Monday 30 December 2019

Winter was a big one in Guelph, 1911–12

In the so-called golden age of postcards, people often printed pictures on postcard stock so they could send interesting views to wow their friends and relations. Extreme events like train wrecks or fires were especially popular subjects for this treatment. So, it is not shocking to see these three well-dressed ladies posing beside some prodigious snowbanks in Guelph's winter of 1911–12.

(Courtesy of the John W. Keleher collection.)

The caption on the front reads, "Winter scene in Guelph City. Delhi Street, March 23rd 1912." On the back is the message:

May 19th, 1912 // My Dear Molly // Don’t be suspicious if Marg. Wolfe & I am up some Sunday morning when the days are a little warmer. This is a snap I took this winter but is not very clear as the cards & plates are old. It is the sidewalk leading to the Homewood Sanitarium. With love from Ella
The postcard was addressed to Miss Gertie Maitland of nearby Ponsonby, Ontario.

It is always welcome when such real-photo cards include details of the views they depict. It seems likely that one of the women in the picture is Ella, though the identity of the trio remains uncertain. Of course, the remarkable feature of the scene are the heaps of snow on either side of them. Surely, the winter of 1912 is what is now called an "old-time winter". Of course, some strategic shoveling may have been used to exaggerate the extent of the recent snowfall for photographic purposes.

Looking back on this scene from over 100 years later invites us to recall the winter season of 1911–12, starting with the Xmas holiday.

The Christmas season of 1911 began with an athletic spectacle in the form of a ten-mile footrace between Tom Longboat and Fred Meadows (Mercury, 1 December 1911). Longboat was an Onandaga (Haudenosaunee name Cogwagee) distance runner from the Six Nations Reserve and already had an international reputation after winning the Boston Marathon in 1907 and turning professional.

(From left to right: Meadows, Wood, Queal, and Longboat, ca. 1910–1915; Bain News Service/Wikimedia Commons)

The race took place at the Victoria Rink (since demolished), situated behind Knox Presbyterian Church. Since there were 12 laps to the mile in the Rink, the race would go for 120 laps. Over 1000 people crowded into the rink to see the event, which Longboat led all the way, winning in 51.5 minutes, a lap and a half ahead of Meadows.

Longboat also served in the Great War as a dispatch runner and survived the conflict in spite of being wounded twice. June 4, his birthday, is now known in Ontario as Tom Longboat Day in his honour.

Guelph enjoyed a visit from another fine performer on the same day in the person of Miss Mabel Beddoe, a contralto singer from Toronto who was at the outset of a distinguished career spanning North America. The Norfolk Street Methodist Church (now Lakeside Church downtown) put on a choral performance with Miss Beddoe as feature soloist. The Mercury (1 December) expressed the crowd's delight with her singing:

Miss Mabel Beddoe, of Toronto, was the soloist of the evening and her numbers were a veritable treat to the music lovers of the city, who were present. She possesses a mezzo contralto voice of richness and purity, of volume and elasticity, which was delightful to listen to. Her enunciation was perfect, her control thorough, and she possesses dramatic qualities and expression, such as few of the many vocalists who come to Guelph possess. Kipling's beautiful "Recessional" to the music of Reginald DeKoven was especially fruitful in dramatic force, as was Bruno Huhn's "Invictus." Her second number, "I am far frae my hame," the delightful old Scotch air, was a favorite, and brought tears to the eyes of many of the land of the heather. Her other numbers, all of which were heartily appreciated, were the arias, "God shall wipe away all tears," Sullivan; "He shall feed his flock," from "The Messiah," and E.L. Ashford's "My task."

(Mabel Beddoe, Courtesy of The Globe, 11 September 1929.)

Perhaps an idea of the performance can be gained from Robert Merrill's performance of Invictus in 1947.

Besides these special visitors, Guelphites awaited the arrival of old man winter, whose snow and ice afforded pleasant, seasonal recreation. There was both bad news and good news (Mercury, 4 December). The bad news was that Mr. Foster, Manager of the Street Railway (streetcar), had decided against providing a toboggan slide in the park behind the car barn on Waterloo Avenue. The children, and some adults, of the Royal City could take consolation in the use of their usual toboggan venues, which often included the precipitous hills on Cork Street and Eramosa Road.

The good news was that the skating rink behind the car barns was to open in a few days. So, anyone looking to get an early start on skating could simply ride the streetcar down Waterloo Avenue and skate on the pond at the current location of Howitt Park.

Of course, the most anticipated visitor of the season was Santa Claus. To judge from the pages of the Mercury, no one looked forward to this night with more gusto than the storekeepers of the Royal City. Many ads urge Guelph's citizens to shop early and often so as not to disappoint the many good girls and boys of the town. Pictures of Santa generously imparting gifts are included as a model of the appropriate behaviour.

The ad above, from 9 December, announces the opening of Toyland at D.E. Macdonald & Bros. emporium, on the southeast corner of Wyndham and Macdonnell streets.

With the fireplace in the background, this first ad refers to the tradition that Santa flew from house to house in a magic sleigh and entered each dwelling down its chimney. Other ads testify that Santa was progressive and could change with the times.

This ad on 15 December, from the Kandy Kitchen on Wyndham Street, shows that the jolly old elf grasped the advantages and perhaps the pleasures of the automobile, anticipating by many years the modern reliance on delivery vehicles to bring Christmas home.

Another ad on 18 December from D.E. Macdonald & Bros. shows Saint Nick riding the cutting edge of contemporary technology, delivering presents from an airplane resembling a Wright Flyer.

This advertisement eerily foreshadows the use of drones to bombard houses with Xmas presents greatly anticipated by Guelphites today.

Perhaps because it was then old hat, Santa was not depicted making deliveries by streetcar. Yet, a significant development in Guelph was the expansion of the streetcar network into St. Patrick's Ward (AKA "The Ward") in 1911. On 14 December, shortly before 11am, the first streetcar made its way from St. George's Square into the Ward (Mercury, 14 December). Inside it were the usual dignitaries, including Manager Foster and Commissioners Lyon, Ryan, and Drew, and reporters from the Mercury, Herald, Toronto Globe, and the Mail and Empire.

The procession made good time and was observed by many of the Ward's residents from their sidewalks and doorways. The route went down Neeve street, over the bridge, along Ontario street and then York road. The route was originally conceived by J.W. Lyon for freight only, to help service the factories that were springing up in the area. However, passenger service was added in 1912, which proved to be popular with Ward residents who commuted to work in other parts of town.

The highlight of the maiden trip of the new line was when James Gow, of Ontario street, stopped the car and presented each passenger with a cigar.

(Streetcar on York Road, 1920s. Courtesy of Guelph Civic Museums 2014.30.1.)

Xmas day itself passed quietly in the Royal City in 1911. This calmness may have had something to do with the general satisfaction derived from Santa's use of new technologies to delivery presents more efficiently. Also, as noted in the Mercury (26 December), festivities may have been affected by the closure of bars and liquor stores on the day itself, due to the recent Ontario Liquor License Act:

Never in the history of Guelph has there been such a lack of evidence of excessive use of intoxicants on the streets as there was yesterday.
One hopes that Xmas 1911 was a merry one in Guelph nonetheless.

As the postcard above suggests, the winter of 1911–12 brought a heap of snow to the Royal City. That was great for Santa Claus and winter recreation enthusiasts. However, the all the snow and ice did not go quietly.

A peculiar incident presaged a precipitous end to winter. Around 10:30pm on 4 April 1912, residents of Cardigan street heard cries of "Help, help!" coming from the river (Mercury, 6 April). Through the gloom, they eventually spotted a man floating down the Speed River through Goldie's Mill pond on an ice floe. Although the block of ice was not far from the bank, the man refused to launch himself to shore. As the cake of ice sank beneath his weight, it swung towards the bank and the man was saved from an icy dip in the flood.

Once safely ashore, the man gave his name as Richardson and said that he was a resident at Cardigan street. He claimed to have no idea how he ended up on an ice floe in the Speed River at that hour. However, his rescuers gained the impression that Richardson was suffering the influence of alcohol and had wandered onto the ice "in a dazed condition." At any rate, he seemed not much the worse for wear.

A bout of mild weather produced a quick and heavy melt off. The result was the biggest flood in Guelph since 1869 (Mercury, 8 April). Several bridges were swept away, including the footbridge to Homewood above Goldie's dam, the footbridge from Goldie's mill to the cooperage across the river, and the centre span of Well's bridge (Edinburgh Road today).

Goldie's dam nearly burst its banks. However, flour sacks filled with earth by a gang of workmen were employed successfully to shore up its sides. Of course, this success meant that floodwaters were squeezed downstream into the centre of town.

The rushing water broke up the river ice north of Allan's dam, which then piled up and burst the mill race there. Combined with a pileup of debris from the washed out bridges upstream, Allan's bridge was put under a great deal of pressure. Water poured over the occluding mass in what the Mercury described as a "miniature Niagara." Happily, the debris was dislodged before the bridge collapsed. Nonetheless, the flood tore up the earth next to the nearby Light and Power substation, recently converted to Niagara Power, undermining a critical transmission pole, which was then held in place solely by its guy wires. The Taylor-Forbes plant next door was flooded well above the 15 inches for which it was prepared, destroying thousands of dollars of tools and materials.

(Allan's bridge during the the 1929 flood, which perhaps gives an idea of the 1912 event; Courtesy of Guelph Civic Museums 1971.6.2).

Ice built up against the low arches of the Neeve Street bridge. The bridge remained intact but floodwaters rose up and spilled over into the neighboring streets. The Guelph Spinning Mills on Cross Street was flooded to a depth of two feet.

(The Neeve Street bridge in calmer times, 2018. From the author's collection.)

Water flooded up Huskisson Street (now Wyndham Street south) and Wellington Street. The Guelph Waterproof Clothing factory there was flooded. Little damage was done, not because the goods were waterproof but because workers had spent the previous day moving everything to higher ground. Floodwaters scooped dirt from the Wellington Street roadbed, to a depth of three feet in places, and piled it up on the far sidewalks.

In spite of the extensive damage done, the flood was not without its lighter side, duly noted in the pages of the Mercury:

Mr. J.M. Taylor, of the Taylor-Forbes Co., was down at the factory on Saturday night at about eleven o'clock, having a look around to see what could be done. He was walking on the York road behind the moulding foundry, when he saw a lady standing at the corner of Cross street, evidently desiring to get to her home, which is in the flooded section. He volunteered to carry her home, he having long rubber boots, and she mounted on his shoulders, while he painstakingly walked through the water, with Chairman John Kennedy acting as rear-guard with a lantern, shedding some light on the situation.
Mr. Taylor dropped his burden at the first house, having been nearly choked as she hung on to his windpipe, and though there was a good deal of pleasure in assisting one of the fair sex, it would not be out of place to say that he was pleased to have the pressure on his windpipe released.
"This is not my house," said the lady in surprise as he dropped her, and again he had his burden to carry further down the street, while John Kennedy chuckled with laughter, adding to Mr. Taylor's injured feelings.
Mr. Taylor was not the only one whose rubber boots led him to folly. The Mercury also relates the following tale about Mr. H.H.O. Stull, a dealer in animal hides and tallow, who donned his galoshes to probe the floodwaters at the south end of Huskisson Street:
Mr. H.H.O. Stull waded out in the stream, clad in a pair of rubber boots. Suddenly he put his foot into a washout, and went in, only his head and one arm remaining out of the water. The large number of spectators had a hearty laugh at his expense.
It is sometimes said that comedy and tragedy are each the mirror image of the other. Here, the flood of 1912 gives us further grounds to reflect on the truth of this statement.

At any rate, some kind soul got out a canoe and rescued the many stranded residents of the Cross Street area who did not possess rubber boots.

Certainly, the winter of 1911–1912 was a memorable one, mostly because of how it ended. Yet, memories, like floodwaters, recede over time. Happily, we have old accounts, photos, and postcards to remind us.

Wednesday 4 December 2019

Guelph postcard producers: The Waters Bros.

The Waters Bros. were regular advertisers in local newspapers like the Guelph Mercury. A typical ad might run like this:
Waters Bros., Guelph
Headquarters for O.A.C.
And School supplies
Nature study

41 Wyndham Street
Phone 350
So, it was likely a surprise to readers when the following ad appeared in the usual space (Acton Free Press, 29 Apr 1915):
No reasonable offer refused

Show cases and equipment
Picture frames, china and glassware, etc.
Everything must be sold

Waters Bros., Guelph.
Suddenly, the Waters Bros., a long-established Guelph enterprise, was going out of business. What happened?

The Waters Bros. was a Picture and Art Supply business founded in Guelph in 1878 by Frederick and Florance Waters. Frederick (b. 1853) and Florance (b. 1854) were sons of Charles and Frances Waters. Charles was a customs official in the southeast of England. In 1877, the two had immigrated to Canada, where Frederick had set up a business in Guelph. When his brother Florance joined him there in 1878, they formed the Water Bros., and placed the following notice in the Daily Mercury (23 April):

Frederick Waters begs leave to inform the public that he has taken into partnership his brother Florance Waters. The business will be carried on under the style of Waters Bro’s.
The new firm offers a large and varied assortment of oil paintings, chromos, engravings, frames, mouldings, &c., at lowest prices.
Upholstering as usual. Carpets made and laid. Mattresses re-made and made to order.
Parties furnishing will find it advantageous to call and inspect the stock of Waters Bros.
148 Quebec street, Guelph, West of McCrae’s Wood Yard.
The address would be approximately where 33 Quebec St. stands today.

(Quebec street west in 1874, roughly as it appeared when Waters Bros. set up shop there a few years later, about half-way down the south, left-hand side. Courtesy of Guelph Civic Museums 2013.72.94.)

The partnership did not last long. In 1881, the brothers dissolved it and Frederick moved on to Stratford. Florance took over the business but kept the "Waters Bros" name. It seems that Florance was not the brother interested in upholstery and carpets, since these are left out of the description of the business in the "Industries of Canada" (1886):

Waters Bros.—The Picture Gallery, near Post Office; Picture Frames, Oil paintings, steel engravings, mouldings, poles, cornices, and mirrors, well known in Guelph as a reliable house in every respect at which to purchase pictures or get them framed; also artists’ materials, and every article required by amateurs and professionals—established their business eight years ago, on their arrival in this country from England, the land of their nativity. They occupy very neat premises, near the Post Office, which are 25x25 feet in dimensions and two stories in height
The title "The Picture Gallery" remained the slogan of the business in future. Note this title in the ad below, from the 1882 Evans City Directory:

One of the benefits of owning a prosperous business is that Florance could get married. On 12 April 1879, Florance married Fanny Lacy, also an English immigrant, who resided in Palmerston at the time. By 1882, the couple had moved into a lovely house at 94 Liverpool Street (now 86), as shown on Google Street View below.

Charles and Fanny had a large family, Charles Jr. (b. 1880), Florence (a girl, b. 1881), Edith (b. 1883), Caroline (b. 1885), Fanny (b. 1887), George Percy (b. 1889), William (b. 1892), and Arthur (b. 1894) (1901 Census). It seems that the picture and arts supplies trade paid decently enough.

Of course, the future is never certain. By 1884, the Waters Bros. had moved a couple of times and then occupied a space on the south side of Quebec street opposite the Bank of Montreal, facing out on St. George's Square. This spot must have been considered prime real estate for trade. Yet, shortly after noon on 31 May 1887, the block in which their store sat caught fire (Mercury). The blaze imperiled the whole block, from Mr. Copeland's barber shop at the south end, Nunan's book bindery, Hall's tailor shop, Clark & Thompson's carpet store, as well as the Waters Bros.

One advantage of the locale and time was that many people were on hand to pitch in:

Soon a crowd gathered, and when it was discovered that Mr. Copeland and his family had removed, efforts were directed to saving the property of Waters’ Bros, for nothing could be done in the bindery. Willing hands were soon at work, and succeeded in getting out the most valuable portion of the stock in an increditable short space. Those engaged in the work seemed to “keep their heads,” and rescued the contents in such a safe manner as it seldom witnessed now.
The Waters Bros' loss was estimated at $1500, with a $1000 of insurance.

Alderman Hearn, who had recently purchased the block, had insurance and decided to rebuild. However, the Waters Bros. had to vacate their building. They moved temporarily to the store previously occupied by James Nelles (father of Charles Nelles, subject of a previous blog) at 25 Wyndham street to hold a fire sale, "Where they are preparing to sacrifice their tremendous stock."

(25 Wyndham St., currently the location of Wimpy's Diner; courtesy Google Street View)

The Waters Bros remained at this site for a couple of years. However, when the new Hearn Block was ready, they relocated back into the fancy, new digs, with double the space. The announcement was made as follows (Mercury, 25 July 1889):

Going west.—Stock must be reduced. No reasonable offer refused as Waters Bros., will remove in a few days to the double store in Hearn’s block, St. George’s square.
The phrase "Going west" usually applied to people who were moving to western Canada; Florance was using it here to refer jokingly to his move from the east to the west side of Wyndham street.

The Waters Bros. store in the Hearn Block, ca. 1895, can be seen in the photo below. It lies in the middle of the block, in the right background of the photo, behind the tall pole.

(Courtesy of Guelph Public Library, F38-0-15-0-0-22.)

The sign below the attic windows reads, "Waters Bros. // The Picture Gallery." A sign over the awning reads, "Wall paper," always a good seller, and other things that are hard to make out.

Apparently, the west did not suit the Waters Bros store for long. In September 1898, the store returned east to 39 Wyndham street, just south of St. George' Square, currently the location of a nightclub. A few years later, they moved one door up the street to 41 Wyndham street, currently the home of Guelph Today.

(41 and 39 Wyndham street, courtesy of Google Street View.)

At around the same time, the Waters family moved from Liverpool street to a substantial stone house at 27 Arthur street (now 86), backing on to the Speed River. It seems that The Picture Gallery had made Florance Waters and his family a picture of prosperity!

(86 Arthur street; Courtesy Google Street View.)

When the picture postcard craze swept the Edwardian era, the Waters Bros was a perfect position to capitalize. The store had always carried souvenir goods for special occasions such as Christmas. This, and their attention to pictures, made postcards and related phenomena a natural extension of their product line.

Postcards bearing the imprimatur of the Waters Bros. seem to come in two groups. The first group have postmarks in the date range 1908–1911 and have the same backs (in brown ink) as those published by the Pugh Mfg. Co. of Toronto (in blue ink), suggesting that both used the same printer. The views on these cards are typical for Guelph postcards of the era. For the most part, the pictures seem to have been borrowed from other producers, although a few may have been taken especially for the Waters Bros. stock.

For example, here is a nice view of Massey Hall at the Ontario Agricultural College, with a gentleman standing outside of it:

This card was addressed in 1909 by Stanley R. Dayton of Little Britain, Ontario to H. Smith of Ingersoll as part of a postcard exchange, a common arrangement of collectors who sent each other postcards of interest. The text sounds like the sort of thing that two enthusiastic, young postcard collectors would ask of each other:
Many thanks for your pretty card. How many cards have you? Do you get many out of the exchange? What do you work at? I am going to school all the time and soon.
The picture is the same as one found in a contemporary Warwick Bro's card, even to the awkward cropping on the right-hand side.

On the back, the card is identified as "Published by Waters Bros, Guelph, Ont."

Another interesting picture shows a view taken from the top of Goldie's Mill, looking down the Speed River, over the Norwich street bridge towards the spire of St. George's Church.

This card was postmarked on 3 September 1908 and was addressed by "Cousin Neil" to Miss Sadie McPherson of Guelph as follows:
Dear Sadie, You will be at school now. Ida & Tina did not get up in the holidays. Maybe they’ll come some Saturday. Our flower Sunday at Sunday School is on Sunday, the 6th Sept. How are Uncle Donald & Aunt Christie & John & all you girls? I had a good time at your place.
This image is the only version I know of issued as a colour lithograph. There is a halftone version with no publisher's mark that may have originated with Charles Nelles.

The second set of Waters Bros. cards are reprints of cards issued by the Illustrated Post Card Co. of Montreal, with postmarks in the 1911–1913 range. For example, here is a view of the then-new Carnegie Library, with a well-dressed couple posing in front:

The postcard was sent from Fergus by Harold to Harry and Florrie Lewar of London, England on 14 June 1913:
Many thanks for letters. so pleased to hear that you are not moving from London. I went washing sheep for Hastings the other day & then took a swim. I will write that character for you Harry before I leave here.
Swimming with sheep sounds like it might be highly therapeutic.

Another nice postcard from this set depicts Gow's Bridge, now often known as the McCrae Bridge, when the mill and other buildings were still present:

The subdued, watery palate of the series shows the river to good effect.

Certainly, the Waters Bros were selling postcards with their own imprimatur in the 1908–1913 period. It is quite possible that they sold postcards from other producers beforehand and even at the same time. In all, it seems likely that postcards formed a nice side line for the business

As with so many other things, the Great War changed all that. Shortly after war was declared, young William Waters volunteered for the British Columbia Horse (Mercury, 11 August 1915). The previous year, he had taken a job with Guelph's Taylor-Forbes foundry, which sent him to their Vancouver office. Finding that horses were too scarce, Waters travelled to the training camp at Valcartier, Quebec, and joined the 5th Battalion, infantry.

His military records reveal that Corporal Waters's service was not long or easy. He suffered a case of the flu in December, followed by bronchitis in January 1915. His regiment was among the first sent to France, where it became involved in the Second Battle of Ypres, where poison gas was first deployed by German forces. At Langemarck, Corporal Waters was reported to be wounded on 25 April and evacuated to a field hospital, which authorities reported to his father, Florance.

Corporal Warron, a friend of Corporal Waters who had been lightly wounded in the same attack, noted that his friend was not to be found and instigated a search. It turned out that the field hospital where Waters lay was overrun by German forces and Waters had become a prisoner of war. In August, German authorities listed Waters as dead, with no details given as to the cause. The Canadian military listed Waters as deceased and informed his family in Guelph on 10 August.

It seems likely that this string of events precipitated the sudden decision to liquidate the Waters Bros. business in April 1915, as noted above. The process was completed in September, shortly after news of William's death reached home. Curiously, advertisements for the liquidation sale are to be found in the Acton Free Press but not in the pages of the Mercury itself. It may be that the news was all over town anyway, so that local advertisements were unnecessary but that is only a guess.

A picture of Corporal William Waters was published in the Mercury on 18 August:

Curiously, for the family of a picture business, this is the only photograph of a family member that I have yet come across. (If anyone has more, let me know!)

In a few months, Florance and Fanny packed up and moved to Vancouver, for reasons that remain unclear but may be connected to William's residence there. Even at such a large distance, the family was not forgotten in the Royal City. A marker is to be found in Woodlawn Cemetery, commemorating Florance and Fanny, Fanny's parents, and William:

(Courtesy of CanadaGenWeb Cemetery Project.)

Besides this marker, we have their postcards to remind us of the Waters family, their business, and the Guelph that they lived in before the Great War.