Tuesday 26 December 2023

Merry Xmas Guelph, 1925

The Christmas card has been a staple of the western, Yuletide celebration since at least 1843, when Sir Henry Cole commmissioned a set of 1,000 engraved holiday cards. As 1843 was also the year that Dickens published "A Christmas Carol," it's fair to say that this was a big year for the origins of contempoary Christmas celebrations.
Naturally, postcard makers got into the act during the medium's heyday in the Edwardian era. Although the foldable Christmas card continued on strong, the postcard version faded from the scene. Still, it is not unusual to find Xmas postcards in the 1920s, one of which found its way to yours truly.
This is a fairly standard scene, presumably of Bethlehem, in a festive frame, made by Whitney Made of Worcester, Massachusetts, a company not confined to the Valentine's Day cards it is most remembered for.

The card is addressed to "Mrs. Jno Mitchell, Arkell, Ont // ℅ D. Tarzwell," with the following message:

with best wishes to Mrs. Mitchell for a Merrie Xmas & a Happy New Year. // Susie Atkinson.
The card was postmarked in Guelph on 20 December 1925.

With generic cards of this sort, the main interest tends to be personal: Who was Susie Atkinson and why was she sending a Christmas postcard to Mrs. Jno Mitchell of Arkell (a village a short distance from Guelph)?

Susan Agnes Atkinson (née Coker) was born in Eramosa, Guelph Township, on 4 March 1887 and seems to have grown up on the family farm there. She became Mrs. Wesley George Atkinson on 15 December 1909. The couple was married in the Speedside church, a lovely rural church that I have blogged about, and had the pleasure of visiting.

The Atkinson's were thick on the ground in Guelph Township. William Atkinson, of Yorkshire, England, arrived in Upper Canada in 1832 with a large family and became a successful farmer with hundreds of acres under cultivation. One of his sons, George, carried on the tradition and, according to the County Atlas, was known as the "King of Marden" (a small village in northern Guelph Township).

(George Atkinson, the "King of Marden;" courtesy of the Illustrated Historical Atlas of Wellington County.)

Wesley, I believe, was a grandson of George's brother Joseph.

In any event, Wesley and Susie moved to Guelph and lived at 25 Queen street (now 25 Arthur street) for a number of years. They lived at 186 London Road west when Susie sent the postcard to Mrs. John Mitchell.

(25 Arthur street; courtesy of Google Street View.)

Wesley worked as a clerk or salesman for local businesses such as the Penfold Hardware store.

Now for the recipient! Mrs. John Mitchell appears to be Lydia Maria (née Haggett) born 21 May 1848 on another farm in Eramosa. She married Mr. John Mitchell, originally of Flamboro, on 10 September 1873, who owned a farm in Eramosa. That makes her a generation older than Susie Atkinson, who also does not seem to be a family relation. So, why were they corresponding?

The answer seems to lie in the 1901 census. In that document, the Mitchells are listed right below the Cokers (spelled Coekers). In short, they were neighbours! Even after Susie got married and moved to town, she seems to have kept in touch with her former neighbour, Lydia Mitchell.

The remaining puzzle is the relationship between the Mitchells and David Tarzwell, whose farm in Arkell was the destination of the postcard. Here, the 1921 census helps out. David Tarzwell, a widower, is listed as the owner of the farm. Not only that, three Mitchells are listed as living under the same roof: Harriet (occupation Housekeeper) and Lydia & John (boarders). In fact, Harriet is a daughter of Lydia & John. It seems that the senior Mitchells had moved in with their daughter, not an unusual arrangement for retired folk at that time.

Still more interesting is that Harriet officially became Mrs. David Tarzwell on 5 December 1929, four years after the postcard was sent. One can't help wondering if Harriet's occupation as "Housekeeper" listed in the 1921 census was some sort of euphemism for common-law wife.

Also interesting is the fact that Mrs. John Mitchell (that is, Lydia) died on 18 August 1929, only a few months before the wedding. Was Lydia's death a factor in the timing of the nuptials? Who now can say?

Alas, the Guelph Mercury for all of 1925 is missing from archival records, so local news is somewhat lacking in detail. However, some highlights show up in various sources and can give an idea of the state of affairs in Guelph late in 1925 when the postcard was sent.

The assets of the Guelph Co-operative Association were sold off in December (Globe, 12 December 1925). The Co-op had been founded in 1903 by the Guelph Trades and Labour Council in order to provide bread at affordable prices to the working people of the Royal City (Durtnall 2004). The enterprise continued successfully for over 20 years and greatly expanded its affordable offerings but, for reasons that are not entirely clear, went under at the end of 1925.

The Guelph Ontario Hockey Association intermediate team got off to a promising start. The Orange-and-Black of the Royal City handed a 7–2 drubbing to the Green-shirt senior team of Kitchener-Waterloo in an exhibition game on 19 December. A 3-to-2, come-from-behind exhibition decision over the Excelsiors of Brampton on December 22 stoked excitement in the local squad. Interest in competetive hockey had only recently led the owners to expand seating at the Guelph Arena (now the Royal Plaza mall).

However, the year ended on a bit of a low note when Guelph was handed a 3–1 defeat by their hosts for the first regular-season contest in North Toronto. Though the Guelphites skated well and launched many shots at the Toronto goalie, the netminder was hot and the larger ice surface at big-city rink gave the visitors more trouble than they could handle.

Big regional news was the undertaking by the Provincial Department of Public Highways to keep the Guelph-Hamilton highway (now Highway 6) open throughout the winter (Globe, 21 December). Chief Engineer Hogarth said that the Department would keep the "immense" motor plows available in Aberfoyle or Morriston to plow roads out immediately in the event of a big snowfall. In previous years, the highway could be closed for days at a time after a big storm. With increasing reliance on trucking for regional commerce, such interruptions became more and more costly. Regularized plowing was the government's response.

("Snowplough No. P.2." 7 Jan. 1924, courtesy of City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 16, Series 71, Item 2910. I have the feeling that the highway plows were more "immense" than this street plow. If you have a contemporary highway plow photo, let me know!)

The Ontario Agricultural College Review (v. 38, n. 4) celebrated the season by reprinting a short story by Canadian humourist Stephen Leacock, entitled, "The Christmas ghost." In this story, the unnamed protagonist gets to thinking about how Christmas has changed over the years:

I was contrasting Christmas in the old country house of a century ago, with the fires roaring up the chimneys, and Christmas in the modern apartment on the ninth floor with the gasoline generator turned on for the maid’s bath.
Suddenly, a dejected looking ghost appeared and asked if he might haunt his host for a while. Upon receiving the invitation, the spectre sits and complains about his situation. About one hundred years earlier, he had murdered a man on a public road and was, after death, condemned to wander the Earth, dragging around great chains, moaning, and haunting a house.

This employment was finally undone by modernization:

The days of the motor car came and they paved the highway and knocked down the house and built a big garage there, with electricity as bright as day. You can’t haunt a garage, can you? I tried to stick on and do a little groaning, but nobody seemed to pay any attention; and anyway, I got nervous about the gasoline. I’m too immaterial to be round where there is gasoline. A fellow would blow up, wouldn’t he?
Further haunts proved fruitless. Upon hearing a ghost, modern children simply wanted to see if they could pass the radio set through him, whereupon he discovered that electricity "knocks me edgeways."

Worse yet, the ghost says, spiritualists have learned how to summon ghosts at will, thus reducing him to a kind of on-demand entertainment. At that moment, the ghost begins to vanish, saying:

There’s a group of fools somewhere sitting round a table at a Christmas eve party and they’re calling up a ghost just for fun—a darned poor notion of fun, I call it ...
Spiritualism plus motor cars, pavement, gasoline, electricity and radio had certainly changed the world, and Christmas, since Dicken's day.
Works consulted include:
  • Durtnall, B. (2004). "Each for all and all for each: The Story of the Guelph Co-operative Association," Historic Guelph 43, pp. 59–66.

Saturday 9 December 2023

An International Stationery Co. tour of Guelph

Yours truly recently gave a talk at a meeting of the Kitchener-Waterloo-Cambridge-Regional-Post-Card Club (KWCRPCC). This was the Club's first meeting since the arrival of the COVID pandemic, so it was an honour to help the group resume operations after a long hiatus.

The venue was the historic First Church of Christ, Scientist in Kitchener. As it happens, the church itself features in some old postcards, such as the following:

("Christian Scientist Church, Berlin, Canada," ca. 1909. Courtesy of Leigh Hogg.)

(First Church Christ, Scientist; courtesy of Google Maps.)

The subject of the talk was the postcard views of Guelph as provided by the International Stationery Co. (ISC) of Picton, Ontario. In this post, I will give a precis of the talk and show some of the images. The point of the presentation is not to give a history of places shown but to give an impression of the aesthetic quality of the individual postcards as pictures and of the whole set as a curated show of the Royal City as it then existed.

Among Canadian deltiologists, that is, postcard collectors, the ISC is known for its set of fine sepia-toned collotype postcards from the early 20th century. Consider the example below.

("Collegiate," #130.)

This is the predecessor of the current Guelph Collegiate and Vocational Institute, shown from near the corner of Paisley and Arnold streets. For inventory purposes, ISC numbered their cards; this card is number 130. The photo is nicely layered, with paths leading from the foreground into the image, where people can be seen walking under the trees and in front of the pointy buildings. Clouds billow upwards in the sky, drawn there by arists in Germany, where the cards were printed. As will become evident, this composition is typical for cards of Guelph from this set.

The history of the ISC goes back to "The Fair", a kitchen supply and grocery store located in Picton and founded by local boy James Livingstone (1868–1949) in 1895. The Fair was successful and expanded into new locations and goods. As the postcard craze took hold in the Edwardian era, Livingstone got into the act. Postcards turned into a big business for the ISC, which specialized in views from southern Ontario and the Montreal area. It carried on for some decades and left an interesting legacy of topical views.

To judge from postmarks, postcards of Guelph began circulation in 1913 and persisted into the early 1920s. Serial numbers range from 100 to 199, suggesting that there are about 100 views of Guelph in the set—quite a few! ISC expert Ian Robertson reports about 900 cards total in his collection, so the Royal City seems to have enjoyed attention disporportionate to its modest size. What was the charm?

The ISC set includes views of the usual suspects, such as the card below of the Carnegie Public Library. Designed by local boy William Frye-Colwill and erected in 1905, the building was a regular part of postcard sets of Guelph. Images were almost always taken from diagnoally across Norfolk street, which produces this dramatic angle. Even so, the photo appears to have been taken especially for the ISC.

("Carnegie Public Library," no number.)

The Winter Fair Building is another fine card. The building was located on Carden street, in front of the new City Hall, where the splash pad/outdoor rink is now located. It was built to house the agricultural fairs that used to be held downtown. The corner of the old City Hall, now a Provincial Court House, can be seen on the left. As usual, the scene is animated by figures walking hither and thither.

("Winter Fair Building," #110.)

Another good, downtown view is the end of the Bell Piano & Organ factory, seen from the old Grand Trunk train station, today the city bus depot downtown. The photo gives a good impression of the bulk of the building, which was meant to dominate the old market square and train station. Beneath the near facade is the street sprayer, a wagon drawn by two horses and carrying a big barrel of water that was sprayed onto the dirt streets in the summer in order to keep the dust down. To the upper left is the clock tower, perhaps the oldest illuminated clock dial in Canada. Alas, the building burned to the ground in 1945 and the site is now a parking lot for the Royal Inn and Suites.

("Bell Piano and Organ Co.," #122.)

Another interesting view is the one below of the side of the Ontario Reformatory, popularly known in the day as the "Prison farm." The view was taken from the bluff at the back of what used to be the Turfgrass Institute. In the foreground is the Guelph Junction Railway while the three-span concrete bridge over the Eramosa River lies in the middle ground. The bridge was built from limestone from the on-site quarry and using prison labour. The prison buildings themselves lie in the background, making this card one of the few showing the Reformatory that do not feature the buildings themselves up close.

("Prison Farm," #178.)

One of the features of the ISC cards is that there are sometimes multiple views of a given building or site. Such collections of views can provide an impression of a place that would not be possible with a single image—and also would help to sell multiple cards!

One such set in Guelph is of the old Central School. The school lies along the shoulder of the drumlin that is topped by the Church of Our Lady, just one block away. With its prominent site and tall belfry, the old Central School seems to have been intended to leave a strong visual impression on anyone looking around from the downtown, and competing for visual profile with the neighbouring church. The old Central School was demolished in the 1960s and replaced by the current, one-storey structure.

("Central School," #173, looking along what is now Commercial street from Norfolk street.)

("Central School," no number, looking from Cambridge street across Dublin street—the opposite facade to the one above.)

("Guelph Model School," #142, seen from the south along Cambridge street.)

It was certainly an imposing structure!

Naturally, many of the ISC cards feature sites on the Ontario Agricultural College (OAC), now the site of the University of Guelph. For present purposes, I will feature views of Massey Hall & Library. The story has it that OAC President James Mills happened upon Walter Massey, head of the farm implement giant, on a Toronto streetcar and persuaded him to fund construction of a campus library. Thus did this charming structure come into being!

As with many ISC images, the main entrance of Massey Hall & Library can be seen behind a number of trees and elegantly-dressed ladies walking the path from the OAC garden.

("Massey Hall and Library, O.A.C.," #176.)

Below is a view of the Hall from the reverse angle, looking along the entry lane from what is now Gordon street. The MacLaghlan Building is more in the foreground on the right, with the Main Building (where Johnston Hall now stands) behind on the left.

("Massey Hall and Library, O.A.C.," #108.)

The third card with the same caption returns us to the uphill side of the Hall but further down what is now "Winegard Walk". Here, it appears that some sort of open-air lecture is underway, with the audience sitting in rapt attention on the bank of the College reservoir. No photographer on the OAC campus could resist the reflections afforded by this artificial pool!

("Massey Hall and Library, O.A.C.," #173.)

The University of Guelph has produced the following short video relating the story of the Hall:

One of the real treats contained in the ISC set of Guelph are the many pictures from Old Home Week, 1913. Old Home Week, also known as the Old Boys' Reunion, was a city-wide party for residents and former residents. The first installment was the Old Home Week 1908, the second was the Old Home Week 1913, while the third occurred in the Royal City's centennial year, 1927. ISC postcards of the 1913 event are the only images of that installment that I am aware of. The cards are characterized by decorated buildings, people milling about, parades, and events in Exhibition Park. A few selected images will give an appropriate impression.

This card shows a crowd of well-heeled ladies and gentlemen disembarking from a train at the CPR station and making their way through Trafalgar Square towards the downtown. A small omnibus waits by the station's front entrace. It is labelled, "Hotel New Wellington." The actual Hotel New Wellington was only a stone's throw away but the omnibus may have been handy for passengers who arrived with a lot of luggage. The site is today the location of the Trafalgar Square apartments on Cardigan street.

("C.P.R. Station," #136.)

The Grand Trunk railway station (now the VIA station) was also the entry/departure point for many participants in the Old Home Week. In the card below, a train can be seen in the background while people mill about the entrance and the intersection of Wyndham and Carden streets in the foreground. At the front entrance to the station can, once again, be seen the Hotel New Wellington Omnibus. Those must have been busy days for the bus driver! Also doing a good business was the city's peanut vendor, whose cart, I believe, is the focus of attention on the street corner in the centre of the image. Bags of roasted peanuts were a common street snack in those days, and passengers probably arrived with an appetite, not to mention money in their pockets.

("G.T.R. Station," #190.)

The actual Hotel New Wellington itself is featured in the card below. It is suitably dressed up for the occasion. In the foreground is a sandwich board and overhead sign for the Bogardus Pharmacy, which had a storefront facing the corner of Wyndham and Woolwich street in those days.

("Hotel New Wellington," #139.)

There are also many scenes of parades in the set. I include the one below, looking up Wyndham street towards St. George's Square, because the caption actually names the event shown in the image, instead of referring to the places or buildings in the background.

("Old Boy's Home Week at Guelph," #111.)

A number of pictures show crowds in Exhibition Park but the one below is the best (at least of those that I know of at present). At the right is the grandstand, roughly where Hastings Stadium is now, overlooking the track where many racing events and parades were held. To the left are many cars, which were parked in the park for the day. In the background were some of the Exhibition buildings, including the unusual octagonal barn.

("Exhibition Grounds," #127.)

For a final Old Home Week card, I cannot resist one of my Guelph favourites, which shows a woman guiding what I suppose are her young daughters across Woolwich street towards the Hotel New Wellington. Nice outfits! Also, the picture features an interesting composition, with the three figures in the foreground on the right of centre that balance out the dramatic fall and rise of Eramosa road in the background to the left of centre. Very deliberate photography!

("Eramora [sic] Road," #121.)

I will finish by giving a few examples of characteristic street scenes. One of the quirks of the ISC set of Guelph is the photographer's affection for scenes with people walking towards or (more often) away from the camera.

The example below is a card of two gentlemen in fashionable straw boaters striding up Delhi street, which the viewer can see was a dirt road at the time. Their retirement into the middle layer of the composition animates the picture in away that a simple picture of the sidewalk could not.

("Delhi St.," #181)

The locations seems to be near the intersection with Eramosa Road, with the house at address 34 Delhi in view at the left margin. Compare with the Street View image below.

(Delhi street, June 2016; courtesy Google Street View.)

The scene below is Waterloo Avenue, with a woman walking down the sidewalk away from the camera, while a horse & wagon and a streetcar move along the street. Judging from the shadows, the view is looking eastward along the north side of the avenue. It is hard to say which crossroad is in the foreground.

("Waterloo Ave.," #115.)

The penultimate view is of Woolwich street, the main thoroughfare leading north-west out of town. Two well-dressed ladies approach the camera along the sidewalk. A man on horseback rides down the street on the other side.

("Woolwich Street," #145.)

It is difficult to be sure but my sense is that this picture is set just north of the First Baptist Church, looking towards the intersection with London Road in the distance. In that case, the intersection on the left side of the picture is Edwin street. Compare with the Street View image below.

To conclude the tour, have a look at the image below. It shows two ladies and a young man—well turned out, of course—walking across the second Heffernan street footbridge towards Queen street. It seems a fitting image on which to finish.

("Foot bridge," # not known. Courtesy of Guelph Civic Museums, 2004.32.61.)

(As you may have guessed, I do not have a copy of this card in my collection—yet. For the postcard collector, there is always hope.)

Of course, there are many more excellent views in the ISC tour of the burgeois Royal City of 1913. The images are impressively composed and curated and form an appealing tour of the town, all the more poignant as it was, unknowingly, on the verge of the precipice of the Great War, which would change it profoundly.

Works consulted include:
  • Ian Robertson and Barb Henderson (2016) “The International Stationery Company of Picton, Ont.” Card Talk v. 37, n. 2.)

Sunday 29 October 2023

Joseph "Long Joe" Lawrence: Guelph's tallest man

As noted in the post about Guelph's Old Home Week 1908, special attention was drawn to Joseph "Long Joe" Lawrence. As part of the burlesque parade, the townsfolk had prevailed on Johnson to dress up in a fine white dress and parasol and stroll the streets of Guelph to the amusement of all.
(Real photo postcard of "Long Joe" Lawrence in a white dress with parasol, parading through St. George's Square. Courtesy of Guelph Civic Musuems 2009.3.1. The message on the back states, "This is the only one I have got left of Guelph Old Home week procession[.] it is a man standing seven feet in a lady dress representing a firm from Toronto" )

Being 6 feet, 11 inches tall, Joe Lawrence stood out. Thanks to his height, we have some more records about him than we might have otherwise.

(Real photo postcard view from the Post office/Customs house of a parade marching through St. George's Square. Note Joe Lawrence in a dress in the foreground and a marching band following him. A hand-written message on the front states, "scenes during Old Home week on main street, Guelph".)

For example, his obituary adds a bit of colour to its account of his statistics (Mercury, 20 January 1958):

In Guelph he worked at Taylor-Forbes. He was a keen member of the Canadian Legion and made a host of friends with whom he kept up a regular correspondence. When he last made a visit to Guelph, in 1955, he complained that the dry air of the West had caused him to shrink half-an-inch—to a mere six feet 10 ½ inches. Blessed with a lively sense of humor he was a highlight in Guelph’s Old Home Week when he put on a disguise as a woman and he always claimed to be unbestable at cribbage.
Lawrence was born on 9 December 1882 in Partick, a suburb of Glasgow, Scotland. He immigrated to Canada in 1904 and settled in Guelph. He does not appear in the city directories of Guelph at that time. However, his Canadian Expeditionary Force attestation papers note that he was a "mechanic," perhaps with the Taylor-Forbes company.

His papers also note that he had three years in the Wellington Rifles.

("Four Members of the Wellington Rifles," ca. 1907. Courtesy of the Guelph Museums, 1952X.00.127. Guess which one is Joe Lawrence!)

It was in this connection that he first came to the notice of the press, to wit (Hamilton Evening Times, 23 Jun 1906):

Giant with appendicitis.

London, Ont., June 22.—Pte “Long Joe” Lawrence, of Guelph, very thin, and seven feet nine inches tall, who is in the militia camp here, was taken to the hospital to-night with appendicitis. It is said there was not a cot long enough to accommodate the patient.
Life in the militia seems to have agreed with Lawrence, as he grew 10 inches in the service!

Happily, the doctors found a suitably long operating table and his condition was treated successfully.

("Joseph J Lawrence (c.1913)." Courtesy of Swift Current Museum, 2008.31.1.)

In 1908, so not long after his seminal appearance in a dress during Old Home Week, Lawrence moved to Swift Current, Saskatchewan, and joined the police. Once again, his unusual height brought him a press notice (Berlin News Record, 13 June 1912):

Canada’s biggest policeman

Mr. Joe Lawrence, formerly of Guelph, but now of Calgary, stands 7 feet 2 inches and is the biggest policeman in Canada. He is in the employ of the C.P.R. and according to a letter addressed to his friend, Mr. Geo. Hubert of Galt, he is well pleased with his position. The tall figure of Mr. Lawrence used to be a familiar sight on Berlin streets before his emigration westward.
The move out west seems to have reduced Lawrence towards his previous height. Was the dry air at work?

On 10 December 1915, Lawrence joined the 89th Battalion of the Canadian Expeditionary Force at its Calgary office. His occupation is listed as mechanic, which, it seems, was his job with the Swift Current police.

Lawrence's obituary mentions that he was a drill instructor, for which he qualified due to his previous service with Wellington Rifles. He may have had this job while in Alberta; it is not mentioned in his military record.

Lawrence sailed to England on 2 June 1916. His height did not fail to make an impression in the Old Country. An article in the Daily Mirror (15 August 1916), "Giant Canadian in the army," notes his stature and shows a photograph of Lawrence towering over two other soldiers, with his arms stretched out to his sides and over their heads.

[If anyone has a copy of this picture, do let me know!]

A subsequent item in the Berlin News Record (14 September 1916) raises the matter that must have occurred to many on hearing of his departure: "Local friends are wondering how Joe will manage to keep his head down when he gets to the trenches."

How indeed? Lawrence's obituary notes an irony: Despite his height, the only place the Germans got him was in the foot. His military medical record mentions a "wire cut" followed by trench foot late in 1916. There is no mention of enemy action, so it may be that it was the CEF that "got" him.

After a few operations and stays in hospital, Lawrence was struck off strength and demobilized back to Alberta, where he arrived in 1919.

Lawrence seems to have stayed in Calgary rather than returning to Swift Current. His mother Mary lived there, where she had immigrated in 1913, probably on the death of her husband. Agnes Lawrence (née Dawson) also appears in the Calgary census of 1921. I have not yet found a marriage record but Lawrence's military record mentions "Agnes Lawrence (wife)" as Joe's beneficiary on his final pay document in 1919, so that appears to be the year of their nuptuals.

Bucking the trend of men who had "gone west" in their youth, Joe Lawrence returned east to the Royal City with his new family in 1924, where he is listed as a mechanic with the Taylor-Forbes company. As was the case for many, his situation changed during the Great Depression, when his job became caretaker with the company of F.W. Jones & Son.

The family seems to have prospered, however. The Lawrences moved from rented apartments on Woolwich street to a house at 16 Havelock street, which remains in place today.

In 1938, Joe's daughter Christina is listed as a hairdresser at the Ideal Beauty Parlour (or Shop or Salon), and his son James is listed as a driver for the Home Creamery Company in 1944. His wife Agnes died in 1943.

In 1945, Joe Lawrence is listed a machine operator with the Page-Hersey Company, a return to his former type of occupation. His address also changed to 156 Ontario street, a residence not unlike his former one though located near to his new employer in the Ward.

In 1949, Lawrence went west once more, settling on Okotoks, Alberta, where his daughter Christina appears to have moved after her marriage to a Mr. J.R. Aikins.

("Joe Lawrence, Guelph's Tallest Man." Courtesy of Guelph Civic Museums, 2014.84.78. The photo appears to be dated August 1955 and shows Lawrence in uniform next to a much shorter man, also in uniform, standing in front of an Eaton's store in an unnamed city.)

Lawrence's last visit to Guelph came in 1955. It was celebrated in the Mercury with a photo of him between two "Mercury girls" standing on chairs so as to look him in the eye.

(Detail of "Scrapbook, Guelph History, Marion and Eleanor Ryan, 1950-1979," page 48. Courtesy of Guelph Civic Museums, 2022.12.2.)

The photographic record of Joe Lawrence certainly speaks to the enduring fascination with height in our culture.

Joseph "Long Joe" Lawrence was buried in what we may assume was a lengthy coffin in the Union Cemetery in Calgary.

Sunday 17 September 2023

Old Home Week, 1908: Not a week of drinking and debauchery

In his dispatch to The Globe newspaper, a reporter from the Big Smoke summarized the scene in Guelph on August 3, 1908, as follows:
Every point in Canada and the United States where the old girls and boys have settled has been deflated of ex-Guelphites, and they may be found here, for this was the first day of the celebration in honor of former residents. How many thousands of visitors there are here it would not be possible to compute, but Mayor John Newstead said this was the biggest day in Guelph that he could remember. The visitors and citizens ranged at will all over the city and through the civic buildings and homes; in fact, in the Exhibition Park, the chief point of interest, they roamed in such numbers that it was almost impossible for one to make a way through the crowd.
What occasioned this invasion? It was Guelph's Old Home Week, 1908.
(Frank Rollins, Governor of New Hampshire 1899–1901. Courtesy of Wikipedia.org.)

As explained in my previous post about Guelph's Old Home Week 1913, the festival got it's start in New Hampshire in 1899. Governor Frank Rollins instituted a week long, state-wide wing-ding with a number of objectives, the principal ones being to assert the status of northern New England as the essential component of the region, and to stimulate a burgeoning tourist industry there.

Brown (1997) points out that migration of residents away from rural, northern New England for the big cities of Boston, etc., or points west, had left the area somewhat detached from the rest of the region and country, leaving it with a reputation as a backwater. A nostalgic mass return of former resident to the "Old Home" would reconfirm its importance and, more generally, the role of rural life that it exemplified as an antidote to the moral and cultural environment (Rollins would say "decline") associated with city living.

At the same time, Old Home Week would help to establish rural New England as a recreational destination for big city folks and their money. With agricultural productivity in relative decline, a new source of income would be welcome and, Rollins thought, tourism was it.

New Hampshire's 1899 Old Home Week was a smashing success and the idea spread like wildfire throughout neighbouring regions, including the Maritimes, Quebec, and Ontario. Soon, the President of the Canadian Club of Boston wrote a letter to the editor of The Globe (15 June 1901) urging that Canada get in on the act and assuring officials that Ontarians abroad would relish the chance to revisit their old haunts.

The idea of a province-wide (or nation-wide) Old Home Week understandably proved too unwieldy but individual cities soon got in on the act. By 1905 (Evening Mercury, 25 August), locals were writing letters to Guelph newspapers reporting on the Old Home Weeks of nearby towns and cities. Not to be left behind, the powers-that-be in the Royal City kicked the idea around.

(Detail of "Guelph's Old Home Week Executive Committee," from "The Royal City of Canada, Guelph and Her Industries / Souvenir Industrial Number of the Evening Mercury of Guelph, Canada." Courtesy of Guelph Civic Museums 1974.15.7.)

In 1907, talk turned into action. An Old Home Week committee was formed and planning began (Mercury, 14 September). A gaggle of subcommittees were formed to handle the challenging task, including Finance, Transportation, Decoration, Publicity, Sports, Music, Reception, and Parade. Dates were set for the civic holiday week of the next year: August 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6, 1908.

Various postcards were created for residents to send out as invitations. This postcard provides a helpful form with blanks to fill in and even a picture of someone doing so, just to be clear. The invitee is "Old Pal James," who is identified on the back as Jas. Cowan of Grimsby. The message on the back reads:
Oh I wish you were here now. You could work day and night, the electricians are so busy for Old Home Week. How long will you you be down then. I might slide down to see you. However will expect [you] Old Home Week.
Electrians were indeed busy, preparing to light the Royal City up like never before.
This "Welcome Old Boys" cards was another popular publicity item, also demonstrating the male orientation of the event. However, the Old Girls were welcome too, as demonstrated by the message:
Guelph, July 12/08 // Dear Amabel. how are you today and have you completely recovered[?] be sure and come up for old home week and we’ll sleep outside in a tent. We expect to have a great time. Guelph is buying up all the flags and bunting in Ontario[.] Lots of fireworks too. Bye Bye Cousin Helda
Both the above postcards are stamped "Daly's // Guelph, Ont." on the back, likely meaning they were sold at Daly's News and Cigar store on Wyndham street.

One of the early concerns was trying to land a prominent figure to help attract visitors. Initially, it was hoped that the Prince of Wales (later George V) might drop in. HRH would be in the country at the time and he was a Guelphite—well, a member of the house of Guelph after whom the city was named. Alas, it was not to be: The King's secretary politely informed the Committee that the Prince's tour would be confined to Quebec.

("Rear Admiral Charles E. Kingsmill (1855–1935), in naval uniform, ca. 1908." Courtesy of Wellington County Museum and Archives, A2002.54, ph. 16831.)

However, the Committee got a positive reply from another prominent former Guelphite, Admiral Charles Kingsmill. Kingsmill was born and raised in the Royal City but left age the tender age of 14 to join the Royal Navy. To make a long story short, he served in every corner of the British Empire and climbed the ranks right into the senior echelons. In 1906, he was captain of the battleship Dominion, named for the Dominion of Canada and sent there on a tour to show the flag. The ship ran aground during the tour, resulting in a reprimand for Kingsmill. Even so, he was appointed a Rear Admiral in 1908 and was tapped by the Canadian government with the (unenviable) task of organizing a Canadian navy. In brief, Kingsmill was about as well-known and highly-regarded figure as was likely to attend Old Home Week. One can only imagine the joy with which the organizers received his acceptance of their invitation.

Besides having a star attraction, Old Home Week organizers needed to assist thousands of former Guelphites and well-wishers in making their way to the Royal City. Associations of ex-Guelph people were formed in cities throughout Canada and the United States. Negotiations with the railways resulted in special trains that brought people hence to their old haunts. One of the largest such associations was the ex-Guelphites Association of Toronto, which held meetings and publicized the event in the Queen City. This connection was much assisted and cultivated by the Guelph Committee. Other cities where ex-Guelphites formed associations for the event included Edmonton, Calgary, Regina, Winnipeg, Vancouver, Detroit, and Cleveland.

By mid-July, the effort to dress the city up for the event was in full swing. Naturally, there would be banners and bunting of all description on display. Most exciting was the plan to illuminate Wyndham street from end-to-end with electric lights. Since the power grid drawing juice from Niagara Falls did not yet exist, Guelph had to look to the output of its own generators. Representatives of the Light and Power company surveyed local businessess to determine their requirements and to identify whose power could be cut off: Given the system's limitations, bathing downtown in electric light would mean plunging other city sectors into darkness for the duration (Mercury, 18 July 1908).

(The subtitle of this article is a hoot: "Electric fluild to be conserved." Was this really a reference to the already-outdated fluid theory of electricity? Or, was it simply an expression, like "turning on the juice" is today?)

(Souvenir postcard of The Electrical Building, World's Columbian Exposition, Chicago, 1893. Courtesy of the Chicago Postcard Museum.)

Nye (2022) explains that illuminations were very signficant to American cities. In days of yore, torchlight processions and the like were hallmarks of special celebrations and elite occasions. With the advent of gas and then electric lighting, the scope of illuminations to demarcate special places and events increased. For example, The World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893 was lit up prodigiously with electric lighting and featured a whole Electricity Building dedicated to the technology's bright future.

The delight experienced by Guelphites with their own electric promenade was palpable. The Guelph Musical Society Band was engaged to play a concert on the night of 24 July during the time the illumination was first tested. A large crowd gathered in the street for the final test on 1 August.

Finally, the carnival of Old Home Week commenced. Decorations had been finalized, accommodations found, grand stands, tents, and light stands erected. Trains arrived at the stations, disgorging hundreds of visitors before heading off to bring more.

A typical day during the celebration began with dignitaries meeting trains of special visitors downtown, requiring official greetings along with speeches and music for the VIPs. An afternoon parade would lead celebrants from the (old) City Hall, up Wyndham, Woolwich, and London streets to the Exhibition Park. There would be a program of events centered on a given theme, held in the fields in the northern sector of the Park. Visitors also had the option of enjoying the midway and sideshows featured in southern area. These areas were fenced off and general admission was $1. After the official festivities concluded, another parade led those so inclined back downtown, perhaps to find their lodgings or their trains back home.

(Real photo postcard view of Lower Wyndham street as seen from the old City Hall. Courtesy of Guelph Civic Museums 2014.84.460.)

Naturally, parades featured performances by musical bands. Guelph's Musical Society Band was consistently present but bands from home-comers' cities also took part. For example, on American Day (5 August), the Marine Band of Detroit led the parade, with the stars and stripes out front.

(Real photo postcard view of Lower Wyndham street looking towards St. George's Square. Interestingly, this postcard was sent through the mail in 1915.)

The day of 5 August featured burlesque bands. Perhaps the most memorable was the "Blea Rube Band" of Toronto, which performed a "Kiltie burlesque" (Mercury, 6 August):

Yesterday they appeared in Highland costume very cleverly burlesqued and they used instruments on which they imitated the old Highland bagpipes in a style which would have deceived the best bred Scotsman that ever crossed the pond from the land of the heather. In addition they had painted themselves in the most grotesque manner, with heads and faces on their knees, etc.
The local favorite was by far "Long Joe" ("alias Madam Le Haut"), local man Joe Lawrence, who sported a parasol and fashionable Parisian gown and who stood out at nearly 7 feet tall.
(Real photo postcard of "Long Joe" Lawrence in a white dress with parasol, parading through St. George's Square. Courtesy of Guelph Civic Musuems 2009.3.1. The message on the back states, "This is the only one I have got left of Guelph Old Home week procession[.] it is a man standing seven feet in a lady dress representing a firm from Toronto" )

One special feature of the 3 August parade was the appearance of a number of Guelph old-timers (Globe, 4 August). A yoke of four oxen carrying a load of wheat was driven by Mr. Wm. Healey, "who remembers the earliest days of the Guelph market." The wagon was itself an old relic, built 62 years previously and used by the Gow family of Fergus to move wheat to Guelph market square (Mercury, 1 August).

(Real photo postcard, "Souvenir, Old Home Week, Guelph, 1908. In a similar card, the oxen are identified as Tom and Jerry.)

Naturally, sporting events featured prominently in the afternoons. There were competitions in lawn bowling, lacrosse, horse racing, and track and field. The most anticipated event was the baseball game between Eastern League rivals the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Jersey City Skeeters.

The game itself turned out poorly for the Canadian fans, with the Maple Leafs receiving a drubbing at the bats of the American team (Globe, 5 August):

What the lowly Skeeters did to the champion Maple Leafs here to-day was cruel and almost criminal, and before a crowd of 8,000 Old Home week celebrants at that. The Mosquitoes—for it was an occasion which called for some politeness—thumped, hammered and slugged their way around the bases fourteen times in the seven innings before darkness mercifully put an end to the slaughter.
The final score was 14–1.

On the bright side, the Maple Leaf's one run was a homer off the bat of Jimmie Cockman, a Guelph Old Boy! Cockman had been born and raised in Guelph and excelled in baseball to the extent that he had a solid career with many professional teams. As captain, Cockman led the Milwaukee Creams to the top of the Western League in 1903. In 1905, he was seconded to the New York Yankees by his Newark International League team, making him one of the few Canadians of the era to play in the American major leagues. He retired and returned to Guelph in 1912 but coached the Guelph Maple Leafs in their championship run in 1921.

("James Cockman, Guelph's well-known professional player," The Canadian Century, v. 4, n. 13, 1911.)

At Cockman's first at-bat in the second inning, play was suspended and a brief ceremony held to honor the Royal City's famous son (Mercury, 5 August):

The players of both teams formed a semi-circle around the popular third baseman, while Mr. Downey [local M.P.P.] acted as spokesman. In a few words, Mr. Downey stated that the many admirerers of Jimmie in the city had considered this a suitable time to show their esteem and admiration for that popular and very efficient player. He also referred to the fact that Guelph had been the birthplace of baseball in Canada.
Mr. Morris then presented Mr. Cockman with a diamond ring, and the crowd gave three cheers and a tiger.
(Real photo postcard of St. George's Square from the middle of Lower Wyndham street. This image was the most commonly reproduced postcard of Old Home Week.)
(Real photo postcard view from the Post office/Customs house of a parade marching through St. George's Square. Note Joe Lawrence in a dress in the foreground and a marching band following him. A hand-written message on the front states, "scenes during Old Home week on main street, Guelph".)

Another signal event for Old Home Week was the military tattoo. On the evening of August 5, crowds of people packed into the grandstands in Exhibition park to see the spectacle. The conditions were excellent (Mercury, 6 August):

A dark, still night, not very warm, with a gentle breeze blowing steadily. The colored lights placed along the fence and the edge of the track cast a lurid glow over the track, throwing into relief the soldiers and bandsmen as they marched past, and sillouetting darkly the crowd in the background.
The bands stood poised at the north end of the park. At the signal, the Guelph band marched forth, down the track and past the grand stands, under the baton of Drum-Major Fairburn. The hometown crowd cheered with excitement.
("Captain Walter Clark," ca. 1900, veteran of the Crimean War and drill instructor of the Guelph Cadets. Courtesy of Guelph Civic Museums, Grundy 3.)

Next followed the bands from Preston, Berlin (now Kitchener), and Goderich. Following them were the formations of troops and then the cadets, under the direction of Captain Walter Clark.

Following this was a prodigous fireworks display. At first, sparkling lights produced a portrait of King Edward, accompanied by the national anthem played by bands and three volleys fired by the Wellington Riflemen. Then followed a portrait of Theodore Roosevelt, which prompted an ovation.

The finale comprised an all-in burst of colour and noise that took the crowd's (and the reporter's) breath away:

Every variety of rocket was fired off in rapid succession. The air was literally full with glowing, flashing, rapidly-changing colors. There was a constant succession of glowing lights, bold color breaking into myriad [displays of] many colors, jumping rockets whirled and twisted with eccentric irregularity. “Maxim” or repeating rockets, fiery clouds which seemed charged with shifting rainbows. It was a gorgeous pyrotechnic display of such magnitude that the crowd literally held its breath while it lasted.
The bands followed up with a few more selections and paraded back to downtown, followed by many of the excited specators.
(Real photo postcard scene of an Old Home Week parade in St. George's square, conveying some of the excitement at street level.)

At the south end of the park was a midway, featuring attractions such as a Ferris Wheel, Merry-Go-Round, Electric Theatre, Fairies in the World, Coney Island at Night, Darkness and Dawn, etc. In a tent labelled "The Train Wreckers," one could see moving pictures!

The train wreckers was the title of a hit short film from the Edison Company, 1905. It features one of the few actual cases on film of villians trying to do away with a girl by leaving her on railroad tracks. Watch for the trick photography during the rescue scene!

Naturally, there was a so-called freak show. One freak performer was "Rattlesnake Joe," AKA Mr. J.H. Wilson, who was immune to reptile venom. His act was to handle a menagerie of poisonous snakes, which he allowed to bite him on the arms, chest and even his tongue (Mercury, 6 August)! Amazingly, he seemed none the worse for wear.

Then there were two "fat boys," weighing over 600 lbs between them, who engaged in boxing matches, using gloves. There were also three snakes, of a combined length of more than 100 ft., an untameable ape, and a two-headed fetus preserved in alcohol. The curious could attend lectures on any or all of these subjects.

Special performers were also employed to please the crowd between the main attractions. For example, there was the Dare Devil Dash, in which Professor Zavaro peddled his bicycle madly down a 100 ft. ramp, vaulted a wide chasm, turned around in mid-air and, leaping from his ride, dived into a vat of water. This is a feat beyond most university professors. Was Zavaro on sabbatical?

Perhaps from the same institution came Professor Tardini, the balloonist. His vocation was staging balloon ascensions accompanied by fireworks displays aloft. After this, Tardini would descend back to mother earth using a parachute.

(A real photo postcard featuring a man and woman looking at the camera through a cut-out backdrop of a balloon with gondola. Courtesy of Guelph Civic Museums 1986.18.153. This appears to be an homage to Professor Tardini's balloon. It was likely taken in a photographer's studio in town.)

Tardini's balloon had difficulty in rising to the occasion. The wind was too high in the afternoon of 5 August to permit him to fill his gas bag. However, conditions improved and he was able to ascend and provide an aerial fireworks show that evening. An intriguing aspect of Tardini's setup was that his balloon was filled with "real gas" rather than hot air. If this means hydrogen, then the Professor was even more brave—or more foolish—than he seems at first. I can only think he was not a professor of chemistry.

Most impressive were the performances of the Kishizuna Japanese acrobatic troupe. Their performance is not described in detail but it was praised as "easily the best attraction on the grounds and has proven well worth the money expended by the committee" (Mercury, 6 August).

("Kishizuna Imperial Japanese Troupe," ca. 1910, postcard publisher unknown. Courtesy of "aboveall" via HipPostcard.com")

No detailed account of the Kishizuna act is given but it may have featured elements like those recorded in a short film by "Japanese Acrobats" (1913): ("Japanese Acrobats," 1913. Courtesy of the British Film Institute National Archive, via Friends of the British Film Institute.)

One of the more intriguing aspects of accounts of the 1908 Old Home Week were descriptions of how orderly it was. One might expect a week-long wing-ding to be the occasion of some overzealous revelry. That was not the Police Magistrate's opinion, however. "I am agreeably surprised and pleased with the manner in which the large concourse of people have conducted themselves in the city during the Old Home Week," Justice Saunders remarked (Mercury, 6 August).

There were not infrequent cases of drunkness, of course, but these were handled discretely by police, who put simply put inebriated celebrants in holding cells until they sobered up, at which point they were decanted. So, it seems that good order was kept in part by bending the usual concept of what was considered orderly.

("Ancient Order of Pole Climbers - Old Home Week Ribbon." Courtesy of Guelph Civic Museums 2014.33.20.)

It seems the police were more interested in assaults and thefts, of which there were not many. The only issue on this count was a young man who threatened to shoot someone and was found in possession of a loaded revolver. As this person had no license to carry a firearm in the city, he was fined $8.50 or one month in jail.

Still, the police blotter could hardly convey the experience of being on Wyndham street during the carnival. The account of the Mercury's own reporter must be our guide ("Confusion reinged," 6 August):

Bedlam let loose could not present more madmen than did Wyndham street last night after the return of Ralph Humphries’ “Illustrated” parade from the park. The old town, sober, quiet, old Guelph aroused itself in earnest. Everybody was just crazy with joy, falling over themselves and everybody else in their efforts to have a good time—and they were having it, too. There has never been anything the likes of it before in the old burg, and visitors from afar would last night have had recourse to the old saying that “a thing must be seen to be believed.” To describe anything that happened would be an impossibility. Everything that could happen occurred, and it was occurring all the time. From end to end the street was filled with a joyous, yelling jovial crowd of the best humored people ever gathered together. Anything went with crowd, and everything was taken in the spirit in which it was given with freedom and good spirit.
At ten o’clock the fun was officially commenced, and The Mercury still awaits reports as to when it was concluded. No matter how late or how early it was when people left the town, they had the opinion that they were missing something. At two o’clock this morning the lights were put out, but the fun did not discontinue until a long time after that. Throughout the several hours of fun there was not the least let-up at any time. Everybody appeared to be tireless, and the mob rushed from end to end of the street, howling, yelling, cheering and throwing everything at everybody “without fear or favor.”
Of all the games of the street last night, there was nothing so popular with the mob as the merry go round. To the majority of the readers there is no need to explain the principle of the game. They have experienced it, and know what it is. But it may be explained that the merry go round consists of the old time bull in the ring game. The innocent cause of the trouble, who may be standing on the street with his lady friends, is suddenly surrounded by a bunch of hooting, yelling lunatics and for the next few minutes they have the opinion that they are in the centre of a cyclone. But the storm soon passes to another quarter of the street, and no one is the worse for the experience.
Another popular form of lunacy last night was the flying wedge, which worked on the principle of the rotary snow plow, and had the effect of clearing the street with a rapidity that would have done credit to the Guelph police force. At the ends it worked with the same effect as crack-the-whip and woe to the man who got in the way.
Half a dozen wagon trucks, etc., put in their appearance on the street at different times and were pulled from one end to the other in great style. One of these was put into intentional collision with the wagon of the peanut man, who thereupon decided to make for safer quarters, but the crowd were after him, and before he got half way across the square wagon, charcoal, peanuts and fire were distributed over the square in a very impartial manner.
The fountain on St. George’s Square was the Mecca of many of the hoodlums. More than one was ducked. Some were thrown in bodily, while one unfortunate who was reposing on the stone coping was compelled to turn a graceful back somersault into the tank.
Apparently under the delusion that he was in the holy water of the Ganges, a local tonsorial artist entered the dampened arena, and with the water to his knees commenced a parade in which he was given the undisputed proprietorship of the parade ground. He seemed to enjoy it immensely, and kept not all the pleasure to himself. He had a sponge which he attached to a string and by its aid was very successful in distributing shower baths upon the crowd.
Ald. Humphries, the chairman de parades, was the hero of the night, and his appearance for the midnight parade was the signal for a general ovation. Everybody cheered for Humphries. He was the idol of the hour. On Upper Wyndham street despite considerable damage to his wearing apparel, he was hoisted to the shoulders of some of the enthusiastic ones and carried all the way down the street.
Magistrate Saunders had said that the orderly conduct of citizens during the week "would convince those who had been opposed to the reunion that it was not a week of drinking and debauchery." Were they convinced?

No city could operate under such conditions for very long. By the evening of 7 August, the festivities wound down and Guelph put her sober countenance back on. People flocked to the train stations to catch trains out of town. Decorations were removed and special lighting turned off. A number of people attended the final performance of the Kishizuna Troupe and took in "The streets of Cairo," curious to see a sideshow deemed objectionable by some of their fellow citizens. This piece was a vignette about a young girl on the mean streets of Cairo and had been composed and performed for the Chicago Columbian Exhibition in 1893, where it was a hit. It featured a belly dance known as the hoochie-koochie, which was probably the most objectionable part. The tune remains one of those old melodies widely recognized today but whose origin most have forgotten.

With these last, few performances over, the tents were taken down and the performers departed for their next gigs. Guelph became its old self. As the Mercury (8 August) put it:

Where on the previous night riots reigned where the air was filled with confetti and talcum powder and funny noises, last night reigned the silence and quietude of a quiet city.
Old Home Week 1908 was over. Was it a success? Fiscally, the Reunion Committee expected a small deficit. However, most everyone had had a grand time and were not concerned if the affair did not quite break even.

It is unclear that Guelph had demonstrated the superiority of small town Ontario culture or morals. Nor is it clear that the Royal City had set itself up as a tourist Mecca. Still, citizens could be satisifed that their city had come a long way since its foundation, and that it could put on a blast to compare with those of any of its neighbours.

Already, there was talk of mounting another Old Home Week.

("Guelph Old Home Week souvenir pin." Courtesy Guelph Civic Museums 1978.165.7.)
Works consulted for this post include: