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.

Monday, 3 August 2020

"Return tickets to Gourock can now be had all along the line": The big railway comes to a hamlet near Guelph

The "Gourock correspondence" column—of which there were very few—in the Daily Mercury (16 June 1881) relates the big event happening in the little hamlet of Gourock, just four miles west of Guelph:
The flag station here is in successful operation and return tickets to Gourock can now be had all along the line and it is probable that after July 1st two more trains per day will be stopped at Gourock when required, and a ticket office opened, which will add very much to the convenience of those who travel.
A flag station is a place where trains stop only if a special flag is displayed.  Of course, flag stops were designed for places where stopping was expected only infrequently.  Yet, it was a big deal for a little village to appear in the timetables of the Grand Trunk Railway (Wellington, Grey & Bruce division, in this case). The ability to get on or off the train, or to ship and receive on the spot, showed that things were looking up for Gourock, as indeed they were.

To my knowledge, "Gourock" first appears in the form of a post office, with one James Mewhort designated as Postmaster.  Mr. Mewhort immigrated to Canada in 1851 and, after a "tour of observation," settled on the Waterloo Road (now Highway 124) a few miles west of Guelph (Mercury, 16 March 1882). Having been a merchant in Glasgow and Edinburgh, it was natural for Mr. Mewhort to set up a general goods store there.  Perhaps to add to his income, he also instituted the hamlet's first post office, with himself in charge.  In those days, postmasters were given much latitude in naming their locales, so it may be that Mewhort chose "Gourock" to honor the seaside Scottish town near his former abode.  

The Gourock Post Office ("P.O.") duly appears in subsequent county maps, such as the 1877 Historical Atlas, where it is marked with an "X" on the Cunningham property just below the label "Gourock P.O.":


Cunningham was Mewhort's successor as Postmaster, from 1872 to 1876.  The road next to the P.O. is today's highway 124, on the stretch between today's Whitelaw Road on the right and Wellington Road 32 on the left.  

The map also shows that the Grand Trunk Railway (GTR) track between Hespeler and Guelph nearly touches the road at Gourock.  Imagine how often residents of Gourock saw the train passing and thought of how nice it would be if they did not have to travel all the way to Guelph to access it!  In 1881, the railway granted their wish.

In the 1880s, Gourock was a thriving locale in Guelph Township and neighboring Puslinch.  It had all the basic amenities of a promising rural village, as described in a Provincial Gazetteer of 1882:
GOUROCK— A small village in the township of Guelph, county of Wellington. Distant from Guelph 4 miles. Mail daily. Population about 100.

Campbell, Donald, boots and shoes
Coleman, James, gen store
Goulding, Thos., carpenter
Howitt, Alf., provincial land surveyor
Keough, James, hotel
Steele, John, blacksmith
Thomas, D. Thomas, postmaster and general store

Another "Gourock Correspondence" column in the Mercury (17 July 1884) remarks on the building boom that had struck the village, in the form of several new and larger barns on farms in the vicinity.  One barn of note was the new barn for Mr. James Keough on the Snelling farm, 63' x 80', a property that can be found on the map above.

Perhaps the most noted enterprise of Gourock was Alton Hall, a farm run by Harold Sorby and William McCrae.  The Sorby family were prosperous local farmers led by Harold's parents Walter and Mary.  (Some of the Sorby's property in Gourock later became Vimy Ridge Farm, first a home for convalescent soldiers home from the Great War, then for orphans of veterans, and finally for British Home Children.)  William McCrae was a local farmer (and no close relation of John McCrae, so far as I can tell).

Alton Hall Stock Farm specialized in Berkshire pigs, Plymouth Rock fowls but, most of all, Galloway and Hereford Cattle.  The "Farmer's Advocate" (June 1886, p. 169) described Sorby & McCrae's Galloway cattle as some of the choicest in Canada and published a drawing of four of the best from the herd at the Alton Hall farm in Gourock:


The pedigree and quality of each animal is lovingly described in the text.

The building in the background matches the appearance of Alton Hall in the real-photo postcard below, confirming that the drawing is accurate, perhaps derived from a photograph.  Gourock had some fine homes as well as fine cattle!


Happily, this building still stands on the south side of Highway 124, near the southern end of Wellington Road 32 north.  

Although the railway brought opportunity to Gourock it also occasionally brought trouble.  In particular, Gourock was the site of two notable train wrecks.  The first wreck occurred on 22 September 1906 and is related in detail by Thorning (2006), so I will only summarize the events here.

At about 6 a.m. that morning, the "fruit special" steamed through Hespeler on its way to Guelph.  As its name suggests, the train had the particular job of hauling fruit from St. Catherines to points across southwestern Ontario.  For uncertain reasons, it had difficulty maintaining speed and was quite late by the time it went through Hespeler on its way to the Guelph Junction station, in the Royal City's west end.  

In fact, the fruit special should have diverted to a siding at Hespeler to make way for the Number 44, a train of passengers and goods that regularly left Guelph in the direction of Galt shortly after 6 a.m.   Hearing that the fruit special had passed Hespeler, dispatcher Thomas Ryan in St. Thomas realized that a collision was imminent.  It was not possible to communicate with either train, so he wired to Guelph to send doctors to the site and to Stratford to arrange for a clean-up crew to be dispatched.

The morning was foggy, so neither engineer saw the other train until they were only two car-lengths apart at the bend at Gourock.  Engineer Thomas Farley on the No. 44 from Guelph slammed on his emergency brakes.  The crews leapt for their lives as the two trains collided at speed.  One can only imagine the sound of twisting metal and screaming jets of steam that followed.  

Engineer Farley was crushed to death in his engine.  Engineer Mark Reid and brakeman Harry Andrews of the fruit special were both badly scalded by steam, while fireman Cecil Bright soon died from extensive internal injuries.  As much of the energy of collision was absorbed by the locomotives, passengers on the No. 44 were not severely injured.

Such a horrific crash naturally brought out the shutterbugs.  One picture records the scene below on a real-photo postcard.


The photo shows people observing the removal of the locomotive 455 of the fruit special and its trailing coal tender.  Efforts to clear and re-open the track are visibly underway.

The photo below shows the tender for locomotive 299 of the No. 44 train from Guelph lying on top of its locomotive, on the far side of the prostrate locomotive 455.


(Courtesy of Wellington County Museum and Archives, A2015.106.5, ph44605.)

Here is another photo of the same scene from across the tracks.


(Courtesy of the Wellington County Museum and Archives, A.2015.106.5, ph44604.)

About this collision, Coulman (1977) relates that, "Old timers in the area can vividly remember oranges from the fruit train being strewn everywhere.  Even today, local farmers plowing their crop fields occasionally dig up remnants of this wreck."

The subsequent Coroner's inquiry laid blame on Engineer Reid and Conductor Joseph Thompson of the fruit special for not diverting to the siding at Hespeler as mandated by the Grand Trunk rules.  However, the jury also placed blame on the railway itself on two counts.  First, the GTR allowed Conductor Thompson to work for several days on end with only a few hours rest, which the company clearly expected of him.  As a result, Thompson was asleep when the fruit special passed through Hespeler.  Second, the GTR should have had a night operator at Hespeler (and elsewhere) to ensure that all trains followed safety procedures even, or especially, at night.

Gourock made the national news again when a second incident occurred on the GTR line there.  Shortly before 11 a.m. on 14 January 1909, a passenger train from Guelph Junction experienced an unusual derailment.  The rear car, containing 57 passengers, suddenly lurched from the rails, bumped along the ties, then flipped onto its side and was dragged for about a hundred yards before its coupling broke and it ground to a stop.  

The engineer stopped the rest of the train immediately, decoupled the locomotive and ran down to Hespeler to retrieve physicians to help the victims.  Happily, 19 people were injured but no one was killed.  The smoker car was turned into a rolling hospital and removed the injured to Guelph, where they received further medical attention.

Passengers recounted the experience of being hurled around the cabin amid a flurry of luggage, broken glass, and fellow passengers.  One account, in particular stands out (Hamilton Evening Times, 15 January 1909):
"That old lady there," said H.G. Moxley, of New Liskeard, and pointing to an old Scotch woman, the oldest passenger on board, "was sitting just across the aisle from me.  She was thrown on her face just at the doorway of the car.  There were two or three broken seats piled over her, so that all I could see was her foot.  When we cleared away the broken furniture that was piled over her she got up quite unhurt."  The old lady would not give her name even to the conductor.  Her ticket was for Hamilton.  She was more anxious about an old black satchel than anything else.

"What train do you want to complete your journey on?" the conductor asked her when she arrived here with a carload of injured ones.

"I want no train at all; from now on I will travel by stage," was her answer.
Clearly, they make old ladies both tough and sensible in Scotland, though her chances of finding a stage coach in 1909 were slim.  Perhaps that was the point.

As fate would have it, one of the passengers who was "shaken up" in the derailment was G.B. Ryan, owner of an expansive dry goods business and active member of many organizations for the development of Guelph.  He had been a member of the coroner's jury for the inquest on the 1906 wreck, and was a member of the Royal City's Board of Trade (Chamber of Commerce) Railways committee.  

(Mr. G.B. Ryan, Evening Mercury, 13 March 1909.)

After Ryan died 11 years later, his obituary noted that the derailment marked a turn for the worse in his state of health (Mercury, 12 June 1920):
Mr. Ryan, up to several years ago, enjoyed good health.  The first break came when a passenger train on the G.T.R. on which he was travelling, was wrecked at Gourock, and Mr. Ryan suffered a shock from which he never entirely recovered.
Gourock itself was in decline by that time.  In reminiscences of the Guelph of earlier days, Mr. Alex McKenzie, who had  been a telegraph operator in the city, recalled that (Mercury, 4 April 1922):
Gourock Post Office was a meeting place for the farmers for miles around. They called at the Post Office for their mail after their day’s work was done, and stopped late to smoke and talk.

Those good old days are gone.  Rural mail delivery and automobiles have closed up many a country post office and store.
McKenzie accurately notes what led to Gourock's demise.  Rural mail delivery meant that mail for rural addresses was delivered door-to-door from a central location.  Thus, the Guelph post office delivered mail directly to residents of Gourock.  Made redundant, the Gourock post office was closed in 1913.

Adoption of automobiles also decreased reliance on railway flag stops.  Rural residents with cars could drive at their convenience to Guelph, Hespeler, and points beyond instead of taking trains.  Instead of shopping at the local general store, they could easily drive into town to patronize the many and varied businesses there.

Like rural Canadians elsewhere, residents of Gourock initially resisted the presence of automobiles as an unwelcome intrusion of urban elites, noisy contraptions that offended the ears and frightened the horses (Mercury, 14 November 1904):
That Automobile nuisance.

To: Editor of the Mercury
Gourock, P.O.
November 14, 1904

Dear Sir—As I was driving home from church to-day, Sunday, the 12th inst., I very near had a serious runaway accident by an automobile driven by some citizen of Guelph.  In all justice and Christianity they should have waited until people attending church could get home.  There should be a law prohibiting the horrid and dangerous nuisance from the public highways.  An elderly lady in Guelph had her arm broken by the same nuisance causing her horse to run away.

Yours respectfully,
FARMER.
Antipathy towards cars in Gourock persisted for some time.  In June, 1912, Mr. B.G. Gummer reported to the Mercury that he had run over a bunch of tacks on the Waterloo Road at Gourock, placed there by some country vandal in a deliberate attempt to sabotage autoists.  Happily, Gummer experienced only a puncture and nothing worse.

In any event, as automobiles became cheaper and the government paved more roads, residents of Gourock reconsidered their attitude towards cars.  By 1920, the GTR flag stop had been discontinued and Gourock itself began to fade into the rearview mirror.  


Train wrecks occurred with alarming frequency in the Edwardian era.  They were a favorite subject of local photographers and feature on real-photo postcards regularly.  Here are accounts of further wrecks in the Guelph area:

Sunday, 19 July 2020

"Bathers of both sexes find good bathing there": Guelphites get a decent bath in Riverside Park

In his praise of the brand-new Riverside Park in 1905, the Rev. J.B. Mullen of Fergus remarked on one of its attractions:
Bathers, too, of both sexes, who have their suits, find good bathing there.  The caretaker also gives lessons in swimming.
Today, this observation seems unremarkable.  Yet, the presence of boys and girls bathing together in the Speed River was a novelty, and represents a significant change from old ways of public bathing.

As explained previously, bathing in Victorian Guelph followed an established pattern.  In the open air, bathing was enjoyed mainly by groups of young (and some older) men at any number of "swimming holes" along the rivers and creeks of the city.  In the days before indoor plumbing and air conditioning, a skinny dip in the river was a favored way to cool off and have fun with friends.  

Although this way of bathing was widely regarded as natural and healthy, it was also seen as decidedly not decent.  The nakedness of the bathers, and their vulgar language, marked them for exclusion from public view by city by-laws.  Restrictions requiring bathers to wear neck-to-knee costumes and stay away from public bridges and roadways were routinely, evenly gleefully ignored.

A more genteel form of bathing was practiced in commercial bathing houses.  In Guelph, James Hazelton's bathing house on the Speed River near the Eramosa road bridge provided baths, showers and a small pool, along with river access, in a discrete structure.  Unlike river bathing, Hazelton's bath house provided facilities for both men and women under one roof and ensured proper attire.  Although such bathing was decidedly decent, it was too expensive and meagre to lure many Guelphites away from the city's many freely available swimming holes.

Into this situation came Riverside Park in 1905.  It was founded, in part, to get more people on Guelph's streetcar system (which went right past the Park entrance) and to compensate for the lack of park space downtown (due to construction on large sections of the Market Square).  


Riverside Park was an immediate success.  In part, this was because it catered well to the leisure culture of the day, which was focussed on picnicking and related recreational activities, like strolling and boating.  Previously, these pursuits had been in the purview of private parks, like Paradise or Victoria Park on the Eramosa river. 

Unlike those private parks, Riverside Park determinedly constructed a space suitable for both men and women.  Most especially, that meant no naked bathing.  

On the face of it, this restriction should have been a challenge.  The Park had a perfect site for a conventional "swimming hole" in the form of the dam serving Simpson's Mill across the river from the Park.

Owned by J.L. Simpson, the mill stood where the Speedvale Fire Station now stands, just east of the Guelph Junction Railway tracks near Woolwich Street.  It had a dam, sited about where the current dam and bridge in Riverside Park now stand.  Upstream, the dam provided an excellent pond for casual boating.  Downstream, the dam provided a most attractive, splashy site for swimming.

Several postcards show bathers enjoying the site.

(From the Valentine & Sons Publishing Co., ca. 1910.  Note what appear to be bath houses, or changing rooms, on the shore to the left.)

(From Charles Nelles, ca. 1905.)

(From Rumsey & Co, ca. 1905.  Both postcards above show how swimmers became part of the spectacle to visitors at the Park.  Courtesy of the John Keleher collection.)

To my knowledge, postcards of Riverside Park are the only commercial postcards of Guelph that show bathers.  No doubt, this is because pictures of other public bathing sites would feature naked men and boys, which would have narrowed the market for them, not to mention being more daring than most postcard makers were prepared for.

So, although Riverside Park provided a tempting swimming hole of the old school variety, bathing was enjoyed only by those "who have their suits," in the words of Rev. Mullen.  How did this come about?

Formally, the city appointed a caretaker to look after and police the Park.  Charles Easton, who was an employee of the Radial Railway (the city streetcar) was the first person given the position.  Rev. Mullen noted that Easton gave swimming lessons at the park, suggesting that he was quite involved with the running and supervision of the swimming hole.  In that case, he could have taken pains to ensure that the dress code was observed by the swimmers.

Culturally, Riverside Park also reflects a change in bathing practices over previous generations.  Bathing had become an integral activity to late Victorian amusement parks, such as Coney Island in New York, where mixed-sex bathing became normalized.  This form of amusement ground spread to Canada through places like Hanlan's Point Beach on Toronto Island, founded by celebrity rower Ned Hanlan in the 1880s.

As such, Riverside Park was aggressively marketed to community groups.  One of the points J.W. Lyon used to sell the idea of developing the park in the first place was that it would appeal to Sunday School picnickers, for example.  Rev. Mullen of Fergus was at the park for just such an occasion.  Such groups would hardly tolerate nude bathing on the premises.

In addition, amusement grounds like Riverside Park had to be female-friendly because they were expected to draw courting couples.  Amenities such as boating, food, and a "Lovers' Lane" were made available so that women would have socially acceptable reasons to visit the park and spend money there.

(From Rumsey & Co., ca. 1905.  Curiously bereft of lovers, Lovers' Lane does feature one young man seated at a bench, perhaps wishing he was in the water.)

Indeed, the swimming hole would form yet another spectacle that courting couples, and other park visitors, could take in as a part of the experience on offer for consumption.  Postcards of the swimmers were part of, and further testimony to, this function of the bathing facility.

Again, this would be the case only if bathing suits were not optional.

As usual, written records and postcards of the swimming hole represent the views of the men involved in running them.  It is harder to find out what the women who made use of the Park thought of its bathing facilities.  However, its popularity with the fairer sex is suggested by the following item from the Mercury (24 July 1917):

Want bathing house.

 

A large number of the young ladies of the city are patronizing the swimming grounds at Riverside Park this season, and are anxious that there should be more accommodation in the line of dressing rooms.  At present there are only two very small and very cramped rooms, quite insufficient to take care of the large number of bathers.  The local mermaids have made several appeals to the street railway for dressing rooms, but so far without response.  One of the bathers stated to the Mercury today that between one hundred and one hundred and fifty were on hand last night, and great inconvenience was caused because there was not sufficient bathing house accommodation.

Though not ideal, it seems that the bathing place at Riverside Park was popular with the ladies.

As such, Riverside Park's swimming hole marks a turning point for recreation in Guelph.  It did not signify the immediate end of skinny dipping by groups of young men in the city.  However, it did show that a suitably provisioned and policed public facility could provide a viable alternative.  The change did take hold in time.  As noted in my previous post, by 1948, naked swimming in the rivers of the Royal City was but a fond memory for its male old-timers.


Sunday, 14 June 2020

Summer Speed bathing in Victorian Guelph

As is true today, swimming was a popular summertime recreation in Victorian Guelph.  In fact, the town of Guelph could boast one of the classiest bathing houses in Canada West. It was built by the Allan family along the banks of the Speed River in front of the Priory, their home, and was described as follows (Allan 1939, p. 29):
Under the ownership of David Allan, he made many improvements to the property such as building a stone bathing-house in the design of a fort (with turrets) at the river side, and the stone wall which still surrounds the property, which he had built in a style to conform to that of the walls supporting the approach to the C.N.R. Bridge across the street.
A lovely sketch (and also painting) of this structure was made by David Kennedy in 1864:


(A sketch by David Kennedy showing a view of the Speed River, Guelph, from the Grand Trunk Railway Bridge. The Priory bath house is in the left foreground. Courtesy of Guelph Civic Museums 1980.6.5)

A similar vantage point is available from Google Street View for comparison:



It must have been fun for the Allan family, on hot summer evenings, to don their bathing costumes in their miniature medieval folly and tread carefully down the narrow stone stairway into the cool embrace of the Speed.

The Allan family may have had the only bathing house in town at the time, which would have been a distinct advantage in a place where bathing (or swimming) in the river was practically illegal in daylight. Guelph's first by-law (ca. 1850) was quite stringent on the matter (Johnson 1977, p. 233):

That no person or persons shall bathe within the distance of 80 rods from any inhabited house, bridge, or thoroughfare, except before sunrise, in any river or other public water in the Town of Guelph, or in any way indecently expose his or their persons.
Given that a rod is about 5 meters, the by-law forbids bathing with 400m of a house, bridge, or other roadway, a restriction that would seem to apply to the entire Speed River within town limits!

An important reason for the restriction on bathing was decency, the dress and decorum that characterized respectable townsfolk. Bathing involved dressing down, to a level that might be inappropriate for the eyes of ladies and gentlemen. (It also often involved vulgar language, a point to which I return below.)

This consideration is elaborated in a debate in the Town Council, when a petition from the townsfolk prompted the city fathers to revisit the restrictive bathing by-law. The matter of regulation of bathing costumes took up much of the Council's time (Daily Mercury, 20 July 1880):

The length of the bathing dress to be worn and what it should and should not cover was the theme of a lengthy and warm discussion.
Ald. Stevenson and the Mayor did not consider that the bathing dress was sufficient for the sake of decency, the by-law providing that the body of the bather be covered from the loins to the thighs.
...
It was moved and seconded in amendment, that the body be covered from the neck to the knee.
Some councillors expressed the view that this much coverage was excessive:
Ald. Fairbank thought that some member might move an amendment to the effect that an umbrella be worn while bathing. He could not see the force of having bathers clothed from head to heel.
...
Ald. Doran had always been accustomed to see people swim naked. They were under the water and could not be seen. It was different from climbing a greasy pole. The other day Scotch pipers went through the street with their legs bare, and all the women looking at them, which was just as bad in his opinion.
Ald. Fairbank wished to know how mechanics; who worked hard all week and were dirty, could get properly washed with a bathing dress on.
In the end, considerations of decency won out and neck-to-knee covering was adopted.

A related issue was that of proximity to bridges, etc. Again, decency required that bathing not occur too close to places where bathers might be seen by the good townsfolk traveling on their roadways. In this regard, Council saw fit to reduce the distance from 80 rods to 50 feet (about 15m). By significantly increasing the area of bathing costumes, it seems that the distance from bathers to bridges could be proportionately lowered.

The by-law also regulated prices that could be charged for rental of bathing costumes provided by commercial bathing houses. At the time, the town's only commercial bathing house had recently gone under.  Mr. James Hazelton, a prosperous local furniture maker, had set up a commercial bath house on the south shore of the Speed, a little downstream from the Eramosa bridge (Mercury, 16 July 1874).  The facility provided small plunge pools and showers, with warm and cold water, a small swimming pool out back, and access from there to the river itself.  An ad from the Mercury (5 July 1876) provides a idea of the offering:

The business carried on until the death of Mr. Hazelton in 1879.  Certainly, Hazelton's baths did provide an opportunity for decent bathing and so it is understandable that the Town Council hoped that another businessman would jump into the market soon.  Yet, there were few takers and little prospect that one or two commercial bath houses could meet the deep local demand for swimming.

So, as is sometimes the case with regulations, restrictions on bathing were more often honoured in the breach than in the observance. For the most part, bathing in the rivers took place illegally and indecently. Every summer, the Mercury published new complaints about illicit bathing by gangs of youths. Complaints can be relied upon to cover certain features, including a description of the conduct itself, in what ways it is indecent in general and offensive to ladies in particular, and what remains to be done about it. Consider, for example (Mercury, 6 July 1883):

Bathing in the river.—During any period of the day from 9 a.m. till 10 p.m. a large number of boys make a practice of bathing in the Speed at the end of the lot occupied by the new rink. This is done in the broad daylight by boys from the age of 8 to 16, and at times by even grown up men, and this without the slightest pretence of wearing anything in the shape of bathing dresses, and during the whole time they are in the water they make use of the most profane and filthy language that can be conceived. Until this disgraceful practice is put a stop to, it is simply impossible for ladies occupying houses on the opposite bank of the river to walk or even to appear outside their own doors during the most enjoyable period of the day. The river makes a slight bend at this spot, so that the bathers are in full view of every garden on the opposite shore. We doubt if there is another town in Canada where such a disgraceful exhibition is allowed to pass without the slightest effort on the part of the public to put it down. They have been spoken to on several occasions, and ought either to put a stop to this bathing altogether or insist upon these boys going into the water under the cover of darkness.
The rink mentioned above is the Speed Skating rink, where the River Run Centre is now located, and whose facade stands in John Galt Park.

Here is another example (Mercury, 5 August 1887):
Bathing at Gow’s bridge.—Numerous are the complaints that are made about young men and boys bathing at Gow’s bridge in broad daylight and in the evening. They run around the bridge, and dive from from the parapet as naked as the day they were born and the language they use is most offensive beyond imagination. Ladies living on the other side of the river, and whose direct road home is over this bridge, are compelled to walk around by Dundas bridge. This state of things ought not to be, and the police authorities should see to it at once. No one objects to parties bathing so long as they secure a reasonably secluded place, but for them to be allowed to bathe on a public thoroughfare the whole summer through is a little too much. So far as bathing at night these moonlight nights in public places is concerned it might as well be daylight.
Of course, the young men themselves delighted both in bathing in the river in the hot weather and making an indecent exhibition of themselves. In later years, many reminisced fondly about cavorting in the rivers, typically much too close to passers-by, while clad only in their birthday suits. In these young men's minds, the rivers were a chain of "swimmin' holes" to be enjoyed as circumstances (and authorities) allowed. Mr. Jim Ritchie's recollections are typical (Mercury, 1 May 1948):
Swimmin’-hole memories

Who among Guelph’s real old-timers does not remember Crib’s hole, near Russell Daly’s present home? Or Fraser’s hard by the Sterling Rubber Company’s plant, or the staircase near the old Goldie’s Mill? Nor can they forget Macdonald’s Spring, just below what is now Cutten Fields, or Kate's hole, near the spurline. This, of course, was the special resort of the “Spurliners.” Howitt’s Pond at the rear of the present G.T.C. bus sheds on Waterloo Avenue was also a popular spot. These are among many others inseparable from old swimmin’ hole memories. No swimming in the nude anywhere these days. If the boys try it they will be chased away, no matter how far they are from the city. How unlike the days before the motorcar era.
Ritchie's mention of the "Spurliners" is interesting, as it reminds us that the young men involved saw the town's geography in territorial terms. In other words, each group had a claim to "its" area, and associated swimming holes, that groups from other areas did not.

This fact is most dramatically illustrated in the recollections of John Higginbotham, scion of an established Guelph clan. He narrates a physical encounter between his group and another that saw their use of the swimming hole at Hood's Bay as an intrusion (Higginbotham 1933, pp. 27–28):

Contrary to all by-laws and regulations, we assumed all risks and bathed in birthday attire. Usually a watch was kept for the police, and on their arrival, everything would be found quite proper; but on one occasion the sergeant was too crafty and speedy for most of us, for all our clothing was seized, with the exception of that of my brother Harry who hastily threw his into an empty barrel which he steered, as he swam, to the opposite bank of the river.

In going to or returning from swimming, and when taking our cattle to pasture, our way was frequently opposed by other boys in gangs, and we were obliged to fight to a finish, or seek another road.

One afternoon, when returning from Hood's Bay, a favourite swimming hole, twelve of us were marching three abreast, when we were suddenly confronted by a large gang of hoodlums, much bigger and older than ourselves, who had been playing "shinny" or field hockey, and were, therefore, armed with these "weapons." The rowdies were led by a negro named Jake, who advanced at their head, in a most threatening manner, shouted defiance, and informed us that we would not be allowed to pass without a fight. My companions urged me to meet him, which I did, with some trepidation, when his headlong charge was blocked with a strong kick on his shins, and a right-hand swing to the point of his chin. He went down like a felled ox. A kick was something I had never done before, and hoped never to do again, but having learned of the negro's vulnerability, used it as an offensive against a more powerful adversary. One of his companions next attacked me and, while I was engaged with him, the negro, having got his feet, hurled a stone which struck me full in the face. An old coloured man, who had been watching the proceedings from the porch of his cabin, now interfered, as peacemaker, and we were enabled to wend our homeward way without further molestation.
Confrontations over swimming holes were not confined to gangs of boys and police. Landowners blessed with bathing-worthy riverside property did not always relish their uninvited guests. George Sleeman recalled an incident when a landowner took extreme measures to keep bathers away from his stretch of the Speed (Mercury, 29 April 1922):
A Mr. Harrison owned two acres of land where Johnson’s boat house now is. It was known as ‘Harrison’s Meadows,’ and was a pretty lot, and, as the river fronted it, it was a favorite place for bathing. (Richardson, who had the store on Gordon Street, agreed with Harrison to keep him as long as he lived, for the lot. However, Richardson died years before Harrison.) After Richardson came into possession of the meadow he became annoyed at people going through it to bathe, and dumped a lot of broken glass into the river, which created a bad feeling against him.
Johnson's boat house is occupied by the Boat House and Tea Room today. Happily, the broken glass seems to be long gone.

The list of Guelph's Victorian-era swimming holes is lengthy but one of particular interest is Kate's Hole, mentioned by James Ritchie as in the territory of the Spurliners. In one story, this location is described as a deep hole near the south bank of the Speed River, opposite Dr. Clarke's grounds. In another, it is located near the end of Marcon street. In today's terms, this would place it at the upper end of Herb Markle Park, where the Speed bends towards the east. This location would put it in the foreground of the postcard image below, looking southward from the top of the Goldie Mill pond.


Note the two swans from James Goldie's menagerie swimming near the small boat on the south shore.

The Speed river was much wider there in that era because of the mill pond and its bottom much deeper in places as a result. Kate's Hole was a place where the river bottom dropped away steeply, near the boat in the image above. The area was quarried early in Guelph's history for construction stone, so it is possible that the hole was formed in this way before the mill pond was established.

In any event, the site was said to get its name from a woman named Kate who drowned there in the town's early days (Mercury, 23 June 1877). As noted above, Kate's Hole was associated with the spur line, that is, the railway line built through the neighbourhood by the Great Western Railway to a short-lived passenger station sited at the foot of Norwich street. (The route is now part of the Spurline Trail.)

Whether or not Kate's story is true, Kate's Hole was a dangerous place for bathers because of its depth and several drownings occurred there. For example, one John McGorin rode a horse into the river at that point in order to wash it off after a long week's work with the Stewart Planing mill (Mercury, 1 June 1874). Unfamiliar with the river, McGorin and the horse tumbled into Kate's Hole. The horse drowned while McGorin was saved by some passers-by who threw him planks wrenched from a nearby sidewalk.

In another incident, a young woman named Minnie Chace fell victim to "the remorseless waters" of Speed (Mercury, 23 June 1877). She and two companions had taken a boat (like the one in the picture above?) up the stream from Kate's Hole searching for a secluded spot for bathing. They went ashore on the west bank in front of the house of Donald Guthrie, the local MP, which later became the main building of the Homewood Sanitarium. This would put the young ladies near the foot of George Street, on the opposite side of the river. They donned dressing gowns in lieu of bathing costumes and waded into the river. Unknown to them, the gentle slope of the bank ended suddenly, and two of the girls went in over their heads. One was saved by a passer-by but Miss Chace was not so lucky.

Although this drowning occurred a little ways upstream of Kate's Hole, it is interesting because it provides one of the few accounts of women bathers in the rivers. If their example is typical, then it seems that women and girls did bathe in the Speed but made less of an exhibition of themselves than did the young men.

Repeated drownings finally prompted a response from authorities. The town purchased six grappling irons from a local carriage maker and placed them in the vicinity of especially risky swimming holes (Mercury, 21 July 1885). The Mercury noted that having grappling irons close at hand would make it easier to retrieve the bodies of the drowned before they lay in the river too long. The sites chosen show how busy the Speed was during Victorian summers:

Your [Town Council] ordered and got made by Mr. C. Thain six sets of grappling irons to be used in cases of drowning in the river and would recommend that the same be placed in the following positions: Frank Heller’s, Marcon street, near Kate’s hole; James Goldie’s mill; Frank Webber’s coopershop; W.J. Fairbank’s, Eramosa bridge; new skating rink and Johnston’s boat house.
As distressing and unwelcome as drownings were, they were evidently regarded with some resignation, a regrettable risk of the joys of bathing in the rivers and, perhaps, simply one of the downsides of an activity indulged on the margins of decent society.

However, around the end of the the Victorian era, the situation began to change with the appearance of supervised swimming places, though that is a story for another time.


Sources
  • Higginbotham, J.D. (1933). When the west was won. Toronto: The Ryerson Press.

Monday, 25 May 2020

The pride of Mountain Town: Guelph's standpipe of 1909

Because they were souvenirs, old postcards of Guelph (like many other towns) put churches, train stations, public buildings, and beauty spots at the centre of attention. However, it is sometimes interesting to peruse the periphery of these images. There may lie items that were not deemed of interest to casual shoppers but are of interest in the city's history.

Consider the image below, from a postcard printed for Charles Nelles around 1910.


This picture was taken from the Central School and looks towards St. George's Square. A number of buildings still present today are visible in it, such as Knox Church, Chalmers Church (now Royal City Church), St. George's Church, and the Wellington Hotel.

Scan the horizon on the right and an unfamiliar cylinder appears on the brow of what was then called Horsman's Hill in the St. George's Park neighborhood. This was the Royal City's first standpipe, then the tallest item in town. At the time when the photograph was taken, the standpipe was very new, a highly visible symbol of the city's progress and, according to its admirers, the pride of Mountain Town.

In this case, a standpipe is a cylindrical tower used as a water reservoir. Guelph acquired one because it was experiencing trouble delivering water to its residents, businesses, and fire fighters—a perennial problem for modern cities.

From its early days, Guelph's central water supply system consisted of an iron hand pump. This "town pump" was located at the corner of Wilson and Carden streets, and had four sweeping handles that could be cranked manually to produce water from a well. To fight fires, water was pumped from such fixtures into a tank incorporated into a horse-drawn fire truck.

As the town grew and fire posed a greater threat to life and property, such a system was found inadequate. Schemes to provide centralized water distribution through pipes were proposed as early as Confederation but design and construction of a waterworks began in 1879, the year Guelph became Ontario's ninth city and acquired the moniker "The Royal City." A pumping station was erected along the Eramosa River and ten miles of pipe had been laid by the end of 1880.

As time went on, shortcomings of the system became more acute. Water drawn from the Eramosa river could be discoloured at times. Tests revealed "colon bacilli" in the water. As more residents, businesses, and services joined the system, its capacity became inadequate. Also, changes in pressure from the pumps damaged the pipes, resulting in leaks and breakages.

A standpipe helps to deal with problems of variations of pressure. Instead of feeding water to the system directly from a pump, which causes a surge whenever the pump is turned on and then a subsidence when it is turned off, a standpipe provides constant pressure as water can flow steadily downhill through the system from its fixed, elevated reservoir.

In 1907, the City set up a Water Commission to recommend changes to the system. The Commission advocated the idea of bringing clean water to town from springs at Arkell in Puslinch. The City adopted this plan, bought about 70 acres (about 28 hectares) in Arkell and had a pipeline laid to bring spring water to Guelph.

The standpipe was built to deliver the water in abundance and at an even pressure. Naturally, the structure had to occupy a high point in town and near the waterworks, so Horsman's Hill was an obvious choice. A special section of the Evening Mercury (13 March 1909) provided a gushing account of the new system, including the Royal City's outstanding new cylinder.


("The Stand Pipe", Evening Mercury, 13 March 1905.)

The enormity of this towering achievement is described in every way possible. It is said to be the largest standpipe in Canada at the time, of prodigious proportions:

The standpipe is thirty feet in diameter and 100 feet from base to top. An iron ladder runs perpendicularly up its south side to an iron platform and railing which encircles it near the top. The capacity is 500,000 gallons.
...
The base is of concrete. The first two rings are of 13/16 inch steel plates and these gradually decrease in the ascent to 3/8 inch. The structure itself with base, with water, when full, weighs 3,200 tons.
...
The work on the foundation for the standpipe was started on June 1st, and was satisfactorily completed within eleven days. A staff of fifteen men were employed on this contract. The foundation is 32 feet square and is 7 feet thick, and its immense strength can be judged by the tremendous weight that it must uphold. The excavation amounted to 428 cubic yards.
The amount and uniformity of the water pressure delivered are also spelled out in detail:
When it is full it gives 43 pounds pressure at the base. At the post office it gives 75 lbs. pressure when full. There is 50 lbs. pressure on the ground floor of the General Hospital. Pumping direct it is possible to give as high as 140 lbs. pressure at the Hospital. At other points in the city, of course, there are different degrees of pressure, according to the elevation. The load is always the same. The latter does not vary more than two pounds in the 24 hours. With the old pumps, the pressure varied from 45 to 110 pounds. So long as the standpipe is full there will be exactly the same pressure at a given point, whether one or ten streams are being drawn from it.
The system was also admirably suited to the demands of fire fighting in 1909:
The fire underwriters standard stream requires that a 1 ½ inch nozzle at the end of a single line of hose 250 feet long, will discharge 500,000 imperial gallons in 24 hours, with 80 lbs. pressure at the nozzle. That equals 200 gallons per minute. The fire underwriters call for ten standard streams the same as this for a town the size of Guelph. Such, then, is the capacity of the pump that the department can run 50 per cent, overload, or 4 ½ million gallons per 24 hours, in addition to having ½ million gals. in standpipe.
Residents of the Royal City could be forgiven for beaming with joy when they saw this new monument to progress overlooking their fair city, on the brow of "Mountain Town," opposite the Central School and the Church of Our Lady.

The standpipe appears in other postcards as well, though always in the background. Perhaps the best image is in the real-photo postcard below, with the standpipe looming behind a house on the Speed River, ca. 1910.


The message on the back of the card adds:
Xmas Greetings
Minnie & girls on River Bank on our lawn 34 Queen Street Guelph
That address is now 34 Arthur street N. Built in 1866 for Robert Melvin, who was Mayor of Guelph 1875–1876, the house was originally called Calderwood (Partridge 1992, p. 16). The name "River Bank" is very suitable, as it sits on the bank of the Speed directly opposite the onetime location of the Priory.

One hopes that the residents of River Bank appreciated the chance to live in the impressive shadow of the giant new standpipe.

The standpipe appears in the background of another postcard, printed by the F.H. Leslie Co. of Niagara Falls around 1935.


In the foreground is the house where Guelph's early musical celebrity Laura Lemon was born. In the background is the great standpipe.

The standpipe was located in the space between Grove street and Prospect avenue, in behind the current location of Hillcrest Park. In the map below, its approximate location and footprint is represented by the big black circle.


In 1968, the city waterworks were updated and the mighty standpipe removed. Yet, its sizable silhouette still lurks in old photos and postcards of the Royal City, where it stood ready to deliver fresh water for nearly 60 years.



Good sources of the early history of Guelph's Waterworks can be found in these issues of the Guelph Mercury:
  • 13 March 1909, "Water works section," pp. 11–16.
  • 20 July 1927, "Town pump yields place to modern electric equipment," p. 6.32.

On the name "Mountain Town" for the St. George's Park area, Ross Irwin (2008, p. 2) explains:
In 1829, John McDonald, PLS, the Canada Company surveyor of part of the township, acquired 186 acres east of the River Speed bounded by Metcalfe Street, Eramosa Road, Grange Street, and Budd Street. It was named "Mountain town".
Though the height of the drumlin on which the St. George's Park area sits is considerable, the term "mountain" does seem like an overstatement, of the sort usual with real estate developers. The name was very rarely applied, that I am aware of, though it is interesting that it persisted long enough to appear in the Mercury in 1909.

Sunday, 26 April 2020

William Macalister' falls

One Guelph postcard that puzzled me when I picked it up is the following, purporting to be of McAlisters Falls, Guelph, Ont. Guelph is well known for being sited along the Speed and Eramosa rivers but it is not noted for any waterfalls, unlike, say, Niagara Falls or Hamilton, which bills itself the "city of waterfalls."


I have never found another reference to this site, so it seemed as though the card might be an in-joke on the part of the publisher, Mr. A.B. Petrie. Indeed, the card was mailed in 1909 to a Mrs. M. MacAllister of Ameronto, Ontario, from someone who did not sign his name but said that, "you will notice me on the other side of this card." The spelling of M(a)cAl(l)ister is different but niceties of spelling were not always top of mind with people dashing off postcard messages for the next mail pickup.

More light was shed on the mysterious Mr. McAlister when I saw the following (Courtesy of the John Kelleher collection):


The name is spelled differently but Mr. W.W. MacAlister is much easier to place. William Wilson Macalister (1855–1930) was born in Kingston, Ontario, and moved to the Guelph area young enough to have been educated at the Rockwood Academy (Mercury, 11 April 1930). He lived and worked in Guelph his whole life, being a bookkeeper and later business manager in the Mercury office for 25 years. His obituary adds that, "Curling and bowling were his favorite pastimes, and he was a charter member of the Royal City Curling Club, and the Guelph Lawn Bowling Club."

Macalister's love of lawn bowling would explain the postcard of the bowling green with his name on it.

The location of "The Camp" were Macalister had his summer home was Victoria Park, a private park along the south shore of the Eramosa River on what is now the east end of the Cutten Club, abutting Victoria road. The Park was set up by the local Boating Club as a destination for pleasure seekers from Guelph and its environs. People could rent a boat and supplies in town and paddle or row up the Eramosa to the Park, where they could enjoy walks, swings, picnics, music, light shows, and lawn bowling.

It was also possible to camp there. Serious campers could take tents, furniture, cooking utensils, etc. and stay the whole summer. During the week, residents of the "camp town" could paddle into town for work and paddle back for dinner. For locals in the late Victorian era who wanted to camp but had not the time, money, or inclination to rough it in the Muskokas, pitching a tent in Victoria Park was a welcome alternative.

William Macalister was such a man. He and his family spent every summer camping in the park for many years. He was so closely associated with the facility that his comings and goings were sometimes mentioned in the paper, e.g., (Daily Mercury, 7 September 1892):

Mr. W.W. Macalister has pulled up stakes after camping for six weeks at Victoria Park, and has moved his family back into town.
No doubt, it didn't hurt that he was a long-time member of the Mercury staff.

Mr. Macalister so adored Victoria Park that he purchased the property. The following notice afterwards appeared in the Daily Mercury (10 July 1894):

Notice to trespassers.

Any person found trespassing on the property as described below, will be prosecuted. That place known as the Macdonald Farm, south of the river and the back part of the same farm, now owned by W.W. Macalister, between the Brock Road and the Victoria Park, also on the roadway to last mentioned property from the York Road.
Note—The only public entrance to Victoria Park is by the river and the York Road by Victoria Bridge.

James Taylor
W.W. Macalister.
The Macdonalds were the farmers who owned the property and from whom the Boating Club rented the land on which Victoria Park stood. People from town sometimes reached the park by walking across the Macdonald's property on the south bank of the Eramosa. The notice in the paper was intended to dissuade people from accessing the property in this way. Access was supposed to be by the dock on the Eramosa river or the path from the nearby Victoria road bridge.

This point brings us back to McAlister's Falls. Between the bank of the Eramosa and the camping grounds of Victoria Park is a shale bluff. Boaters landing at the dock had to climb up steps cut into the bluff in order to reach the campground and its attractions. Flowing in the other direction is a creek that rises in what is now the University of Guelph Arboretum. This creek cuts cross the Cutten Field golf course, tumbles down the bluff and into the Eramosa river just opposite the City Waterworks.

Could the site where this creek drops over the bluff be McAlister's Falls? Here is a photo of the site I took in 2020.


This "falls" is filled with rocks and fallen tree limbs, whereas the postcard falls is clear and more presentable. However, the scale and rough layout of both falls are similar and a little imagination suggests that, if the modern site were cleaned up, the two might resemble each other closely.

So, it appears that, although William Macalister was buried in Woodlawn Cemetery, his marker may really be this little waterfall next to the campground that he loved so much.


(The location of Macalister's Falls, along the south bank of the Eramosa in Guelph.)

Friday, 3 April 2020

Guelph is now baseball mad: The Maple Leafs were Inter-County champions of 1921

"Guelph is now baseball mad," said the opening line in the Mercury's article of 25 August 1921. Only the day before, thousands of Guelphites had converged on Exhibition Park to witness the sudden-death game for the Inter-County League championship, played between the Guelph Maple Leafs and the Galt Terriers. The two teams were tied in the best-of-three tournament, each having won a closely-fought contest in the previous week. Given that the Guelph team had won the previous two seasons' pennants, a victory would mean not just bragging rights for the year but a historic three-peat such as the Royal City had not witnessed in decades. Guelphites and baseball nuts from miles around made their way to the Park to take in the tilt for themselves.

Both the Maple Leafs and Terriers had finished the regular season with 9 wins and 3 losses, far ahead of Brantford and Kitchener with 2 wins and 8 losses each. However, the smart money remained with the Maple Leafs since they had won 3 out of 4 contests with the Terriers during regular play. Given this advantage, the first game of the series had been held in Guelph's Exhibition Park on 13 August.

This game was played before an (enthusiastically) estimated 4,000 fans, crowded into the grandstands and circling the field. Tension mounted as the 3:15 start time came and went, as the visitors launched a "childish" dispute over who was to umpire the game. Just as Lee of Brantford and Murray of Toronto were set to officiate, the Terriers' staff "waltzed" (not literally, one assumes) out onto the field to demand that Hett of Toronto work in place of Lee. After half and hour, Galt won the debate and Hett donned his pads and assumed his place behind home plate.

It was the only thing Galt won that day. The Terriers' pitcher, Fred Graham, had a rough first inning, hitting three batters with wild pitches and finally allowing three runs to score. The rest of the fixture was rather more even, with both sides scoring an additional run each, producing a result of 4 to 1 for the Maple Leafs.

The pattern was somewhat reversed in the succeeding game played in Galt on the following weekend. On this occasion, the Galt management tried to have Guelph's catcher, "Patty" Patterson, disqualified for a violation of the League's residence rule. This protest was denied but the team proceeded to win the match itself (Mercury, 22 August 1921). A close-fought affair led to Guelph starting the ninth inning down 2 runs to 4. With two men out and two on base, Ralph Pequegnat pinch-hit a triple to the far right field. Luckily for the Manchester City squad, the ball took a big bounce off the fence right to the fielder, who relayed it home just in time to prevent the tying run from scoring.

All agreed that it had been a fine game with an exciting finish for the roughly 3,500 in attendance. A coin was tossed to determine home field for the tie-breaker on the following Wednesday, with the Royal City coming out on top.

With the game set to start at 5pm, fans began flooding into Exhibition Park by 3 o'clock. The grandstand was jammed an hour in advance, and people began to crowd around the outfield. Motorists parked their cars in a ring around the outfield, two or three deep, starting at noontime so as to have special "box seats" to take in the game. More and more vehicles arrived, bringing more and more spectators (Mercury, 25 August):

The grounds were fairly black with motor cars, and in addition to the immense circle of autos around the diamond, hundreds of others were parked in the vicinity of the race track, while as many more weren’t even brought into the park, but were lined outside the fence, and along Exhibition and Kathleen streets.
Somewhere around 500 cars were parked on or around the grounds. Estimates of the crowd size varied from 3,000 to 6,000, with the Mercury preferring the latter figure. In any event, it was a record gathering.


("Galt at Guelph, Inter-County Final, Aug 24, '21." Image from a real-photo postcard taken from the top of the Exhibition Park grandstand. Note the new Victory School in the background. Fans were held back with help from a rope and local police. From the author's collection.)

The game was a close-fought contest. The twirlers Freddy "Whet" Whetstone for Guelph and Leeds for Galt both threw good games, though the Terriers' fielding seemed a little shaky.

The Maple Leafs scored one run in the opening frame, with the Terriers responding with one of their own in the top of the fifth. The Manchester City fans, a thousand or more having made the trip from Galt, cheered wildly. Yet, Cockman's Maple Leafs answered McFadyen's Terriers straight away with another run in the bottom of the inning. At this point, the Mercury informs us, the Galt fielders seemed to lose heart and were increasingly outplayed thereafter.

Guelph touched up Leeds for two runs in the eight inning, taking a 4 to 2 lead. This prompted the Manchester City's manager McFadyen to pull Leeds and put Graham on in his place, a move that met with the catcher's disapproval and was said to "smash the morale" of the Galt team. Nevertheless, the Terriers' responded with a run in the top of ninth but were then shut down by "Whet's" pitching. After Oliver was thrown out easily at first base, the game was over and the crowd erupted with joy: "Three times Inter-County champions. All hail the Maple Leafs."

In fact, the game may have been over before it started. The day before, Guelph pitcher Freddy "Whet" Whetstone had placed a horseshoe under the Maple Leafs' bats piled up in the park, thus ensuring good luck. On their way to Guelph on game day, the special bus hired by the Terriers had broken down, delaying their arrival and causing their manager "Mac" McFadyen to wonder if their appearance was not ill-omened.

Whether is was due to fortune or the quality of their play, the Maple Leafs had covered themselves and their hometown in glory. The three-time championship was most welcome and for a number of reasons.

For one thing, it brought back distant memories of Guelph's former baseball dominance. Baseball was introduced into Guelph in 1861 when the Maple Leafs were formed and named after a club in Hamilton (Johnson 1977, pp. 328–331). The team steadily improved and won the Canadian Championship in 1869, which they defended successfully in the next two seasons, making for their first three-peat. Their high-water mark was reached in 1874 when the team won the American championship in semi-professional competition, thus making them world champions.


("George Sleeman with the Guelph Maple Leaf baseball team," 1874. Sleeman (lower right, front row) was then the owner and prime mover of the team. Courtesy of the Guelph Civic Museums 2009.32.2071.)

By that time, baseball was becoming more broadly organized and Guelph was later unable to compete with richer clubs for players who could win at such a high level. The Maple Leafs did win the Canadian semi-professional championship in 1894 but could not repeat the success and popularity of their glory days.

Yet, the conclusion of the Great War marked a new beginning. A number of local boys had acquired significant baseball experience in the previous years, among them several returned soldiers who played during their military service (see below). When these men took up places in local factory teams, they proved to be quite competitive in intra-city and regional competition.

When the Inter-County League was organized in 1919, its championship was won by the local Partridge Rubber Company team (Mercury, 25 August 1921). In 1920, the championship went to the local Spring and Axle Company team. It was decided that the team should then be named the Maple Leafs, to recall the glory days of yore:

Early in 1921 it was decided that instead of having the Guelph team run by an industrial concern, it would be a timely move to revive the name of the once famous Maple Leaf club, of Guelph, champions of the world.
Of course, this change also helped to broaden the appeal of the team beyond the factory it happened to represent at a given time. All residents of the Royal City could identify with, support, and pay to attend the games of the Guelph Maple Leafs Baseball Club. Biographies of the players in the Mercury emphasized that almost all were local boys, long-time or born-and-bred.

Both elements were combined in the person of Jimmy Cockman, the team's manager. Born in Guelph in 1873, Cockman played with the Maple Leafs of the newly formed Inter-County league in the mid-1890s and then gone on to an illustrious career in a variety of American and Toronto teams. He had retired and returned to Guelph in 1912 but returned to the game to manage the Maple Leafs during the 1921 campaign.

With their victory, the Maple Leafs had earned a berth in the Ontario League championship, where they finished a highly creditable second place. The team remained competitive for the next decade, although the Terriers won most of the League championships. In any event, it remained a famous victory and restored baseball as a key pastime and entertainment in the Royal City for many years to come.



The Guelph Mercury (25 August 1921) published a photo of the championship team, which was also printed as a real-photo postcard:


Original caption:
Standing left-to-right—V. King, trainer; J.H. Runstadtler, outfielder; J. O'Connor, left field; F. Murphy, pitcher; F. O'Connor, first base; F. Whetstone, pitcher; J.N. Jones, second base; "Sandy" Little, centre field; Jimmy Cockman, coach.
Middle row—H. Pequegnat, catcher; "Tim" Elliott, outfielder; R. Stewart Clark, Business Manager; A.J. Hewer, President; Mort Johnston, Treasurer; Harry Nunan, right field; Tom Patterson, catcher.
Front row—P.M. Clark, short stop; "Bob" Fennix, mascot; Ralph Lindsay, third base.
Note the Victory School in the background again.



The Mercury (25 August 1921) provides the following biographies of the champion Guelph Maple Leafs:

Secured experienced coach.
During the first season in O.B.A.A. company the locals battled away under a heavy handicap owing to the fact that they were unable to secure a capable coach, but towards the latter part of last year this trouble was remedied when Jimmy Cockman, the well known Guelph boy who had a distinguished career as a ball player in the various professional leagues for seventeen years, came to their rescue and volunteered his services as official coach. Not long after Jimmy took over his duties, the local lads showed marked improvement in their playing, and it is no doubt due to his valuable assistance, that the “home brews” are today rated in a class with the best amateur clubs in Ontario.

17 years in “Pro” company.
Jimmy Cockman, as the majority of Guelphites are aware, received his early baseball schooling with the world’s famous Guelph Maple Leaf team. After making a name for himself with the Maple Leafs he journeyed to the Virginia League, where he played with the Roanoke team in 1896. The following year saw him performing with the Indianapolis club in the Western League, while in 1898–99 he accepted a handsome offer to play for Reading in the Atlantic League. In 1900 Jimmy drifted over with the Wheeling club in the Inter-State League and in 1901 he went back to the Western League as a member of the Minneapolis team. As Captain of the Milwaukee nine in 1902–03 he had one of the most successful seasons in his baseball career, and piloted his club to the top position in the Western League in the latter year. 1904 saw Jimmy with Newark in the International League, and after completing a four year contract with this club, played with Toronto in 1908. Jimmy, although owned by Newark, finished the 1908 season with the New York Yankees. In 1909 he went to St. Paul in the American Association, while in 1910–11 he shifted back to the Western League, playing with Lincoln. Jimmy closed a long and successful professional baseball career in 1912, when after managing the Grand Island team in the Nebraska State League, he returned to Guelph and retired from the grand old game.

Who the players are.
J. Sanders Little—centre fielder; ago 26, born in Guelph; playing manager for three years; broke into baseball in local city and church leagues, later going to Toronto, where he performed with St. Mary’s Judeans, Belwoods and St. Pats teams in Stanley Park league. While in the army “Sandy” was with the W.O.R. nine.

Fred J. O’Connor—Better known as “Big Dan” first baseman on the Inter-County team three years; age 26, born in Guelph. All old time sports in Guelph will agree that “Big Dan” handles himself around the initial sack after much the same style as his dad, Daniel O’Connor, who held down first base on the original Maple Leafs. Fred, before breaking into Inter-County company was for several years with various local city and church league teams.

John N. Jones—Second baseman, age 22, has also been with the Inter-County team three years. Joner started his career with that snappy local junior team, the Strathconas, with which he played for six years, while in 1918 he was a member of White’s team, City League champs. He is one of the most promising young ball players in the city, and has played a good steady game with the Leafs all year. “Joner” as his many other team mates, is a native of the Royal City.

Harry A. Nunan—Right fielder, age 21 years. Although still quite young, “Nunie” has been at the game a long time, making his debut with the St. Aloysius team in this city in 1914. The two following years he played in the Inter-Catholic League, and in 1917–18, was with the Strathconas, Western Ontario junior champions. He has also been with the Inter-County nine for the past three seasons. Harry was born in Guelph.

Ralph J. Pequegnat—Catcher, age 20; “Peggy” as his is more familiarly known to the baseball enthusiasts of Guelph is rated as the best catcher for his age playing in senior amateur company in the Province. “Peggy” caught for the Strathconas from 1914 to 1918, when he signed on with the Inter-County. He was also born in Guelph.

James P. O’Connor—Left fielder, age 20; “Jimmy” broke in with the Leafs in 1919. Although only 17 years of age at that time it was to be seen that he had the making of a real ball player, and today he is classed as one of the niftiest outfielders in the league. Jimmy had no previous experience, but just broke in as a natural player. He is a wicked hitter, and is considered one of the most valuable men on the local line up. Jim has lived in Guelph all his life.

Fred. C. Whetstone—Pitcher, age 25; as a twirler Fred has made a remarkable showing this year, and it is largely due to his steady work on the mound that the Leafs have forged their way to the top in the last two years. “Whet” joined the Leafs last year. Before signing on with the Inter-County team he had previously played with Taylor-Forbes, St. John’s and the Malleables in the City League. He was born in Guelph.

Fred M. Murphy—Pitcher, age 22; Fred is also one of the old timers on the Inter-County line up. He has been a regular moundsman for three years, and although suffering from a sore arm for the greater part of this season, has commenced to show his old time form of late. “Murf” formerly hurled for St. John’s in the Inter-Catholic League, and while overseas pitched for the 3rd D.A.C. team, runners up for the Third Division championship in 1918. Also born in Guelph.

Ralph W. Lindsay—Third baseman, age 23; although only two years with the Inter-County team, Ralph, with his lightning speed has developed into a real nifty third sacker. He plays his position like a veteran, and his snappy work on the field this year has featured many a game in which the locals figure. In 1919 Ralph played with the G.W.V.A. team in the City League, and while in France was on the 9th Brigade nine, runners up for the Divisional championship in 1918. He is another member of the Leafs born in Guelph.

Thomas Patterson—Catcher, age 28. Since joining the Leafs this year “Patty,” by his good natured disposition, and happy-go-lucky manner, has made himself one of the most popular players on the local line-up. As a receiver “Patty” is there a thousand ways, as was shown in the important series with Galt just finished, in which he distinguished himself in every performance. He is an old timer at the game, and while overseas had the distinction of being picked on the all-star Canadian team which trimmed the Yanks in London, England, and Bonn, Germany. “Patty” also played with the 18th and 25th Battalions and the 2nd Division Machine Gun teams in France.

Percival M. Clark—Shortstop; age 28. “Clarkie” came to the Royal City from Toronto three years ago, and while in the Queen City played on the St. Andrew’s Crescents and West Enders teams. He has been with the Leafs three seasons, and besides playing shortstop performs as relief pitcher. “Clarkie” is also a returned man and while overseas was a member of the 4th D.A.C. team. He is a native of Toronto.

T. Arnold Elliott—Centre fielder, age 35. Although the daddy of ‘em all, “Tim” can still show the majority of amateur players in these parts the finer points on how to play the outer garden. He is lightning fast on his feet, and a sure catch. “Tim’s” baseball career dates back to the old city league in the days of the Park Nine and Alerts. He was with White’s championship team in 1918, captained the Veterans nine in 1919; managed the Carpet Mills team in 1920, and is managing the Arenas, city league leaders this year. “Tim” was born in Guelph.

J. Herman Runstadtler—Left fielder, age 26. “Runny” came to Guelph from Walkerton to enlist with an artillery unit, and since his return from overseas has made his permanent residence here. He has played for three years on the Inter-County team, and in 1919 held the distinction of being the best hitter on the club, winning a gold watch donated by Mr. Pequegnat. Before coming to Guelph “Runny” played around Walkerton and Owen Sound.

George Stapleton—Catcher, one of the most valuable all round players on the team is George Stapleton. George is Johnny on the spot no matter what position he is assigned to. He is a Guelph boy, and has played in the various local city and church leagues for several years.