Friday 24 May 2013

Central School

This postcard depicts the old Guelph Central School, as seen from the east at the intersection of Norfolk St. and Cambridge St. (now Commercial St.) The address of the school was 93 Dublin St., that street being in behind the building from the perspective of this postcard. It is unusual for postcards to show the back of a building, but there is an interesting reason for it in this case.

The postcard was made for A. L. Merrill, who had a stationary business in Toronto. As with many postcards of the era, it was colourized and printed in Germany. The postcard also has very explicit instructions to the user: "The address only to be written on this side", meaning the entire back of the card. The now-familiar divided-back format, in which a message was written on the left side of the back and the recipient's address on the right, became common after 1905. Probably, this card (and the photo in it) were made before that year. The card is postmarked Oct. 16, 1907, and was addressed to a Miss Eliza Beacock, Wolseley P.O., Ontario. It reads, "We got your letter safely & I am watching the mail every day & will come to the station to meet the train you say, with love to all." With the back wholly taken up with the address, only the small white space on the front was left for recording messages.

The card also provides another illustration of how postcards were often used to make quotidian arrangements in the Edwardian era.

Prior to the construction of the Central School, secondary public schooling in Guelph was held in "three or four rented rooms in the Guelph Cartage Company building, at the corner of Essex St. and Gordon" (Waugh 1961, vol. 1, no. 4). These accommodations had become too meager and, along with the need for more educated workers and Egerton's Ryerson's 1871 Education Act, the local Board of Education decided to build a new, larger school on the ridge of Dublin St., next to "Catholic Hill." The Board acquired the necessary properties, which included a slice of Cambridge St. which, according to the official survey, went straight over the ridge from Norfolk St. in the east to Yorkshire St. in the west. In fact, the ridge was much too steep for vehicles of the day, so no one was inconvenienced by having the street divided. In 1956, the short part of Cambridge St. in the foreground that connected with Norfolk was renamed as "Commercial St." (Irwin 2002).

The Toronto architectural firm of W. R. Strickland won the contract to design the school. Construction began in 1873 and finished in 1876. The Guelph Herald of 1876 gave the following description of the city's shiny new building (Pollard & Pollard 1981, "Guelph's building boom of 1875-76", pp. 70-73):

It is built of Guelph stone, the dimensions being 120 ft. in length and 86 ft. in width, four storeys in height, consisting of basement, ground and 1st floors and mansard storey; 9 ft. 14 ft. 13 ft. and 12 ft. in height respectively. The centre portion of the building breaks out from the line of the building 4 ft. and is carried up 10 feet higher in the centre than the surrounding parts, which gives relief to the structure and from the additional height affords space for a large assembly hall. The roof is of the French or Mansard style, covered with purple and green slate arranged in appropriate patterns, and the deck or flat portion of the roof is covered with tin, surrounded by a handsome railing. The slopes of the roof are pierced by dormer windows, by which the upper rooms are lighted, and by which the plain surface is relieved. ... The basement contains the caretaker's apartments, lunch rooms, fuel rooms and heating apparatus. Upon the ground and first floors are situated the class rooms, 16 in number, 8 on each flat, also the teachers' and apparatus rooms. The upper or Mansard storey contains the assembly hall and 4 ante rooms two on either side. ... The belfry stands 45 feet above the roof, terminating in a handsome wrought iron finial 12 feet in height, with weather vane, and scroll work with gilded points, &c. The belfry is octagonal in shape, with louvred ventilators, and is covered with galvanized iron on the sides, the roof being slated."
A broad staircase connected the back of the building with Cambridge (Commercial) St., although it seems to have been removed in favour of a more modest link by the time of the photo in the postcard.

As noted by Gilbert Stelter (1989, "Henry Langley and the making of Gothic Guelph"), there was a "profusion of spires" in city skylines around the English-speaking world at the time, as churches were built with tall spires in order to dominate their city skylines. The vertical thrust of the Central School, capped by its 45 ft. belfry, seems like a secular entry into that competition. The school, sited near the resplendent Church of Our Lady, and on the shoulder of the same drumlin, was designed not merely to provide room for Guelph's students, but also to stake out a slice of the city's horizon.

This gesture also explains why the school is pictured from the rear. It is the back of the school that looks out over downtown Guelph, while the front faces Dublin St., in the other direction. Downtown Guelph is where the attention was that the school building was meant to attract, so the building faced that way. Knowing this, the photographer took his picture from that vantage point.

Central School endured, with many changes, until the 1960s when it began to seem more-and-more behind the times. The belfry was removed about 1963 and the building demolished in 1968 (Anderson and Matheson 2000, p. 76). It was replaced by the modern Central Public School, with quite a different set of architectural priorities, as you can see from the photo below.

The new building is long and low, reflecting a priority on cost-efficiency, as it is cheaper to build along the ground than up in the air, at least when land is inexpensive. The low profile also probably makes it much more accessible than the old one. In addition, the building has firmly turned its back on the downtown core, with a fence to separate the yard from Commercial St. No doubt this measure is for security, to help limit the number of places where students and others can access the campus. A remnant staircase is still present on the side of the hill.

A much better view of the building is afforded at its front face on Dublin St., as you can see from this Street View image.

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Waugh (1961) records an interesting observation about the Guelph limestone used in the old building:

If you look carefully at the stone in the front of this building, you can see the imprints of sea animals.
You'll find no fossils embedded in the concrete of the new school. However, you will find a relic there: The bell from the old school was preserved and mounted beside the entrance of the new one. It is hard to make out in the Street View picture, but can be seen more plainly here.

The inscription on the bell reads, "The Jones & Company, Troy Bell Foundry, Troy N.Y., 1876." The plaque says, "CENTRAL SCHOOL BELL // This school bell was cast in Troy, New York, and was hung in in the original Central School on this site in 1876. It remained in use until the school was demolished in 1968. This plaque was presented to the Wellington County Board of Education by Craig, Zeidler & Strong Architects, September 1969."

What would the old bell say about its new perch, I wonder, if it could?

Tuesday 14 May 2013

The Petrie Building

This postcard provides a view of Lower Wyndham St. looking from the southwest corner of Wyndham and Macdonell towards the northeast corner. It seems to have been taken from a fourth-floor location, which is interesting because the fourth floor of the Day's Block along Wyndham St. does not reach Macdonell, where the camera appears to have been placed. Either the photo was taken a little to the south, from a window in the King Edward Hotel of the time or, more daringly, it was taken from the roof of the three-story structure at the intersection.

Like the postcard of Park Avenue discussed here, this card was printed in Canada for C. Anderson and Co., Guelph, by Warwick Bro's & Rutter of Toronto. Charles Anderson had a book, stationary, china and fancy goods store at 53 Wyndham St. That would be in St. George's Square, up Wyndham St. and just around the corner (and out of view) on the right-hand (east) side in the photo. The photo must have been taken after the old Post Office in the Square got its third floor in 1903 but before the Square was renovated in 1908. So, let's say ca. 1905.

There are many things to enjoy about this photo. The level horizon of rooftops at eye height provides an interesting contrast with the strong diagonal of Wyndham St. below. The eagle-eye view also provides an element of voyeurism, as the viewer spies on the doings of folk in the streets, going about their business unaware of the viewer's gaze. The street is busy with a mixture of streetcars, horse-drawn conveyances, and people on foot, as was typical of the time. A couple of oddities are also visible: there appears to be some kind of cone on a post in the middle at the bottom, while a blurry horse and wagon appear in the lower-right corner, going too fast for the camera to capture clearly.

The photo also has a pleasant, warm sepia tone, although it is actually a halftone picture that has yellowed with age.

Compare the vantage provided by the rooftop with the view from below via Street View:

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For present purposes, the photo is also interesting because of the view of the Petrie Building that it provides. The Petrie Building is located near the right edge of the picture, immediately to the left of the Kelly Building on the corner, with its conical, mansard roof topped with iron crestwork. The Petrie Building, uniquely, is capped with a broken pediment, framing a giant pharmacist's mortar and pestle, in metal-covered wood (Couling 1996, p. 32). The Petrie Building is a Canada Historic site and is described in the register as follows:

The Petrie Building, designed by Guelph architect John Day, was completed in 1882 for Alexander Bain Petrie. Petrie was a local pharmacist and manufacturer, and one of the City's most successful and influential businessmen. Four-storeys high and constructed of stone and timber, it is one of a very few buildings remaining in Canada incorporating a stamped galvanized iron fa├žade. This was a popular building technology of the late 1800s and was used as a substitute for wood, stone or cast iron. There are only three documented buildings in the country erected prior to 1890 with full sheet-metal facades, the other two being Victoria Hall in Hamilton and the Empire Hotel in Winnipeg. The galvanized iron facade was manufactured for Petrie by the Ohio firm of Bakewell and Mullins, specialists in architectural sheet metal working. Stylishly ornamented and elaborately embellished, the facade is distinguished by a bold cornice with a broken pediment framing a large mortar and pestle, a reminder of the building's original function as a pharmacy.
At the time, the Petrie Building's address was 15 Wyndham St., although it now has the address 53 Wyndham (the former address Anderson's store, where this postcard was sold, by coincidence).

Alexander Bains Petrie (1843–1921) was certainly a prominent member of the community and very active in community life. The obituary in the Guelph Evening Mercury (Sept. 24, on the front page) notes that he began his career by establishing a drug store in 1869 at the corner of Carden and Wyndham streets. He moved this to the "Petrie building" upon its completion in 1882. Besides its unusual facade, the building harbours some oddities of organization, such as a secret passage to its neighbour.

Robert Stewart provides a snapshot of Petrie's pharmaceutical business from an article in a Guelph newspaper from 1894 (1976, p. 147). The article lauds Petrie's building and his wares, of which it lists the following:

Sarsparilla, Blood Purifier, Dyspepsia Cure, Pectoral Balsam for Colds, Anti-bilious Pills, Sheep Dip, Worm Powders, Baking Powder, Cake Coloring, Flavoring Extracts, etc. etc.
Quite a collection! One can only hope that the various preparations did not get confused.

Petrie was also the founder of the Petrie Manufacturing Co., of Galt, Guelph, and Hamilton. In addition, he was the owner and founder of the Masonic block on Upper Wyndham, and the factory opposite the train station on Carden St. As you might have guessed, he was a Mason, and a founder of the Guelph and Ontario Investment and Savings Society, of which he was president for about 20 years. He was also a councillor in the South Ward (1874–1876) and an alderman for the later St. George's Ward (1897, 1901).

Wait, the indefatigable Petrie was not done yet! In 1894, he was a founder of the Guelph Road Race Association and, in 1898, built the Petrie Athletic Park on Gordon St., around where the current Guelph Lawn Bowling Club now stands by the Speed River. The facilities of the Park were impressive:

The provincial cycle races were held there in 1899, and the park soon featured a large range of events, skating carnivals, ice-shows and hockey games. It also offered an indoor bathing pool, gymnasium, tennis courts and a bowling green. On the night of February 28, 1900, the gymnasium was converted into an elegant ballroom for the assembly of the Victoria-OAC Hockey club. Thain’s orchestra played on the encircling balcony, and, after a break at midnight when the 175 invited guests served supper, continued until two in the morning. (p. 18)
A picture of Petrie and his facility are available here, while a perspective map of the complex is available here.

Since Petrie's death, the Petrie Building has passed through several hands, and it is currently owned by Agelakos family, who operate the Apollo 11 restaurant on the ground floor. As you can see from the Street View picture, the upper floors have sunk into decrepitude. However, a group called "Save the Petrie Building", led by local archaeologist David Knight, has been formed to try to have the building preserved and perhaps restored. The group has been featured in a Facebook Stories article, with a pointer to their Facebook page. Recently, the group also staged an art exhibit about the building to help raise public awareness.

Given his energy as a public figure in the city, I am sure that Petrie himself would appreciate the effort.

Wednesday 1 May 2013

Laura Lemon

This postcard shows a view across the Speed River in downtown Guelph. As the label says, the house in the photo is the "Birthplace of Laura Lemon, Author of 'My Ain Folk', Guelph, Ontario, Canada 9."

The postcard was made by the Photogelatine Engraving Co., Limited, Ottawa, denoted by the acronym "PECO" in a maple leaf, as printed on the back of the card. I do not have much information about this company, but they produced many Canadian postcards, seemingly between 1920 and 1940. The picture also appears in a Valentine & Sons postcard, so it may have been taken in the Edwardian era.

A brief article in the "Historic Guelph" (vol. 2, no. 5) provides some interesting information. The house in the card was known as "Mavis Bank", and Laura was born there on Oct. 15, 1866. (Here is a photo of her.) In 1871, the family moved to a house called "Ashcote" on Queen St., where they entertained the Marquis of Dufferin, then Governor General of Canada, in 1874.

Clearly, the Lemons were a prominent family in the city. Her father was Andrew Lemon, Queen's Council, and a partner in the law firm "Lemon and Patterson". Her mother was Laura Armstrong, after whom she was evidently named. In 1873, Lemon St. on Eramosa Hill was named after Mr. Lemon (Irwin, 2008, p. 47). Unfortunately, he appears to have speculated in some railway venture and lost, prompting the family to move to Winnipeg in 1881.

Laura must have displayed musical talent early, as she travelled to London to study at the Royal Academy of Music in 1890. The article has this to say about her abilities:

Laura was a fine musician and her piano playing was really magnificent. She is said to have had the ability to make the piano sing. While many of her compositions are Scottish in theme or title, she never set foot in Scotland.
Laura seems to have enjoyed a successful career. Her big hit was "My Ain Folk" in 1904 (music here), along with "Slumber Songs" (1895), and "Three Moravian dances" (1910). Although she never returned to Canada, she did write patriotic songs about her home country, e.g., "Canada Ever!" (1907), "Mighty Dominion" (1910), and "Canadian Song Cycle" (1911).

The continuing popularity of "My Ain Folk" is apparent from a YouTube search, which turns up over 7,500 hits. Here is my favorite rendition:

Laura Lemon passed away on August 18, 1924, which may have prompted PECO to reproduce the card. It shows the Speed in summertime, with Mavis Bank in its verdant setting on the river's edge. Of special note are the trellis posts of the verandah, characteristic of Picturesque architecture in the second quarter of the nineteenth century. Today, the site lies across from the River Run Centre, so there is no Street View image that matches the photo. However, a similar view can be had from the Royal Recreation Trail along the riverside, as you can see here:

This photo was shot in April, 2013, with a lower water level. The greenery is not yet out, but the house and verandah are more visible that way.

Mavis Bank is now part of a three-residence complex, at 72–78 Arthur St., the front of which you can see in the Street View image below.

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Note the treillage on the verandah posts at the right, which maintains the type found on the structure when the postcard photo was taken and when Laura Lemon lived there.

Laura's songs were aimed at contemporary tastes and so have since faded from attention. However, the third Moravian Dance, "No. 3 Mazurka", has been included in a recent collection of Canadian works, Romance: Early Canadian chamber music (iTunes). So, enjoy! and think of Laura Lemon, one of the many Canadian musicians who left her old haunts and went abroad to make good on her career.