Thursday, 30 November 2017

The Brills of Guelph

Postcard collectors know that the back of a postcard can be as interesting as the front. Just as the front may provide a picture of people, places, and events, the back of the card may provide a window on the life of its sender or addressee. That is the case with the card below:


The card shows the interior of Yeates & Thomas Confectionary Store, better known as the Kandy Kitchen. The Kandy Kitchen was a popular candy store, ice-cream parlor, soda fountain, and eatery located on Lower Wyndham Street. Although the business closed in the 1930s, the building remains today at 27 Wyndham St. N., home of Kwik Kopy.



rych mills briefly described the business in a recent Flash from the Past column.

As noted, the story for this post begins on the back of the card with the following message (25 Oct 1910):

Dear Sir:—Just a few lines to let you know that our furniture arrived all O.K. except a few scratches which could not be helped. We have the car unloaded in the house. 43 Richardson St. // Leo Brill
The postcard was addressed to Mr. J. Feathers of Owen Sound. So, who was Leo Brill and why was he bringing his furniture to Guelph?

The answer takes us back into the early history of the Royal City.

Leo Brill was a grandson of James Thomas Brill, a native of Aylesbury in Buckinghamshire, England. Born in 1828, James and his wife Louisa and son George emigrated to Canada West (as Ontario was then known) in 1855. The 1861 Census shows them living in St. Andrew's Ward, Toronto, where James was a grocer. Evidently, the Brills took a liking to the Royal City and relocated there sometime in the next few years.

Once situated, J.T. Brill entered the dairy and pork packing trades, founding the Wellington Packing House. The business prospered and, indeed, became an international concern. In 1876, J.T. Brill had a new building erected to house the work, a building that still stands at 21 Gordon Street (Couling 1996, p. 28):



We can get a sense of how the business worked in those days from a later reminiscence published by an old-timer in the Mercury (22 Feb 1948):

On the north corner there, that big stone building once housed one of the Royal City’s most prosperous business establishments. Dressed hogs were brought here by farmers from miles around and shipped to buyers throughout the country. In those days there were no abbatoirs or packing houses and the farmers killed their own hogs and sold them here. It was strictly a winter business, for the carcasses kept better in the cold weather. I can remember seeing hundreds of sleighs and wagons standing in line waiting to be weighed and unloaded.
It is interesting to imagine how this building would have looked surrounded by a crowd of wagons and sleighs, heaped with dressed hogs.

Farmers would bring their dressed hogs to the market square, where the new city hall stands today. Buyers like J.T. Brill would inspect them and purchase those they liked, which the farmers then delivered. A sense of the scale of this enterprise can be gained from the following report (Globe, 14 Dec 1868):

Pigs are not a bad institution, says the Guelph Mercury, when a man runs a mill. On Thursday, Mr. John Armstrong, Eramosa, brought to market 64 hogs of his own feeding, weighing over 18,000 lbs. He sold them to Mr. Brill of the Wellington Packing House, for $8 per cwt, realizing for the lot about $1,500.
In 1875, Brill bought 72,000 lbs. of butter in Fergus, shipping the lot to Britain in seven train car loads. In 1880, he purchased and shipped three car loads of butter and six car loads of eggs to South Africa. In 1885, he and other investors formed the Ontario Dairy Company, to consolidate their varied dairy interests.

As his business grew, J.T. Brill took prominent roles in civic life. He was a long-time member of the Guelph Board of Trade, predecessor to the current Chamber of Commerce. He was an official with the Ontario Creameries Association, and an alderman (think City Councillor) in 1884 and 1885.


(James Brill, courtesy of James Brill & Sharon A. McDonald of Teeswater, ON.)

He died at the age of 91, whereat his obituary notes that he was a member of St. George's Church and Society, which had presented him with a "handsome St. George's jewel," a Past President of the Speed Masonic Lodge, and "an ardent Britisher at all times" (Mercury, 16 Sep 1919).

George James Brill, son of James Thomas, was an employee and, likely, a partner in his father's business. Like his father, George took an interest on local politics, serving as an alderman for St. James's Ward in 1900. He was also active in the local Liberal party.

Unlike his father (so far as I can determine), George enjoyed sports, especially curling. His name arises frequently in lists of curling teams participating in local and regions competitions. For example, a team called the Grain Buyers, in which he played lead, defeated a team from the Mercury by a score of 12 to 11 in what was considered a well-played match in front of many spectators (Globe, 4 Mar 1892).

For reasons that remain unclear to me, George and his family departed for Cleveland, Ohio in 1902. Perhaps he inherited his father's need to strike out on his own.

The story continues with William Peter Brill, one of George's sons, born in Guelph in May, 1874. Like his father, he also had the peripatetic gene. On March 11, 1894, he married Minnie Evans in Lynnville, Norfolk County (near Simcoe). His profession is listed as confectioner. This skill is likely one that he learned in connection with this father and grandfather's dairy business.

The 1901 Census finds Mr. and Mrs. Brill, along with sons Leo and Clarence, living in Owen Sound, where William continued as a confectioner. Evidently, the gravitational pull of the Royal City was too great, and the family relocated to Guelph. Leo's postcard suggests that they arrived in October 1910 and took up residence at 43 Richardson, a charming duplex that remains in the same place today:



The postcard also suggests that William had already lined up a job at the Kandy Kitchen as a confectioner. He remained with the Yeates & Thomas firm, later the Royal Dairy, as a superintendant for the rest of his career.

If William delighted the children (and adults) of Guelph with candy and ice-cream, his own children became noted and important members of the community. His two older sons, Leo and Clarence joined the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF) during the Great War.

Leo Keith Brill left his job as a watch maker and joined up on 28 Jan 1916. By July of the same year, he arrived in France as a Bombardier with the 11th Brigade of Canadian Field Artillery. He was transferred to the 9th Brigade in 1917 upon reorganization of the CEF. On 22 Aug 1917, he was wounded in a gas attack near Camiers. Despite recuperating from the attack, Leo continued to experience headaches, double vision, and a burning sensation in his eyes. He was declared medically unfit for duty and returned to Canada, arriving in Halifax on 7 July 1918.

Not long after the end of the war, Leo emigrated to the United States, ending up in White Plains, New York, where he got work as real estate agent. It may well be that the damage to his vision meant the end of his career as a watch maker, prompting him to make a fresh start elsewhere.

Like Leo, Clarence Brill was a young watchmaker in Guelph. He had inherited the family love of sport, having done well in events organized by the Guelph Cross Country Run and Road Association (Globe, 1 Nov 1910). Also like Leo, Clarence signed up for the CEF on 28 Sep 1915. He arrived in France as a Gunner with the 11th Brigade of the CFA in July 1916. He was also transferred to the 9th Brigade in 1917. He appears to have served out the war without major injuries and was returned to Canada in March 1919.

By the end of the year, Clarence had also emigrated to the United States, finding work as a watchmaker in Brooklyn, New York.

The younger two of William Brill's boys, Evan and Earl, were too young to serve in the war and, perhaps not by coincidence, remained in the Royal City afterwards.

The best-known of the pair was Evan. Like his older brothers, Evan Brill assumed the trade of watchmaker. However, he was mainly known for his passion and prowess for hockey. As soon as Guelph resumed placing a junior team in the Ontario Hockey Association (OHA), Evan was "in" (Globe, 3 Jan 1921). In his history of local hockey, Harold Cole describes Evan Brill's style in this way (1971, p. 5):

He was not at all the free skating smooth type of player. It was his terrific drive and utter fearlessness that commanded the respect of all his team-mates, to say nothing of his opponents. Older Guelph hockey fans will recall his drives down the ice, during which, rival players cutely attempted to tangle their sticks in his flying skates, only to see him take to the air and leap over the wood which was intended to stop him.
Somewhere along the line, Evan earned the nickname "Chesty", so that his name often appears as "Evan (Chesty) Brill" in later discussions of him. The origin of the nickname is not clear.

Perhaps the apex of "Chesty's" career was in the 1932 season during which he played for the Crescent-Hamilton Athletic Club in Brooklyn, New York. The team was a minor professional team within the Eastern Hockey League.

I cannot help but wonder if Evan was considering a move to the U.S., maybe to join his brother Clarence as a watchmaker in Brooklyn. For whatever reason, things did not work out that way and Evan returned to Guelph, where he continued to play local hockey. In 1934, he was a member of the "Hall's Red Indians", sponsored by Halls' Service Station located, as luck would have it, at 23 Gordon Street, just across Nottingham Street from the old Brill pork and dairy building (where the Drop-in Centre now stands). The team won the Guelph League hockey championship (Globe, 14 March 1934) and is pictured in a team photo standing behind their trophy:


(Courtesy of Guelph Civic Museums, 1985.61.1)

Chesty Brill is the fourth player from the left. Here is a close-up:


(Thanks to Kathleen Wall and the Guelph Civic Museums.)

Evan Brill retired from hockey as a player in 1938 (Globe, 15 Feb 1938) but continued to support the game. Most notably, he was one of the organizers of the Guelph Biltmores O.H.A. team known as the "Mad Hatters," when it was reinstituted in 1947.

Like his grandfather George and great-grandfather James, Evan was elected a city alderman in 1949 (Globe, 4 Jan 1949). However, he was unable to assume office. As a sponsor of the Biltmores, Brill had an interest in a concession contract that the City was negotiating with the team. Regulations forbade city aldermen from having such conflicts of interest. Certainly, it speaks to Chesty Brill's priorities to learn that he resigned immediately as alderman.

It is also worth noting that Evan Brill was very successful in the watchmaking trade. In 1948, Brill became the sole proprietor of Savage and Co., a jewelry business founded in Guelph in 1848, and where Evan and his brothers had learned the trade (Mercury, 22 Feb 1948). Brill decided to keep the name Savage & Co. as this remained well-known to Guelphites. The business was located at 21 Wyndham Street North, today the location of Dino's Athletic Direct and just two doors down from the old Kandy Kitchen location where his father and brothers had worked.



Certainly, there is much more that could be said about Evan Brill but it is time to move on.

Earl Brill's early career was quite similar to his older brother, Evan's. He was a particularly good track athlete, winning the overall honours at the Guelph Collegiate and Vocational Institute (GCVI) in both 1923 and 1924. In 1924, Earl set three GCVI records in his category for the 100-yard, 220-yard, and 440-yard dashes. He won the shot put event, and came in second in the pole vault and running broad jump (Globe, 4 Oct 1924).

Like Evan, Earl took to hockey like a duck to water, playing in the Royal City's junior leagues often on the same side as his older brother. He was a good player and played alongside Evan with the Crescent-Hamilton Athletic club in Brooklyn in the 1932 season. At some point along the way, he was dubbed "Curly" Brill, perhaps in honour of his hair, to distinguish him from Evan, and because "curl" rhymes with "Earl", I presume.

Curly had his jaw broken from being hit in the face by a puck shot up the boards (Globe, 5 Jan 1933). It may be no coincidence that I have not found much information about him after that date. It appears that he moved to Toronto in the next few years, perhaps to continue as a watchmaker there.

In addition to Leo, Clarence, Evan, and Earl, William and Mary Brill had two girls, Vida and Wilma. It is always harder to follow the careers of women in the usual records, which tend to concentrate on men. However, I can report that Vida had her moment of local fame when she was crowned the "Queen of the May" for Guelph (Globe, 12 May 1922). She was crowned in a ceremony at the Armouries by Lieutenant-Governor Cockshutt, who decked her with a garland of roses and bestowed upon her the golden sceptre of her office. Most likely, the ceremony was a toned-down version of those carried out in the Old Country, like the following one at Knutsford:



Keeping with tradition, a maypole dance followed on the grounds, under the Queen's supervision. Perhaps it looked like this:



Wags and sceptics may find this procedure outlandish and medieval but I say: If it helps enhance the harvest, then we'd better bring it back!

The next year, Vida married George Brydges and relocated to Toronto.

I am sorry to report that I know very little about Wilma except that she remained in Guelph and unmarried until the death of her father William (Mercury, 29 Dec 1944). It was not an unusual custom at the time for one daughter of a household to remain unmarried and at home to look after her parents and family. That role may have fallen to Wilma. By 1960, she had removed to Woodstock.

The story of the Brills of Guelph is of interest in its own right, as the family has been a part of the life of the Royal City for much of its history. It also illustrates how the historical memory of a place can be revived and illustrated by little things, such as the postcard that Leo Brill dashed off to let friends know that his family was returning to its old haunts, bringing its old furniture, and continuing its part in the life of the city.



Wait! Guelph also had a bonus Brill! James Thomas's second son, Samuel, moved from Guelph to Teeswater to manage the Teeswater Butter Factory that his father had bought in 1879. There he married and raised a family including Louisa Brill, born in 1910, who was thus a cousin to William.

The Public accounts of the Province of Ontario show that Louisa was an "instructress" at the Macdonald Institute in Guelph, first listed in 1942 and continuing until at least 1964. The OAC/OVC 1947 Yearbook provides a nice picture of her, standing in the doorway of the Institute with some of her colleagues:


Louisa is on the lower left.

Louisa was an instructor in home economics, a core subject of the Institute. Evidently, she was a good instructor as several of her pupils won accolades for their accomplishments (Globe, 3 Feb 1959):

A proud teacher and victorious student made a triumphant return to Macdonald Institute, Guelph, last Friday, after Anne Heslop emerged as Canada’s champion cherry pie maker. This was the fourth time that Miss Louisa Brill, of the Institute staff, had chaperoned an entrant, when regional winners have met in Toronto in the annual final baking competition.
Anne Heslop gives much of the credit for her success to her home economics teachers—Miss Brill at “Mac,” and Miss Winnifred Walton of Weston Collegiate, where she had her earlier training.
After her retirement from the Institute, Louisa Brill returned to southern Bruce County.

Tuesday, 31 October 2017

The Royal City and the Royal Coronation, 1911

Any year has its beginnings and its endings and 1911 was no exception. In the British Empire, it was perhaps most noted for the beginning of a new era with the return of a King George to the British throne. The previous year had seen the death of King Edward VII and, with it, the end of the brief Edwardian era. Edward was succeeded by his son, King George V, whose coronation was set for 22 June 1911.

Naturally, the loyal city of Guelph was eager to celebrate the new king of the House of Guelph. In 1902, Guelph had sent some dignitaries and military men to England to take part in the coronation of King Edward. So, it was thought fit and proper that the same should be done for the coronation of the new King George.

In the end, 706 Canadian dignitaries and military men were rounded up and shipped across the pond by the Dominion. They went in style aboard the Empress of Ireland, a cruise ship of the Canadian Pacific Steamship Company. This ship was the one that would sink to the bottom of the St. Lawrence on 29 May 1914, taking 1,012 lives with her. However, she sailed from Quebec City on 2 June and arrived in Liverpool without incident.


The SS Empress of Ireland from a contemporary postcard/Courtesy of Wikimedia.

Similar groups arrived in Britain from all over the Empire. The military men bivouacked at the euphonious Colonial Coronation Contingents Camp, Duke of York's School, London.

The contingents were assiduously recorded in photographs that were printed up as postcards. Happily, a postcard probably featuring the visiting Guelphites was sent back from the old country.


The card was printed by Gale & Polden, Ltd., Aldershot, Portsmouth, & Chatham. The caption says, "Canadian Artillery // Colonial Coronation Contingents Camp, Duke of York's School, London. 62."

The message on the back reads simply, "Certainly a fine trip & lots of spare time. // B B Mc." The addressee was "J. Vertigan, Esq // The Armouries" in Guelph.

Here is another beginning, for the Armouries in Guelph had been officially opened only two months earlier! Joseph Vertigan is listed in the city directory as a caretaker there. It seems the postcard was addressed to him by the cryptic Mr. B B Mc.


The Armouries, Guelph, Canada, published by Rumsey & Co., Toronto (as seen from Jubilee Park).

The bad thing is that Guelph newspapers for this event are missing, so our information about the contingent is limited. The good thing is that the passenger manifest of the Empress of Ireland still exists and lists the points of origin of its passengers, including those from Guelph! They are as follows:

Saloon passengers
Mr. Hugh Guthrie, M.P., Mrs. Guthrie
Mr. E. Harvey, Mrs. Harvey.
Artillery
Major D.M. Foster, 16th Battery, C.F.A., Guelph, Ont.
Sergt. A. Anderson, 11th Battery, 1st Brigade, C.F.A.
O.R. Sergt. B. McConkey, 1st Brigade, C.F.A.
Infantry
C.Sergt. O. Wideman, 30th Regiment
Departmental Corps
Sergt.-Major C.T. Lark, C.A.S.C., No. 1 Co.
The saloon passengers were the civilian dignitaries, who, therefore, spent much of the voyage in the saloon.

It was quite an honour to be selected for this event, so it is interesting to find out about the people who were picked.

  • Mr. & Mrs. Hugh Guthrie: Hugh Guthrie was a local boy and a barrister in the city. He was elected M.P. for South Wellington with the Liberals in 1900 and represented the riding federally until 1935. It would be distracting to attempt to summarize his political career; suffice it to say that he held numerous Cabinet posts and was one of the most prominent men of the town for many years. His inclusion in the coronation party was surely a no-brainer.

  • Mr. & Mrs. E. Harvey: Edmund Harvey was born in Galt in 1844 (Mercury, 3 July 1923). His family had the good sense to relocate to Guelph in 1850, where he remained for most of his life. He became a prosperous pharmacist but later turned to oil, real estate and finance, where he made a tidy fortune. He was City Treasurer and Paymaster of the 30th Wellington Battalion of Rifles from 1884 until 1896. His obituary fails to mention that he was charged with embezzlement of at least $12,000 from the City treasury at that time (Globe, 27 Aug. 1896). In the end, he pled guilty to reduced charges and, evidently, remained a respectable town patrician. He later got into lime manufacturing in Rockwood and was still president of E. Harvey, Ltd., when he died suddenly of a heart attack on 29 July 1923. His grave in Woodlawn cemetery is marked by an impressive obelisk.

  • Douglas Mortimer Foster was born in Guelph in 1878 and became a dentist. He served 14 years with the 16th Battery of the Canadian Field Artillery, beginning around 1900. He joined the Canadian Expeditionary Force in Guelph on 13 Dec. 1915, in the Canadian Army Dental Corps with the rank of Captain. He served in France until he came down with a case of appendicitis in 1917. It appears that he travelled to Canada briefly to recover and then returned to France in 1918. Evidently, he remained with the military and was promoted to Major with the Wellington Rifles in 1924. He died on 13 Nov. 1962.

  • Sergt. A. Anderson: I have not found out much about Andrew A. Anderson except that he was born about 1869 somewhere in Ontario to Scottish parents. He worked in the printing business in Guelph. He died 17 Oct. 1933.

  • O.R. Sergt. B. McConkey: Benjamin Bertram McConkey was born in Guelph on 8 Dec. 1890 (Mercury, 3 June 1918). He had served three years with 16th Battery under Major Foster when the coronation beckoned. He graduated from McGill University in 1914, apparently having studied architecture there. He had little time to practice his profession: Upon the outbreak of the Great War, McConkey immediately joined up with the artillery as a Lieutenant. He was later promoted to Captain and won the Military Cross for his performance at the battle of Vimy Ridge in 1917. He died on 29 May 1918 from wounds to his right hand and shoulder. He is buried in Doullens by the Somme in northern France. He is also evidently the sender of the postcard above: "B B Mc"!

  • C. Sergt. O. Wideman: Orrie C. Wideman was born on 7 July 1884, the second son of Louis Conrad Wideman (so, "Orrie C." probably expands to "Orrie Conrad") and Jeannie Wideman. Louis Wideman was an important builder in Guelph in the Victorian era and was a Captain of the 30th Regiment. It seems that the apple did not fall far from the tree: Orrie joined the 30th Regiment as well, rising to the rank of Colour Sergeant in 1906. Around (after?) the coronation, Wideman moved to Toronto to pursue the building trade there. He joined the Canadian Expeditionary Force on 17 Sep. 1915 and served until the end of the war. The 1921 Ontario Census shows him living in Toronto, working as a contractor (with an income of $1400), along with his wife Henrietta and children Lily and George. He died in Toronto on 5 May 1958.

  • Sergt.-Major C.T. Lark: Charles Thomas Lark was born in England in 1879 and immigrated to Guelph in 1907 (Mercury, 19 Oct. 1953). He seems to have felt very comfortable in uniform! He served in London's First Dragoons from about 1895 until 1903. His unit participated in Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee in 1897 and fought in the Boer War. After that, Lark joined the London Metropolitan Police until he upped sticks for Canada. His move was precipitated by a desire to join the Royal North-West Mounted Police. It seems, though, that he took an understandable liking to Guelph and remained in the Royal City instead, taking work at the Standard Valves plant and joining the Canadian Army Service Corps (now known as the militia), in which capacity he participated in the coronation. After the coronation, Lark decided on another change, joining the Guelph Police Department, where he rose to the rank of sergeant. During the Great War, Lark joined the Canadian Expeditionary Force on 12 June 1916 as a Lieutenant. For reasons that are not explained in his records, Lark did not depart with his regiment and was demobilized instead in April, 1917. He resumed his role in the Guelph police. In 1921, the restless Lark then became a guard at the Ontario Reformatory ("prison farm"), where he remained, as a sergeant, until 1937. Finally, Lark retired and, naturally, became a night clerk at the Wellington Hotel until 1951. He died on 17 Oct. 1953.
Mayor and Mrs. George Thorp also attended the coronation as part of a European tour they went on. However, they were sent by the Town of Guelph instead of the Dominion, and so did not voyage with the others.

I presume that many or all of the Guelph military party is present in the postcard above. However, I do not presently have any other photos of the people involved, so I am unable to say who is which or which is who. Perhaps some educated guesses could be made by matching people's ranks to the insignia on their uniforms. If you can shed any light on the subject, please do so in the comments section below!

The coronation went off on 22 June without a major hitch. The colonial contingents marched in the procession before the royal couple, assumed positions near Westminster Abby, and stood to attention as the royals entered and later exited.

The coronation ceremony marked a number of firsts. For example, it was the first coronation in which the service within the Abbey was allowed to be photographed.

King George V and Queen Mary seated on the Chairs of Estate in front of the royal box at their coronation in 1911. By Benjamin Stone/Wikimedia commons.

The event was also extensively recorded in moving pictures. Coronation Of King George V (1911)/British Pathé.

My favourite technological first for this coronation would have to be how the newly anointed monarch contrived to the lay the cornerstone of the Fisherman's Institute in St. John's, Newfoundland (Globe, 22 June 1911):

In spite of the pressure of the Coronation ceremonies, King George will find time Thursday to participate in the laying of the corner stone of the new Fisherman's Institute to be erected here by Dr. Wilfrid T. Grenfell. It will be at His Majesty's word, sent over the cable, that Governor Ralph Champney Williams, of Newfoundland, will place the stone in position. Arrangements have been completed for special telegraph and cable connection between Buckingham Palace and the site of the structure in St. John's.
Huzzah! What a signal demonstration of the electrical sinews of the Empire!

In the Royal City, the coronation was celebrated in royal style. A series of athletic contests were held in and around Exhibition Park (Globe, 23 June 1911). The Guelph Shamrock lacrosse team was narrowly exceeded by the Brampton Excelsiors, 3–4. A series of races were held, including sprints, races for whippets, boys on ponies, and a five-mile motorcycle race. The Guelph baseball team travelled to Berlin (now Kitchener) and spit a double-header against the Dutchmen.

A first for Guelph was the inauguration of the city's first, incandescent street-lighting system. The Fire, Light and Markets Committee of the City Council teamed up with the Light and Heat Commission to install the system. At 10pm sharp on coronation day, the downtown was lit up as never before (Globe, 23 June 1911):

Wyndham, Carden, Macdonnell, Quebec, Norfolk and Woolwich streets were made as light as day by the fine lights, and, the effect was very pleasing. Citizens generally expressed their entire satisfaction and approval of the new system, which will hereafter be lighted every night and all night.
Thanks to Niagara Power, courtesy of the new Hydro-Electric Power Commission of Ontario set up by Sir Adam Beck, the future of the new era seemed bright indeed.
Since posting this piece, I came across the following information about B.B. McConkey, which clarifies the circumstances of the action that earned him the Military Cross at Vimy Ridge (Mercury, 12 Dec 1918):
Mrs. B.R. McConkey has received the Military Cross awarded to her son, the late Capt. B.B. McConkey, M.C. The statement of the award, which came with it, is as follows: “Lieut. B.B. McConkey, C.F.A. as F.O.O. for his battery with two N.C.O.s this officer laid a telephone line from Lichfield Crater through Volker Tunnel to Thelus Mill, during the operations against Vimy Ridge, on the 9th of April, 1917. Getting ahead of the mopping up Bn. they were held up by a barricade and a machine gun in the tunnel. They overcame this opposition and after handing over 12 prisoners to the infantry, they established an F.O.O. station in Goulot Wood in time for the next attack. When their lines were cut they continued to send back timely information by runner, showing initiative, perseverance and gallantry.”

Tuesday, 26 September 2017

Flag fight at the O.A.C.

Each September, new students at the University of Guelph are led through a series of activities, known as Orientation Week, designed to welcome them to campus and familiarize them with its ways and means. Events include campus tours and friendly greetings from more senior students.

At the Ontario Agricultural College of an earlier era, the reception of new students included activities decidedly at odds with current practice. The central ritual of this earlier initiation was the flag fight, a pitched battle in which the Freshies (freshmen, or first-year students) defended a cloth fixed to a pole against attacks from the Sophs (sophomores, or second-year students) and a barrage of noxious missiles.

The event is well described by the students themselves (O.A.C. Review 1908, v. 21, n. 2, p. 96):

On a certain day in September sundry and seemingly unaccountable visits were paid by the acolytes of the Second Year to both the poultry department and that fair city of Guelph. The object of these visits was but too plainly felt, or shall we say tasted, by the Freshmen towards nightfall. At supper time preparations were also going on apace in the southeast corner of the campus, and by 7 p.m. there was incorporated in that peaceful scene a twenty-foot pole with the Freshmen emblem lazily flapping in the evening breeze.
Alas! The face of this earth is ever changing and this was but too true when applied to our present scene.
In the brief space of one half hour that flag pole was the centre of a mass of seething, surging humanity, and the sweet fragrance of the nocturnal air was polluted by the “foul” smell of “incubator eggs.”
The struggle had been raging for some time; the Freshies manfully up holding their colours—if this is not too elite an expression for that jaded apparition of an emblem; the Sophs with equal tenacity endeavoring to raze them to the ground, and the spectators growing dubious of the result. Suddenly, however, a Soph shot up that pole like a streak of lubricated lightning, and with lusty shouts from his comrades below he rent it from its staff.
It was “Scottie Lawson,” and to say that he was cheered would ill describe his reception. He was carried round the college on the shoulders of his classmates to the symbolic music of Sophomore yells, and was well nigh killed before regaining terra firma.
From this gay sight let us glance at the returning Freshies. They were glad it was over, but were indeed a sorry, spectacular sight. Some bore the sanguinary stains of decomposed tomatoes and others the more golden lustre of eggs in the last stages of putrefaction; again some were divested of raiment, especially in the matter of hats and shirts. In all they were in a deplorable condition, but had the consolation that they were little worse than the Sophs.
Welcome to school!

Hazing rituals had been part of student life at the O.A.C. since its inception (as was the case at most colleges of the era). Each year, the sophomore class was expected to devise novel torments for the incoming group. These usually involved some combination of combat and assault with unpleasant substances and often occurred at night. In 1907, the sophomores came up with the idea of the flag fight, such as the one described above (O.A.C. Review 1913, v. 26, n. 1, p. 22).

The contest proved popular and became the central event in initiation for many years afterwards. It also became an attraction for the townsfolk of Guelph, who seem to have enjoyed watching it. It was also attended by the girls of Macdonald Hall, which may have added to the humiliation of the losers. In addition, the fight was the subject of a series of postcards, which exhibit each stage of the event.

First is "The challenge." On the left, the freshmen surround their flagpole ready to fend off attacks from any side. On the right are the sophomores, considering their strategy.


Second is "The attack." A sophomore attempts to climb the pole while freshmen try to drag him down.


Third is "The repulse." It seems that the attack was beaten off, while wrestling matches between pairs of first- and second-year students have broken out.


Fourth and last is "The finish." The contest is over. A student stands, facing the camera with his shirt in rags. Many more items of shredded clothing dot the landscape.


Rending of shirts and hats was considered an indispensable part of the event.

The postcards were printed for prominent local druggist, A.B. Petrie, who perhaps took a particular interest in it. The earliest postmark that I have seen for a card in this series is January 1909. This suggests the photos were taken in either 1907 or 1908. My guess is that it is the 1907—and first—event that is depicted. In his recollection of the 1907 flag fight, S.J. Neville, who was one of the Sophomore organizers, recalls that no weapons or projectiles were allowed that year (O.A.C. Review 1913, v. 26, n. 1, p. 22):

We called the newcomers out in the afternoon, gave them a flag to defend, and ruled out all forms of dirt or weapons, even to water and knotted towels.
In contrast, the 1908 event was characterized by the use of rotten tomatoes and eggs, as noted above. The pictures in the postcards show no evidence of such weapons, so they most likely show the 1907 edition.

There are many possible reasons for the origin and appeal of hazing rituals of this sort. These reasons include (Cimino 2011, pp. 243–244):

  1. Fostering group solidarity,
  2. An expression of dominance, or
  3. Selection of committed group members.
In his recollections, Neville clearly views the object of the flag fight at the O.A.C. in the first year, as a way of quelling inter-year rivalries. He notes that the sophomores of 1907, including himself, lost the fight but did not feel dishonored since the fight was conducted without meanness. They went on to have a good relationship with the freshmen class of that year.

Neville contrasts that situation with the relationship between his class and the preceding one due to their initiation in 1906:

My first knowledge of initiation was, as was natural, gained at the expense of personal suffering, mostly mental, I admit, on a stricken field. In the forefront of battle, at the elbow of the strong man, Chinky Moorhouse, I undoubtedly received my full share of the good things, including two eyes-ful of flour and molasses, which signally failed to render the dark and stormy night any brighter. That was the last of the old-fashioned objectless dirt-battles. It was common-place both while in progress and in results, and we Freshies were duly humbled—for the time.
Evidently, the sophomores of 1906 were bent on a display of dominance.

Neville notes that the flag fight of 1913 was particularly brutal, featuring dousing of the freshmen with a mixture of water, tar, and carbon disulfide, a noxious chemical whose physical effects include, "tingling or numbness, cramps, muscle weakness, pain, distal sensory loss, and neurophysiological impairment." Not surprisingly, this precocious use of chemical warfare did not sit well with the vanquished freshmen, and the two sides engaged in a series of reprisals throughout the rest of the year.

Authorities gradually sought to curb initiation rites. Nocturnal events were disallowed in 1916 (OAC Year book 1920, v. 6, pp. 41, 44). In 1922, the flag fight alone was the only form of initiation allowed (Globe, 5 Oct. 1922) although this restriction was relaxed in 1925 (Globe, 23 Sep. 1925).

Initiations were banned in Ontario universities in 1926 but the flag fight at the O.A.C. continued (Globe, 1 Oct. 1926). The O.A.C. was held to be exempt from the rule, perhaps because it was officially a part of the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, which had not issued such an instruction.

The last flag fight that I am currently aware of took place in 1929. However, I have not made a search specifically for later occurrences, so it may have gone on for many years afterwards. If you know of any later ones, or of similar events at other colleges, perhaps you could leave them in the comments below.

The flag fight is a curious development in college initiation rituals. It was introduced, in part, as an alternative to "object-less" dirt fights that took place in earlier years. It is in some ways like a tug-of-war in which two teams compete to move a flag tied to a rope into their territory. Unlike a tug-of-war, the flag fight still involved direct physical combat. This fact may explain why some later fights featured the re-introduction of weaponry by the sophomores, as a way of overcoming their numerical inferiority and to ensure their dominance over their first-year rivals.

Walking across Johnston Green today, it may be fun for freshmen to imagine a tall pole with a flag flying on top, along with the sophomore class, eggs and tomatoes at the ready, preparing to charge. Or, not.

Monday, 21 August 2017

Officer 666 plays in Guelph!

The Edwardian era was the golden age of postcards. Also, as Anthony Vickery (2010) points out, it was the golden age of theatrical touring in North America. From 1896 until the Great War, hit plays produced in New York would tour the United States and also Canada. From Montreal as far west as Windsor and Sault Ste. Marie, plays produced in the Big Apple would tour from city to city while riding the rails.

Vickery explains that there were two ways in which this would transpire. Producers in New York owned or controlled theaters throughout the region and scheduled traveling shows at their convenience. These theaters were mainly sited in larger cities such as Montreal and Toronto.


Theaters in smaller towns were usually locally owned. Tours of these theaters were often negotiated through local entrepreneurs. In the Edwardian period, the local circuit in Ontario was managed by one Ambrose Small of Toronto. New York productions that played in Guelph were typically booked through him.


One such production was "Officer 666". This play was a "melodramatic farce" written by Augustin MacHugh and produced by the noted team George M. Cohan and Sam H. Harris. It played at the Gaiety Theater on Broadway starting in January, 1912, and was a hit. A review in the New York Times (30 Jan 1912) praised it for being comical and absurd:

All of which is carried out in broadest farcical spirit, with plenty of humorous situations, a large number of surprises, and considerable bright dialogue. At the conclusion Helen says to this effect: “I feel as if it couldn’t have happened except in a play,” and Gladwin replies, “It couldn’t.”
Popular and in keeping with the spirit of the times, it was sure to be a hit on the road. Naturally, a touring show was speedily arranged.

Ads for the performance of "Officer 666" in Guelph began with this photograph in the Mercury (5 March 1913):



The caption reads: "'Officer 666' gets himself in many a fix in the play of that name. The accompanying scene occurs in Act III when the now famous sleuth is discovered minus his uniform and other insignia of his office. 'Officer 666' is a melodramatic farce as full of surprises as is the small boy just home from an ice cream festival."


An interesting simile! What could that refer to?


Advances in printing technology meant that newspapers were able to print halftone photographs in any issue; no doubt, an agent of the touring company sent the plates ahead to the local rags in advance of the show. By 1913, it was common for the Mercury to print such pictures to promote upcoming shows. However, "Officer 666" did seem to merit special treatment. A whole half-page ad, featuring another photo, was printed on March 6. Another photo appeared in the top middle of the front page on March 8.


Promotion for the play was not limited to the newspaper. The following postcard was also in circulation:


(Courtesy of Andrew Thomson.)

It was printed by the Dana T. Bennett Co. of New York and likely depicts the New York stage production. The message space on the back identifies the play and is also stamped with the local showtime, "Royal Opera House, Guelph. Monday, March 10." It seems that the play's promoters were going all out!

The Royal Opera House opened in 1894. It was built to supply a notable, cultural landmark for Guelph and to replace the inadequate old City Hall as a venue for dramatic and musical performances. (Sited next to the Grand Trunk Railway tracks, patrons at the City Hall had difficulty hearing performances over the throaty whistles of the G.T.R.'s steam engines.) However, with a capacity of over 1,200 seats, it was a rare night when the theatre was in the black.

It can be seen in the following postcard printed by the Pugh Mfg. Co. of Toronto:


The building was razed in 1953 and today is the site of the less dramatic Guelph Community Health Centre, as can be seen in the Google Street View scene below.



In 1911, the Royal Opera House was sold to the Griffin Amusements Corporation, which brought it solidly into the orbit of the Broadway play touring system.


Finally, the big night arrived and bums filled the seats of the Griffin Theatre. It appears that the full-on advertising campaign worked. The review in the Mercury the next day was entitled, "Packed house greets a clever presentation at Griffin's last night." It praises the wittiness of the writing, the strength of the acting, and the frothiness of the plot:

The blue pencil might do a little effective work on one or two sentences, but otherwise the show is clean, funny, and has the requisite of all successful plays, nowadays, the thing couldn’t happen anywhere outside of the stage or a book.
In a nutshell, the plot concerns a youthful millionaire New York art aficionado named Travers Gladwin. He returns to his old haunt on Fifth Avenue after a trip to Europe to find that he is being impersonated by a slick thief who is in the process of purloining his art collection. The thief has also used his usurped identity to win the affections of Helen Burton, a lovely debutante. Rather than expose the deception, Gladwin impersonates a police officer—Officer 666—with the inducement of a $500 bill. With the help of his friend Whitney Barnes and valet Bataeto, Gladwin cleverly outmaneuvers the thief and wins the hand of the lovely Helen.

If you want to learn more, you can read the whole book at the Gutenberg Project. Or, listen to the audiobook at Youtube!


What I find curious is that the story reminds me of the end of the Odyssey: Odysseus finally returns to Ithaca to find suitors besieging his good wife Penelope. With the aid of his son and his old swineherd, he slays the suitors and wins back his bride. Happily for the cleaning crew at the Griffin Theatre, "Officer 666" ends without bloodshed and the actors instead "slay" the audience.


As was usual for these New York touring shows, the company put on only the one performance, departing the next morning for the next small town along the rails. In their wake, they no doubt left many Guelphites repeating their favorite lines, as well as some promotional postcards as testimony to the Royal City's small part in the gold age of theatrical tours in North America.

(From the book cover for "Officer 666", published by the H.K. Fly Company, New York, 1912/Wikimedia commons.)




Admiration for "Officer 666" outlasted its turn on Broadway and along the American railways. It was adapted as a silent film in Australia in 1916 and in Hollywood in 1920. A still from the Australian version can be found at the Australian National Film and Sound Archive. There is also a short clip to see:



This appears to be how Gladwin gets the uniform of Officer 666 in the film.

Oddly, there also appears to be a tin wind-up toy of Officer 666 which you can see here:


It seems the character was still good for a laugh in the 1930s, long after its appearance in theaters.

Monday, 31 July 2017

Guelph's postcard producers: Chas. L. Nelles

Anyone who has looked at many postcards of Guelph from the Edwardian era will be familiar with this caption:


Dozens of Guelph postcards of that era bear the imprimatur of Charles Lonsdale Nelles of Guelph. Some of my own favorites were produced by Nelles and sold in his bookstore. Among Guelph's vendors of mass-produced postcards, only Nelles had his name displayed prominently on the front of each one. From this, you might conclude that Nelles took special pride in his cards and that he took the photographs himself. However, the truth is somewhat more nuanced, as it often is.

Charles Lonsdale Nelles was born on 16 November 1867 in York, Haldimand County, third of eight children of John A. Nelles and Caroline Nelles (née Turner). In 1878, the Nelles family moved to Guelph and bought out John Anderson's book store there (Mercury, 25 July 1904).

It did not take long for young Charles to find trouble. He threw a stone at a locomotive from an abutment of Allan's bridge, which flew through a window pane and struck engineer Nigh on the cheek (Mercury, 15 August 1879). Nelles ran away, telling the other boys present that his name was "Smith." The subterfuge was unsuccessful—Nelles was nabbed by police chief McMillan and brought to police court. Mayor Howard was satisfied that the act was not malicious and Nelles' father offered to pay for the damage. Charles was let go.

The next winter, young Nelles had a skating accident while playing "crack the whip" on a rink (Mercury, 21 February 1880). He was flung into a rope and fell backwards to the ice on his head. Despite this injury, a few days of bed rest seemed to restore the lad.

In 1889, young Charles left town for Chicago to "push his fortunes" (Mercury, 20 July 1927). Quite what he did there is not clear. However, he was back in town to take over his father's store in 1891. In its special section on Guelph the following year, the Toronto Globe described Nelles' business as follows (6 August 1892):

Charles L. Nelles, the leading book-seller and stationer, has been in business a little over a year, having bought the well-known and old-established business of his father, Mr. J.A. Nelles. The City Book Store, as it is familiarly called, is very centrally located opposite the post-office, and is one of the prettiest and neatest that can be found, besides carrying a very extensive and complete stock of books and stationery, wall paper and fancy goods.
The first floor is filled from the ceiling down with the newest and finest lines in books and stationery, while the second storey is used as a showroom for carriages, toys, wall paper, etc., and everywhere the most complete appointments for displaying goods will be found.
They make a special line of novels, magazines, etc., and travelers will always find the latest American, Canadian and English publications on hand. Last, but not least, Chas. A. Nelles gives every one a hearty welcome at all times to the City Book Store, Guelph.
From this description, we get an idea of what goods a bookstore of the era carried.

In fact, an illustrated map of Guelph from around 1900 provides a lively drawing of the City Book Store, with C. Nelles as proprietor:

(Courtesy of Guelph Civic Museums, 2012.29.1)

Today, this is the site of Royal Gold Jewelry in St. George's Square. Compare with this image from Google Street View:


The building now has "Skyline" rather than "WALL PAPER" on the roof.

On 15 September 1898, Nelles married Alice Mary Pipe, daughter of Dr. William Pipe, who had been the first mayor of the town of Berlin, now Kitchener. They were married in St. James' Anglican Church on Paisley Street, in what was regarded as a "fashionable wedding."

The following year, Nelles moved his business to bigger digs at 101 Wyndham Street, now the location of Vicane's maternal clothing store, seen in the Google Street View image below.


A view of the interior of this store, as seen from the back, was printed in the June 1906 edition of Bookseller and Stationer magazine (p. 22).


Having married and managed a successful business, Charles Nelles became a respected Guelph merchant, and well-placed to respond to the imminent postcard mania.

Happily, Nelles was an active member of his trade. He was an officer of the Booksellers and Stationer's Association, even its president in 1907. He wrote many letters to Bookseller and Stationer, the trade magazine, from which we can learn much about his views on the trade and about postcards in particular.

Nelles makes mention of postcards in the January 1904 edition, reflecting on the previous year and looking ahead to 1904 (v. 20, n. 1, p. 12):

Calendars and cards had as great a sale as ever and the annuals were even better than usual, for which we are very thankful. I had a nice range of private postal cards with Guelph views made up in November, comprising 12 in the series. The sale of these reached nearly 3,000 for the December month and were considered just the thing to send to friends abroad.
The marked Nelles postcard with the earliest date I know of is the following one, entitled simply "View in Guelph, Ontario" (24 May 1904):


It is a view of Eramosa Road taken from the top of the Wellington Hotel. The card is of the old type, with a space for the message on the front, which is "Here today, JBS" in this case. The back of the card was reserved for the recipient's address exclusively. A set of similar views of roads and significant buildings were sold until (and including) 1906.

In March 1906, Nelles made the following assessment to his trade in postcards in Guelph (Book and Stationer, v. 22, n. 3. p. 10):

The post card business has reached its limit, in fact it did that a year ago, and now it is more of a staple line than a novelty. The sale was created from the album business and the rivalry of procuring the greatest number of different cards from all parts of the world, but it has become so cheap and extensive that the collecting has become tiresome and the number so great that they are too common.
As far as our business is concerned, they will always be kept for transient use, this being the easier way of reminding those at home of your whereabouts, but we do not expect the volume of trade we had last season, and within a short time it will be restricted to local views and cards for the seasons such as Valentines and Christmas ones.
Four or five years ago we put up our own cards. Special photos were taken, half-tones made, cards cut from cream Bristol boards and printed by local men. These we sold in thousands until the Canadian manufacturers got the craze, and now we have special views put up by them. The sale last year would be from 20 to 30 thousand in my store. We also have an exclusive book of Guelph views made up by the Albertype Company, Brooklyn, and which retails for fifty cents. Of these we sold 900 in three months.
Do not think I am pessimistic and that the post card business is finished, as it is not, but I consider that it has reached its highest point. Besides, the cheap comic lines, some of which are too nasty, have helped considerably to bring down the tone of the whole line, and also to reduce the price. At present I have an order in for twelve thousand, which goes to prove that I am not yet quite out of it.
Here, Nelles describes the initial phase of the picture postcard craze, in 1901 and 1902, in which vendors sold homebrew cards. Subsequently, this business was taken over by bigger printers in larger centers, who could supply cards in larger volumes at cheaper prices.

Nelles also remarks that the postcard collecting phase reached its peak in 1905. That is, saturation of the postcard market then overwhelmed many people who set about collecting whole sets of cards. In fact, postcard collecting became more focussed, with people collecting around particular themes, e.g., postcards of train stations, bridges, or places like Guelph.

Besides collecting, picture postcards found a niche as a quick and inexpensive means of rapid communication—"transient use," as Nelles calls it. Priced at a few cents and mailed for a one-cent stamp, postcards were delivered quickly by the post office. Mobile post offices in train cars processed them as trains went from one town to the next. People could count on next-day (or sometimes same-day!) delivery in many cases. Postcards were used in a way reminiscent of text messages today.

Nelles also mentions a book of postcard pictures made up by the Albertype Company of Brooklyn. The book is also mentioned in the Mercury (13 Sep. 1905):

A copy of the new Souvenir Book of Guelph has been presented to the Mercury by Chas. L. Nelles, who deserves great credit for his enterprise in putting such a splendid production on the market. The cover of the book is very artistic, and the views, to the number of fifty, have been taken this summer, and are the best that have ever been shown. It comes in a cardboard box, ready for mailing, and every citizen should send them broadcast throughout the world. The price is only fifty cents, and they are for sale at all the bookstores...
Copies of this book are held in local museums and archives today.

The introduction to this book credits the photos to one J.E. Runions of Cornwall, Ontario. So, it appears that Nelles was not one who took the pictures in his postcards. In fact, it was common practice for postcard producers to contract with professional photographers to take the pictures and arrange them for publication.

The remarks above were also the last ones that Nelles made about postcards in the Bookseller and Stationer that I have been able to find. It seems that Nelles was not a postcard enthusiast but rather a businessman who regarded them simply as something in his line of trade that it would be profitable to sell. And sell them he did! I have seen postcards with Nelles' name on them postmarked as late as 1924.

Many of Nelles' cards are notable for the window that they provide on Edwardian Guelph, and the quality of Mr. Runion's photography. Here are a few:


This card offers two views, one of the Carnegie Library and the other of Exhibition Park. It is also hand-colored, as noted in the bottom, right corner. It is a divided-back card, having separate spaces on the back for a message and an address, thus making it possible to fill up the front with an image. It was simple to take advantage of this new format, only recently permitted by regulation, simply by inserting two half-pictures from older cards.


This card is a favorite! It gives a fine view of Jubilee Park, facing City Hall, before the Park was replaced by the new Grand Trunk station. Here, the City Hall is seen with its old clock tower, the Church of Our Lady has yet to acquire its towers, and Northumberland Street still connects with Norfolk Street instead of ending at a pedestrian overpass.

The card is exceptional in the sense that it provides a good view of the citizens of Guelph, at their leisure, instead of a just a seemingly deserted building.


This card is notable both for the newly renovated Post Office, featuring its third floor but before the clock was installed, and the decorative frame. The frame is a standard Christmas motif into which scenes from any place could be set for quick sale in the holiday season. This card is postmarked at 22 December 1904. It shows that Nelles continued his practice from 1903 of stocking special cards for the Christmas trade.


With the advent of the Great War, Nelles appears to have stopped selling postcards, perhaps entirely. In 1920, a new line of cards appears, such as the view above. It displays the Wellington Hotel and Opera House in the middle ground, with the Church of Our Lady and the old Central School behind, as seen from Queen Street. These cards were printed in England and had a nice, glossy finish and a raised frame around the photo. Very classy! I have found cards from this line dated as late as 1924. At that point, it appears that Nelles got out of the postcard business.

Nelles did have a brief flirtation with banking. In January 1907, he took the job of manager of the Metropolitan Bank in St. George's Square and put his bookstore up for sale. However, in spite of receiving about 100 offers, he was unable to complete the sale on account of the "stringency" of the money market at the time (Mercury, 7 Feb. 1908). Nelles found it too difficult to manage both his bookstore and the bank. In February 1908, he resigned as bank manager and resumed his former profession full-time.

In September 1920, his bookstore was damaged by fire to the tune of $10,000. However, he evidently carried enough insurance and managed to re-open it the next month, fully renovated and re-stocked (Mercury, 7 Oct 1920).

Ever active in his trade, Nelles became the first President of the Booksellers' and Stationers' Association of Canada when it was re-formed in 1921. A portrait of him appears in Booksellers and Stationers magazine (May 1921, v. 7, n. 35, p. 31).


Nelles was highly involved in local affairs. He was a founder of St. James's Anglican parish in Guelph, serving as a church warden. He was an officer of the successful Victorias hockey club of 1897, President of Guelph's Fat Stock Club, and a member of the commission that renovated Woodlawn Cemetery, among many other things.

In 1920, the Nelles family moved into "Hadden Cottage" at 83 Paisley Street, a lovely home that is a designated heritage structure today.

In 1927, he was appointed Registrar of Deeds for Wellington County South. This appointment seems to have marked his retirement from business.

On 3 April 1939, Charles's wife Alice died at home. Charles, who was seriously ill at the time, passed away 36 hours later in the General Hospital (Mercury, 5 April 1939). They are buried together in Woodlawn Cemetery.

The couple had no children. However, Charles Nelles is remembered today among local postcard enthusiasts for the many exceptional pictures of Guelph that he sold in his store over a century ago. Look for the "Chas. L. Nelles" at the bottom of the card!

Friday, 30 June 2017

The Goldie Mill grounds

A section of Goldie Mill Park was recently closed due to detection of contaminated soil. The trouble started in June 2016 when sinkholes began to open in the vicinity of the great chimney. Environmental testing subsequently detected the presence of hydrocarbons, some due to incomplete incineration, so the area is closed off while the nature and extent of the contamination is further investigated.

It is strangely appropriate to find that incineration remains an issue at Goldie Mill. Since the founding of Guelph, fire, along with water and stone, were always at hand there. The site has seen many changes over the years, changes that are not always evident today. Happily, old postcards, maps, and photos can help us to envision how Goldie Mill used to be, especially as it was developed by James Goldie himself.

David Allan (1939, pp. 38–39) notes that the story of Goldie's Mill begins at the founding of Guelph in 1827. David Gilkison, a cousin of John Galt, and Gilkison's partner Captain William Leaden bought the site (for a total of 25 acres) after having failed to obtain the site of Allan's Mill next to the Priory. There, they built a dam and a sawmill. However, the business never made money and the pair discontinued operations in 1829.

It was sold to Captain Henry Strange in 1833. It seems that Strange operated the mill with more success but died in 1845. Besides operating the mill, Strange also built a house at Cardigan and Norwich streets, as related by Tatham (1983, pp. 6–7):

About 1837 Captain Henry Strange built a house on the property and operated the sawmill. The house, a long low building with arched windows and doorways in a latticed porch at the centre front, is well remembered in some photographs (usually with a little dark dog on the lawn!) still in existence, and by a painting which was in the possession of “Alex” Goldie and was given to Riverslea by his widow, Mrs. Marjorie Goldie. This house was occupied by James Goldie and his family from 1868 to 1891 (and was torn down about 1925). Thus this house, often called “Captain Strange’s House,” was home for James and Frances Goldie and their children, Thomas, John, James Owen, and later Roswell, born in Guelph on March 26, 1862, and Lincoln, born in Guelph in 1864. Baby Margaret probably never saw this house, because she was born in Guelph on February 26, 1867, and died two weeks later, on March 11th.
Strange Street was named after Captain Strange, comprising the blocks of what is now Dufferin Street from Kerr to Division.

(The "Old Goldie Home" AKA "Captain Strange's House", complete with lawn dog, ca. 1895. Courtesy of Guelph Public Library Archives, item F38-0-14-0-0-126.)

Local potentate and wheeler-dealer Dr. William Clarke, and his partner Dr. Henry Orton, bought the mill from Strange's estate. To the sawmill they added a flour milling operation that they called The Wellington Mill. This frame structure was the first of several structures to occupy the later Goldie Mill site.

Fire destroyed the mill in 1846. Mills of that era were quite prone to fire and burned down with regularity. So, this event was no surprise. However, the blaze may have been more than a simple accident. As Stephen Thorning has explained, Dr. Clarke was an unreconstructed Protestant who had engendered more than a little contempt from local Catholics during the heated religious conflict of the time. As Justice of the Peace, Dr. Clarke could make life difficult for those whose religion he looked down upon. So, the blaze that consumed his mill may have been sparked by the religious friction of the era.

A determined man, Dr. Clarke bought out his partner's share in the mill privilege and built a new mill in 1850, which he called The People's Mill. This time, Dr. Clarke had the building made from stone, at least some of which was quarried on the property itself.

Over the next few years, the property went through a succession of hands, until it was leased to Charles Whitelaw, a successful businessman from Paris who operated several mills in the Grand River valley, among other concerns. Whitelaw, it seemed, had the touch and the mill apparently operated at a profit.

However, fire returned again on 8 June 1864. Although some of the stores and equipment, and the cooperage across the river, were saved, the mill was a total loss. Stephen Thorning noted that suspicion fell on local cooper Bernard Kelly, who had threatened to burn down the mill before because he did not get orders for barrels from Whitelaw. The coroner's inquest found the the blaze was indeed arson but deemed that there was not sufficient evidence to accuse anyone in particular. Even so, Kelly was convicted in the court of public opinion and hastily left town.

On 8 June 1866, the property was bought for $15,000 by James Goldie. In 1860, Goldie had built the Speedvale Mill further upstream, at the current site of the Speedvale Fire Station. He sold his old place of business and undertook rebuilding and expansion of the People's Mill. It would remain in his hands for 46 years and duly become the "Goldie Mill".

(James Goldie, from "Golden Jubilee of Nurses," 1938. Goldie was on the Hospital's Board of Directors.)

A good idea of what the area looked like during Goldie's tenure can be gained from the 1881 Wellington County Atlas. Because of the dam just upstream of the Goldie Mill, the reservoir made the Speed River much wider there than it is today. Here, I have superimposed part of the town map on a portion of the Google map of the area as it is now. I have outlined the banks of the river in solid lines and the bridges in dashed lines.


Bridges are represented by dashed lines. The parallel dashed lines in the center of the picture represent the dam, which was also used as a foot crossing. The black block to its left is the location of the original sawmill. On the west bank, the reservoir covered the wooded slope that exists there today. Note that a "Victoria Street" was on the survey through the middle of what is now Herb Markle Park. Of course, the street was never built. On the east bank, the reservoir covered most of what is now Joseph Wolfond Park East, upstream from the foot of Derry Street.

Four postcards record views of Goldie Mill. The first one (labelled "1" on the map above) was taken on the west bank of the Speed downstream from the mill. Although the caption identifies the subject as "Goldie's bridge", the bridge in view is clearly what is now called the Norwich Street bridge. Goldie Mill, with its ninety-foot chimney, built in 1885 and which still remains, can be seen peeking over the treetops on the left-hand side, a hint of what is to come.

(Courtesy of the John Keleher Collection.)

The building on the right is what was then a storage house of the Canada Ingot Iron Culvert Co. (demolished in 1927). This card is a "bookmark" card, published by Rumsey & Co., Toronto, of a photo taken with a panoramic camera.

The second postcard was taken from the east bank upstream of the Norwich Street bridge (labelled "2" on the map above). The mill buildings can be clearly seen on the left-hand side of the picture. The top of the distinctive chimney is clearly visible behind the other structures. Beneath lies a spit or island separating the Speed on the right from the tail race on the left.


Although the mill is an industrial site, it is presented in the background, framed by water and foliage almost as if it were a picturesque temple discovered on a trek along an Arcadian river.

The third picture (taken from the point labelled "3" on the map above) was taken from beside the tail race and next to the Speed River. It looks northwards to the back of the dam.


There is more tension in this picture. The ground is strewn with chunks of broken limestone, lying around like the remnants of an explosion or quarrying operation. The dam in the background is straining to hold back the waters of the mill pond beyond, without complete success. This card was printed by Warwick Bro’s & Rutter of Toronto.

The fourth picture (taken from the point labelled "4" on the map above) shows the mill pond itself from the north looking southeast. The steeple of St. George's Anglican Church can be seen in the center background. Goldie Mill and its tall chimney can be seen to the right. Today, this spot would be not far south of Riverslea, where the Goldie family then lived, today on the Homewood grounds. The Speed is now much narrower at this point and both banks are thickly wooded.


Near the opposite shore there are two swans in the water. It seems as though they are approaching a man on the bank, who may be moving to feed them. A small boat lies tied up nearby, its stern dragged downstream by the current. This postcard was printed by the Pugh Mfg. Co. of Toronto.

James Goldie acquired two white swans in 1888 to add to his menagerie. His estate was renowned for its gardens. Goldie's father had been a globetrotting botanist and assembled a botanical collection for the Tsar at St. Petersburg. The apple did not fall far from the tree. Goldie Jr.'s gardens contained hundreds of exotic flowers, shrubs, and trees. Visitors came from far and wide to see them.

Goldie's menagerie included many exotic birds, both "preserved" and alive. The latter included Egyptian geese, a Sandhill crane, English, Golden, and Silver pheasants, and the two swans. He also imported English sparrows, some of which he released and some of which he kept in a cage. James Gay, a local man who styled himself the Poet Laureate of Canada, wrote the following poem about them ("Canada's poet" 1884):

On the sparrows
Mr. Goldie’s sparrows, quite a number, returned to James Gay,
He feeds them with small wheat every day,
About eight in the morning, you can see them fly around
To feed on the wheat laid out for them on the ground.
This friend to sparrows, he takes much delight,
To hear their little warblings from morning to night;
All are made welcome as the flowers in May,
Not one shall fall to the ground by the hands of James Gay.
If Mr. Goldie could hear their prattling ways,
He would send them some small wheat every day,
So between the miller and the poet too,
Those little birds are sure to do.
About four they take flight,
If they could speak, they would say thank you and good-night.
Besides swans, youths liked to swim in the mill pond and places nearby in summertime. There was an old quarry pit at the site known as Kate's hole (for reasons unknown to me), as recollected by Fred Dyson (Mercury, 8 May 1948):
Among the real old timers expressing interest in tales of the old town is Fred Dyson, who, at 87, can look back pretty far. Explaining the origin of Kate’s hole down by the spur line at the old Goldie Mill, he said it was the quarrying of stone there for the mill dam that made it a favorite resort for swimmers. The spur line ran right into the mill property.
That swimming there in those days was clothing-optional is confirmed wistfully by another old-timer, James Ritchie (Mercury, 1 May 1948):
Who among Guelph’s real old-timers does not remember Crib’s hole, near Russell Daly’s present home? Or Fraser’s hard by the Sterling Rubber Company’s plant, or the staircase near the old Goldie’s Mill? ... These are among many others inseparable from old swimmin’ hole memories. No swimming in the nude anywhere these days. If the boys try it they will be chased away, no matter how far they are from the city.
O tempora, O mores!

The Speed could be dangerous as well as beautiful and fun. Spring floods often threatened the dam. Indeed, it was swept away by floods in the springtime of 1873 and 1929.

In addition, girls and boys drowned in the pond alarmingly often, e.g., (Northern Advance, 12 June 1890):

Mrs. Henry Ching, of Toronto, who is on a visit to friends in Guelph, lost her five-year-old boy by drowning on the 5th inst. The little fellow fell into the river while throwing stones into the water from the bank. The river is very high with the recent heavy rains, and he was quickly carried over the dam at Goldie’s mill. The body was recovered in a few minutes, but life was extinct.
In the winter, the pond froze over and made for a useful expanse of ice. Guelphites went there for skating and curling. The ice itself was also harvested by Mr. T.P. Carter of Carter's Ice Company, who handled about 2,000 tons of ice annually from his ice houses on Essex Street (Industrial number, 1908). There was also an ice house on the west bank of the Speed upstream of the mill (in the backyard of 165 Cardigan Street today), perhaps for the use of James Goldie himself.

Perhaps the weirdest incident connected with the Goldie Mill pond occurred when it was frozen over. A Mr. Leslie, while walking home at noon hour by the Mill one day, found a green fedora with no band and a worn overcoat lying on the ground beside the ice. In a pocket was a peculiar note (Mercury, 11 Dec 1922):

This seems the only way out. If ‘F’ had been here it might have been different. Good-bye. X.—J.B.
The note suggested a suicide. Yet, there was no hole in the ice nearby. No amount of searching and dragging the river or mill race produced a body. Perhaps the whole thing was a prank. Either way, the identity and fate of J.B. remains a mystery to this day.

Goldie remained by the Mill and its pond. Around 1885, he purchased Rosehurst across the river from Dr. Clarke's estate. This grand house stood on the Delhi hill and had a beautiful view of the pond. James's son Thomas and his family moved in. (There is a lovely photo of Rosehurst taken from across the pond, Tatham 1983, p. 9. However, I cannot locate the source.)

James Goldie built Riverslea for himself in 1890–91. It stood somewhat apart from its setting, being made of brown stone imported from New York State (Tatham 1983). However, it was still sited near the east shore of the mill pond with a good view of the Speed and Goldie's Mill downstream. Like his mill, James Goldie never left the river.

The mill prospered. After he took over, Goldie rebuilt the mill larger than before. He also added a substantial cooperage across the river. A rough wooden bridge connected the two. Storage areas and an elevator were added also. See the map below.


Here, I have superimposed a portion of the Fire Insurance map of 1911 on a Google satellite view of the mill and vicinity. As President of the Wellington Mutual Fire Insurance Company, James Goldie would have been familiar with this map.

Just to the left of the mill, is a building shaped like a sideways "I", labelled "A. Office". As mentioned above, the Great Western Railway built a spur line down the Speed to Cardigan Street to serve the Royal City as a new passenger train station ("Guelph railroads", Keleher 1995, p. 59). It opened for business on 16 February 1882 but proved to be a flop and closed six months later. In 1884, Goldie bought the building and moved it next to his mill, where it appears on the map, to serve as office space.

The building can be seen on the left in the cute drawing below.

("Goldie Mill", courtesy of the Guelph Public Library, item F8-0-4-0-9-3.)

In 1888, the Guelph Junction Railway was built and a siding laid to Goldie's Mill, which is also visible in the map. As a result, wheat and flour at the mill were no longer transported by horse. This change was important since Goldie increasingly had to buy wheat from western Canada in order to keep the mill profitable.

The office was torn down around 1920. Today, the site is the location of the Guelph Youth Music Centre, constructed in 1995–2001, from a storeroom built in place of the office. The spur line was later torn up and became the Spurline Trail.

As more land in its watershed was cleared, the force of the flow of the Speed diminished. As a result, Goldie added a steam engine to pick up the slack. In 1910, electrical engines were furnished instead, supplied by a power substation dedicated to the mill. The electricity was generated at Niagara Falls. So, the mill ran on power from a river over 120km away rather than on power from Speed, which flowed right beneath it.

James Goldie died on 4 Nov 1912. The mill afterwards passed through many hands. In 1918, the mill was bought by F.K. Morrow, investor and owner of the Morrow Cereal Co. In 1926, the Standard Milling company took over, followed by the Pratt Food Company in 1930.

Time and tide chipped away at the mill and its grounds. Milling operations ceased soon after yet another spring flood wrecked the dam in 1929. The mill became a warehouse with its buildings used mainly for storage. On 24 February 1953, fire returned in the form of a spectacular blaze that destroyed the original milling, shipping, and boiler rooms.

The mill was then slated for demolition but the City and the Grand River Conservation Authority intervened. The remaining stone structures were stabilized and were turned into a picturesque folly. Fittingly, the park was named Goldie Mill Park, still bearing the name of the man who had shaped the place more than anyone else, so many decades before.