Sunday, 24 January 2021

The Old Mill kept Guelphites swimming for decades

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Monday, 21 December 2020

We had a decent Xmas, 1916

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, 6 December 2020

Puslinch Lake, Guelph's first resort

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, 25 October 2020

A cleaner and better young manhood: Indoor swimming returns with the Guelph YMCA

On 22 September 1913, Guelph's newest public edifice was officially opened. As it was a YMCA, its gymnasium provided the perfect venue for the assembled crowd and dignitaries. The headline about the event in the next day's Mercury was, "Y.M.C.A. building dedicated to a cleaner and better young manhood in the city." Much was said about the institution and the people responsible for bringing it to Guelph but, as the headline suggests, the building itself played a starring role.

The Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA) had been founded in London, England in 1844 by George Williams, a draper who wanted to promote Protestant Christian values among other young migrants to London such as himself. London and other cities were increasingly drawing British youth away from farms and into cities in search of work and opportunity. As their incomes increased, opportunities for insalubrious leisure increased also, including saloons, pool halls, and houses of ill fame. A central proposition of Williams's YMCA was to provide wholesome alternatives for these young men, alternatives in keeping with Protestant values. Lectures, libraries, and religious services were made available to members for this purpose.

("Sir George Williams, founder Y.M.C.A., 1844," postcard published by the Artvue Post Card Company. Courtesy of the Digital Commonwealth, Massachusetts.)

The YMCA became popular and put on a display at the Great Exhibition in London in 1851. The display made a favorable impression on visitors and interest in the institution travelled to North America with them on their returns. American and Canadian branches followed in due course.

In its early years in the New World, the YMCA held its functions in rented accommodations. However, this practice failed to give the Association the resources or civic profile that its promoters thought it merited. The solution was for them to build their own structures. In 1869, the first purpose-built YMCA building was erected in New York City at Twenty-Third Street and Fourth Avenue.

This precedent was increasingly followed in other cities on the continent, where the "Y" arrived in the form of a distinct structure in a prominent location. These buildings were distinct not simply in belonging to a civic association but also in the facilities that they provided. In particular, a YMCA building usually provided athletic facilities including a gymasium and, later, a swimming pool.

These features were in keeping with the Association's adoption of "muscular Christianity," a movement that connected vigor and athleticism with the Protestant ethos. Before the mid-nineteenth century, leisure time and activities tended to be regarded as frivolous diversions from proper hard work. However, advocates of muscular Christianity promoted the idea that athletic pursuits in general and sports in particular were compatible with Christian virtues of discipline, teawmwork, and manliness. The YMCA leaped into this philosophy with both feet, with the result that YMCA buildings placed increasing emphasis on opportunties for indoor sporting activity and the facilities needed for them.

Designing buildings featuring gymnasiums and swimming pools required specialized expertise, often outside the experience of local architects. So, the YMCA took increasing control over their design. By 1910, while not quite offering a turnkey service, the Y's Building Service provided close guidance of the construction of new structures, especially in provincial towns like Guelph.

Indeed, the first person to speak at the official opening in 1913 was Mr. J.W. Hopkins, the General Secretary of the Toronto YMCA, who had played a key role in the planning of the building itself. In his speech, Mr. Hopkins noted that he first took notice of Guelph around 1900, when he spent a week in the Royal City raising funds to acquire space to establish a presence for the Association there, Guelph being one of the larger cities in the region without a YMCA. The work did not bear fruit but enthusiasm for a YMCA picked up with the efforts of Walter Buckingham, a local lawyer.

("W.E. Buckingham," detail from "Official Program for Guelph Old Home Week, 1908." Courtesy Guelph Civic Museums 1979X.00.632.)

Walter Buckingham had been a keen athlete during his studies at the University of Toronto and was university champion in cross country running. Also a member of the Varsity soccer team in 1889–1890, he was selected to the All-Dominion University soccer team that toured Great Britain in 1891 (Mercury, 6 Jun 1949). He moved to Guelph in 1894 and remained there for the rest of his life.

Around 1910, he became captured by the idea of bringing a YMCA to the Royal City (“A story of the beginning of the YMCA in Guelph, Ontario”, pp. 4–5):

Picture Guelph at the time of which I speak—the year 1910, a thriving, attractive, homogeneous, but withal conservative community of about 13,000 people, with a preponderance of sturdy old country stock, a city of churches and schools, but with no focal point for its youth, no common meeting place for its people. It was out of this urgent need that in 1910 this project was born and carried to a successful conclusion.
For some reason, which I have never quite been able to understand, the dream of a YMCA in Guelph began to haunt me and continued to haunt me till it became an obsession.
With the guidance of Mr. Hopkins, Buckingham organized the fundraising drive for the building, to which he contributed $5000 of his own. A significant total of $70,000 was raised, which allowed the project to go ahead. Buckingham continues his account (p. 15):
I was inclined to relax, but Hopkins with a quizzical smile, said, and it was only too true, “Your troubles are only just commencing," for there were now to be tackled the problems of the building, equipment, incorporation, maintenance and organization, each one it itself a major problem. On top of all that, when the smoke had cleared away, we found we were still $20,000 in debt. This was met by a mortgage of $20,000 with the directors as guarantors.
Of course, the effort was ultimately successful. The property at the corner of Quebec and Yarmouth streets was bought from the Kloepfer Coal Company, which used it as a storage yard, and design and construction got underway. Design was undertaken by Mills & Hutton of Hamilton, who had already designed a YMCA in the Ambitious City in 1909, in conjunction with local architect W.A. Mahoney.

There was much public interest in the building plans when they were put on public display at the office of G.B. Ryan, who had helped to organize the project. The arrangement of facilities was described in detail in the Mercury (23 September 1911):

On the ground floor the office arrangement between the senior and junior departments is very complete. To have these two departments separate from one another is a good feature.
It will also be noticed that the large reception hall idea is carried out, with a reading room and parlor separate from the “Gym”, which is a leading thing for Y.M.C.A. work, is large, being 43 x 60 feet.
The second floor, with its class rooms, which can be thrown open by a system of folding doors to make a breakfast hall. Here also are the kitchen auditorium and honorary members’ parlor. The gymnasium also has a banked running track. On the 3rd floor are as fine a lot of rooms as could be found which will accommodate 36 beds, with lavatory and shower baths complete.
In the basement it will be noticed that each department is completely separated from the other. Yet every department is so arranged to give light and ventilation from the outside.
The design of the building is very attractive and when built on the site will look dignified and will be a credit to the Royal City.
Several early postcard views of the "Y" bear out its dignified appearance. Its exterior would have been considered very "modern" in contemporary terms, recalling taller office buildings of the period.
("YMCA and Knox Church, Guelph, Can." postcard published by the International Stationary Company. Courtesy of the John Keller Collection.)
("YMCA, Guelph, Ont." postcard published by the Heliotype Company, ca. 1923.) For comparison, see the current view of the site in Google Street View:

It is notable that no menton is made of any swimming pool, especially as it was Guelph's only indoor swimming pool at the time, the pool in the Petrie Athletic Park having been decommissioned in 1901. Evidently, its arrival was not much celebrated; the Royal City was just not yet in the swim.

Nonetheless, a pool there was. Its nature and use are described the in the 1919–1920 YMCA Annual Annoucement (p. 5):

“The natatorium is 20 x 46 feet in area and 3 to 6 feet deep. Our “lake” is always right and cold breezes are unknown.
Swimming and life-saving. The Royal Live-Saving Society’s awards carry recognition for the holder, wherever he may go, as a swimmer of ability and merit. Classes will be arranged as soon as possible. The course is most interesting and instructive.”
"Natatorium" was a more dignified term for swimming tank or pool, derived from the French natation for "swimming" (and found in the name for the International Swimming Federation, better known as the Fédération internationale de natation (FINA)).

I have yet to find a picture of this early natatorium. However, it most likley resembled the swimming pool at the Orillia YMCA, which was built in 1912, apparently to similar specifications.

("Swimming pool Y.M.C.A., Orillia, Ont." postcard published by the R.O. Smith Company of Orillia. Courtesy of the Digital Commonwealth, Massachusetts.)

Obviously, Guelph was not prepared to host the Olympic Games but the pool was adequate to the purpose of basic swimming and life saving lessons for which it was intended.

Despite now having a permanent and credible indoor pool, competitive swimming does not seem to have worked its way deeply into local culture. There are few mentions of it in the local papers. One event of note is described by Harold Cole ("The Guelph sports hall of fame," 1972, p. 24):

If Guelph produced nothing else in the way of swimming stars, the City did, on one occasion, provide excitement for the few people who saw the event happen. A Toronto young man named George Young, had, in the long distance swim, successfully negotiated the treacherous waters off the mainland coast of Southern California leading to Catalina Island. He made front page news all over the North American continent, however, a Guelph young man, Reg Moritz, beat him in a Spur Of The Moment race in the tank of the old YMCA building at Quebec and Yarmouth Streets. Moritz was a sprinter and didn’t have much trouble in a ten-length dash in beating the long distance man.
(Obviously, this book was written ahead of the appearance of Victor Davis on the scene.) George Young was, briefly, one of the most celebrated sports heros of Canada. In January 1927, he completed the first Wrigley Ocean Marathon, swimming the 22-miles from Catalina Island to the California mainland in 15 hours and 44 minutes, the only competitor of over 100 to finish.
("Start of cross-channel swim by Geo. Young, Catalina Is., Calif." postcard published by the Pacific Novelty Company, 1927. Courtesy of the Santa Catalina California Archives.)
("William Wrigley, Jr. with George Young (right) after the 1927 Wrigley Ocean Marathon Swim.")

Called the "Catalina Kid" for his achievement, he became an instant celebrity across North America and in Canada particularly. He was given a hero's welcome in a special parade on his return to Toronto, where he had learned to swim in Lake Ontario the West End YMCA.

However, fortune was not kind to Young, who was not equipped to handle complicated financial affairs. Despite the $25,000 prize money and rich movie contract offers, his mother, aunt, William Wrigley and others got involved in his financial affairs with disasterous results. In addition, Young withdrew from the Toronto CNE swim marathon organized later that year due to the icy water. The fickle public turned on Young, labelling him a quitter and a phony. Young struggled to restore his standing and reputation. He toured widely, swimming against local heroes like Reg Moritz and did finally win the CNE marathon swim in 1932. However, his star had fallen so far that his victory attracted little notice. He retired from swimming and moved on to other things.

I have not found out when George Young swam at the Guelph YMCA but, clearly, it would have been around 1930.

Like the pool in Petrie's Athletic Park, the pool at the Guelph YMCA was not given much attention. However, unlike the Petrie pool, it stuck around for many years, tucked in the basement of the City's proud YMCA building, helping to train young Guelph men in the art of swimming and maybe keeping them out of trouble. The building was pulled down late in 1968 to make way for the Park Mall apartment building.


The cornerstone for the Guelph YMCA was officially laid on 15 May 1912. A picture of the occasion was printed the followng day in the Mercury and also as a real-photo postcard.
(Courtesy of the John Kelleher Collection.)
The following materials served as sources for this post:

Sunday, 27 September 2020

Petrie's pleasure scheme: Guelph's first indoor swimming pool

On 27 December 1897, the Daily Mercury broke the news breathlessly to Guelphites:
A mammoth scheme.

Mr. Petrie to build a gymnasium, bicycle track, hockey and skating rink.

Mr. A.B. Petrie, with characteristic enterprise, is making a move which will meet with the hearty good will of nearly every one in the city.

The city has long been in need of a well-equipped athletic grounds and this want Mr. Petrie has decided to meet. With this end in view he has purchased from the Jackson estate the property, adjoining Johnson’s boat house, near the Dundas bridge. Here he proposes to build a gymnasium with club rooms, swimming baths, etc., a first-class bicycle track, and a grandstand to seat from 1500 to 2000 people, and a regulation size hockey and skating rink. The green will be fixed up so as to be suitable for lawn tennis, lacrosse, football, bowling, etc.

As I noted in a previous post, Mr. Alexander Bains Petrie (1843–1921) was a prominent Guelphite with several business successes to his credit. Today, he is best known as the druggist who built the Petrie Building, which was recently restored to its former glory after an energetic campaign.
(Mr. A.B. Petrie, owner of Petrie Athletic Park and Rink; Detail of Guelph Civic Museums 1986.17.1.)

However, as this article makes clear, Petrie was also a keen supporter of athletics, especially distance running: He was a founder of the Guelph Road Race Association in 1894. His decision to build such a comprehensive athletic facility is testimony to his desire to bring athletic competition of all sorts to the Royal City.

Although not included in the headline above, Petrie's Athletic Park was to include not only a gymnasium, track, and rink but also swimming baths. Surviving accounts of the Park say almost nothing about this pool but, given the sports focus of the other facilities of the Park, there can be little doubt that the pool was intended for competetive swimming rather than casual bathing of the kind provided earlier at Hazelton's baths. As such, the pool at Petrie's Athletic Park counts as the first indoor swimming pool in the Royal City. No doubt, it was influenced by the pool at the Ontario Agricultural College up the road but that was located outside the city limits at the time.

As the article notes, Petrie's Athletic Park was built in the vicinity of Johnson's Boat House, near the corner of Gordon and Wellington streets today. One image of the facility shows the side facing Gordon Street, with the rink on the left and the gymnasium on the right. (The race track was set in a separate oval structure to the right of this view, about where the Guelph Animal Hospital is now.) The caption confirms that "baths" were among the offerings of the facility. No doubt, the baths were in the basement of the gymnasium component.

(The Petrie Rink, Gymnasium and Baths; Courtesy of Guelph Civic Museums 2014.84.2.)

The approximate position of the Petrie Rink and Gymnasium are shown on the satellite map below (Courtesy of Google Maps).

The Park was soon a popular venue for skating, hockey, lawn tennis and bowling etc. The Second Ontaio Canadian Wheelman's Association bicycle races were held on its track in 1899. However, I have yet to find any explicit mention of activity, competitive or otherwise, in the swimming pool. It seems that the bathing pool just did not capture the attention of Guelphites.

The closest thing that I have seen that might pertain to Petrie's pool is a notice for swimming lessons, found in July editions of the Mercury of 1899:

Swimming taught in one week

My classes are now being formed. Private pupils taken in hand. Special rates where there are more than one from the same family.

If you want your boy to swim, or you wish to learn yourself, address for terms to

H.K. Cockin,
(The Mercury)
References from each pupil of last year.

The instructor is (Eustace) Hereward Kirby Cockin, who was a Guelph literary figure and columnist with the Mercury. He was born in Frizinghall, Yorkshire, England, in 1853 and was well educated and well travelled. He immigrated to Toronto in the early 1880s and eventually became an editor with the city's new Saturday Night magazine.
(Guelph and Ontario Agricultural College Cricket Club, 1913. Courtesy of Guelph Public Library CA ON00126 C6-C6-0-0-0-0-204. H.K. Cockin is the old gentleman in the back row just to the right of center.)

Besides his commercial writing, Cockin was noted for a book of his poetry entitled "Gentleman Dick o' the Greys and other poems" (1889). The title piece is a narrative about British soldiers fighting in the Crimean War, with a twist ending. As might be expected, this piece and others are written in a tenor influenced by Alfred Tenneyson, author of "Charge of the Light Brigade." For example:

But, ere we could re-form our grape shatter'd ranks,
The Vladimir regiment burst on our flanks.
And 'twas hack, cut and slash—little parrying there—
If the Russians were devils what demons we were!
Right nobly our handful disputed the field.
For a Briton can die! tho' he never can yield!
Most poems express a loyal love of Britannia and its imperial projects. Others make use of common racist stereotypes that would make the volume unpublishable today. Cockin does have a comic touch that I appreciate, my favourite being "Lying epitaphs," in which the author wanders through a cemetery admiring the memorials, only to be informed by "an old man" that they are all deceits, for example:
"The tombstones here are neither more, nor less
Than eulogies on byegone wickedness.
For did one pitch in vales of vice his tent,
The grander here that scoundrel's monument."
And ending with the thought that:
And each of our "God's acres"—if 'tis so—
Is nothing save a marble-cutter's show.
And each "Here lies" the good, the great, the wise,
But upright stones of downright chiselled lies.
The obvious moral is against hypocritical shows of piety but I like to think that Cockin, as an author, also recommended a certain scepticism of the written word, even when carved in stone.

Cockin also composed verses for various occasions, such as the return of Guelph's soldiers from the Boer War in 1901, and was popular as an orator for special events. He also published a column in the Mercury under the pen name "The Blacksmith," giving his views of current events.

Although well known for these endeavors, Cockin was also moted for his ardent interest in cricket, which he played at a high level. It seems he took a liking to Guelph's English character while in town from Toronto to play the local cricket club and relocated to the Royal City (Mercury, 23 June 1917) in the early 1890s as a result. His obituary also confirms that cricket was his life-long love:

As an instance of his manly pluck throughout his last trying and hopeless illness, Mr. Cockin remarked to an old friend whom he met on the street,
“I have tried all my life to play cricket, and when the inevitable comes, as it soon must, I hope it may be said of me ‘He played the game.’” And he surely did.

I have seen no records noting that Cockin had any expertise at swimming, so it is a little hard to fathom why he would be offering swimming lessons. However, his keenness for cricket suggests a love of sport, and expertise at swimming was not required to give lessons in that era. Quite likely, his lessons were focussed simply on helping people develop skills to prevent drowning, such as learning to float, skull, and tread water. Lessons might go as far as rudimentary instructions in the breast stroke. Cockin advertised no certification from any swimming association, just the good impression left with his pupils in 1898.

It is the fact that his lessons were offered in 1898–99 that may connect him with Petrie's Athletic Park. Those two years are the first that the pool was available, so it may be that the lessons were intended, in part, to promote the new facility. Or, it may be a coincidence.

All indications are that the Petrie Athletic Park was a hit. Running and cycling competitions were held there in the summers, while hockey and skating events were popular in the winters. New-fangled "moving pictures" were shown there, perhaps for the first time in Guelph.

Festivals and balls were held in the gymnasium, as well as a Canadian Conversative Party convention in September, 1901. The keynote speaker was Sir Charles Tupper, a Father of Confederation and a former Prime Minister who still holds the record for the briefest tenure in that office.

According to the (Liberal) London Advertiser, the whole affair was a disappointment, with Petrie's Rink half-empty and also draughty and unheated. The audienced thinned out continuosly as each successive speaker droned on. According to the (Conservative) Toronto Globe, the rally was a great success and the Rink was half-full despite the unpleasant weather. The speakers thrilled the crowd and the Party rallied behind them in support of enduring Conservative policies such as opposition to free trade.

So, it must have been a shock when the Mercury (27 September 1901) announced that the Petrie Athletic Park was to be closed. A.B. Petrie's son George had joined the Taylor Mfg. Co., which manufactured the Magnet Cream Separator, to form the Petrie-Taylor Mfg. Co. New facilities were needed immediately to ramp up separator production and the only space on hand, by this account, was the Athletic Park.

Guests of the Petrie-Taylor company held a year-end bash in the facility on 27 December 1901, both to close the old place and, in a sense, to open the new one (Mercury, 28 December 1901):

Petrie-Taylor at Home.
Many guests enjoy opening of new factory.

It was difficult to imagine last night that scene of gayety and social activity which the new Petrie-Taylor manufactory presented would so soon be transformed into a work-room of the skilled artisan, when the strains of the orchestra would be replaced by the hum of machinery, and the graceful motions of the dancers by the hurrying hither and thither of the busy workingmen.

No information is given explicitly, but I imagine that the swimming pool was filled in and buried and quickly forgotten. Possibly, traces of it remain under the parking lot of the Wellington Plaza today.

Like the swimming pool under the gymnasium of the OAC, the pool at Petrie's Athletic Park did not find an audience right away. However, it was not in service long enough for interest to grow. As such, it was an indication of the growing profile of swimming as a sport, although interest in it would have to await the construction of other pools. Even so, the Petrie pool had earned the epitaph, "Guelph's first swimming pool."


Given that it closed in 1901, it is no surprise that the Petrie Athletic Park does not appear as such in any Guelph postcards. However, the building did live on.

The cream separator business does not seem to have paid off as anticipated. The Petrie-Taylor Mfg. Co. became the Petrie Mfg. Co. in 1903, and the facility was sold off to the Guelph Carpet Mills in 1906. Then it was bought up by the Guelph Hockey Club and became the Royal City Rink.

So, it was certainly around during the height of the postcard mania of the Edwarian era (and later). However, rinks seem not to have been a popular category of collectable image and no commercial postcard image of it has come to my attention, nor any real-photo card. Indeed, the only picture of the rink of any kind that is readily available is this one taken from the east during the spring flood of 1929:

(Courtesy of Guelph Civic Museums, 1971.6.1.)

Happily, a far-off view of the building can be found in a later aerial view of Guelph, taken and issued by McPhail Air Services Ltd. in the early 1960s. (The card is distinguished by its large size, 6" by 9", and others in the series are labelled as part of the "Giant Post Card" series.) A detail of the card is shown below, with the rink circled:

Thank goodness for postcards with aerial photos!
The Internet Archive provides a full scan of H.K. Cockin's magnum opus, "Gentleman Dick o' the Greys," which you may care to peruse.

Here is the text of his poem, "When the troops came home" (Mercury, 12 January 1901) celebrating the return of the Guelph contingent of British forces sent to fight in the Boer War (led by John McCrae):

Welcome! Soldiers of the Empire! You, who nobly sprang to arms
In the Empire's hour of danger—in the midst of War's alarms;
You, who heard the voice of Duty, when the skies were overcast;
You, who heard Britannia calling, and obeyed her trumpet blast,
You, who bring your honor spotless from South Afric's distant shore;
Welcome Home, brave lads in kakhi! Welcome to our hearts once more!
Spirits of your fallen comrades! Shades of the unconquered slain!
Hear the Royal City's welcome, when her sons come home again.

Calm the Southern Cross is smiling at the Great Bear of the North
(First star gazer on the anguish and the pride that sent you forth)
You, who came from toils and hard ... from the far veldt's lonely track
...
Oh! not on your shields, but with them ye, brave hearts of Christ's saving grace
Live to hear the grand Te Deum—passed the trenches' narrow space.
Welcome! Welcome! Home-bred heroes! Who have stemmed the surging main,
Hear your kith and kin's glad welcome when their own come back again.

You have helped to crush Oppression; you have stayed the Bloody Hand;
You have burst the gyves of Freedom in that far off Southern land!
You with the victorious Living and the unforgotten Dead,
Have re-painted Britain's war-map with another splash of red;
You have dug the blood-gauged road-bed that full soon goes stretching forth
From the sunny slopes of Capetown unto Cairo in the North!
Swazis! Zulus! and Basutos! Boers and Griqnas! hear the strain
Of the Royal City's welcome when the troops come home again.

Heirs of deathless Balaclava and the red Bayuda sands!
Heirs of India's mountain-passes and the fields of many lands!
Stern avengers of Majuba and of Laing's ill-fated Nek!
Spur-welts of the Boers' inspanning to his last and longest trek!
Europe, Africa and Asia—each has heard your martial tread;
Laurels for the living victors, cypress leaves to deck your dead;
Welcome! Valiant Sons of Empire! with you honor free from stain,
Pile your arms—your Guns unlimber—Hi! the Battery's home again.

—The Blacksmith

T.B. Costain, later novelist and editor of the Mercury, provides an interesting character portrait of H.K. Cockin in recalling his first encounter with the latter (Mercury, 20 July 1927):
Recollections of “The Blacksmith”

The other member of the regular staff was Mr. H.K. Cockin, probably the most picturesque citizen that Guelph boasted at the time. I shall never forget my first sight of him. One day, when I was on The Herald, I had passed on the streets a very tall and very dignified man wearing the highest starched collar I had ever seen on a human neck and the plaidest pair of shepherds plaid trousers that any tailor had ever cut. He looked a little aloof and sad and very decidedly out of his setting on solemn Wyndham street. I was very curious about him at the time and it was a surprise, therefore, to walk into the dingy old editorial offices of The Mercury on my first day and discover this imposing and ambassadorial person seated behind a desk there. Mr. Cockin spent his mornings in the office, reading proof and doing some other editorial work, but his main function was the preparation of a column for the Saturday edition under the pen name of “The Blacksmith.” It was, I’m afraid, rather ponderous material, but it had a classic smack to it and people throughout the whole county read it with a great deal of interest. As for “H.K.” himself, he was one of the very finest and most courteous men I have ever been associated with.”

What did Cockin's swimming costume look like, I wonder.

Monday, 31 August 2020

Guelph gets in the swim: Swimming tanks invade the Royal City

The following notice in the OAC Review heralds the arrival of a new sport facility in Guelph, the swimming bath (1894, v. 5, n. 5, p. 6):

The sound of the hammer is again heard within the walls of the gymnasium. In the basement a large swimming bath is being put in, while in the hall a very capacious stage is under construction.
Previously limited to outdoor splashing, the Royal City was getting its first taste of indoor swimming.

As noted previously, the history of (outdoor) swimming in Guelph went through some interesting changes in the pre-WWI era. Bathing started out as a purely informal activity undertaken at "swimming holes" abounding in the Royal City's creeks and rivers. This sort of bathing was practiced mainly by young men and often without the benefit of dress.

Attempts were made to render this sort of bathing "decent" by mandating the wearing of bathing costumes and encouraging the setup of commercial bathing houses, the most prominent of which was Hazelton's baths. However, success was achieved only with the construction of a family-oriented swimming hole in Riverside Park, which combined the 19th century swimming hole with the Edwardian amusement park where a genteel standard of decorum was expected and enforced.

At the same time, swimming in Guelph was influenced by another change in the wider world, namely the rise of swimming as a sport. Bathing was an activity indulged as a social pastime and a relief from summer heat but swimming was a form of locomotion in the water and, thus, could be performed competitively. In England, indoor pools first opened in 1828 with swimming races following a decade later. Interest in the sport followed English migrants to the new world

In 19th century Canada, universities and colleges were centers of innovation in sport. Football, hockey, and soccer were first pursued in a broad, organized fashion in the nation's institutions of higher learning, with interest spreading from there to the wider public (Morrow 2017). Much the same was true for swimming, though the sport did not achieve the same profile as football or hockey.

The idea of "physical education" did find its way as a subject taught during instructional hours, especially activities such as marching or drill that had military associations. Sports such as football, that were regarded as having a warlike side were sanctioned also, though as activities pursued outside of regular teaching.

Although it was not a warlike activity, swimming was accepted in a roughly similar vein. Competitive swimming and diving were vigorous endeavours that could bring glory to the victors and their institutions. Swimming was also endorsed by luminaries such as Egerton Ryerson, the superintendent of education in Ontario from 1844 through 1876. So, it is not surprising that the Report of the Provincial Farm Commission, that laid out paramaters for the new Ontario Agricultural College (OAC) in Guelph, included the following recommendation (Mercury, 9 March 1874):

That there should also be a building attached to the main edifice, containing a sufficient supply of baths for the use of the pupils, and, if possible, a swimming-bath.
It is also not surprising that this recommendation was not carried out. Although desireable, a swimming bath was not a high priority at the small, rural college.

Things began to look up for swimming at the OAC when the Gymnasium/Convocation Hall was built in 1891. Although it was still a multi-purpose building, the gymnasium showed the commitment of the mature OAC to physical education. Two years later, a "swimming tank" was incorporated in the Gymnasium's basement, a normal place for a swimming pool at the time. The building operations column of the Mercury provides the following description (2 November 1893):

T. Matthews [a Guelph builder], swimming bath at O.A. College gymnasium, 16 feet deep, 20 wide and 40 long. Cost, $2000.
A nice image of the gymnasium is provided in the postcard below, by an unmarked publisher:



The postcard was sent in 1920, although the picture is from much earlier, to a Miss Helen Clifford of Ancaster from her friend, who was likely a student at the adjoining Macdonald Institute:
Box 19. O.A.C. Guelph // July 19, 1920. // Dear Miss Clifford :— Your letter received & I enjoyed it so much. Many thanks—but I would rather if you had not done that. We had some fine music & singing yesterday afternoon. Your sincere friend, May Muir
How odd to scold a friend for writing a letter! This response may be explained if Miss Clifford owed her friend a letter but had not sent one when the missive from Ancaster arrived. Perhaps feeling chastised, Miss Clifford has lashed out with this (mere) postcard of the Gymnasium in reply. After 100 years, it is hard to be certain.

In any event, the Gymnasium is a dignified building with large windows for good illumination (although the effect is diluted a little by the three milk cans holding open the side door). Windows along the ground level would have provided the main illumination for the swimming tank beneath.

There is little further mention of the swimming tank in the OAC Review for the next decade. In 1897, it is mentioned that the tank might be used as a water reservoir in case of fire, which, although practical, still seems like faint praise. It seems that use of the tank was casual, with certain professors perhaps taking classes there to lead occasional swimming and life-saving lessons as interest and their abilities allowed. This sort of use was not unusual for swimming pools in late Victorian Canada.

Even so, the swimming tank was enough of a success that it was eventually improved. In 1904, the OAC Review provides the following remarks (v. 16, n. 8, p. 68):

We are pleased to note the alterations and improvements being made in the basement of the gymnasium. The swimming bath is to be made fifteen feet longer, the lockers and other obstructions removed from the sides of the bath, and all the old wooden floor replaced by cement. These changes will give more room for swimming, and better access to the bath. They will also make the basement a bright clean place, instead of the dark dirty dungeon it was before. Greater interest in aquatic sport should result from this improvement, and next year we hope to see a large number of the boys joining in this excellent exercise.
[Unhappily, pictures of the swimming tank itself in the University of Guelph archives are not available at the moment.]


(Picture of George C. Creelman, OAC President 1904–1913; From "OAC—"Science with practice"", 1924.)

The improvements may have come at the behest of George Creelman, who became President of the OAC in that year. In 1906, President Creelman had Mr. Corsan, Varsity team swimming instructor at the University of Toronto, visit the College to give a lecture and practical demonstration of swimming and life-saving to interested students (OAC Review, v. 18, n. 4, pp. 188–189). One highlight was the life-saving demonstration, given in the lecture:

When the discourse turned on life-saving, it became necessary to have a subject on whom he could operate. For this purpose [he] chose Scotty Chisholm, and as events turned out, the choice was well made ; Chisholm’s struggles were so realistic that Mr. Corsan found him as hard to save as a drowning person.
Of course, the true highlight was the practical part:
After the lecture we adjourned to the basement, where Mr. Corsan proceeded to give us a practical demonstration in the water. He coached a few fellows, who took advantage of his very kind offer to help any of the students to improve their swimming. The final act was a race between Treherne and the instructor. The result was a dead heat.
Did Mr. Corsan hang back in order not to discourage Traherne? Who now can say?

After this point, mentions of swimming in the Review become regular, although not frequent. In May 1907, for example, a swimming, diving, and life-saving competition were included in a general, year-end athletic competition (v. 19, n. 8). The main event was swimming underwater for the longest distance—a modest beginning but a beginning nonetheless.

Finally, a Swimming Club was formed by students in 1909 (OAC Review, v. 21, n. 6, pp. 355–356). Its first event was held in February, whereupon Mr. Corsan returned to provide another demonstration and supervise the competition. Four teams of OAC students entered and competed in a variety of events. Reminiscent of contemporary picnic games, events included a 50- and 175-yard races—in addition to "walking the greasy pole" and "diving for plates," the latter two of which caused much amusement. Over 200 students witnessed the spectacle.

A select team of OAC students, Treherne, Ryan, Bell-Irving, Harries, and Cleverly, journeyed to Toronto to take on swimmers from the University of Toronto and McGill. Harries was the hero in the underwater swim and placed second in the "plunge for distance." Ryan placed third in the "swimming three styles" event. Although Varsity and McGill dominated the awards, as would be expected, the OAC team had made a promising start.

That fall, another OAC team had a friendly match against Varsity in which they improved their performance, although still losing overall to the more experienced team (OAC Review, v. 21. n. 7, pp. 406–408). This event consisted mainly of serious events such as a 100-yard race and "50 yards back swim," as well as diving. However, it did include a tub race.

For the first time, a picture of the OAC swim team is included:



At last, swimming had truly arrived at the OAC.

To top the matter off, the same issue notes that the OAC held an intramural water polo tournament. Each year of students was invited to enter a team, with only the fourth year declining. The second-year team was dominant throughout and went undefeated 4–0, the third year team went an even 2–2, while the first-year squad finished 0–4.

The following year, the OAC Review notes that the College registered with the Canadian Amateur Swimming Association and the Ontario Water Polo League, so that its swimmers could enter official competitions (1910, v. 22, n. 7). In fact, the OAC Water Polo team carried off the Wainless Trophy in a tournament against the Toronto Swim Club, University of Toronto, and the Paris YMCA.

The swimming tank was finally successful in its invasion of the OAC. Competitive swimming in a regulation, indoor pool was firmly established at the College. Like other sports practiced on university campuses in the period, swimming in pools might be expected to attract attention in town. But, that is a story for another time.


The Gymnasium building was located where the MacKinnon Green is now, along the Winegard Walk. Construction of the new ImprovLab and theatre is taking place there, which will see the return of the site as a performance venue. Perhaps the shovels will uncover traces of Guelph's first swimming pool, ever hidden out of sight.