Saturday 27 July 2013

Old Home Week, 1913 - the preparations

One hundred years ago, one of the biggest occasions for the city of Guelph was Old Home Week. Old Home Week was a celebration in which former residents of Guelph were invited to return to the city to join in festivities arranged in their honour by residents. The custom originated in New England in the late 19th Century when Frank Rollins, a successful entrepreneur in Boston, returned to his native New Hampshire to run for governor. After his election, he decided that many former residents of the state shared his nostalgia for it, and arranged a homecoming for them in 1899. The event was so well received that the idea spread to neighbouring states and provinces, giving rise to many Old Home Weeks and Old Home Days (Daniell 2000, pp. 356-357). Guelph held its first Old Home Week in 1908 and, since it was such a hit, residents decided to do it again in 1913.

In 1913, Old Home Week (also known as "Old Boys Reunion" to some) took place during the last week of July, that is, Sunday July 27 through Saturday August 2. Many of the stationary stores in the city did a brisk business in postcards among other items during that stretch, as visitors wanted to share their experiences with folks who did not attend. One such postcard is shown here:

This postcard was published by The International Stationary Co., Picton, Canada, my favourite source for photos of Edwardian Guelph. It shows three ladies enjoying a leisurely row on the river. I am not sure where the photo was taken, but the growth suggests a more rural area, perhaps even the Eramosa River near Victoria Landing, where there was a boating club.

In any event, the postcard is postmarked on August 1, 1913 and has a special cancellation stamp made up for the occasion, as you can see in the upper right corner on the back of the card.

The cancellation stamp says, "Guelph’s Old Home Week 1913 July 28 Aug 2". According to the Canadian Philatelic Society of Great Britain, these "slogan cancellations" became a popular device in 1912, and remained so for a number of years.

The message on the back of the postcard is of the usual having-a-good-time variety, apparently referring to the celebrations in town:

Well I suppose you are going on your trip. Hope you have a good time. I am just having a great time. Love to all the girls. Nita
Interestingly, I have another postcard addressed to Miss Ida Fissette in my collection, dated in 1908 and addressed to her in Simcoe.

Preparations for the event were extensive and expectations were high. On July 4, the Mercury reported that the executive committee had met and felt enthusiastic about the prospects for the event...

... and expressed the hope that every citizen would take right hold and make the reunion a great advertisement for the city as well as a time of pleasure in the meeting of old friends...
In modern terms, then, the party was not just for old time's sake but to burnish the brand of Guelph in the region. To this end, the committee had made special arrangements at the "Toronto end", which go unexplained. I assume they made a special effort to get former Guelphites from Toronto to make the trip. However, I can find no mention of Guelph's Old Home Week in the Toronto Star or the Globe.

The Mercury also makes special note of the hot weather, which persisted through the month.

Soon, city businesses began to advertise special sales for the event. On July 16, Charles Nelles (who happened to be the treasurer of the executive committee) began to advertise decorations, namely flags and "Chinese lanterns". I suspect the latter term refers to paper lanterns in the form of a ball and illuminated by an electric light. On July 21, George E. B. Grinyer advises his patrons to "Have your electrical decorations done early: We can do your work at once; next week, we'll be busy". Nelles had a stationary and wallpaper store at 101 Wyndham St., while Grinyer had a plumbing, heating, electricians and tinsmith (sheet metal) business at 124-126 Wyndham. It seems that the festivities would be well lit!

On July 24, G. Anderson & Co. advertised "A good supply of flags, tissue paper, pennants, canes, etc." In the daytime, without the benefit of electric lighting, the town spirit would depend upon flags waving and bunting twisting in the winds. Charles Anderson had a book, stationary, china, and fancy goods store at 53 Wyndham (phone 256).

As great as all this sounds, my favourite ads are those of D. E. Macdonald & Bros. The Macdonald family—Donald, Evan, Florence (not a brother, I assume), Norman, and William—had a dry goods, clothing and "mens furnishing" store at 1-9 Wyndham, and were determined to help Guelphites do it in style. Here is their ad from July 21.

That ad emphasizes the decoration needed to prepare properly for the event. The following ad, published in the Mercury during Old Home Week, emphasizes the accoutrements needed to properly enjoy it.

A straw boater and cane, or a parasol, and you're all set!

Some visitors started to arrive early in order to take full advantage. The "City News" column of the Mercury on July 22 notes the following arrival:

For Old Home Week.

Mr. J. M. Ogilvie and Mrs. Ogilvie and family motored up to the "Old Burg" for Mr. Ogilvie's vacation. They will be here for two weeks, for as Mr. Ogilvie says, "We wouldn't miss a Guelph Old Boy's Reunion for anything. That's why I got my holiday right now."
Mr. Ogilvie's arrival raises two issues regarding Old Home Week. The first is the importance of the "motor" or automobile to it. Cars were assuming an ever greater role in personal mobility, especially with the relatively inexpensive Ford Model T on the market since 1908. As we will see, cars also assumed a formal role in Old Home Week itself.

Second, the issue of how the event would affect local businesses was much discussed as July 28 approached. Clearly, goods and services vendors downtown were elated. However, factory owners were not so enthused. On July 24, Mayor Samuel Carter suggested to the city council that the August Civic Holiday—that would fall on the first Monday in August, right after Old Home Week—should be either cancelled or moved earlier to within the Week itself:

[Factory owners] claim that in all probability they will have to close down during Old Home Week, and that they cannot afford to close down again on the Monday following.
The Trades and Labor Council and the Executive Committee of Old Home Week met to discuss the matter and recommended that the Civic Holiday be moved to Tuesday, July 29, during Old Home Week. An editorial in the Mercury (July 25) inveighed against the change for the following reasons:
  • The date of the Civic Holiday was set by a by-law, which probably could not be amended in time;
  • The railways give special rates on that day and would not change the date at the last minute. Thus, Guelphites would be deprived of their chance at affordable train travel for holiday making;
  • Stores in town would have to close on Tuesday, taking away a great deal of business and inconveniencing attendees.
There are no indications that I can find that the Civic Holiday was moved.

With all obstacles removed and preparations made, it was time for the celebrations to begin...

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