Saturday 27 July 2013

Old Home Week, 1913 - the preparations

One hundred years ago, one of the biggest occasions for the city of Guelph was Old Home Week. Old Home Week was a celebration in which former residents of Guelph were invited to return to the city to join in festivities arranged in their honour by residents. The custom originated in New England in the late 19th Century when Frank Rollins, a successful entrepreneur in Boston, returned to his native New Hampshire to run for governor. After his election, he decided that many former residents of the state shared his nostalgia for it, and arranged a homecoming for them in 1899. The event was so well received that the idea spread to neighbouring states and provinces, giving rise to many Old Home Weeks and Old Home Days (Daniell 2000, pp. 356-357). Guelph held its first Old Home Week in 1908 and, since it was such a hit, residents decided to do it again in 1913.

In 1913, Old Home Week (also known as "Old Boys Reunion" to some) took place during the last week of July, that is, Sunday July 27 through Saturday August 2. Many of the stationary stores in the city did a brisk business in postcards among other items during that stretch, as visitors wanted to share their experiences with folks who did not attend. One such postcard is shown here:

This postcard was published by The International Stationary Co., Picton, Canada, my favourite source for photos of Edwardian Guelph. It shows three ladies enjoying a leisurely row on the river. I am not sure where the photo was taken, but the growth suggests a more rural area, perhaps even the Eramosa River near Victoria Landing, where there was a boating club.

In any event, the postcard is postmarked on August 1, 1913 and has a special cancellation stamp made up for the occasion, as you can see in the upper right corner on the back of the card.

The cancellation stamp says, "Guelph’s Old Home Week 1913 July 28 Aug 2". According to the Canadian Philatelic Society of Great Britain, these "slogan cancellations" became a popular device in 1912, and remained so for a number of years.

The message on the back of the postcard is of the usual having-a-good-time variety, apparently referring to the celebrations in town:

Well I suppose you are going on your trip. Hope you have a good time. I am just having a great time. Love to all the girls. Nita
Interestingly, I have another postcard addressed to Miss Ida Fissette in my collection, dated in 1908 and addressed to her in Simcoe.

Preparations for the event were extensive and expectations were high. On July 4, the Mercury reported that the executive committee had met and felt enthusiastic about the prospects for the event...

... and expressed the hope that every citizen would take right hold and make the reunion a great advertisement for the city as well as a time of pleasure in the meeting of old friends...
In modern terms, then, the party was not just for old time's sake but to burnish the brand of Guelph in the region. To this end, the committee had made special arrangements at the "Toronto end", which go unexplained. I assume they made a special effort to get former Guelphites from Toronto to make the trip. However, I can find no mention of Guelph's Old Home Week in the Toronto Star or the Globe.

The Mercury also makes special note of the hot weather, which persisted through the month.

Soon, city businesses began to advertise special sales for the event. On July 16, Charles Nelles (who happened to be the treasurer of the executive committee) began to advertise decorations, namely flags and "Chinese lanterns". I suspect the latter term refers to paper lanterns in the form of a ball and illuminated by an electric light. On July 21, George E. B. Grinyer advises his patrons to "Have your electrical decorations done early: We can do your work at once; next week, we'll be busy". Nelles had a stationary and wallpaper store at 101 Wyndham St., while Grinyer had a plumbing, heating, electricians and tinsmith (sheet metal) business at 124-126 Wyndham. It seems that the festivities would be well lit!

On July 24, G. Anderson & Co. advertised "A good supply of flags, tissue paper, pennants, canes, etc." In the daytime, without the benefit of electric lighting, the town spirit would depend upon flags waving and bunting twisting in the winds. Charles Anderson had a book, stationary, china, and fancy goods store at 53 Wyndham (phone 256).

As great as all this sounds, my favourite ads are those of D. E. Macdonald & Bros. The Macdonald family—Donald, Evan, Florence (not a brother, I assume), Norman, and William—had a dry goods, clothing and "mens furnishing" store at 1-9 Wyndham, and were determined to help Guelphites do it in style. Here is their ad from July 21.

That ad emphasizes the decoration needed to prepare properly for the event. The following ad, published in the Mercury during Old Home Week, emphasizes the accoutrements needed to properly enjoy it.

A straw boater and cane, or a parasol, and you're all set!

Some visitors started to arrive early in order to take full advantage. The "City News" column of the Mercury on July 22 notes the following arrival:

For Old Home Week.

Mr. J. M. Ogilvie and Mrs. Ogilvie and family motored up to the "Old Burg" for Mr. Ogilvie's vacation. They will be here for two weeks, for as Mr. Ogilvie says, "We wouldn't miss a Guelph Old Boy's Reunion for anything. That's why I got my holiday right now."
Mr. Ogilvie's arrival raises two issues regarding Old Home Week. The first is the importance of the "motor" or automobile to it. Cars were assuming an ever greater role in personal mobility, especially with the relatively inexpensive Ford Model T on the market since 1908. As we will see, cars also assumed a formal role in Old Home Week itself.

Second, the issue of how the event would affect local businesses was much discussed as July 28 approached. Clearly, goods and services vendors downtown were elated. However, factory owners were not so enthused. On July 24, Mayor Samuel Carter suggested to the city council that the August Civic Holiday—that would fall on the first Monday in August, right after Old Home Week—should be either cancelled or moved earlier to within the Week itself:

[Factory owners] claim that in all probability they will have to close down during Old Home Week, and that they cannot afford to close down again on the Monday following.
The Trades and Labor Council and the Executive Committee of Old Home Week met to discuss the matter and recommended that the Civic Holiday be moved to Tuesday, July 29, during Old Home Week. An editorial in the Mercury (July 25) inveighed against the change for the following reasons:
  • The date of the Civic Holiday was set by a by-law, which probably could not be amended in time;
  • The railways give special rates on that day and would not change the date at the last minute. Thus, Guelphites would be deprived of their chance at affordable train travel for holiday making;
  • Stores in town would have to close on Tuesday, taking away a great deal of business and inconveniencing attendees.
There are no indications that I can find that the Civic Holiday was moved.

With all obstacles removed and preparations made, it was time for the celebrations to begin...

Tuesday 16 July 2013

The Post Office clock

In a posting about the City Hall clock, I noted how clocks in civic spaces—and on civic buildings—perform more than a time-keeping function. They also help the powers that be to assert their centrality to the civic order. Here, I want to explore the theme a little further by looking at the clock in Guelph's Old Post Office/Customs House in St. George's Square. Here is a nice view of the building, from a postcard that was first presented in this posting about Guelph after dark.

The postcard was printed by The Valentine & Sons' Publishing Co., Ltd. of Montreal and Toronto. The image appears to date from 1907, after the clock was installed but before the island around the Blacksmith Fountain was renovated in 1908. The image is appropriate, in part, because it gives a view of the Square from ground level, looking up at the central tower on the Post Office.

The importance of the clock's physical position is quite plain. It is made prominent in several ways. First of all, like the City Hall clock, it is situated high up on the building. This allows it to be seen from a distance and also to cast its cyclopean gaze over the space around it. Second, also like the City Hall clock, it is centrally located in an important public area. The City Hall clock looks out over the marketplace, whereas the Post Office clock looks out over St. George's Square, the place that had become the focus of town commerce at the time. Third, and unlike the City Hall clock, the Post Office clock projects forward from the face of the building. This projection enhances the visibility of the side faces of the clock, and asserts the importance of the clock in the life of the city into which it intrudes.

This arrangement is no accident. Part of the significance of federal government structures in the young Dominion was to make visible the presence of national institutions, and to underline their importance in the greater scheme of things. The ritual of sending and receiving mail there helped to integrate the federal government into daily life. Also, use of the clock to synchronize watches amongst the townsfolk helped to reinforce the power of the government to regulate the conduct of affairs.

Beyond the symbolic importance of the clock is the interesting story of its arrival. The old Post Office had been enlarged with a third storey in 1903 (more on that another time) and blank faces had been left in the tower top to accommodate a clock at a later time. As Marc Boileau notes in "Towers of time" (2006), this procedure was not uncommon. Perhaps it helped to reduce the factor of sticker shock if the new building (or renovation, in this case) could be constructed a piece at a time. In some cases, the clock never arrived and the empty, round windows where its faces would be continued to stare blankly out over the streets.

However, three years after the raising of the roof, the Post Office received its new timepiece. In fact, the story of its arrival and installation is well told in the Guelph Evening Mercury's "Local News" columns, which I will excerpt below:

Nov. 16, 1906: New Clock Here.

The new clock for the post office tower has arrived, via C.P.R., and been cleared from the customs by Mr. W. A. Clark. The new time piece is of Boston manufacture, an eight-day Howard clock, and will have dials illuminated by electricity. A 1,500 lb. bell will be part of the equipment. The clock will be put into position as soon as the representative of the makers arrives to superintend the operation.
The maker must have been E. Howard & Co., a Boston watch and clock maker that had exported many tower clocks to Canada for similar sites over the years. The clock was a single mechanism that drove several dials via electric or pneumatic means. Probably, this model was electric.

There is no record I can find of the model of clock or its cost. The "Sessional Papers of the Dominion of Canada, 1906–7" has a line item for "Guelph Public Building—addition, improvements, furniture, etc." in the amount of $5,122.91. There is no line item for a "tower clock" for Guelph in any federal records for that year that I can find. However, line items for "tower clock" for other towns in that period vary in $750–$2,000 range. So, the $5,122.91 for Guelph must include other renovations.

The arrival of the new clock excited some admiration and expectations of its immediate installation:

Nov. 24, 1906: Installing The New Clock.

The representative of the Howard Clock Co., the makers of the new post office clock, has arrived and the work of installation commenced this morning. The huge bell weighing 1,500 lbs. is being hoisted into place this afternoon, and the work will probably be completed by the middle of next week.
The weight of the bell gets notice again. It should be quite audible, once it is working!

Expectations for a speedy installation were frustrated, however. About two weeks later, the following piece appears:

Dec. 6, 1906: What Time Is It?

The above query was heard frequently on the streets this morning. The reason is simple. The town clock discontinued operations at 8.22. It no doubt has made a gallant effort to stay in the business until the post office clock was ready, but has grown weary of waiting for the hands to appear.
It seems that part of the excitement about the arrival of the Post Office clock may have been relief over the imminent breakdown of the City Hall clock. At this point, the city finds itself without an official timepiece. In its absence, people are not sure what the time is.

The next item identifies the snafu that has thrown a wrench into the installation of the new clock:

Dec. 11, 1906: The P. O. Clock

Mr. W. A. Clark had hoped to have the P. O. [Post Office] Clock in full working order for the Winter Fair week, but the central part of the dials have gone astray in course of transportation. Although tracers have been out for several days, the efforts to locate them so far have proved unsuccessful. Should they not be found, it will take three months to replace them with new ones. The works are going, the bell strikes, and the outer portion of the dials is illuminated at night. The clock, when complete, will prove a great public convenience, and will look swell. The pity is that an unfortunate miscarriage of a portion of it will prevent its completion at this particular time.
The fact that the faces are illuminated is interesting. So far as I am aware, the City Hall clock did not have this feature. It also suggests that the clock was designed to run each face through an electrical circuit (as opposed to pneumatic control). The illumination of the clock faces also suggests how the night life of the city was changing, thanks to electric lighting. As noted in an earlier post, electric street lighting allowed decent folk to be abroad at night. Presumably, they would like to know the official time while out about their business.

The good people of Guelph did not have to wait three months to see their new clock tell time, however. Replacements for the missing dials arrived forthwith:

Dec. 29, 1906: Those Missing Dials

Mr. W. A. Clark recently ordered another set of dials for the post office clock; they were shipped some time ago, and which have been expected to arrive for some days past. Mr. Clark had hoped to have them put in to be able to start the clock the beginning of the New Year, but it would now seem that this will be impossible; however, if the dials arrive today an effort will be made to have the put in on Monday.
Now the suspense builds! Will the new dials arrive in time to bring in the New Year?

Unfortunately, the New Year's issue of the Mercury is not on record. However, it does appear that the clock was (almost) completely functional a week later:

Jan. 8, 1907: Town Clock Celebrates

At the hour of midnight last night the town clock, after clanging the requisite dozen peals, instead of stopping and commencing the new day like a respectable clock, kept on ringing for about five minutes. The care-taker says that it must have “slipped a cog,” but it is quite possible that it could not resist the opportunity to celebrate the election of Mayor Newstead by a majority which was doubtless the greatest of any election since it was installed.
The Mayoral race took place at the beginning of each year. There is no more mention of the dials, from which I infer that they were installed and thus no longer newsworthy.

The Post Office/Customs Building clock continued to tell Guelphites the official time for over 50 years.

The message written on the back of this postcard also relates to January in Guelph, although from a few years later:

Am spending the day in this town, a very small place about one hundred miles from Toronto. I hope to finish my business in Canada by January 17th. Am very anxious to get back[.] it[']s just a little too cold for me in these parts. Best regards from Sincerely Frank Kiosny (??)
The postmark bears the date of Jan. 12, 1910. His letter was addressed to Miss A. Zimmermann of 199 6th Ave. in Brooklyn, N.Y. Was she his sweetheart? At least Frank could count the hours until his warm reception in Brooklyn, day or night, by the new town clock.

More on Guelph's civic clocks to come...

Tuesday 2 July 2013

Happy (belated) Canada Day!

Although I have missed the date itself, I still would like to honour Canada's birthday with a belated posting.

Here is a postcard featuring what appears to be a Dominion Day parade, ca. 1915. The patriotic bunting is plentiful, and the floats are profusely decorated with flowers. The City Hall (and its clock) are visible in the background. The float in the foreground may be a fire engine, to judge from its shadow. Note the plumes on the horses' heads. Also in the background is are incandescent street lights of the type installed in 1912.

(Courtesy of John Parklyn)

The postcard has a white border, from the post-1915 period, and is done in a sepia-toned halftone process. It is labelled "The Armouries, Guelph, Can." and was printed by The International Stationary Co., Picton, Canada.

It is hard to get an exact match with Google Street View because of construction when the photos were taken, but here is a shot that is approximately the same. It is of Lower Wyndham St., at the intersection with Macdonell, looking towards the Armouries.

View Larger Map

I thought that it would be interesting to see what was happening on Dominion Day in Guelph 100 years ago, when these postcards were so popular. Unfortunately, the issues of the Guelph Evening Mercury from July 1st and 2nd of 1913 are missing from the archives. However, the June 30th edition is available and suggests what was happening in the city at the time.

The headline news that day was the arrival of world-famous opera singer Eddie Johnson. A Guelph native, Johnson had been in Italy for over five years, earning his living and building up his reputation. The piece notes the fame that Johnson had gained in Italy, even being ranked with "the immortal Caruso". In spite of his fame, Johnson displays a properly Canadian modesty:

With that inherent modesty, for which all true British and Canadian artists are noted, he would rather talk about anything else than that wonderful voice of his which has made all Europe proclaim him a second Caruso.
In his success, and his modesty, he displays the spirit of his country. He came with his wife and daughter to visit his parents and to rest his voice for the upcoming season in Italy.

Although Guelphites could choose to stay home and enjoy the Dominion Day parade downtown, they could also travel to distant parts, perhaps to visit their relatives. Both Canadian Pacific and the Grand Trunk Railways offered discount rates on fares for travel within the province.

If the train did not offer enough exercise for some, then there was always the chance to participate in the famous Dunlop Trophy Race. This race was an annual event co-sponsored by the Dunlop Tire & Rubber Goods Co. and CCM. In 1913, the race went from Waterloo to Preston Hill and back for a total of 20 miles.

The churches of Guelph held services on June 30 to prepare the way for the secular Dominion Day celebrations on the morrow. Many services involved themes of progress, change, and movement. The Salvation Army, for example, staged a march near the site depicted in the postcard above:

At the splendid open air service on Wyndham and Carden Streets, the band especially excelled itself. As some one said, "Who could help but march to such music? The word of the cornets was often remarked, it was perfect and always sure."
The Rev. J. D. Fitzpatrick of Norfolk St. Church observed a tension created by the mobility that modern life granted to Canadians. On the one hand, Western civilization in general, and Canada in particular, was characterized by enhanced mobility, represented by the national railways:
It was the church that discovered Japan and China and Africa. It produced the world's knowledge and commerce. Reports from missionaries in the Northwest were the original cause of the building of the Canadian Pacific Northwest Railway across the continent.
Unfortunately, the opportunities presented by the nation's transportation networks also threatened to unravel its moral fabric:
"The great foe of the Dominion," said the reverend speaker, "is materialism." No nation ever perished when she was poor; Egypt, Babylonia, Rome and Israel, were all destroyed when at the height of their material prosperity. The reforms needed in the Dominion will be brought about by the church; the evil of worldliness will be conquered by it.
Although it may be a mixed blessing, mobility is something that Canadians expect and enjoy, as their excursions on Canada Day attest.