography was much on display in his report on reforestation to the Ontario Parliament in 1909. Entitled "Reforestation of waste lands in Southern Ontario," the report describes the state of southern Ontario's forests, the problems stemming from it, and his recommendations for reforestation. Zavitz's photos of the sometimes severe consequences of deforestation are a compelling part of the presentation.

Figure 2 of the report shows drifting sands that resulted from deforestation in Charlottesville Township in Norfolk County. Zavitz points out that attemtps to farm in the area resulted in desert conditions due to the unsuitable nature of the soil (p. 8):

These lands originally produced splendid white pine, oak, chestnut and other valuable hardwoods. Where the land was cleared for farming purposes it gave at first, in many cases, good returns. As soon as the vegetable mould or old forest soil disappeared from the sand, it became a difficult matter to keep up the fertility and we find conditions as in the following illustrations...
Figure 5 shows the stumps of a white pine forest in Walsingham Township that were not removed after logging. Subsequent soil erosion left the sizeable stumps perched in mid-air, like markers commemorating the departed topsoil.
The report goes on to describe similar regions in Lambton, Simcoe, Northumberland and Durham, the latter featuring the Oak Ridges Moraine.

The report proceeds to recommend a concerted, provincial reforestation program, pointing out the benefits for soil conditions, flood control, fire suppression, recreation, and what we would today call sustainable logging.

Zavitz continued his educational and organizational work at the OAC but the scope of his amibitions for reforestation clearly could not be realized as a professor. In 1912, he left the OAC to assume the role of Provincial Forester for Ontario and Provincial Fire Inspector for the Board of Railway Commissioners. In 1926, the Provincial Department of Forests was created with Zavitz as deputy minister.

Zavitz's struggles and accomplishments are discussed at length in Bacher's "Two billion trees and counting" and are too extensive to be laid out in detail here. However, it is worth noting that Zavitz was key in the establishment of the Agreement Forest Program, which assisted municipalities in reforestation, numerous tree-control bylaws, which regulated cutting on private lands, and the creation of conservation authorities, which manage natural resources in Ontario watersheds. It is no exaggeration to say that Zavitz had a profound effect on the landscape of Ontario as we know it today.

Shortly before Zavitz's death in 1968, Premier John Robarts planted a sugar maple sapling at Queen's Park, the one billionth tree in the province's reforestation campaign (Bacher 2011, p. 218). The campaign has continued, through ups and downs. However, Zavitz's goal remains elusive. In 2010, then Environmental Commissioner of Ontario Gordon Miller (a Univerity of Guelph graduate), issued a report to the provincial legislature estimating that about a billion more trees must be planted in Ontario to reach the goal of about 30% forest cover.

In 2011, Edmund Zavitz's grandson Peter gathered with University of Guelph president Alastair Summerlee, Prof. Andy Gordon, School of Environmental Sciences, and Robert Gordon, dean of OAC, to unveil a plaque dedicated to Zavitz and his work. The plaque is situated in the northeastern corner of the Arboretum, where some of Zavitz's white pines stand to this day.

Below is one of the surviving Zavitz white pines standing near the plaque.

For more information, see:
  • Bacher, J. (2011). "Two billion trees and counting: The legacy of Edmund Zavitz," Toronto: Dundurn Press.

Sunday, 24 January 2021

The Old Mill kept Guelphites swimming for decades

On 2 June 1932, the Mercury conveyed some welcome news:
It is the intention of James L. Simpson, the owner [of Simpson's Mill], to lay out a complete private park, with all the usual facilities of such playgrounds, including swimming pools, camps sites, dance hall, dining room, tourist accommodation and other similar facilities.
With Guelph in the depths of the Great Depression, the arrival of a new amusement facility must have been welcome news to many.

The news also concluded the efforts of James Livingstone Simpson to sell his property to the City of Guelph, which proved, perhaps also due to the Depression, not to be receptive to the idea of buying the land to add to Riverside Park. Rebuffed by the city, Simpson decided to set up in the recreation business for himself.

Simpson's Mill sat on property along the Speed River, on the north side of Speedvale Avenue just east of the bridge then often known as Simpson's bridge. Today, the property houses the Speedvale Fire Station and the John Galt Garden. However, the site had a long history as a mill.

In 1859, Mr. John Goldie bought 17 acres of land along the east bank of the Speed from William Hood as an inducement for his son James to immigrate to Canada from New York and become a miller. The property was already the site of a sawmill and barrel-stave factory operated by Samuel Smith, a former Reeve and Mayor of Guelph. A dam constructed across the Speed about 200 yards south of what is now Woodlawn Road fed water into a raceway that led to the sawmill and factory, situated near the east bank about where the current footbridge is located.

(James Goldie (1824–1912); photo courtesy of William Weston.)

James Goldie took the bait and brought his family to the new site, which was accessible only by a footpath from the Elora Road (now Woolwich Street). The family lived in Smith's old stave factory while they built a new mill complex. They built a new dam next to the sawmill (where the current dam stands) and constructed a large raceway down to their new flour mill further south near Speedvale Avenue.

The new mill consisted of two sections. The first section was the mill proper, built of local stone, and housed the water wheels, grinding stones, and other equipment for a flour mill. The second section was a frame building made for storing grain. By the end of 1861, the new mill was in operation and the old sawmill repurposed as a stable.

The site also incorporated a cooperage, as flour was usually shipped in barrels rather than bags, and several coopers employed.

James Goldie bought the People's Mill (now known as Goldie Mill) in 1867 and sold the old place to Mr. John Pipe, a local farmer. It was therefore known as Pipe's Mill until 1883, when Pipe sold it to G.P. Tolton. Mr. Tolton installed a new-fangled roller system from the US known as "The Jumbo" (doubtless after the famous elephant), which locals honoured by dubbing the mill "The Jumbo Mills."

(Speedvale Mill, ca. 1870. Courtesy of Guelph Civic Museums 2014.84.1025.)

With water levels falling in the Speed, the mill's water wheels had difficulty supplying Jumbo with enough energy to work properly. Mr. Tolton introduced a steam engine, which supplied the necessary power. Like its namesake, Jumbo had bad luck with steam engines and was disposed of in favour of steel rollers. Perhaps with some disappointment, the mill returned to being "The Speedvale Mill."

After passing through other hands, the mill was sold to James Simpson in 1901, thus becoming "Simpson's Mill." Finding that flour could no longer be produced profitably, Mr. Simpson converted the mill to grinding animal feed. This he did until his retirement in 1926, at which time he moved to a house on Wellington Place (now Riverview Drive) leased the mill to Joseph Lang, who continued the operation.

Besides the mill, the grounds also became an attraction connected with Riverside Park. The Park had been opened in 1905 as a place for Guelphites and others to find wholesome, outdoor entertainments and to get people onto the city's streetcar system.

One of the attractions was the opportunity to swim (or "bathe") in the Speed River at the dam belonging to Simpson's Mill. In fact, Mr. Simpson obligingly erected a new dam made of stone and concrete, which rose a couple of feet higher than the old one, in order to create a deeper reservoir that would make for better boating and bathing opportunities for park patrons (Mercury, 25 May 1905).

(Swimming in Riverside Park, from a postcard by Charles L. Nelles, ca. 1905.)

As a part of his mill operation, Mr. Simpson's property included the "water privilege" for the section of the Speed river adjacent to his mill. In short, he had the right to use the water to power his mill and to exclude others from using the water there. As a result, the city paid Mr. Simpson a monthly lease so that Guelphites could splash and swim in the water at Riverside Park. At first, the lease was $50/year, although it was later increased to $100 (Mercury, 2 June 1932).

All went well until fire, that ancient foe of millworks, struck at Simpson's Mill. On 17 July 1930, city firemen responded to a report of flames at the mill (Mercury, 16 April 1947):

A full turnout responded, and a long line of hose was laid from Elora Road, then split to two lines near the mill. Horses were taken from the stables and led to safety, while water was poured into the blazing building. Firemen fought the blaze for three hours before it was brought under control.
The cause was deemed to be spontaneous combustion of hay in the loft.

It turned out that this blaze was only a prelude. A year later, another fire caused a conflagration that finished what the first fire had begun. Despite all efforts to save the structure, nothing but smoking walls were left of Simpson's Mill in its aftermath.

Apparently, 70 years of milling on the site was enough. Rather than rebuild, Mr. Simpson tried to interest the city in purchasing the property, for provision of a recreational facility added to Riverside Park. This offer sparked serious interest, as at least a few citizens thought that Guelph should have a bona fide public swimming pool. Yet, the culture of the "swimmin' hole" remained strong, as evidenced by this letter to the editor of the Mercury pointing out that citizens of the Royal City yet enjoyed many swimming locales, many outdoors (4 July 1931):

Dear Sir:—I noticed in Thursday night’s Mercury somewhat of a cyclone of agitation for a municipal bathing and swimming pool in Guelph, and, Mr. Editor, I confess that I fail to see the great urgency claimed by the agitators. We have the large pool in Riverside Park, which is well patronized, the Y.M.C.A. swimming pool, which is also an important adjunct, and if we walk for a quarter of a mile from the eastern end of the York Road street car line, we can get any quantity of accommodation in the swimming pools on the Reformatory grounds, which are free to city bathers. Furthermore, the Kiwanis Club have a site for bathing between Norwich Street Bridge and Goldie’s Dam, which is unsurpassed for a bathing pool for children. ...
To the mind of this writer and many others, the city of Guelph is wondrously well equipped with bathing pools and “swimmin’ ‘holes,” and ... could have right near the heart of the city abundant accommodation for all classes of bathers and swimmers.
In the end, the city declined. Simpson then demanded an increase in the water rights lease to $150/year. After further controversy, this too was declined.

In 1932, Mr. Simpson took matters into his own hands. He decided to turn Simpson's Mill into a recreation centre on his own account. He began by erecting a fence between Riverside Park and the Speed River (Mercury, 2 June 1932). The fence ran the length of the Park, cutting off the river walk, the dam, the bathing huts, and the pavilion from the riverbank. Park patrons would no longer have any access to the water. As the Mercury writer put it:

There will be no river at Riverside Park this year.... Visitors to Riverside Park who wish to see the water this year will be compelled to do so while looking through a fence.
Alternatively, Guelphites could make their way to the new recreational facility that Mr. Simpson was building on the old mill site. The main attraction of the new facility was to be a pair of swimming pools, one for adults and one for children. Both pools would be fed by the mill race with a constant stream of river water.

At the south end of the race, the adult pool would be the most ambitious installation:

It will be 430 feet in length and 90 feet wide with a sand bottom, six inches in depth. The depth of the water will be nine feet at the peak, but is will be possible to drop it as low as two feet. It will be built in the form of a bowl, with a shore line around it.
Immediately upstream and separated by a floodgate would be the children's pool:
This pool for the youngsters will be 100 feet long and 26 feet wide and will be paved with brick, while the water level will be kept at a safe height.
The whole scene would be illuminated by lights attached to a 40-foot tower, allowing for nighttime use.

Besides the swimming pools, walking paths and picnic sites would be provided. In addition, part of the old mill structure would be renovated and converted into a dance hall with a dining hall upstairs.

(Car park at Old Mill Swimming Pool, ca. 1935. Courtesy of Guelph Civic Museums 1985.59.2.)

Mr. Simpson's concept turned out to be a popular one and the "Old Mill," as it came to be called, was well patronized for many years. For example, the city swimming championships were held there in 1933 (Globe, 8 August 1933). Thirteen-year-old Kathleen Sinclair won the girls' title while "Peewee" Brandon won the mens'.

(Children swimming at Simpson's Mill, ca. 1935. Courtesy of Guelph Public Library archive item F38-0-15-0-0-418.)
(Old Mill Swimming Pool, ca. 1935. Courtesy of Guelph Civic Museums 1985.59.3.)

Entitled "The Old Mill Swimming Pool" in local phone books, the facility continued operations for many years. Dickering with the city over water rights continued also, apparently without bearing fruit. In 1940, the city's Public Works committee recommended that the city purchase the property for a sum of about $3000 (Mercury, 7 May 1940). In the view of many aldermen (councilors), the need for the city to have a decent swimming pool was pressing and the property was well-suited for construction of one.

Ald. Wilson stated that ... “We are all agreed this is the right time. For a city of this size, we are all agreed we need a swimming pool. If we buy this, in the near future we will have a swimming pool second to none."
Although only one alderman opposed the measure, the purchase did not go through.
(Six people swimming at Simpson's Mill, ca. 1930. Courtesy of Guelph Civic Museums, 1978.38.7.)
(Detail of booklet, "Why we chose Guelph" (1945, p. 19). Courtesy of Guelph Civic Museums 1985.82.119.)
("Speed River near Old Mill," postcard published by Photogelatine Engraving Co., Limited, Ottawa, ca. 1950.)

In 1944, Mr. Simpson died and the Old Mill became the property of Wilbert Nisbet, who had been operating it for Mr. Simpson for some years. After Mr. Nisbet's death in 1956, the city finally completed purchase of the property. It appears that the Old Mill was no longer as popular as it was and that the city did not continue to operate the pool or dance hall. In addition, construction of the Memorial Pool in Lyon Park in 1952 had satisified the city's need for a public swimming pool. Instead, the city began to make plans for a general renovation of Riverside Park and its new addition.

(Pavilion and old house at Simpson's old mill, flooded by Hurricane Hazel 1954. Courtesy of Guelph Civic Museums 2014.84.1019.)

Even so, the Old Mill had a second act. It was rented out to the Guelph Little Theatre in 1960 (Globe, 10 September 1960). In January, 1959, the group had rented the dining hall for a party, trying to keep its membership engaged between productions. The hall was decked out to look like a Klondike saloon, apparently to suit the drafty nature of the old building. The party was a hit and the company, on the lookout for a new theatre, convinced the city to rent it to them on an ongoing basis. It was duly painted and repaired for the purpose.

(Guelph Little Theatre building (Old Mill), ca. 1960. Courtesy of Wellington County Museum and Archives A1985.110.)

However, the reprieve was only temporary and, after the city had decided on its plans for the new property, it lowered the curtain on the Old Mill in 1963. In its place were established the John Galt Gardens, commemorating the foundation of Guelph, and the Fire Hall, on the site of the old mill that had been destroyed in two blazes 33 years before.

Sources consulted for this post include:
It is curious that the only postcard to mention the Old Mill is the one above, which provides an image of the old suspension bridge over the Speed River at Riverside Park. Given that the Old Mill was a popular attraction, postcards that show it, and not simply a locale "near" it, would be expected.

On a related note, another run of the same postcard shows the scene a little differently. See if you can spot the difference:

I think that the first view above is correct but I am not a hundred percent sure.

In any event, the history of the Old Mill should be better known. If you have any further information about it, please let us know in the comments below. Thanks!

Monday, 21 December 2020

We had a decent Xmas, 1916

The end of the year is often a good time to look back and take stock, and so it is with postcards. Consider the rather watery postcard below, received in Guelph on 22 January 1917:
The naval theme of the picture is reinforced by the information on the back, which looks like this:
To start with, the "A.S.M" publisher's mark in the centre bottom shows that the card is Italian, published by A. Scrocchi of Milan. The postmarks reveal that this card passed through London (England) on 8 January 1917, Toronto on 21 January, and arrived in Guelph the next day. The large blue circle stamp near the bottom centre says, "Passed by censor," revealing tha the card had a military origin. Military personnel sent billions of pieces of mail home from the First World War, most of which had to be cleared by military authories to ensure that they contained no information that was of strategic significance or that would injure "morale."

A look at the message on the card confirms the judgement of the censor:

Dear Sister
Just a card to let you know I am quite well. I hope you are all the same. We had a decent Xmas. Hope to hear from you soon.
Your Loving Brother
Mess 5.
The addressee was Mrs. G. Bowles whose P.O. Box was in Guelph.

A little genealogical sleuthing reveals that the addressee was Mrs. George Bowles (née Lydia Wilkins), resident of Guelph Township. Lydia was born in Great Missenden, Buckinghamshire, England in November 1888. Her father John was a platelayer, that is, a man who maintained industrial rail lines. On 6 December 1909, she married George Bowles, in St Marylebone, Westminster.

George Bowles was born in Mile End, Essex, England, in 1889. On his marriage to Lydia, his occupation was listed as footman, that is, a domestic servant. However, it seems that a life of service did not appeal to the new couple, who immigrated to Canada in 1911, settling in Guelph.

The 1911 Census lists George and Lydia as residents of 46 Nottingham street and gives George's occupation as "driller" in the employ of the Standard Valve [and Fittings] Co. The city directory suggests that the couple soon relocated to a stone cottage at 64 Albert street, before moving to Guelph Township around 1915. That is likely where they lived when Lydia received this postcard from her brother Chris. (64 Albert Street; Courtesy of Google Street View.)

The writer, Christopher Wilkins, was born in Great Missenden in 1898. Like his older sister, he was not satisfied with his fortunes there—his occupation in the 1911 census is listed as "paper boy"—and so he enlisted in the Royal Navy in 1913. His first assignments were to training vessels such as the Ganges, where his trade is give as "Boy Tel[egrapher]."

Things got more serious in 1915 when Chris was assigned to the Queen, a pre-Dreadnought battleship that participated in the Dardanelles campaign, including the Gallipoli landings.

(HMS Queen, ca. 1909; Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.)

In August, 1915, Chris was promoted to Ordinary Telegrapher. The Queen was assigned to support the Italian navy, which explains why he was in Italy for Xmas 1916. He was promoted to Leading Telegrapher by the time he demobilized in March, 1920.

Christopher Wilkins wasted no time in seeking his fortunes abroad. He emigrated to Canada in May, 1920, headed to Toronto to join his brother Stanley, who had made the trip around 1914, intending to work as a telegraph operator. What become of him after that, I am not sure.

In Guelph, Xmas 1916 was a difficult one, as you would expect. On 5 December, the Mercury reported that seven Guelph soldiers had been reported killed in action. Privates Henry Emeny, Austin Henry Thomas, Robert S. O'Drowsky, William Macoll, Charles S. Lawrence, Frederick Willis, and Corporal George Thomas Ryder were reported either killed in action or dead as a result of wounds received in action. It was, said the headline, the "hardest blow the city has received since the outbreak of war."

An article from 9 December notes the availability of foodstuffs for Xmas cooking and compares that with the previous year. Regrettably, dates had gone up in price from 10¢/lb to 15¢/lb and gone down in quality. Something similar applied to currants, which were then imported from Australia rather than Greece, and were dearer but not as juicy. British lemon, orange, and citron peel had almost doubled in price and lard was almost impossible to get, likely because hog fat was considered a strategic good. On the up side, there had been a bumper crop of oranges, which were of good quality and cheaper than in 1915. No doubt, many young Guelphites received oranges in their Xmas stockings that year.

On 19 December came the news that George Sleeman was retiring from public life. He was well-known as a prominent, local business mogul and also for his keen interest in civic life. He was elected councillor for the South Ward in 1876 and was elected the first mayor of the City (no longer town) of Guelph in 1880. He was mayor of the city for six years in total, the last time in 1906. He was elected to the Light and Heat Commission and appointed to the Parks and Shades Commission, where he continued to serve until ill health motivated his present resignation.

(George Sleeman; Courtesy of Guelph Civic Museums 2009.32.951.)

On the bright side, Santa Claus continued to move with the times. Advertisements in the Mercury show St. Nick making use of all the modern conveniences while going about his job. For example, Bell Telepone noted on 5 December that the jolly old elf highly recommends telephones, including a second telephone in order to save running upstairs to answer the first one!

Another plus appears to be that Santa does not need a red-nosed reindeer, at least where the team can just follow the prolific telephone wires.

Another ad for G.B. Ryan & Co. from 7 December shows Santa ditching the reindeer altogether for another modern convenience, the automobile!

This is not to say that Santa had dispensed with all his magic. Early cars (and many late models) were notoriously hard to operate in the cold and snow, so that motorists tended to put them away in winter and operate sleighs instead in 1916. So, driving a car so readily over the snowy streets of the Royal City would have benefited from Santa's magic touch.

In addition, there continued to be a nostalgia for sleigh rides during the holiday season. On Xmas day, every cutter in the city was rented out so that Guelphites with some money to spare could promenade through town in proper style, with horses nodding and sleigh bells ringing (26 December).

One enterprising Guelphite took the obvious step of combining cars and sleighs. An article in the Mercury (30 December) notes:

An addition to a Ford car, which caused comment and interest yesterday afternoon, was the use of runners in place of the two font wheels. This facilitated the running of the car through the snow, and the driver was quite proud of himself.
Santa take note! I wonder if this innovative automobile looked like this:
("A Model T Souped-Up for Snow, 1920." Courtesy of Plainfield Public Libray, Photo #VV60207.)

The same day came the news that the "Prison Farm" just outside of town might be re-purposed as a recuperation and training facility for returned soldiers. In due course, the Reformatory did indeed become the Speedwell Military Hospital.

George Bowles died on 3 March 1952 and was buried in Woodlawn Cemetery. His obituary dwelled mainly on his involvement with the local chapter of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows (IOOF), of which he was elected Chief Patriarch and District Deputy Grand Patriarch in 1932.

Lydia died on 13 February 1961 and was buried next to George.

Sunday, 6 December 2020

Puslinch Lake, Guelph's first resort

Though situated at the confluence of the Speed and Eramosa rivers, which have always provided ample bathing and boating opportunities, Guelph's citizens looked from early times to Puslinch Lake as a desirable retreat. For many years, Guelphites seemed bent on almost annexing the Lake to the Royal City. Despite this close connection between the two places, and the best efforts of Guelph's patricians, this effort eventually failed to bear fruit.

The connection began early on in the history of the settlement of the district. One story had it that a Father Cassidy, founder of a Catholic mission in the village of Guelph, caused a church to be built on the Big Island in Puslinch Lake in 1837. Stones were hauled to the site over the frozen lake that winter and a flat-bottomed scow was built to ferry local parishoners to and from the site.

Another account is that a church was built on the Big Island by Father Simon Sanderl, who ministered to the faithful in St. Bartholemew's Church in Guelph, predecessor of the Church of Our Lady on Guelph's "Catholic Hill," from 1846 to 1850. It seems that construction of the church on the Big Island was a pet project of his. One account says that Sanderl retreated to the church in 1850 after a dispute with a parishoner who balked at paying the Father's dues before burial of his dead child. (Sanderl was, apparently, very forward in collecting dues due to the expense of finishing St. Bartholemew's.) Rather than render the pre-payment, the man buried the child himself, whereupon the good Father ordered the corpse to be exhumed and "as some would say, sold to the doctor."

(St. Bartholomew's Church, ca. 1879. Courtesy of Guelph Civic Museums, Grundy 68.)

On this account, Father Sanderl fled to the Island church to escape the public's opprobrium. In 1852, he relocated to the Gethsemane Monastary in Kentucky and became a Trappist monk.

In any event, Sanderl's modest stone church on the Big Island was abandoned in the 1850s as it was simply too difficult to reach on a regular basis for services. It was then acquired by two men who turned it into a summer hotel but it could not attract enough custom to remain solvent. The church/hotel burned down in 1865.

Even so, the existence of the old ruins added to the romance of Puslinch Lake and fostered legends that a monastery had once existed there on the Island, whose monks had buried their treasure hoard in fear of Indian raids. Later treasure hunting expeditions failed to turn up any gold chalices but the allure of the Lake only continued to grow.

In its early years, people in the area took a predominantly utilitarian view of the Lake. Locals saw it as a place to draw water, wash sheep, shoot ducks, and catch fish. Experience made them apprehensive of its waters. The Lamont family were the area's first permanent settlers, having arrived in 1831. In 1833, their youngest, 17-year-old son drowned in the Lake after falling out of a canoe while duck hunting. Many neighbors believed that his spirit haunted the place, which dampened their enthusiasm for its waters for a couple of generations.

By the 1860s, efforts of hoteliers to popularize Puslinch Lake as a resort began to pay off. Increases in population and income, not to mention improvements to local roads, began to make the Lake a popluar destination. Initially, these hotels were somewhat seedy, served alcohol illegally, and attracted some unsavory elements.

One early mention of the Lake as a honeymoon resort occurred in the Guelph Advertiser (per the Mitchell Advocate, 1 September 1865). It concerned one George Coleman, proprietor of the "Oyster Bay Saloon," a notorious "groggery and gambling hell" in the West Market Square in Guelph. Coleman had married the respectable daughter of one Mr. Hugh McGinnis, of Puslinch, and honeymooned with her by Puslinch Lake (perhaps at the former church-hotel on the Island that was also run by a "Mr. Coleman"). Subsequently claiming to be called away on business to his family in Rochester, New York, Coleman departed but did not return or write to his bride. Communication with his family revealed that Coleman was a scoundrel with several wives in many states, all subsequently abandoned. The author condoled with the poor girl and helpfully added that the tale should serve as a warning to other young ladies to be careful about whom they marry.

Increasing enforcement of liquor laws tended to tidy up the clientele. In July 1867, for example, the Lake played host to a decidedly proper picnic laid on for the Guelph Artillery Company:

Wives and sweethearts are to accompany them, and should the weather be propitious the chivalrous artillery-men will enjoy, what we wish them to the fullest extent—a very pleasant time luxuriating on love and the dainties that are generally considered the indispensable requisites of a pic-nic.
The contrast with Coleman's endeavor could hardly be clearer.

In the 1870s, daytrips to the Lake from Guelph became a commonplace and water sports like rowing were featured attractions, For example (Mercury, 17 July 1874):

The Butchers’ picnic.—The picnic to Puslinch Lake yesterday was, as we anticipated, a most enjoyable affair. Altogether about two hundred persons were present. The spread was, as may be imagined, bountiful; so extensive, in fact, that a quantity of refreshments were brought home again. The best of order prevailed all day. Quoiting, base-ball, boating, dancing on the green, and similar diversions occupied the happy hours. A rowing match, we believe, was one of the features of the occasion, and Mr. George Hood claims the palm as the champion oarsman. The company returned home about dusk, arriving here between eight and nine o’clock.
The increasing popularity of Puslinch Lake with Guelph's well-heeled and well-to-do attracted the attention of the Royal City's patricians. George Sleeman, Mayor of Guelph, owner of the famous brewery, and promoter of the renowned Guelph Maple Leafs baseball club, took a serious interest in recreational development of Puslinch Lake. In 1879, Sleeman bought an eight acre parcel on the north side of the Lake, added 22 acres in 1882, and another 25 acres in 1884. He and his initial partner John Davidson spruced up recreational facilities on the Island.
(Portrait of George Sleeman. Courtesy of Guelph Civic Musuems 2009.32.951.)

In 1882, Sleeman bought out Davidson and turned the hotel on the north shore of the Lake into a full-featured resort.

(Photograph of a picnic at the Puslinch Lake Hotel, owner, George Sleeman, ca. 1905. Courtesy Guelph Civic Museums, 2014.84.1075.1.)

To shuttle people from the shore to the Island facility, in 1880, Sleeman purchased a steamboat signifcantly named the "City of Guelph." Built in Barrie, the boat was a side-wheeler with a 41 foot keel, a 9 foot beam, and was 13 feet tall. With two 4 hp. engines, it could speed 50 persons back and forth at speeds of up to 8 knots. On busy days, up to 100 people jostled cheek by jowl on her deck while she towed a large scow to accommodate even more.

Guelphites and others swarmed to Puslinch Lake on holidays to admire its views and enjoy its recreational opportunties. For example, The Mercury describes the celebrations of Victoria Day in 1881:

The turn-out at this pretty spot numbered about 600. They spent a quiet, enjoyable day with nothing to mar their amusements. The accommodation at the hotel is first class in every respect both for man and beast. The steamer was kept busy.... The small boats, croquet, quoits, and bowling alley were in constant demand and the dancing floor although 30x40 feet in size was none too large. Dancing was a species of amusement and was carried on to the music of a concertina—the boys without coat or vest and hoeing it down to the best of their ability. There were a great number of little family picnics all of whom declare it is the nicest and cheapest place to spend a holiday. The last of the visitors left about 9 p.m.
The wear and tear on the City of Guelph seemed too great and she ceased service after the 1883 season. Visitors to the Big Island could make their way in a small fleet of manually-powered craft provided for the purpose.
("Puslinch Lake near Hespeler, Ont." published by Chas. P. Grill., postmarked in 1910.)

New visitors to the resort also made the acquaintance of another of its legends, the Puslinch Lake Serpent. The Mercury describes one sighting as follows (6 Sep. 1884):

While rowing from the island to the mainland at Puslinch lake on Thursday two Galt gentlemen saw a huge serpent rise fully four feet out of the water. The reptile headed towards their boat and only ceased following them when shallow water was reached. The serpent is described as being fully 14 feet in length with a large flat-topped head. An old farmer who lives across the lake says the same serpent was seen twelve years ago.
Sightings of the serpent continued for some years but the creature was never captured for close study. Perhaps put off by the increasing crowds of visitors, it may have slithered to a more secluded residence.
("A view of Puslinch Lake near Galt," published by F. H. Chapple, Galt., postmarked 1908.)

However that may be, the increasing popularity of Puslinch Lake with Guelphites and others pleased Sleeman. In 1901, he approached City Council with the idea of extending the Royal City's streetcar system to its shore. This system was owned by Sleeman and inaugurated in 1895. Although popular enough, the system was not making money. In addition, there were several proposals to establish an electric railway between Hamilton and Guelph, all of which would include a stop at Puslinch Lake. Convinced that a connection to Puslinch Lake would be profitable, and wanting to fend off competition, Sleeman convinced the provincial government to amend his company's charter to allow the extension.

The Bank of Montreal and the Traders Bank loaned Sleeman money to pursue the scheme but required a mortgage on the streetcar system and Sleeman's property at Puslinch Lake as security. In 1902, Sleeman was unable to make the loan payments and trustees for the banks took over the properties. These were then purchased by the city of Guelph in 1903.

("Puslinch Lake—near Preston Springs Hotel," real-photo postcard, postmarked in 1926.)

The city took a hands-off approach to the properties, leasing them to proprietors who ran them at a profit. In 1916, to make up for continuing losses from the streetcar system, the City subdivided some of its holdings into 42 cottage lots and sold them off. J.W. Lyon, a Guelph magnate who had purchased 35 acres at the Lake in conjunction with Sleeman's project, subdivided his holdings and sold them off for cottages as well.

The city of Guelph maintained ownership of the resort into the 1930s. In addition, various new schemes were proposed to build railways connecting Guelph to the Lake. For example, the Grand River Railway, a Canadian Pacific Railway subsidiary, proposed to take over the Royal City's streetcar system and extend it to Hespeler, including a spur line to the Puslinch Lake resort. This scheme was opposed by Sir Adam Beck, boss of the forerunner of Ontario Hydro, who sought to build an inter-city railway service run by the utility. Guelphites voted down the proposal and thus scotched the idea for good.

In any event, the conception of Puslinch Lake as the site of a public resort was slowly fading. One reason was that construction of cottages there was turning its shores into private property. Increasing prosperity in Ontario allowed or even prompted its residents to purchase vacation properties rather than renting accommodtions or using shared facilties. Puslinch Lake was very much an instance of this development.

("Aerial view, private section, Barber’s Beach, Puslinch Lake, R.R. 2, Hespeler, Ont.," real-photo postcard, postmarked in 1948.)

Another reason was increasing adoption of automobiles. As the province's middle classes took to their cars more and more to enjoy the countryside, and as governments spent large sums to improve roads, enthusiasm for railway connections waned. Rather than have a relatively small number of railways transport holiday makers to a small set of resorts, people increasingly expected to drive anywhere in the province they had a yen to visit. Although automobile adoption widened the potential audience for recreation at Puslinch Lake, it also increased competition for motorists' attention.

After World War Two, cottage and residential development tended to dominate at the Lake.

("At Puslinch Lake," real-photo postcard, ca. 1910.)

Perhaps the swan song of Guelph's direct involvement with Puslinch Lake came on 1 July 1928, when George Young, the Canadian swimmer who had first conquered the channel from Catalina Island to mainland California the previous year, came to swim at the Lake. (Young had visited Guelph itself previous year.) Andrew Aitcheson of Puslinch had arranged for the noted natator and some colleagues to go to Puslinch Lake to show off their strokes and have a friendly 1-mile contest with local marathon swimmer Stanley Hodkinson (Toronto Star, 3 July 1928).

(Ad in the Evening Mercury, 29 June 1928.)

Unfortunately, this plan ran afoul of the Lord's Day Act of 1906, which expressly forbade any sporting competitions on Sundays. As a result, Young's contribution to the proceedings was somewhat underwelming:

Provincial Police Inspector Grey made this point quite clear. Young could swim but he could not race. The result was that, almost unheralded, the conqueror of the Catalina channel stepped into the water, showed a few of the strokes that carried him to victory, and then stepped out.
As a result, only a few of the 6000 people, who had driven to the Lake in at least 2000 automobiles, actually witnessed Young's performance.

No matter. Besides Young's brief appearance, the event was to include a huge bash featuring music and dancing. To avoid conflict with the Lord's Day, the music was slated to start after midnight—thus on Monday morning rather than Sunday night. This nice distinction had drawn protest to City Council from the Royal City's religious leaders but the city fathers decided that the affair could proceed as long as Aitcheson undertook never to organize another such slippery celebration again.

After eight hours of enjoying the Lake's paths and rustic benches, or simply canoedeling in their cars, the assembled took to the dance floor after midnight when the band began to play. The result was apparently quite a bash:

Parked cars were emptied and rustic benches deserted as the young people answered the call of the dance music. But the desertion was not for long. It was impossible for all to dance at one time. Many watched the dawn come from the dance hall floor, but just as many saw it come through the windshield of an automobile and from the sheltered nooks along the water’s edge.
Guelph's possessive embrace of Puslinch Lake soon slackened. Despite George Sleeman's best efforts to haul it in, like the legendary serpent, Puslinch Lake will always be the one that got away from the Royal City.
Works consulted for this post include:
Puslinch Lake also has the honour one of the many places described as the location of this scene:
("On Puslinch Lake, near Preston, Canada," published by Stedman Bros, Brantford, Canada, ca. 1910.)

In fact, this is a picture of Florence Sallows paddling a canoe in the vicinity of Goderich, Ontario. Her father, Reuben Sallows, was a noted Canadian photographer who was the source of thousands of beautiful postcard images of Canada. As Mike Smith explains, "I discovered that the crafty Goderich photographer repeatedly conscripted his daughter when he needed a female model. Flo Sallows was certainly an excellent choice—she was very attractive and undoubtedly saved her father a bundle on modelling fees."

Smith's book, "The Reuben R. Sallows picture postcard handbook," lists no fewer than 24 different postcards featuring this image but captioned variously as "Black Creek, Port Dover, Ont." to "River Lynn, Simcoe, Ont."

This little item confirms that collectors have to remember that picture postcards, like any images, are not always what they seem.