Wednesday 24 November 2021

Howard Cant, the Sleeman Trophy, and the Diamond Jubilee

On its first birthday, the Sleeman Trophy sat on display in the window of H.F. Cant & Co., druggist, at 20 Lower Wyndham Street. Doubtless, crowds of avid and occasional curling fans crowded around to see the trophy that Guelph's most famous brewer and sports fan, George Sleeman, had purchased for $350. It was to be the prize for a Guelph curling bonspiel that would attract teams throughout the province west of Toronto.

The tumid tankard can be seen in the possession of the team that won it the following year, consisting of W.W. Macalister, Charles R. Crowe, E.J. Presant, and John Kennedy.

("Royal City Curling Club, Winners of Sleeman Trophy, 1898;" Courtesy of Guelph Civic Museums 2014.84.1112.)

Howard F. Cant was a young man of 26 years, newly arrived from his hometown of Galt. There he worked as a druggist and had bought out the business of W.G. Smith of Guelph in 1896. A curling man, he no doubt hurried hard for the chance to be the one to publicly exhibit the shiny trophy and burnish the reputation of his new store in the doing. To ensure the success of this plan, Mr. Cant took out a special ad in the Guelph Mercury (18 February 1897):

Hm. Why can't you get a bottle of "Beef, Iron, and Wine" at the corner druggist's today?

Happily, the building still stands, now 20 Wyndham Street North:

(Courtesy of Google Street View.)

The historically inclined may recall that 1897 was a special year in Canada, the Queen's Diamond Jubilee, celebrating her 60th year on the throne. The event was celebrated in 22 June, in honour of Victoria's ascension on 20 June 1837. Naturally, the event was observed copiously in the Royal City, with decorations, speeches, parades, games, and so on (Mercury, 23 June 1897). The little triangular park created ten years earlier, previously known as "Alderman Stull's Park" was renamed "Jubilee Park" in honour of the occasion. (In 1911, the VIA station was built on this site.)

No doubt, the window of Herbert Cant & Co. was suitably dressed too.

("Souvenir scarf, 1897," courtesy of Guelph Civic Museums 1975.21.30.)

Another way in which the world-wide empire was celebrated was with the creation of a special postcard. At this time, shortly before private, picture postcards were allowed, the postcard's design was modified for the occasion by having a new frame around the title "Canada Post Card" as well as a "stamp" that showed Victoria as she appeared in 1837 and in 1897. Luckily, one such card was sent from Galt to Howard Cant in Guelph:

The addresse was Lorren Cant, one of Howard's younger brothers. The message on the back reads:
Aug 26/97. // Dear L // Arrived home last night on 6.10 train. Was in Buffalo for the G.A.R. and stayed for a couple of days. Blanche O. came down with me from Peoria and we had a fine time. You better write her if you want to get a photo. All the folks at Caledonia are well and wished to be remembered to you & How. Will be up some day soon. // D —
I assume that "D" was Duncan, Howard's other younger brother. Duncan, it happens, was attending the Buffalo Dental College, where he had recently passed his second examination (Mercury, 14 April 1897).

Like the Jubilee and commemorative postcard, Howard F. Cant's stay in Guelph was brief. Besides his fondness for curling, we learn only a few things about him from the 1897 Mercury. On 1 February, the paper reported that:

The authority to sell postage stamps and postcards, granted the late W.G. Smith, has been transferred to H.F. Cant & Co.
It sounds odd that someone would need a license to sell stamps and postcards but recall that both were strictly regulated by the government before private postcards were allowed a few years later.

On 6 October, we learn of Mr. Cant's success at the "World's Fair" held by the Puslinch Agricultural Society at Aberfoyle:

The following is the prize list: … Toilet set with pin cushion, 1st by H.F. Cant & Co.
Unhappily, we can only guess at the design of this world-class pin cushion.

American immigration records show that Howard Cant migrated to New York in 1897 and there married Minnie Fowler in 1899. However, the couple subsequently relocated to Galt, where they appear to have remained. Thus, it is in the Cambridge archives that a picture of Howard Cant is to be found, posing with members of the Galt Stamp Club around 1950.

("B/W photo of the Galt Stamp Club c.1950;" Courtesy of the City of Cambridge Archives.)

Howard is standing in the second row, second from the left, as shown in the detail below:

Although a Guelphite for only a year, Howard Cant left us a bit of our postcard history, as a good philatelist should. Thanks, Howard!
This post is the third in a series on postcard history before view cards. Here are the previous posts:
  1. Before they had pictures: Wm. Stevenson gets one of Guelph's earliest postcards
  2. A model of industry: J.B. Armstrong, postcards, and the carriage trade

The Sleeman Trophy continued as a curling prize for many years. Here it is in the possession of the Guelph Curling Club in 1938, on the occasion of the club's centennial at the Baker Street rink:
("Centennial year at club;" courtesy of Guelph Public Library F51-0-3-0-0-1.)

A record at Artefacts Canada from 1986 says that "the present whereabouts of the trophy are unknown." So, if you notice it in your attic, basement, or at a yard sale, be sure to let me know!