Friday, 25 September 2015

Old Home Week 1913, the photos

A couple of years ago, I posted a two-part series on Old Home Week, 1913. (See Part I: The preparations and Part II: The event.) Also known as an Old Boys Reunion, the event provided Guelphites, former Guelphites, and well wishers a chance to get together again, enjoy some jollifications, and generally have a good time.

One difficulty that arose in putting together that posting was the lack of photographs of the event. The only postcard feature clearly related to the event is the cancellation logo, reading "Guelph’s Old Home Week 1913, July 28–Aug 2", which the postal service used to advertise it in the weeks leading up to the reunion. No postcards were explicitly labeled as giving pictures of it. That stands in contrast to the Old Home Week of 1908 in Guelph, which is recorded, for example, in the following real-photo postcard.

Adding further to this apparently dismal situation is the fact that only one photo in the local archival sources is labelled as a record of Old Home Week, 1913. Unfortunately, this photo from the Guelph Public Library archive is a copy of the postcard above from the 1908 celebration! All other photos are attributed to the 1908 or 1927 events. It would seem that no photo of the 1913 event has survived.

Happily, this conclusion seems to be untrue. There are postcards with photos of Old Home Week 1913 in the Royal City. They are not labelled as such but attention to the details of the pictures gives them away. In the remainder of this posting, I will display these postcards and explain why I think they record the 1913 celebration. All the postcards in question are from a series published in sepia tones beginning around 1912 by the International Stationary Company in Picton, Ontario.

The first postcard is one of St. George's Square. The Square was central to any civic celebration in those days. Also, due to frequent upgrades and renovations, photographs of it can be dated with some accuracy.

This picture shows the Old Post Office/Customs House from the south with the Blacksmith Fountain on the left. Clearly evident is a lively set of patriotic bunting strung over the Square and lining its sides. Unions Jacks abound and Japanese flags can also be seen flying near the middle of the picture. A south-facing banner over the Fountain reads, in part, "... welcome home." In addition, a number of ladies can be seen in front of the Post Office boarding the streetcar and walking on the sidewalk to the right all in formal, white dresses and hats. Clearly, a big, important event is taking place.

Some details allow the photo to be placed within a useful range of dates. Just to the right of center can be seen a lamppost with two globes beneath a cross-arm. These orbs are part of the incandescent street lighting system that was installed downtown in 1912. See the detail below.

In addition, just up Wyndham St. to the left of the clock tower of the Old Post Office/Customs House is a large sign with the word "Trader's Bank" written on it in large letters. This bank appeared, along with this sign, in 1885. In 1913, the bank vacated these premises, which were then taken over by the Union Bank in 1914, at which time the sign was removed. So, our postcard photo dates from between 1912 and 1914. See the detail below.

I surmise, then, that it depicts the Old Home Week of 1913.

With this attribution, there are grounds for including other postcards in the same series to this event. In fact, it appears that the photographer made a sequence of cards stretching the length of Wyndham St. and beyond. Let us begin at the south end of Lower Wyndham. I include the card below due to the presence of the incandescent lamps and the crowds of women in white dresses (along with a number of men) who seem to have just disembarked from the train station on the right. Also visible is a load of patriotic bunting over Lower Wyndham St. The card also provides a good view of the entrance to the Wyndham St. railway underpass beneath.

Note the odd caption that describes Wyndham St. as "Main St."

The next postcard provides almost a reverse angle. This shot is taken from the west side of Wyndham St., looking south-east towards the Grand Trunk Railway (now VIA) station, which, like the underpass, had been built in 1911. There are no particular signs of Old Home Week except perhaps for some white dresses and its fit with the rest of the series.

I enjoy how people felt free to just stand around in the street in those days!

The next photo is taken from the roadway about where Wyndham St. crosses Macdonell. Patriotic bunting is everywhere visible, overhead, on the walls of the city hall on the right, and the fire station behind. The incandescent lighting system helps to date the photograph, as does the date given in the message on the reverse side, 30 Sep. 1917.

Oddly, the caption reads, "The Armouries." It is true that Armory building is in the center of the picture but only well in the background. The wagon in the foreground is hard to identify. Perhaps it is a ladder truck belonging to the fire department. A marching band follows behind.

The next postcard takes us past St. George's Square to the other end of Wyndham St. where it meets Woolwich St. This very fine view shows some festive streamers in an inverted-V hanging from the "New" Wellington Hotel. (This description is curious since the Wellington Hotel had occupied this site since 1871. It may refer to the extensive renovations made in 1904, which led the Mercury to describe it as the "new Wellington" then; 2 Sep. 1904.) The new street lights are prominent, as is a big sign in the shape of a mortar advertising the Bogardus Pharmacy sited in the Guelph Opera House building. I wonder what is pictured on the sandwich board out on the sidewalk. Hopefully nothing too narcotic! The card was addressed on 30 Jan 1918.

The next card is a reverse angle, that is, taken from in front of the Wellington Hotel with the Opera House, Woolwich St. and a couple of streetcars in view. The Opera House shops are, from left to right, Morans & Hertzberg's furniture store, Wallace Bros. Boots & Shoes, Dobson & Hewes—Ladies Tailors & Furriers, and, of course, the Bogardus drug store. The card is postmarked 18 July 1914.

If you look carefully, you can see a two-wheeled garbage cart in front the Wallace Bros. store. Those horses don't clean up after themselves, do they?

The next card is taken from nearly the same location but pointing northward along Eramosa Rd. I have posted about this card earlier, and it remains one of my favorites. I attribute it to Old Home Week, 1913, on the basis of the street lighting, the women's formal wear, and the patriotic bunting on the buildings and over Eramosa Rd., not to mention its fit with the other cards in this sequence. Issues with the caption continue also, this time in the form of the misspelling of "Eramosa". The card was posted on 1 June 1916.

I hope the two little girls in their Sunday best had a good time!

The next card in this sequence comes from a little way down Woolwich St. from the previous one. It features the County Court House, Guelph's oldest public building, completed in 1843 in the "Scottish castellated" style. As before, the attribution of the card to Old Home Week, 1913, arises from the street lighting, dress, and fit with the other cards. It is postmarked 23 Sep. 1914.

Aesthetically, the card is a good one as it features the incongruous turrets of the Court House, framed by a tree and a lamppost.

The final card (so far) comes from further afield, that is, Exhibition Park. It appears to depict a part of the Park near the end of Mont Street where the land slopes up towards the south. Today, this area is still where the open fields in the middle of the Park give way to trees at the southern end. The picture looks for all the world like just a formal picnic. Yet, many events associated with Old Home Week, 1913, took place in the Park, so the card's assignment to the same sequence is, at least, plausible.

This card is postmarked 23 Sep. 1914.

If these cards are photographs of Old Home Week, 1913, then it seems odd that the captions do not mention it. Perhaps, since the cards were printed a year or so after the fact, it was thought by the producer that the association would have no value to potential customers. Instead, they would have to sell simply on their visual qualities.

That is all for now. Hopefully, further cards in this sequence showing Old Home Week, 1913, can be found. We are fortunate to have these cards since no other photographic record of the event is evident from other sources. If you know of any more, please let me know and/or give pointers in the comments!

A number of civic events held in Guelph in the 1910s were celebrated in a similar manner. Thus, photographs of these celebrations are easily confused and sometimes mislabelled. Here, I will give a brief key to distinguishing photographs of some of these events, in particular, photos mistakenly attributed to Old Home Week, 1908.

The real-photo postcard below is securely attributed to Old Home Week, 1908. The postmark on the back reads 13 Aug. 1908 and the message states:

Dear Bro: I hope you all got home O.K. See other side for Old Home week. We had a Rousing time. Son is getting along fine. Hoping you are all well. I am Your Bro, Herb

For identification, note the inverted-V banners hanging from the Old Post Office/Customs House and the absence of incandescent lighting on the utility poles. (Street lighting at that time was produced by arc lights suspended over the street by wires.) On the extreme left, note a banner over the Dominion Bank that ends with "Dominion". The south-facing banner over the Blacksmith Fountain reads, "A [Royal] welcome [to the Royal] City". (The banner is clearly visible in photo F38-0-9-0-0-15 at the Public Library archive.) See the detail below.

The "Trader's Bank" sign is clearly visible to the left of the Post Office clock tower. These details help to secure the attributions of other photos to Old Home Week, 1908.

Another series of photos in the archives attributed to Old Home Week, 1908, do not have these requisite features but are also different than the photos of the Old Home Week, 1913, given above. Consider this panorama of St. George's Square from the Civic Museum:

(Courtesy of Guelph Civic Museum; 1979X.00.483.)

Here, the "Trader's Bank" sign is gone but the Blacksmith Fountain is still present, thus dating the photograph from 1914 to 1922. There are no inverted-V banners on the Old Post Office. Instead, Union Jacks hang underneath its windows. The south-facing banner over the Blacksmith Fountain reads, "We welcome our visitors". (This banner is more legible in this second photo of the same scene.) Note also the fence around the Blacksmith Fountain, not present in 1908, and the benches north and south of it, not present in 1913. (Further photos of this event, also misattributed to the Old Home Week, 1908, can found in the Public Library archives as items F38-0-9-0-0-21, F38-0-9-0-0-20, F38-0-9-0-0-19, and F38-0-9-0-0-22.)

The celebration seems not directed at soldiers returning from WWI, as these would hardly be described as "visitors". It may record the arrival of visiting dignitaries of that time. The Prince of Wales visited Guelph in 1919 and went on a parade through St. George's Square. However, the weather was wretched that day and the Prince was soaked during his trip through the downtown. As the Square looks quite dry in the photos above, they must record some other visit.

A likely alternative would be the visit of the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire from 13 to 15 June 1918. The Duke, then Governor-General of Canada, was on a morale-boosting trip through the country in the company of his wife and daughters Lady Blanche and Lady Dorothy, along with other VIPs. Upon their arrival, the party paraded up Wyndham Street in automobiles borrowed especially for the purpose and, thus, would have enjoyed a display of British patriotism present in St. George's Square. The Mercury (12 June 1918) printed a plea from the Reception Committee "that all places of business and residences be suitably decorated for the occasion." During their visit, the dignitaries met veterans, had lavish dinners, and visited the hospitals as well as the O.A.C. A highlight was the vice-regal inspection of all of Guelph's 3000 or so school children in Exhibition Park on 14 June.

The decorations visible in the photo above would certainly suit this occasion. Plus, there is no mention in the papers of bad weather. So, attribution of these pictures to the vice-regal visitors of 1918 is plausible if not completely secure.

In summary, here is a table of features of St. George's Square to distinguish these three events:

FeatureOld Home Week, 1908Old Home Week, 1913Vice-Regal visit, 1918 (?)
Lightingarc lighting on wiresincandescent lighting on polesincandescent lighting on poles
Blacksmith Fountainno fencefencefence and benches
South banner"Royal welcome to the Royal City""...welcome home""We welcome our visitors"
Post office decorationinverted-V banners under third-storey windowssemi-circular banners under windows, two streamers from top of pinnacle to each side of buildingUnion Jacks under windows


  1. wow. some great research and attention to detail here. what fun!