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.

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