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.)

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