Sunday, 22 January 2023

The Heffernan street footbridge 3.0

Early in the morning of 5 February 1913, Martin O'Donnell came across a grisly surprise, "the body of a dead man, frozen stiff, in the centre of the through siding near the C.P.R. freight shed, one arm being missing" (Mercury). The body was later identified as Carmillo Angelo, who lived in a boarding house in the "Italian colony" in the Ward.

Forty-two years old, Angelo worked at the Pipe Mill (later the Old Mill) and was probably returning to his boarding house when he was struck by the 8:30pm train from Toronto, which dragged him some distance and severed his arm. He had lived and worked in Guelph for five years and had become naturalized only a couple of months before. He left a widow and five children back in Italy.

The incident occurred in behind the CPR freight shed, formerly the Speed Skating Rink, near the Heffernan street bridge. Angelo's death illustrated the hazard to pedestrians of having a popular pedestrian route, fed by the pedestrian bridge, hard by a railway.

As noted in an earlier post, Guelphites seemed generally happy with the convenience and aesthetics of the second Heffernan street footbridge. However, the proximity of its southern entrance to the Guelph Junction Railway was always problematic.

(This view shows the proximity of the second Heffernan street footbridge to the Gueplph Junction Railway. Postcard published by the International Stationary Co., ca. 1910. From the author's collection.)

In the early 1900s, the Canadian Pacific Railway was spending money on improvements to its facilities and, in Guelph, aimed to build a new railway station to replace the decrepit Priory, the first building constructed on the townsite. In conjuction with this plan, the CPR made a offer to the City of Guelph: It would build gates at the Eramosa Road railway crossing, and erect a new Heffernan street bridge that went over the tracks, if the city would upgrade the crossing at Allan's bridge (Mercury, 17 November 1909). This would ensure that the CPR would be in a position to build a new railway station at the nearby Trafalgar Square site in the following year or so.

(Indeed, it appears that the board of the Railway Commissioners ordered a new footbridge to be built that passed over the tracks, though I have yet to find a record of the order itself.)

The city seems to have accepted the deal and the tender of Rutherford & Paten, of St. Catherines, was accepted to construct the new bridge.

This was duly not accomplished. The city's Board of Works returned to the old idea that a vehicular bridge should be built to carry street traffic over the river. This plan was not carried out, apparently because the city refused to drain the river for the purpose of construction, as the builders had assumed they would (Mercury, 15 April 1912).

So, the Board reverted to the scheme of having another footbridge constructed instead. New plans were drawn up and a call for tenders issued. Ever indecsive, the City's call for tenders listed two different designs for the bridge (Engineering and Contract Record, 23 April 1913):

Tenders will be received up to April 26th by Board of Works and Sewerage Commissioners for: (1) steel foot bridge, consisting of 2 97-ft. deck spans, 1 through truss at 100 ft. and 6 I-beam approach spans; (2) construction of concrete substructure for the above; (3) alternative tenders for a reinforced concrete bridge on same site. Plans, etc., from City Engineer. $5.00 deposit required for concrete bridge plans.
Option (1) seems much like the previous bridge, albeit with extra approaches and elevation on a concrete substructure. Option (2) was for a newer style featuring 100% reinforced concrete, perhaps reflecting a desire that the bridge might appear more "modern" than the earlier one.

Spoiler alert: A tender for option (2) was selected, from the company of Galbraith & Cate of Montreal. Construction seems to have begun in September and finished around November 1.

("Construction of the Heffernan Street Walking Bridge," 1913. Courtesy of Guelph Civic Museums, 2013.72.77.)

Naturally, the third Heffernan street footbridge featured in many postcards of the post-Great War era. Its graceful arches and interesting slope were too much for photographers to resist. Consider the view below, taken from Eramosa street bridge upstream.

("Speed River, Guelph, Ont." Published by the Bulman Bros., B. C. Lithography & Printing Ltd, Vancouver, BC, ca. 1925. From the author's collection.)

Another picture taken from downstream shows the same interest in the juxtaposition of the river and the slanting angle of the new bridge.

("Footbridge over the Speed River, Guelph, Ontario." Published by F.H. Leslie, Niagara Falls, ca. 1930. The perforations on the left margin show that this card was sold in a booklet along with other cards, which could be torn out individually for use. From the author's collection.)

The elegant concrete arches of the bridge's substructure invite closeups, as they appear almost like the path a stone might follow if skipped over the river.

("Foot Bridge over Speed River, Guelph, Ont." Published by the Heliotype Co. of Ottawa, ca. 1920. From the author's collection.)

Note the original lighting system featuring inverted-J poles.

Guelphites took to the new bridge as they had with the previous one. It soon became home to the same sorts of uses, such as serving as a "dressing room" for youth taking dips in the Speed (Mercury, 5 August 1926):

A number of citizens have been objecting to the practice of a number of boys dressing and undressing under the Heffernan Street bridge. They state that the practice has become very prevalent lately and, besides being a danger to the boys themselves, is offensive to passers-by. One of the objectors said that while passing over the bridge last night, with a lady, the lads were using extremely bad language and when he remonstrated with them they only redoubled their efforts.
Plus ca change!

A few unusual events were also reported occurring under the bridge. Consider the picture below, showing Guelphites waving to the crew of the HMCS Swansea, the only naval vessel to pass under the bridge (Mercury, 1 April 1953):

The ship, on her way back from battle manoeuvers in the Georgian Bay area, nosed her way slowly down the Speed River to the cheers of amazed and sleepy-eyed early risers.
If you are similarly amazed, then take note of the date of the picture's publication.

Of course, a lot of water has passed under the bridge since its construction, and it experienced a few close calls as it aged. In 1951, the bridge underwent repairs to fix up the cracking and spalling that concrete structures tend to suffer over time. It was closed for four weeks while cracks and holes were sealed with steel mesh and additional concrete (Mercury, 27 July 1951).

In 1971, when the bridge needed further repairs, the Guelph City Council made plans to tear it down. Despite the urgency that was broadly felt to make Canadian cities more modern and shed vestiges of the past, there was a public outcry at the news and the Council reversed its decision, opting for repairs instead.

(Photograph of the Heffernan street footbridge by Gordon Couling, 1982. Courtesy of the Wellington County Museum and Archives, A1985.110, ph. 9510).

In 1990, the Heffernan street footbridge was declared a heritage site and the City Council decided to return it to its original appearance. Thus, the bridge was demolished and rebuilt. As Troy Bridgeman remarked (Guelph Today, 10 December 2019), it remains today one of the most photographed city landmarks. It is also a monument to the vagaries of civic traffic patterns and the survival of old structures in growing cities.

("Repair of Heffernan Street Walking Bridge," 1990. Courtesy of Guelph Civic Museums, 2009.32.5402.)
("Heffernan street footbridge," 20 October 2019. Courtesy of Peter Burian via Wikimedia Commons.)

Saturday, 17 December 2022

Merry Xmas and Happy New Year, 1914

The postcard shows a lovely, summery scene featuring the Blacksmith Fountain in St. George's Square. The streetcars carry passengers in their summer attire, who are probably happy that the open sides let in cooling breezes. Perhaps the driver of the oncoming car secretly hopes to apply the made-in-Guelph cow-catcher on the front to scoop an errant pedestrian out of the way.
("St. George's Square, Guelph, Canada," ca. 1910. Published by the International Stationary Company, Picton, Ontario.)

Although postcard publishers tended to prefer summer photography, postcards were sent all year round, and this card was actually dispatched from Puslinch to Guelph on 31 December 1914, when the Royal City and its surroundings had be socked in under repeated snowfalls.

Addressed to Mrs. James D. McPherson on York Road in Guelph, the message relates to the holiday season:

Dear Jim & Belle:—
We got the photos and you could not have sent us a better Christmas box. Glad to hear baby is growing so well.
Wishing you all
A Happy New Year
Aunt Flora
Of course, the year 1914 was an unusual one in Guelph. The Great War had begun a few months earlier and Canadians were still unsure what it would amount to. Many young men had left with the Canadian Expeditionary Force and were still in Britain training for combat. Herbert Philp wrote a letter home to his family, which they subsequently published in the Mercury (24 December), under the ironic title "Salisbury mud a wonderful thing." In it, Philp speaks eloquently of the frustration of the contingent:
For, despite the eagerness of practically every man in the contingent to be "over the way," we are still wallowing about in England's mud.
Philp explains that the conditions were fine and dry on their arrival, and they pitched their tents in a "slight valley." Then down came the English rains, leaving their modest dwellings with:
ambitious rivulets flowing either through them or snuggling close to their sides. Not a tent but contained a pool of water.
When the weather let up, the tents were moved up slope but the cookhouse remained down in the valley, meaning that everyone had to line up there three times a day, in whatever weather, to get their food. The result was frequenty cold tea and soup and soggy bread at meal times.
(Detail of "Herbert William Philp," no date; Courtesy of William Ready Division, Archives and Research Collections, McMaster University Library, via The Canadian Encyclopedia.)

Philp finishes his letter thus, "But, so far as excitement and entertainment are concerned, Salisbury Plains still runs a close second to the grave."

(Herbert Philp's many and eloquent letters home throughout the Great War have been collected by Ed Butts in the book, "The Withering Disease of Conflict: A Canadian Soldier's Chronicle of the First World War." It is available from the Guelph Historical Society and I highly recommend it!)

War news was a mixed bag. Accounts of terrible battles were featured, but the general tone conveyed the sense that the Allies had the upper hand and German defeat in the near future was still a possibility, though not by Christmastime.

Rumours of German attacks on or in Canada circulated. For example, a national article printed in the Mercury (1 December) related a scheme set in motion for German forces to take over Quebec City. A concrete structure made the previous year near St. Anne de Beaupré by a German movie crew in 1913 was thought to be a bunker intended as a weapons cache for a surprise attack launched by sea. Luckily, British naval superiority had frustrated this plan, it was thought.

The many Canadians of German descent in the region also caused concern. A letter to the Editor (11 December) attempts to address rumours of a German-Canadian fifth column thus:

Editor of the Mercury.
Dear Sir: Who are the meddlers who have been reporting to Guelph authorities that secret meetings are being held in Morriston by the Germans and German-Canadians?
There are no secret meetings held in Morriston to my knowledge. Perhaps the meddlers had reference to the revival meetings, held in the Evangelical church, which are held annually. These meetings are not secret, but sacred, and people of all nationalities are welcome to attend.
Are such meddlars as these throughout the Dominion interested in uplifting our Canada? No, they are too ignorant to realize the harm they are doing their own village and community, also their own country, Canada.
Yours respectully,
A life-long Mercury reader.
As ever, conflict breeds suspicion and mistrust, well-founded or not. Locally, misplaced suspicion of German- and Catholic Canadians resulted in the Guelph Novitiate Raid of 1918.
("Evangelical Ch., Morriston." Courtesy of Wellington County Museum and Archives A2009.124, ph. 31342.)

Compared to previous years, the Xmas shopping ads in the Mercury seemed subdued. Still, they were far from absent. The D.E. Macdonald & Bros. shop urged Guelphites to "Hurry up! Only two more Saturdays before Christmas" (11 December). Extensive gift suggestions for him, her, and baby were provided, along with an illustration of Santa Claus hauling a prodigious sack of goodies.

Similarly, Moore and Armstrong noted that there were only nine shopping days left (14 December): "If you have not got the Christmas Spirit yet, you will have it in large measure when you get to the White House," that is, their store on Wyndham street.

Their illustration also showed Santa Claus carting a super-sized sack of gifts. One can understand the look of relief on the jolly old elf's face at the sight of the very wide chimnney before him!

If nothing else, Santa's message was to go big or go home, or both!

Even Santa Claus was not unaffected by the conflict in Europe. This cartoon shows how low German Kultur had sunk with the war (22 December):

The caption says, "An act of barbarism: Not only are the Germans firing on the Red Cross and flags of truce, but they are rendering the work of Santa Claus difficult and hazardous."

Being magical, Santa had the means to rectify the situation, as shown in a subsequent cartoon (26 December):

Here, Santa deploys what I assume is a stocking full of doorknobs to give Kaiser Bill a jolly good thrashing.

People on the home front carried on. The Guelph Musical Society held a parade downtown on 9 December. The performance was marred somewhat when large bulldog followed the squad down Wyndham street. The drummer found that the dog would bite the drumsticks whenever he raised them to beat the kettle drum. Fearing that he might be "minus a wing" if he provoked the dog further, the drummer ceased drumming and the band had to proceed without their bass.

The animals did not have it all their own way. A bear cub named "Teddy" had been kept as a curiousity at the American Hotel on Wynhdam street for most of the year. Having reached the size of 200 lbs, Teddy was sent Bernard Schario, the butcher, who turned him into roasts and steaks as a holiday feast for the hotel residents (24 December).

The skating season took shape. With the cold weather, Guelphites were soon skating on the pond above Goldie Mill. Skating also began indoors at the Royal City Rink (formerly Petrie's Athletic Park and Rink) at Wellington and Gordon streets.

(Detail of "The Petrie Rink, Gymnasium and Baths," 1898. Courtesy of Guelph Museums 2014.84.2.)

Curiously, the street railway company decided not to open their usual skating rink on Howitt's pond, on the basis that it would not be "a paying proposition" (18 December). In previous years, the rink behind the streetcar barns on Waterloo road had been run as an attraction to get people onto the streetcar system in winter.

Perhaps they had too much competition. The City had decided to fund a rink on the grounds of the Guelph Collegiate Institute on Paisley street. A room in the basement was even made available for people to put on their skates (22 December). Perhaps this level of comfort and style attracted skaters who might have been inclined to travel to the streetcar rink in previous years.

("Collegiate Institute, Guelph, Ont." Postcard printed for Waters Bros., Guelph, ca. 1910. Courtesy of Guelph Museums 2009.20.1.)

The Royal City Rink was also home to Guelph's very first NHL team! Yes, Guelph entered a team in the 1914–15 Northern Hockey League senior series (21 December). Although some of the players trying out for the team were from out of town, lots of local boys turned out to show their stuff, including Allan, Anderson, Stricklerr, Greer, Hayes, Spalding, Ogg, King, Mowat, and Bulgin.

The side lost their first exhibition game against the Dutchmen of Waterloo (26 December). Although the Guelphites mainly acquitted themselves well, the superior size of the Seagramites gave them a distinct advantage, resulting in a 5–2 win for the visitors.

Another tilt against the same team was arranged for the first regular season game. This time, the Royal City skaters were better prepared. The result was a "wild sort of affair," beginning with a dispute over whether one of the Guelph players was a professional—strictly forbidden! The play was very physical and Referee Knell of Berlin (Ontario) "had his hands full."

The police had to be called in to break up a melee after the crowd joined in an on-ice altercation in the second half. Tied at the end of regulation play, the game went ten minutes into overtime before Guelph's centre, McGregor, put the home team up 7–6.

At the Reformatory (or "Prison Farm"), the provincial government announced plans to install an abattoir on site (31 December). The Ontario prison system required 600–700 tons of meat annually in its operations, which was obtained from private butchers. Building an abbatoir at the prison meant that prisoners could be employed to perform the butchering at a lower cost than private butchers, saving the system some $50k a year. In addition, prisoners would learn skills that they could use to obtain regular employment as meat dressers in private industry after release.

("Ontario Reformatory Guelph, Jan. 1915 The Abattoir." Courtesy of Guelph Museums 2014.84.1276, p. 59, ph. 3.)

A final point of interest came with the annual, municipal elections. First, there was some talk of not holding the elections at all, in view of the war situation (17 December). But, the election went ahead as usual.

Besides electing a Mayor, Aldermen (Councilors), and other officials, citizens of Guelph were asked to weigh in on the following by-law, "Are you in favor of municipal votes for married women?" (8 December). The 'Women's Franchise plebisite' was carried by a majority of (male) voters 1140 to 838 (5 January 1915).

Women's groups had long campaigned for women's suffrage in Ontario. In the Edwardian era, efforts tended to focus on municipal voting. In 1914, the Canadian Suffrage Association, led by Dr. Margaret Gordon, had lobbied many Ontario municipalities to hold referenda on extending votes to women. It appears that Guelph was one of 33 municipalities where the effort met with success, albeit for married women only.

Women's role in the Great War led to further support for the cause. In 1917, Ontario women finally gained the right to vote in provincial elections.

In many respects, the holiday season of 1914 was like those of previous years. Even so, as the prospect of the end of the conflict in Europe receded, it was clear that times were changing and that the New Year would bring on many new challenges.

Sunday, 27 November 2022

The Heffernan street bridge: A short span a long time coming

Before 1856, the Rev. Arthur Palmer lived in a handsome stone house on the north shore of the Speed River, today 96 Arthur street north. In those days, there was no footbridge across the river there, so the good Reverend was known to row across the river in his own little boat, where he would disembark to make his way to St. George's Anglican Church, then standing in the middle of St. George's Square.
(96 Arthur street north, as viewed from today's Heffernan street bridge. Author's photo, 26 Nov. 2022.)

Today, the Heffernan street footbridge stands almost exactly that place, a monument to the Reverend's old commute to work.

("Arthur Palmer, 1874." Courtesy of Guelph Civic Museums, 2009.32.2762.)

But, the bridge did not come into existence straightforwardly. Indeed, for many years, it was a kind of confabulation, a structure that existed only in the desires of commuters like Rev. Palmer. On land, such "desire lines" are paths worn into the ground by many feet passing by the same route through a park or vacant lot. For example, a wide desire line led across the Johnston Green from the corner of Gordon and College streets to Massey Hall, a route that was recently paved by the University of Guelph.

Of course, you cannot wear lines into a river but people can still yearn for a permanent way across them, a sort of fluid line of desire.

Perhaps the earliest record of this particular desire line comes in the 1855 Palmer Survey map. At this time, the Rev. Palmer had bought up a goodly parcel of land along the north bank of the Speed and up across the ridge of the hill behind. (He was then in the process of building his new residence "Tyrcathlen," now Ker Cavan, on the site.) In a detail of the map, a bridge labelled "proposed bridge" is shown connecting the foot of Grange street with Thorp street on the other side.

(Detail of "Land Survey, Arthur Street Subdivision, 1855;" courtesy of Guelph Civic Museums 1981X.221.1.)

Proposed by whom? We are not told but the Reverend himself must surely have blessed the plan.

Nothing was done but the desire did not fade. In 1869, a scheme was floated and money pledged to carry it out, with a hearty endoresement from the editor of the Guelph Mercury (7 May 1869):

There is no question as to the desirableness or utility of such a bridge, for it would be of great service to the bulk of the ratepayers living in that section across the river, as well as those residing on the road in rear of the hill on which Archdeacon Palmer’s and Mr. John Horsman’s residences stand.
The Archdeacon himself put his money where his mouth was:
Archdeacon Palmer has with great liberality offered to give twelve feet of land from the road to the river bank as an approach to the bridge, and in addition will give $100 subscription towards the construction of the bridge.
For reasons they do not explain, the City's Board of Works shot down the idea at their next meeting. It was still a bridge too far.
("St. George's Church, 1874." Courtesy of Guelph Civic Museums, Grundy 60. The first footbridge would be built at this site a few years later.)

Headway was made in 1876 when Heffernan street was created on the north side of the river, right where the bridge was to make land. (The street was named after Thomas Heffernan, a prominent merchant.) Surely, bridging of the river, and thus completion of the street, would be accomplished the next year said a column in the paper (Mercury, 5 December 1876).

("T. Heffernan, n.d." Courtesy of Wellington County Museum and Archives, A1985.110.)

This was duly not accomplished. The issue turned on what kind of bridge was to be realized. Some people's desires went as far as a street bridge, which would accommodate general traffic. Others' vision was limited to a footbridge, which would carry only pedestrians. The main difference was price: A full-sized bridge would cost $2,300, while a footbridge would run only $1,500—or even merely $500 for a basic model.

("Goldie's Mill race, ca. 1885." Courtesy of the Guelph Civic Museums, Grundy 225.)

There were many footbridges in Guelph. In the main, these were built into dams so that goods and people necessary for business could be easily transported over the river. The Goldie Mill, for example, had a footbridge that connected the mill on the west side of the Speed to a cooperage on the opposite side. Barrels made for packing flour could be brought from the cooperage to the mill over this little bridge. The general public often used these bridges for commuting or casual purposes. Other such bridges were present at the Taylor-Forbes plant and Presant's Mill, the latter of which was particularly popular.

Even so, a dedicated footbridge not attached to a mill would be a new thing for Guelph. This novelty may have persuaded some townsfolk that the idea was not an acceptable one.

After much wrangling, some funds (perhaps $1000) were allocated by the Board of Works towards construction of a bridge. Local surveyor T.W. Cooper was paid for plans and surveys while builder George Pike began construction of the abutments (Mercury, 15 January 1879). The bridge was on its way!

This was duly not accomplished. Funds ran short and no more were allocated for two years. For this time, only the abutments were present to bear witness to the incipient structure.

In 1881, the Council allocated $500 for completion of the bridge. When no tenders for this modest amount were received, the Board of Works called its own number and set out to construct the bridge using city workmen (Mercury, 5 July 1881). These would be overseen by George Bruce, a prominent local builder and Alderman who was also chair of the Board of Works.

("Captain Bruce, ca. 1870." Courtesy of Guelph Civic Museums, M1991.9.2.147. Besides being a prominent builder and alderman, Bruce had been a member of the Guelph Company of the Wellington Rifles and fought in the response to the Fenian Raids.)

The $500 allocation constrained the structure to a footbridge with a width of 6 feet (ca. 1.8m). Nonetheless, the piers for the bridge were built 20 feet wide (6m) so that a full road deck could be substituted when more money became available (Mercury, 16 Sep 1881). The Mercury editor thought the result incongruous and the pedestrian deck a waste of funds in light of the imminent upgrade.

After many more arguments, setbacks, and changes of mind, the Heffernan street footbridge with railings and a five-foot wide deck finally spanned the Speed river in December 1881.

Curiously, no one seems to have thought to take a picture of this new bridge. At least, I have not been able to locate one. Perhaps it was widely thought unsightly after all!

In any event, once opened to the public, the bridge attracted the usual sort of uses. There were complaints about the smell of refuse dumped off the approach to the bridge behind St. George's Church (Mercury, 16 May 1882). Before municipal waste collection became common, dumping of refuse at or into rivers was a common practice. Besides aesthetic issues, the resulting pile of waste gave rise to bad odours, which were thought to give rise to disease.

As ever, young men were wont to swim in the river near bridges, often in their birthday suits (Mercury, 24 June 1882). This behavior contravened the swimming by-law, which was often honoured more in the breech than the observance.

It also did not take long for a few people to ride horses over the bridge. The Mercury editor called them "stupid cranks" and warned that the practice put women and children on the bridge at risk (15 July 1882). For the townsfolk, the matter of riding horses over the bridge may have cut to the issue of just what sort of a structure it was. I suspect that many people regarded it as akin to a sidewalk: At the time, a sidewalk was a platform, usually constructed of planks, that was laid out in front of businesses or, occaionsally, as a kind of crosswalk. Horses and vehicles were not allowed on sidewalks so that pedestrians on them would not have to trouble about dodging horses or their droppings, as they would on the dirt streets of the day. Businesses might construct sidewalks and keep them clean in order to attract potential shoppers to their windows and storefront displays.

("Douglas street, ca. 1880." Courtesy of Guelph Civic Museums, 1991.35.5. Note the board sidewalks on either side of the street.)

Even though it did not approach any stores, the plank deck of the footbridge was essentially a sidewalk in the eyes of many, so that riding horses on them was considered completely inappropriate.

Bridges also afford other, unintended opportunities. On one occasion, a Mrs. W.P. Howard, wife of the sexton of St. George's Church, was seen to act erratically on the bridge and then to climb over the railing, seemingly with the aim of throwing herself into the river. This she was prevented from doing by the intervention of passers-by. The Mercury editor observed (4 June 1889):

It is understood that Mrs. Howard’s mind gets a little unhinged sometimes, and yesterday she managed to elude the vigilance of her friends.
Construction of the Guelph Junction Railway in 1887–88 also changed the bridge's situation. Since the rail line was built right by the south bank of the Speed, pedestrians at that end of the bridge found that they sometimes had to dodge passing trains. This was an especially daunting task at night as the space was not well illuminated.

The bridge might have weathered these hazards well enough but it suffered also from the ancient foe of Canadian footbridges: ice and floods. On 23 February 1893, for example, inspectors from the Board of Works found that the bridge had been raised up two feet on the upriver side due to an ice jam against its piers. Not good! Citizens began to complain and campaign for a replacement.

In 1896, after much discussion of materials and costs, funds were allocated and contracts let. Local builder Thomas Irving (who had worked on the Church of Our Lady) oversaw construction of the stone abutments and piers. Alderman Kennedy, chairman of the Board of Works, supplied the stone, a conflict of interest then not unusual but that did draw comment during a Council meeting (Mercury, 30 Sep 1896). The iron superstructure was manufactured and installed by the Canada Bridge and Iron Company of Montreal.

All was duly accomplished by 29 October when the work was completed and the bridge opened to the public.

Guelphites seemed to like the look of the new structure. Its solid, modern ironwork and graceful catenary curves feature in many photographs and postcards of the era.

("Foot bridge on the Speed, Guelph, Ont." Published by Warwick Bro’s & Rutter, Toronto for C. Anderson & Co., Guelph, ca. 1910. From the author's collection.)
("St. George's Church and River Speed, City of Guelph, Canada," ca. 1900. This postcard was one of "Turnbull's private postals," a very early postcards set in the Royal City. From the author's collection.)
("Footbridge, Guelph," ca. 1900. Postcard printed for the Pugh Manufacturing Co., Toronto. From the author's collection.)
("Foot bridge, Guelph, Can." ca. 1910. Postcard printed for International Stationary Co. Courtesy of Guelph Civic Museums, 2004.32.61.)
("St. George's Church and Footbridge, c.1910." Courtesy of Guelph Civic Museums, 2009.32.2760.)

Despite its good looks and charm, the new footbridge did not address one of the significant disadvantages of the old one, which was proximity of the Guelph Junction Railway tracks to the south end of the bridge. Eventually, this prompted the replacement of the iron bridge with a concrete one that would look familiar to Guelphites of today. However, that is a story for another occasion.

When the old bridge was taken down in 1913, part of it was purchased by the Taylor-Forbes company. The company installed a span over the Speed just downstream from the Guelph Junction railway trestle bridge so that employees who wanted to cross the river there would not have to dodge trains (or walk around by Allan's bridge) to do so.

("Aerial Photograph, Allan's Mill, 1948." Courtesy of Guelph Civic Museums 2014.84.569. The footbridge can be seen at the left margin, just to the right of the railway bridge, leading from Allan's mill in the foreground to the Taylor-Forbes plant across the river.)

What ultimately became of that last piece of the old Heffernan street footbridge, I do not know. But, whatever the fate of its particular incarnations, the idea of the footbridge retains a firm footing in the minds and desires of Guelphites today.


Works consulted for this post include:

Sunday, 16 October 2022

The Rockwood Academy

I recently came into possession of a series of real-photo postcards produced by Don Hilts, a resident and historian of Rockwood, Ontario, who made a speciality of historical images of this beautiful town. Amongst the many pictures on offer are some of the Rockwood Academy, an educational institution once well known in the region and beyond. So, it seemed opportune to display some of these postcards and talk about the history of this noted place of learning.
(Rockwood Academy. Real-photo postcard by Don Hilts, no date.)

Situated on the banks of the Eramosa river some 10km northeast of Guelph, Rockwood began to take shape in the early 1820s as John Harris and Colonel Henry Strange planned a townsite on property they had purchased at that location. John Harris and other early settlers were Quakers and the settlement was consequently known as Brotherstown in its early days.

(Rockwood Academy as seen from Highway 7; courtesy of Google Street View.)

Several mills were established along the banks of the river at suitable spots and the town attracted the usual set of businesses able to serve the farming community that was established in its environs. A school and post office were added to these commercial enterprises in due course.

The Gazetteer and Directory of the County of Wellington (1867) describes the village in these terms:

Rockwood—A post village and station on the Grand Trunk Railway, situated in the township of Eramosa, on a branch of the Grand River, eight miles from Guelph, having a telegraph office, together with extensive marble quarries and fine water power. The village contains two flouring, one saw mill, four general stores, four hotels, three blacksmith shops, and the Rockwood Academy. Daily mail.
Clearly, the Rockwood Academy stood out as one of the attractive features of the village.
(Rockwood Academy, 2017. (CC) by Magnolia677.)

The Academy was founded by William Wetherald in 1850. William was born to Quakers John and Isabel on 26 September 1820 in Swaledale, Yorkshire. In 1835, the family immigrated to a farm in Puslinch Township. Of slight build, William had difficulty with farm labour but was interested in continuing the education that he had begun at the Friends School at Ackworth, Yorkshire.

(William Wetherald, ca. 1850. Courtesy of Guelph Public Library F38-0-14-0-0-531.)

To this end, he hit on the scheme of fashioning axe handles from elm and bartering them in Guelph for scholarly supplies: a Bible, paper, a steel pen, and a bottle of ink. Over the next seven years, Wetherald went through textbooks in various subjects, studying late into to the night. Such was his success that, at age 23, he secured a teaching position at a school in Eramosa.

On 17 March 1846, Wetherald married Jemima Harris Balls, a relation of John Harris, when she was seventeen years old.

Having enjoyed success as a teacher, and having observed the lack of advanced educational opportunities in the region, Wetherald advertised the Rockwood Academy in the Guelph Advertiser in the summer of 1850 in this wise:

Boarding School
William Wetherald, having been engaged for some years in private as well as public tuition, respectfully intimates that he can accommodate a few additional pupils, to whose domestic comfort and literary progress the closest attention will be given.
The course of instruction embraces the following branches:—English grammar, writing, arithmetic, bookkeeping, history, geography, Latin, geometry, the theory of land surveying, and algebra.
The first Academy in 1850 was a log cabin. By 1851, Wetherald had erected a storey-and-a-half frame structure, followed by a handsome three storey stone building in 1854. The stone building was vernacular Georgian in style with a centre hall plan and two windows on either side of the central entrance. The second and third floors featured five windows each and both side walls included chimneys for heating.
(William Wetherald, no date. Courtesy of Wellington County Museum & Archives, A1992.179, ph. 31096.)

In the interior, the basement contained a kitchen and dining room. The main floor held a library, living room, parlour and a large classroom. The second floor had five bedrooms for the family (Wetherald had eight children at Rockwood, with a ninth later) as well as quarters for a servant or assistant, while the third floor contained nine dormitory rooms for student boarders.

Wetherald did seem to take to this work and his teaching style might be described as earnest. It is characterized as follows in an obituary ("Canada yearly meeting of Friends," 1899, p. 66):

Rigid disciplinarian though he was, he won the allegiance of his pupils by an intellectual power they were compelled to respect, and a moral enthusiasm to which they could not fail to respond.
Mr. J.T. Mitchell, a former pupil, describes Wetherald's teaching in a retrospective as follows (Douglass 1984, p. 14):
Mr. Wetherald was a great teacher…. He could, so to speak, hypnotize instruction into a boy…. He had a magnetic personality, especially his eyes, which might be termed “ X-rays”. They searched a boy through and through, and having detected all his weak spots, proceeded to administer healing unguents to the same. He seldom used the rod, and never in anger, and never in the presence of other pupils, but in a separate room in another part of the building, and although we never knew what exactly happened, we were able to perceive a marked change in the character of the boy afterwards…. Mr. Wetherald, wise professor, glad as he was to assist an eager pupil, would not let me rush the pace, but insisted on sandwiching in Le Juif Errant; Don Quixote; and Gil Bias between Anthony, Caesar, de Bello Gallico, and Horace as a relaxation. He also taught me to play chess, of which he was a brilliant player, and in cricket, and other outdoor sports, always joined us in them as one of ourselves….
In 1864, Wetherald accepted the position of Superintendent of Haverford College, a Quaker college near Philadelphia. However, he remained there only a year, returning to Canada in 1866 to a farm near Fenwick, in Niagara County.
(Rockwood Academy, 1866. Courtesy of Guelph Civic Museums, Grundy 79.)

Upon his departure, Wetherald rented Rockwood Academy to Donald McCaig and Alexander McMillan. Under their direction, the Academy continued to flourish. Another classroom was added, along with extra dormitories and a stone gymnasium.

(Alexander McMillan, no date. Courtesy of Wellington County Museum & Archives, A2007.56, ph. 24691_02.)

In 1871, McCaig was appointed as the principal to the Central School in Berlin (now Kitchener), Ontario, leaving Alexander McMillan to continue the work of the Academy. This McMillan did until 1882. At that point the school closed and McMillan converted the facility into a knitting factory. Closure of the Academy was likely to due the expansion of public education in Ontario: High schools were built in centres like Galt and Guelph that competed for advanced rural students, while the introduction of free and compulsory elementary education throughout the province lessened the pool of younger children to draw on.

The knitting enterprise was not successful and the old Academy became a resort (a "Home of rest"), a venture that also seemed not to last too long. It was purchased by Mrs. Gordon of Rockwood around 1900 and converted into a farm and remained in her family.

In 1960, Yosef Drenters purchased the building and three adjacent acres, the remainder of the property having been sold for development. Drenters was a sulptor who had admired the property on trips through Rockwood from his father's farm north of town.

(Yosef Drenters sitting in his living room at Rockwood Academy, ca. 1970. Courtesy of Wellington County Museum & Archives, A1992.179.)

He set about returning the Academy to its state when it was an educational institute. He scoured old farmhouses for appropriate flooring, a dining room mantlepiece, and other period, architectural details. He made the dining room table out of parts from several others. He also added a stone chapel and walled garden.

Upon his death in 1983, he willed the property to the Ontario Heritage Foundation. His brother Andreas took up residency and continued to undertake sympathetic updates and restorations.

The Academy was designated a historic structure under the Ontario Heritage Act in 1986.


For many decades after its closure, the Rockwood Academy was remembered for the role it had played in the education of men who later attained political or commercial prominence. Whether their time there was long or short, the fact that so many alumni went on to social achievements certainly reinforces the impression that the Academy delivered a good education.

Some of the most prominent alumni include:

For decades after its closure, obituaries of men of note in the region and beyond made a point of mentioning the deceased's education at the Rockwood Academy in their youth.
Obviously, the Rockwood Academy catered to boys only. However, two of William Wetherald's daughters achieved distinction in arts and letters.
(Ethelwyn Wetherald, ca. 1900. Courtesy of Brock University Archives, Agnes Ethelwyn Wetherald fonds RG 84.)

Ethelwyn Wetherald became an author and journalist with a reputation across North America. Duff (1914) provides a quick précis of her journalistic undertakings (p. 14):

Ethelwyn was educated at Friends’ School in Ontario and New York. She has had considerable journalistic experience, having been on the editorial staff of the Toronto Globe, as well as conducting, at one time, a regular column in that journal, using the pen-name of “Bel Thistlethwaite.” With Mrs. Cameron, she conducted a woman’s magazine known as “Wives and Daughters,” in London, Ont., and was on the staff of Chas. Dudley Warner while he was compiling his monumental work, “The world’s best literature.” From her home at Chantler, Welland County, she is still a frequent contributor to the press, revealing among other admirable qualities, a playful humor that would not be suspected by a reader of her poems alone.
She also published poems in numerous magazines and also several books. A prominent theme of the poems is psychological experience of passing scenes, as in "Tangled in Stars," the feature poem in her book of the same name (1902):
Tangled in stars and spirit-steeped in dew,
The city worker to his desk returns,
While 'mid the stony streets remembrance burns,
Like honeysuckle running through and through
A barren hedge. He lifts his load anew,
And carries it amid the thronging ferns
And crowding leaves of memory, while yearns
Above him once again the open blue.

His letter-littered desk goes up in flowers;
The world recedes, and backward dreamily
Come days and nights, like jewels rare and few.
And while the consciousness of those bright hours
Abides with him, we know him yet to be
Tangled in stars and spirit-steeped in dew.

(Jane Wetherald, no date. Courtesy of Brock University Archives, Agnes Ethelwyn Wetherald fonds RG 84.)

Jane Wetherald also had a career in letters, including editing but also a focus on oratory and elocution. A brief biography of her is given in Moffatt (1896):

Jane H. Wetherald was born in Rockwood, Ont., where her father was for many years Principal of the Rockwood Academy. In 1886 Miss Wetherald attended the Philadelphia School of Oratory, graduating with honours, and has filled engagements in most of the towns and cities of Ontario. For three years previous to 1895 Miss Wetherald, as editor of the Ladies’ Journal of Toronto, put new life and vigor into that publication, and showed a talent for journalistic work equal to that possessed by her for elocution.
In her contribution to the magazine, Jane takes the view that the Philadelphia School of Oratory had done much to promote elocution in Canada but that is was high time for Canadians to take hold of the subject for themselves. Did they, I wonder?

In any event, although these women were not alumnae of Rockwood Academy, their experiences and fortunes were certainly connected with it.

(The Wetherald family, ca. 1861. Courtesy of Brock University Archives, Agnes Ethelwyn Wetherald fonds RG 84.)
The Academy featured in the movie Agnes of God (Jewison 1985), when it was dressed up as a Montreal convent. Don Hilts also took a picture of the Academy in this temporary vestment:
(Rockwood Academy as a Montreal convent, 1984, by Don Hilts.) A casting call went out locally for women aged 75–90 to play nuns. Ina Warren points out that (Globe & Mail, 20 November 1984):
About 30 women turned up, but those wearing too much makeup were told to take it off—real nuns don’t wear blusher.
Whether or not an applicant got one of the 14 nun jobs, depended on how she looked in a wimple.
If life were only always so wimple!
Works consulted for this post include:

Monday, 29 August 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Henry Langley. Courtesty Wikipedia.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chalmers Church became Chalmers United Church when the the United Church of Canada was formed in 1925.

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

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