Tuesday 23 April 2013

The Speed River

This postcard provides a picturesque view of the Speed River, the main waterway of the city. This seems an appropriate subject for a posting of Guelph postcards on the anniversary of its founding, that is, St. George's Day (23 April).

The text printed at the top of the face says, "No. 461 View on River Speed, Guelph, Canada". As far as I can tell, the expression "River Speed" was never common but was used in writing to lend a poetic air to the name. On the back, the card identifies itself as "Published by Stedman Bros., Brantford, Canada. Made in Germany." The postmark is dated May 26, 1908. Stedman Brothers were a leading publisher of postcards in Canada, as you can see from this little video.

Views of the Speed were popular subjects for postcards of the city. Postcard publishers and buyers liked views of "beauty spots", of which tree-lined rivers were a prime example. Guelph, founded on the banks of the Speed near its confluence with the Eramosa, is well endowed with such places.

This picture reveals how cities were viewed as places where elements of nature could be combined with, and domesticated by, man-made structures. On the right edge of the photo is the spire of St. George's Church on Woolwich St., that towers above the river. In the center of the picture is the old Heffernan St. footbridge that spans it. Both represent people's ability to civilize the wilderness without banishing it, an ability that Edwardian postcard images of Guelph often celebrated.

The city's relationship to the Speed River was central to its founding. One of the reasons why John Galt selected the site for his city was the presence of the river. The native American name for it is not recorded (to my knowledge), but Galt named it, apparently, for the force with which it flowed. A fast river promised plenty of energy to power the gristmills and sawmills that would drive Guelph's growth. Also, being an author with a romantic disposition, Galt simply liked a good river.

To be useful, the river had not only to be tapped but also bridged. The immediacy of this challenge is made clear in the "Annals of the town of Guelph" (p. 29):

For the remainder of the summer [of 1827], he [Mr. Strickland] was employed in superintending the erection of several houses, and in building two bridges, one over the Speed, and the other over the Eramosa branch. That over the Speed, where Allan's bridge now is, appears in a painting executed in the fall of 1828, to have been a very substantial and not inelegant structure, built on piles, the superstructure being partly of squared timbers. This was of great convenience to the settlers, as a good number of farms had been cleared on the other side of the river, and the farmers had hitherto been compelled to cross on a rude ferry, consisting of a raft of logs lashed together; and as the stream, especially in the Spring, was very swift, this was frequently attended with considerable labor and frequently also with some danger.
Though rafts can make for great sport, a sturdy bridge does sound much more convenient, and civilized.

The use of boats to cross the river did not cease entirely, however. The Rev. Arthur Palmer, rector of St. George's, used to commute to work by boat, as Florence Partridge notes in "Slopes of the Speed" (1992, p. 18):

During the time that Palmer lived in the Arthur Street house, there was no footbridge, so he kept a rowboat which he used to cross the Speed River to his church in St. George's Square. The original footbridge was built in 1881 to provide pedestrian access across the Speed River between Arthur Street north and Woolwich.
Too bad for Rev. Palmer that he had moved away by the time the footbridge was built!

Here is a Street View image resembling that of the postcard, taken from yet another bridge over the Speed:

View Larger Map

This photo was taken from the Eramosa Bridge, just a little upstream from St. George's Church. It displays roughly the same scene the postcard photo, although it shows the new, and higher, footbridge built in 1918 and the blank side wall of the River Run Centre. It seems likely that the postcard photo was taken from this bridge (or, more accurately, an earlier version of it). It is remarkable how much remains the same between the two images.

The postcard is addressed to "Miss Ida Fissette, Simcoe, Ont." and conveys this very charming message:

Think I will make up for lost time now & write to you nearly every day. I am homesick today. Can you wonder at it? Are you tired? Clare
Poor Clare! She does not say what brought her to Guelph, but many young women from the region came to the city at that time to study Home Economics and Domestic Science at the MacDonald Institute (now part of the University of Guelph). Doubtless, many felt homesick during their studies. I wonder if Clare found any solace walking in the city taking in the many views of the Speed.

Happy St. George's Day!

Thursday 11 April 2013

Eramosa Rd.

This postcard presents a view of Eramosa Rd. (incorrectly labelled "Eramora Road") looking northward from the intersection of Eramosa, Woolwich St. and Upper Wyndham.

Text on the back of the card indicates that it was produced by "The International Stationary Co., Picton, Canada". It is one of a series of postcards of Guelph printed by the company, all done in this warm, sepia tone, with a narrow white frame and art-nouveau-font label on the front.

The photo clearly shows incandescent street lamps, directly above the hat of the woman in the foreground, that were introduced to downtown Guelph in 1912. The card is postmarked for June 1st, 1916, so the image can be dated to ca. 1915.

This card is one of my favourites. It is an unusual card in the sense that it is a professional card that has people in the foreground. Most professional cards of Guelph, at least in the Edwardian era, are of notable structures or places, less often of activities or events. Activity cards often feature people but focus on leisure or recreation, e.g., strolling in the park. Here, the ladies crossing Woolwich St. are in the foreground, but are not engaged in a recreation. Indeed, they are dressed in their fancy attire. So, what are they doing?

It is hard to be sure, but the photo offers some clues. Union Jacks and Ensigns are seen flying in the windows above (James) Steele's Wire Works (the building on the corner at the right margin of the photo). A line of Union Jacks and perhaps other flags is suspended across the road from Craven's Furniture to Trafalgar Square, opposite. (Henry Craven is listed as an upholsterer in the 1917 Vernon's City Directory, at 5 Trafalgar Square). In "Guelph: Take a look at us!", Donald Coulman provides a picture of the Dominion Day parade in downtown in 1912, noting that the buildings are covered in patriotic bunting (1977, n. 180). Dominion Day marked the establishment of Canada as a confederation and a British dominion on July 1st, 1867. (It is now known as Canada Day.) It could be that the ladies in the foreground are on their way to a Dominion Day celebration.

The background is also interesting. The Trafalgar Square road continues from the picture's center down to the Eramosa bridge. Eramosa then continues dramatically up and over the crest of Eramosa hill on its way out of town.

Things are happening along the roadway. A car appears to be turning off the road in the middle ground. Is it a Model T? Perhaps it is headed into the garage next to Craven's Furniture. Vernon's directory lists a "Maylor Auto Sales" at 9 Trafalgar Square, which seems likely to be the garage in the picture. The directory lists seven "garages" in total, suggesting that cars were becoming popular in the city, even at this relatively early date.

Further down the road, beside the furniture store, is a passenger rail car, apparently sitting on the Canadian Pacific Railway tracks next to the road. I gather that it is not going to cross the road since the white barrier poles on either side of the tracks are raised to permit traffic to cross.

Then comes the Eramosa bridge, spanning the Speed River. After the bridge, the colouration of the roadway seems to change, suggesting that the pavement ended there and that Eramosa road remained a dirt road at the time.

Although it is necessarily a snapshot, the picture provides an interesting tension. The three figures in the foreground approach the camera, walking with a purpose, even as Eramosa Road seems to lead the eye off in the opposite direction, away from the camera and over the horizon. Also, the different means of mobility, that is, walking, driving, and riding the train, remind the viewer about the places in the area outside of the frame of the picture. Retrospectively, the presence of the cars makes me think about how profoundly automotive traffic is about to change the city and the lives of the people in it.

Here is the current Street View image of the same vantage:

View Larger Map

Many of the details have changed. For example, the roadway has been widened, squeezing Trafalgar Square in order to accommodate more cars on Eramosa. The buildings on the right margin have been replaced by The Matrix Centre. Eramosa Road has replaced the "Trafalgar Square" address and now meets Woolwich St. However, the topology of the streets remains essentially the same.

The postcard was sent through the mail, so the back has some interesting things on it as well. First, it has a two-cent stamp, reflecting the fact that rates for postcards increased from one to two cents in 1915 for North American delivery. The text of the letter reads as follows:

Thurs. a.m.
Dear Margaret: Rec. your card. have the house-cleaning just about done. giving Ida a party on sat. after-noon. if Sid doesn't get off, you had better come up over sunday. Ida would like you to be here for her party.
With love from all
Grace and the boss
The receiving address is: "Mrs. S. Dudley, 88 Indian Grove, Toronto, Ont". I wonder if Margaret made it for the party. Or Sid. And, who was "the boss"?

Thursday 4 April 2013

The Guelph Treasure

This postcard presents a picture of the Horn of St. Blasius, from the John Huntington Collection of the Cleveland Museum of Art. It dates from the 11th century, and is described on the back of the postcard as "Byzantine", in style if not in origin.

You may wonder why this postcard appears in this blog. The answer is that this horn is part of a collection known as the "Guelph Treasure". The treasure has never been in the city of Guelph, but there is a connection. Let me explain.

Before it was a city, Guelph was a family, a royal German family named the Welfs (more on the spelling later). The Welfs were initially Frankish nobles who expanded their influence through some shrewd marriages, as MacKinnon explains (vol. 12, no. 10, 1973):

The founder of the House was Graf von Altdorf—Graf Welfe. His daughter married Charlemagne's son and his son headed eight generations of Guelphs. The family intermarried with princesses of Bavaria, Saxony, and with the D'Este family in north Italy.
Being political heavyweights, the family got involved with the big international controversy of the time—The Investiture Conflict—over who got to appoint Church officials: nobles or popes. The Welfs sided with the Pope (although they changed sides a few times). This allegiance put them at odds with the other party, the Waiblingens. Naturally, this dispute was carried on in many corners of Europe, including Italy, where the names of the two parties were rendered as the "Guelphs" and the "Ghibellines". The Italian name "Guelph" became applied to the whole family.

One of the more famous members of the Guelph family was Henry the Lion, who was the Duke of Saxony and of Bavaria in the mid 12th Century. Henry was apparently a pious man. In 1173, he had the old church of St. Blasius torn down and a new one built, now known in English as Brunswick Cathedral. He was buried there on his death in 1195. Here is a picture of the cathedral with a bronze lion commemorating Henry outside (courtesy of Djmutex/Wikimedia commons):

Here is the connection with the Treasure: The Guelphs contributed many works of sacred art to a collection associated with the Church of St. Blasius. Henry the Lion was one of the biggest donors (although the horn in the postcard does not appear to have been contributed by him).

Henry also began an association between the Guelphs and England. During a dispute with the Holy Roman Emperor, Henry was temporarily banished from Germany and fled to England. While there, he married Matilda, daughter of Henry II. Skipping ahead a little, some of their descendants became the Dukes of Brunswick-Lüneburg, with their capital at Hanover. In 1714, George Louis, the Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg (Hanover), became George I of Great Britain, since he was the closest male and protestant relative of Queen Anne. So, England became a Guelph dominion!

Now we come to the city. John Galt founded the city in 1827 and was concerned that its creation should be noted with favour in high places. Here is how Galt describes his reasoning, on the occasion of the felling of the maple tree that marked the city's beginning (Burrows 1877, p. 11):

... Dr. Dunlop pulled a flask of whiskey from his bosom and we drank prosperity to the city of Guelph. The name was chosen in compliment to the Royal family, both because I thought it auspicious in itself and because I could not recollect that it had ever before been used in all the king's dominions.
In brief, Galt wanted to flatter the king. And so, a British town in the middle of North America was given the Italian version of the name of a medieval German royal family. It was also the name given to a collection of sacred artworks by the same family, which explains the connection with the Horn of St. Blasius.

(As an aside, the British royal family are no longer Guelphs. King George V changed the surname to Windsor in a Royal Proclamation of 1917 to avoid the Germanic associations of Guelph as well as his family name of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha.)

You can find out more about the Guelph Treasure from this catalog of an exhibition of the Treasure at the Art Institute of Chicago in 1931. The catalog describes the Horn of St. Blasius as follows:

Hollowed out of an elephant's tusk, with three carved ornamental bands both on the mouth-piece and on the bell. The larger frieze has griffins, lions, stags, two nude and two draped men, the others have foliage patterns.
Maybe someday the Treasure will make its way here.