Sunday 2 June 2024

The Ontario Bank branched into Guelph

(Front and back of postal card addressed to the Bank of Hamilton from the Ontario Bank, Guelph branch, on 25 April 1876. Pencil notes on the back are due to an earlier collector.)

This very quotitidan postcard conveys a very quotidian messsage:

Ontario Bank, Guelph, Ont. 25 Apr, 1876
I have received your letter of the 22nd inst. with enclosing … Manager.
This sort of card, sometimes known as a "postal card," was often used for business correspondance in the last quarter of the nineteenth century. As this Ontario Bank "postal" illustrates, they could be printed as form cards, useful for quick acknowledegement of correspondence, cheques, or goods received. Addressees could then keep these postals in their books as a record that a transaction had been completed, an important bookkeeping function for a commercial enterprise.

Undoubtedly, the most interesting bit of this postal is the loopy signature. I believe it is the signature of Edmund Morris, who was the manager of the Ontario Bank Branch in Guelph in the 1870s. The signature begins with an "E" consisting of two upper loops themselves encompassed by a loop that seems to transition into a capital "M" followed by a "orris" in a peaky scrawl.

As Stephen Thorning explains, the banking system of Ontario was substantially different in the early days of the province than it is today. The Province chartered a small set of "offical" banks that were subject to the regulations of the banking act. These big banks concentrated in the big cities such as Toronto. Branches were located in a few, second-tier locations, such as Guelph, but small cities and towns were mostly served by regional or private banks. A private bank was typically a local man or two who had deep pockets or perhaps good credit with a big bank that would loan him money that he could then re-loan to the locals or invest on his own account. Regional and private banks effectively functioned as bank branches do today, and also allowed the chartered banks to apply their money by proxy in ways that weren't strictly allowed by the rules.

(The most notorious private bank in Guelph was the aptly named Guelph Bank, owned by W.H. Cutten— the father of "Wheat King" Arthur Cutten—though that is a story for another occasion.)

The Ontario Bank actually preceeded confederation, being set up in 1857 in Bowmanville with the object of serving the banking needs of farmers and other rural businesses on Ontario and Durham Counties (thus the name). By 1862, the Ontario Bank had expanded to a number of other locations such as Guelph. At that time, the city directory lists its location as the Market Square (Carden street) and its employees as:

Alexander Fisher, manager
G.H.G. McVity, accountant
P.H. Gibbs, teller
Alex Fisher was born at Scotsburn, near Tain in Rosshire, Scotland, in 1817 and immigrated to Canada with his father John in 1832 (Globe, 20 April 1882). He began his business career with the Bank of Upper Canada (as Ontario was known before 1841) but later joined the Bank of Ontario. He was (apparently) the first manager of the Guelph branch but then left to manage the Toronto branch in 1864. There he remained until his death by suicide in 1882, brought on by ill health.
("Group in garden," ca. 1870. Edmund Morris is standing in the back row, right-hand side, wearing a straw boater. Courtesy of Guelph Civic Museums, 1975.21.187.)

Fisher was succeeded as manager by Edmund Morris, whose signature adorns the postcard above. On Morris's watch, the Guelph branch of the Ontario Bank seems to have done well. In 1887, the Guelph branch took over the accounts of the Central Bank, a regional bank that had finally succumbed to bad loans made to brokers and speculators. However, the Central Bank had a snazzy office on Quebec street, to which Morris moved his branch ASAP.

For reasons not entirely clear, the Ontario Bank closed its Guelph branch in 1890. The accounts—and nifty offices—were taken over by the Traders Bank. Edmund Morris was presented with a gold watch and chain by some of the Royal City's leading citizens in gratitude for his many years of service. He relocated to Toronto, where he moved up to the position of Inspector in the Ontario Bank's main office in the Queen City.

One possible reason for the move was a set of "defalcations." Some accountants with Ontario Bank in Toronto were found to have embezzeled a substantial amount of money from the bank, perhaps prompting it to rationalize its liabilities (Mercury, 28 January 1890).

Edmund Morris died in his Spadina residence in 1899 (Globe, 18 December 1899).

The Ontario Bank folded up its tent in 1906. The end was brought about by Charles McGill, the general manager, who attempted to expand the bank's assets through unwise stock market speculation, though McGill insisted they were "investments" (Toronto World, 13 October 1906). Rather than allow the bank to simply collapse, and perhaps start a general panic, the Bank of Montreal took over its affairs and made good its deposits.

News reports concerning the Ontario Bank in Guelph give us glimpses into the operations and challenges of running small town banks in the late Victorian era. For example, the Acton Free Press (16 November 1877) reports that people had been presenting counterfeit ten dollar bills issued by the Ontario Bank to branches in Guelph as well as other Ontario cities. Trying to pass "funny money" was a serious issue.

(Ontario Bank $10 bill, engraved date 1 June 1888. Courtesy of the Bank of Canada Museum, Object ID: 1972.0231.00001.000.)

This notice is a reminder that, between 1871 and 1944, chartered banks were authorized under Canadian law to issue their own currency for circulation. Today, the only cash that most Canadians carry is issued by the Bank of Canada but it wasn't always so. Of course, any bank that issues currency has to protect against fraud, which applied to the Guelph branch, as this example illustrates.

In 1880, a scandal resulted when a local businessman tried to abscond with funds that belonged to the Ontario Bank in Guelph (Globe, 10 December). Mr. J.E. Merlihan, a prominent Clifton businessman, had bought a large amount of wool earlier in the year and stored it in a Guelph warehouse on credit obtained from the Ontario Bank. His plan was to wait until the wool price increased so he could sell it at a profit. This happened and Merlihan sold the wool to Winans & Co. of Toronto, who issued him a cheque for $7,000. Merlihan cashed the cheque at the Federal Bank in Guelph. It was quickly noticed at the Ontario Bank that Merlihan did not appear to make good his debt to them:

In the afternoon the Manager of the Ontario Bank found out that Merlihan had got the draft and as they held the warehouse receipt he wondered why Merlihan had not brought the money to the bank as he should have done.
Why indeed?
On making enquiries he soon learned that Merlihan had driven to Hespeler, the first station south of here; and suspecting that he would take the first train there for Suspension Bridge, telegraphed the Chief of Police at Clifton, and his arrest followed, $6,960 and a ticket for Buffalo being found on his person.
It seems that Merlihan had reckoned without the social network of local bankers.

As Stephen Thorning points out, the turn of the century saw consolidation of Canadian banks. Big banks had worked out how to run branches in smaller centres and still make money. Potential employees gravitated to the big banks because they could offer career growth in the form of promotions and higher salaries. Local banks were just a few people in size and were not apt to grow. In addition, smaller banks like the Ontario Bank sometimes got into financial trouble and Ontarians took a dim view of the prospect that they might one day open their newspapers to read that their bank had gone under, taking most if not all their money with it. Banks got fewer and bigger and assumed more of the form that is familiar to Ontarians today.

The departure of the Ontario Bank from Guelph in 1890 was a sign of things to come.


Works consulted for this post include:
Sharp-eyed readers may have noted the absence of images of the Ontario Bank premises. I have noticed this also! Nothing of any quality has come to my attention. If you, dear reader, can supply the deficit, please let me know!

Thursday 11 April 2024

The most disastrous fire that has ever visited Guelph: 6 July 1921

It began sometime around 3:30am on the morning of 6 July 1921 in or near the planing mill of the Robert Stewart Lumber Co., situated on the west side of Upper Wyndham street, across from the Wellington Hotel. Of course, a lumber mill is just about the last place you would want a fire to break out and, very soon, the whole structure was an inferno and its neighbours had ingnited.
("Great fire, Guelph," postcards; courtesy of Wellington County Museum and Archives: A2011.105, ph. 36218. In the background is the west side of Wyndham street just north of St. George's Square.)

Describing the sights, smells, and sounds of a major fire is not easy. However, after "the most disastrous fire that has ever visited Guelph," the Evening Mercury was bound to try:

It was a most spectacular blaze. Citizens in all sections of the city were awakened by the glare of the flames, and hurried to the scene. Within fifteen minutes the whole of the mill property was a seething furnace. The building was filled with very combustible material, while the yards adjoining were piled high with dry lumber and manufactured product, which were rapidly consumed. High into the air shot the flames, carrying sparks and shingles and red hot metal roofing hundreds of feet, and for a time there was a genuine fear that the fire would get completely out of hand.
The first alarm was turned in at 4:04am by Mrs. Steele, housekeeper of the Allan family that lived next door to the mill. Fire fighters responded, to find the blaze already well established and threatening to spread throughout the street and perhaps beyond.
("Great fire, Guelph," postcards; courtesy of Wellington County Museum and Archives: A2011.105, ph. 36221. Note the "Candyland" sign on the awning.)

On the west side of Upper Wyndham, the fire was already consuming the Hazelton and Coffee blocks. These were occupied by some well-known businesses, including Goetz's shoe store, Grinyer's electrician's shop, Smith's furniture, and Candyland. These were all incinerated.

("The Great Fire July 6, 1921 Postcard;" courtesy of Guelph Civic Museums, 2016.13.23. In the background are the Apollo theatre, New American Hotel, and Opera house, on Wyndham street north of Stewart's lumber mill.)

On the street itself, the intense heat of the fire melted the guy wires for the street car line, allowing the live wires to drop into the roadway. Flashes of fire from the wires added to the general sense of alarm and helped to keep the crowds of spectators back, for fear of electrocution. Electricians working for the hydro utility came on the scene and helped to remove the hazard.

The Wellington Hotel across the road was soon in danger of being set alight. Heat from the blaze set the window sills on fire and flaming embers falling from the sky threatened to do the same to the roof.

Guests of the hotel were awakened, either by the roar of the fire itself or by the alarm. They threw on some clothes, quickly packed items in their portable luggage and made their way to the lobby. Some waited there for the final command to depart while others vacated immediately and moved across Woolwich street to Trafalgar Square.

("Great fire - Wyndham Street," courtesy of the Guelph Public Library, F38-0-2-0-0-71. The view is up Wyndham street from St. George's Square, with water still being sprayed on the Stewart lumber mill.)

Fire fighters kept the building from burning by keeping two streams of water on it throughout the night. This measure did the job, preventing the flames from taking hold and spreading down the whole east side of the street.

(View up Wyndham street north, similar to the image above; courtesy of Google Street View.)

Even so, hardly a window on the street remained intact. The heat caused all to crack or even burst asunder. Many of the sills caught fire, to which the fire fighters responded by dousing them with water, often causing them to shatter under the pressure. Cracked and crushed glass spewed into the street adding to the fire fighters' difficulties.

("Demolition of Stewart Lumber Company Factory, Wyndham Street, 1921," courtesy of Guelph Civic Museums, 2014.84.4. On the left stands the Candyland store; on the right in the background can be seen the rear of the Victoria Rink.)

In behind the lumber mill, the Victoria Rink on the Baker street lot, rebuilt in 1914 after a fire had destroyed its predecesor, was nearly set alight. The manicured greens of the Guelph Lawn Bowling Club were thoroughly singed. The dry kiln and its wooden fuel belonging to the White Sewing Machine factory on the lot was also consumed by flames and it appeared for a while that the factory building itself might follow suit. However, this too was prevent by fire fighters.

The list of damaged shops and stores on Wyndham street was extensive:

From Lou’ Watts barber shop to Keleher and Hendley’s store, every pane of plate glass in the store windows on the east side of the main street was smashed or cracked, and this loss alone will run into thousands of dollars.
It is an odd fact the reports of disasters like this one often prompt descriptions of business interiors and provisions in the city that are otherwise missing from newspaper and other sources.
Two large windows at the G.T.R. ticket office were also damaged while at Garnet Singer’s jewelry store, next door, two more windows were badly broken. A valuable display of jewelry in the window escaped the flames and water, and very little damage to the stock was reported at this store.
...
When the blaze was at its worst in the Coffee block, the front of Geo. Williams’ store took fire and two of the largest plate glass windows on the east side of the street were smashed to atoms. The heat caused by the raging flames melted a large quantity of candy, and otherwise damaged the confectionary, and the loss in this store will be considerable. One will realize the intensity of the heat when he considers that the glass candy containers in the store became so hot they could not be removed from the show casing.
More destruction was caused at Hiscox China palace and Cohen’s Furniture store, where all the windows in both places were broken. Mr. Cohen’s loss will be a heavy one because of the fact that some expensive furniture on display in the two front windows was completely ruined. Included in the damaged stock were a walnut bedroom suite, a valuable chesterfield, rugs, and other expensive furniture.
With a little imagination, one can almost imagine what would be seen while perusing these stores' goods the previous day.
("Great fire, Guelph," postcards; courtesy of Wellington County Museum and Archives: A2011.105, ph. 36219.)

Similarly, we also hear of the people who lived in apartments of the upper floors of some of these buildings, especially if they had difficult or harrowing escapes:

It was a serious moment for [the Allan] family, for Mrs. Allan, as is generally known, has been an invalid for a great number of years. She was hurriedly wrapped in blankets and carried to safety by her son, Clifford, and the others had barely time to gather enough clothing to cover themselves before being driven to the street by the advancing flames. Kind neighbors immediately gave them shelter and they are now being cared for at the home of Dr. F.C. Grenside. In assisting with the family of Sheriff and Mrs. Allan, Miss Freda Grenside suffered slight injuries from the excessive heat, her hair being singed and neck blistered.
...
In addition to the destruction caused to the stores on the east side of the street, eight families occupying apartments on the second and third floors of some of the buildings were driven from their homes, and owing to the rapidity with which the flames spread along the street, they were forced to make their exit over the roof tops, and descend to a lane at the rear of Wyndham street by means of ladders. During the excitement, Mrs. Adeline Humphries, one of the apartment residents, fainted three times, before she was finally rescued from the burning home.
These accounts of so many families living in apartments above stores reminds us that rented accommodations were much more common than today, when home ownership is almost everyone's life goal.

Not only did people try to save themselves but they also acted to save their property or the property of others:

Mr. Grinyer [the electrician] had another narrow escape when he saved his motor car, which was in a shed at the back of the building. He succeeded, however, in getting the machine out, although the flames were shooting over and into the shed at the time.
The front wall of Grinyer's store fell into the street at about 4:30am, leaving a sizeable pile of burning rubble. Fortunately, no one was injured.

Perhaps the most notable story of the evacuation was that of Rev. Frank Sanders, pastor of the Congregational church on Norfolk street. He was one of the first people on the scene and took action when the Wyndham Inn, which we would call a boarding house, caught fire.

But when this latter building took fire the reverend gentleman was prompt in helping to salvage the contents. When the ladies were finally driven out by the fire, he continued to carry out the chairs and tables and pass them to those outside. It was while he was in the act of getting out the last table from the dining room, that he narrowly escaped the falling roof which carried the upper floor down with it, the flaming mass of woodwork and beams falling within a few feet of where he stood and completely blocking up the room out of which he had just come.
Divine intervention?
("Guelph Firefighters, 1927;" courtesy of Guelph Civic Museums, 2009.32.3245. Chief Knighton stands on the left, firefighter D. Gray middle, and firefighter Clifford Reginald Knighton on the right.)

The main accolades went to the fire fighters and others who participated in the response to the fire. Fire Chief Knighton directed the efforts of the Guelph Fire Brigade. They were assisted by fire fighters from the Guelph Carpet Mills, the Ontario Agricultural College, and the Reformatory. In addition, the call went out for reinforcements as far away as Hamilton and Stratford. The Galt brigade was able to arrive with a supply of gear and rendered substantial help in figting the blaze.

("Great fire, Guelph," postcards; courtesy of Wellington County Museum and Archives: A2011.105, ph. 36224. The Stewart lumber mill ruins are doused as they continue to smoulder.)

Even after the flames of the fire were suppressed, fire fighters continued to pour water on the burned buildings throughout the day to prevent smouldering embers from reigniting it. Even on the morning of July 7, heaps of burning coal were located in the ruins of the Stewart mill that had to be doused (Mercury, July 7).

Walls within the ruins remained standing and had to be demolished to prevent them from collapsing suddenly later on. A street car was employed for the purpose under the direction of Chief Knighton:

A street car was used last night to bring down the big Coffee Block wall, which stood out alone with a three-foot warp in it. A rope was attached to a big steel girder underneath, and the rope was then tied on to the street car, and when the Hydro juice was turned on the girder was dragged out and the big wall crumpled up and fell.
The demolitions left a long gap in the steetscape, from Candyland to the Apollo Theatre, showing the extent of the damage.

A set of real photo postcards, shown here, record the devastation, the firefighters, and the crowds of awed and bewildered spectators. Most are labeled, "Great Fire Guelph July 6th. 1921." One pair also show before-and-after views of the incinerated buidings:

("Great fire, Guelph," postcards; courtesy of Wellington County Museum and Archives: A2011.105, ph. 36222. Note the lamp post near the right edge.)

The second image shows roughly the same part of the street after the walls had been pulled down.

("Great fire, Guelph," postcards; courtesy of Wellington County Museum and Archives: A2011.105, ph. 36223. Note the lamp post near the middle; it is the same post as the one above. Interestingly, zone posts are in view on the street, showing that the streetcar service had already resumed at this point.)

Why reproduce these pictures as postcards? As this earlier post about the Gourock train wreck demonstrates, there was always a public demand to rubberneck at disaters, even if only through recorded imagery. The Mercury story makes it clear that large crowds from around the district gathered to witness the fire and its aftermath. Some enterprising local store owner recognized the commercial potential of the situation and, no doubt, had selected pictures of the scene sent off to nearby printers, who could return dozens or hundreds of copies for quick sale.

As numerous postcards of the Titanic and other misadventures plainly tell, disaster sells.

Another immediate consequence of the fire was that there was a "run" on plate glass in Guelph. Nearly every window on the street had been cracked or shattered as a result of the blaze. Many business and building owners wasted no time in ordering replacements. Even before the fire was officialy out, trucks carrying plate glass were on their way from Toronto (Mercury, 7 July). Several had a "mishap" near Bronte and had to return for replacements. Further consignments of glass began to arrive by both truck and train. About $7,000 of new glass was need to replace the windows on the east side of Upper Wyndham street.

Of course, building owners did not simply have thousands of dollars set aside in bank accounts in case of fire. Replacement windows and the myriad other expenses were covered (or not) by insurance. Insurance adjusters were on the scene before the ruins on Wyndham street had stopped smoking.

("Great fire - Wyndham Street," courtesy of Guelph Public Library, F38-0-2-0-0-69.)

Most owners and businesses carried insurance against fire damage. From an initial inspection, they estimated the cost of the damage as a whole to be somewhere in the range of $300k to $500k. This was certainly a vast amount of money for the time and testimony to the wealth that the Royal City embodied by then.

E.M. Stewart of the Robert Stewart Lumber Co. wasted no time in applying the company's insurance to get the operation working again. By July 12, he had arranged for company equipment to be moved to vacant space at the Bell Piano Co. on Macdonell street. The Bell Company had been an important part of the manufacturing scene in Guelph in the late 19th century but was well into decline by the 1920s, so it seems that it had room to spare.

As the fire's embers cooled, talk about the town raised questions about how well the fire service was prepared for it and whether or not the fire watch had delayed raising the alarm.

(Mayor Charles Burgess, 1921; courtesy of Guelph Public Library, F38-0-4-0-0-20.)

Mayor Burgess requested an inquiry into the fire and the city's response to it, which Provincial Fire Marshal E.P. Heaton quickly arranged. The inquiry raised a number of concerns. For one thing, when Kitchener Fire Chief Guerin arrived in Guelph in response to the Guelph fire fighters' request for assistance, he found that Guelph had hydrants that were incompatible with those in Kitchener: threading on the hose connectors went opposite ways. Thus, the Kitchener crew's equipment could not be used. This observation suggested that fire equipment should be standardized in the province.

The inquiry raised a number of concerns specific to Guelph. It seemed that the water pressure in the city system was initially too low (Mercury, 26 July). It was standard practise for the fire department to telephone the Waterworks to ask for an increase of pressure when a fire was being watered. On the morning of the big fire, it took about 20 minutes for an increase in pressure to be generated, thus dampening the initial response to the fire.

("Firemen on Parade, c.1915;" courtesy of Guelph Civic Museums, 2009.32.2445.)

Also, Guelph still relied on teams of horses to pull its firefighting equipment. Fire Marshall Heaton point out that similar cities in the province were investing in motorized gear, which could reduce the time taken to respond to fire alarms. Mayor Burgess noted that Guelph's city council had considered this option but decided not to proceed in order to avoid the tax increase needed to fund it. He was also of the opinion that motorized equipment would not have made a significant difference in the case of the recent fire.

Fire Marshal Heaton noted that reports from the Fire Underwriters' Association (that is, fire insurance providers) suggested that Guelph did not have an adequate method for processing fire alarms. There were already rumours about town that there had been delays in reporting the fire to the fire department. These focused on the city's reliance on the telephone service for this purpose. One witness claimed that he tried to phone in an alarm around 3.35am from the Wellington Hotel and reported that he could not get an operator. Mrs. Hogg, occupant of the Wyndham Inn, next door to the lumber mill, attempted to telepone the operator around 3.50am but was evidently unsuccessful. The operators' log suggested they received a call only after 4 o'clock, suggesting that the fire had burned for 25 minutes without a response.

At the conclusion of the inquiry, Fire Marshal Heaton could not decisively establish the cause or origin of the fire (Mercury, 30 July). However, he did conclude that Guelph's preparations for fires was inadequate. Provisions for water supply were not adequate and the firefighting gear was "woefully deficient."

In addition, the Royal City's reliance on the regular telephone system for raising alarms was "far from satisfactory." The Fire Marshal endorsed the suggestion of Fire Chief Knighton that the Royal City should adopt a system of fire alarm call boxes already common elsewhere. These call boxes had a direct connection to the fire department such that when a lever on the box is pulled, an alarm specifying the location of the box is sounded at the fire station. To drive the point home, and perhaps shame the city fathers, the Fire Marshal "read out a long list of towns, smaller than Guelph, each of which was equipped with an up-to-date alarm system."

Perhaps the coup de grace of the inquiry came from an unexpected quarter, having only a tangential relation to the fire and the city's response to it. Fire Marshal Heaton invited any member of the public to testify at the inquiry, an offer accepted by Mrs. Fred Hatch (Mercury, 29 July). When her turn came, her husband appeared bearing a note from a doctor stating she was too ill to attend, so he offered to speak in her place. A resident on a first-floor apartment at 92 Macdonell street, Mr. Hatch testified that his wife had seen two police officers, Clark and Shingleton, leaving a second-floor apartment and exiting the building at the rear, just as she went to the back window to look towards the fire when she got wind of it early in the morning. The apartment in question was occupied by a Mrs. Dempsey, her two daughters, and a Miss Peacock. Mrs. Dempsey, Mr. Hatch averred, "was in the habit of entertaining many male visitors." When asked if he had ever seen a Mr. Dempsey, he replied, "I never saw a Mr. Dempsey unless the many men frequenters there are Mr. Dempseys."

Naturally, this testimony and its implications caused quite an uproar, not to mention denials from Mrs. Dempsey and Constables Clark and Shingleton. The officers involved were indeed supposed to be on patrol, and not in hanging about in a "house of ill fame," but their beat was in the Ward and not on Upper Wyndham street, so their plight did not affect the inquiry into the fire in a direct way. Later on, the city Police Commission held a separate inquiry into their conduct. The result was that Constable Clark resigned from the force, while Constable Shingleton was discovered to be on probation after misconduct with the Toronto Police. So, his services were also no longer required.

Mayor Burgess saluted the bravery of citizens who reported this incident and remarked that if such happened more often, Guelph would have a more effective police force.

("Great fire, Guelph," postcards; courtesy of Wellington County Museum and Archives: A2011.105, ph. 36225.)

The Stewart Lumber Company, where the conflagration began, never returned to Wyndham street. Obviously, it was a fire hazard and probably would not be welcomed again there with open arms: It was a factory in a part of town that had come to be dominated by stores and offices. The company located its local operations to Cardigan street, across the road from Goldie's mill, where it remained until 1968 when the business was wound up.

("Upper Wyndham street," ca. 1925; courtesy of Guelph Civic Museums, Grundy 125. The view shows the gap in Upper Wyndham street seen from the Baker street lot after the burned buildings were demolished. The gap was temporarily home to a number of billboards.)

The void left on Wyndham street by the combustion of the Stewart lumber mill and its neighbours remained for some time.

It was mostly remediated in 1935 when the Dominion Public Building, the city's new post office, was erected there, where it remains today in the hands of the Wellington County government.

With the smoke long since cleared and the chasm in Wyndham street filled in, the memory of the Great Fire of Guelph lives on in the Royal City's best set of disaster postcards souvenirs.

Tuesday 30 January 2024

Charles Raymond and the sewing machine empire he stitched together

One of the significant industrial leaders of 19th century Guelph still somewhat familiar to current Guelphites would be Charles Raymond. Following a fire in 2015, Tom Lammer, owner of Raymond's old brick factory on Yarmouth Street, had the original, building-length sign restored, so that "Raymond's Sewing Machines" once again proclaims the existence of Raymond and his business to passers-by.
(The old Raymond Sewing Machines factory on Yarmouth street, Guelph. Courtesy of Google Street View.)

But, who was Charles Raymond and what was his role in Guelph's industrialization? The whole story is quite a lengthy one but the basic thread may be instructively picked out of the details.

A good place to begin is near the end, with the postcard image of the Raymond factory facilities below.

("Raymond Manufacturing Co.y, Limited, Guelph, Ontario, Canada." Postcard published ca. 1910 by the Valentine & Sons Publishing Company.)

As pointed out in my post about the Baker Street lot, this postcard gives a synopsis of the development of much of Raymond's business: His early stone factories facing Suffolk street stand in the foreground, the later brick factories facing Yarmouth street in the middle, and the latest cream separator plant facing Baker street near the back.

To understand how this industrial complex came about, we have to go back to Charles Raymond and his entry into the sewing machine business.

Charles Raymond was born on 6 January 1826 in Ashburnham, Massachusetts. His father Daniel was a carpenter and carriage-maker, and it seems that young Charles demonstrated a facility with mechanics early on. In 1843, Raymond became an apprentice machinist at the Massachusetts Cotton Mills Co., in Lowell, which was a center of the American textile industry in that era, and then on to Bristol, Connecticut, where he began his own business. He married Mary Marston of Lowell in 1847 and the 1850 US Census locates him in Fitchburg, Massachusets, with Mary and three children.

In 1852, Raymond produced his first sewing machine. Given his mechanial inclination and experience in textiles, it is easy to imagine why he was interested in devices for sewing. Textile making had become highly mechanized by mid-century, notwithstanding the Luddite riots in England in the 1810s upon the introduction of mechanized looms. Yet, although textile making had been industrialized, making clothing or other wares like bedding, drapery, etc., from textiles was still a cottage industry in many respects.

("An engraving of Thimonnier and his sewing machine of 1830, from Sewing Machine News, 1880. Courtesy Smithsonian photo 10569-C.)

Many individuals pursued designs and patents for a machine that could mechanize sewing. A notable step was the creation of a feasible lock-stitch machine by Barthélemy Thimonnier in 1829, who set up a factory in Paris to make uniforms for the French army. However, the factory was attacked, reportedly by tailors afraid that it would put them out of work.

("Drawing of the first patented lockstitch sewing machine, invented by Elias Howe in 1845 and patented in 1846." Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.)

Several Americans also got into the act, notably Elias Howe and Isaac Singer, resulting in one of the US's first big patent fights. Apparently not wanting to get involved in the fracas, Raymond put his own designs to one side. Nevertheless, in partnership with Willford Nettleton of Bristol, Conn., Raymond registered a sewing machine patent in 1857 and the Nettleton & Raymond Empire Family Sewing Machine was launched. The term "family sewing machine" refers to the fact that the design was intended for household use, as opposed to factory work. The Nettleton & Raymond went for $25, which was a huge advantage against competitors, whose machines typically retailed for $100 or more.

Despite the machine's virtues and its low price, success did not seem to attend its introduction. In 1858, Raymond set up a new business in Brattleboro, Vermont, selling the "New England Family Sewing Machine." In 1860, Raymond turned his eyes north of the border and tried to set up shop in Montreal, a move that was also unsuccessful.

(Charles Raymond, ca. 1860. Courtesy of Guelph Public Library, F38-0-15-0-0-294.)

Perhaps continued patent litigation or the outbreak of the US Civil War undermined his plans. In any event, Raymond and 15 hands from his Brattleboro works arrived in Guelph in 1862, looking to set up operations there. Canada had lax patent legislation, which attracted foreign investment and may well have influenced Raymond's move, though why he located in Guelph in particular is unclear. In any event, the new locale certainly worked in his favour.

The commercial success of Raymond's company is reflected in its rapidly expanded building program. The first Raymond factory was sited on Norfolk street on the lot where Raymond also built his house. This building was a two-storey stone structure mere 24x50 feet. In 1865, a 30x40 frame extension was built onto it in order to accommodate the expanding business.

(Raymond family home, in the gore between Norfolk and Yarmouth streets (left), and the sewing machine factory on Yarmouth street (right), as seen from across the Nelson Crescent park, now the site of the Guelph Public Library main branch, ca. 1865. Courtesy of Guelph Public Library, C6-0-0-0-0-793.)

Around this time, Raymond also built a factory 26x108 on the other side of Yarmouth street, on the lot where the building bearing his name now stands. Even this could not accommodate his needs for long. Thus, in 1869, the neighbouring Knox Presbyterian Church was purchased and annexed to the Yarmouth street factory. (Not to worry: a new Knox Church was built around the corner on Quebec street.)

In June 1869, Raymond's wife Mary died, leaving two daughters, Emma and Ada. In August of the following year, Raymond married Miss Helen Gill, of Brattleboro. Charles and Helen had two children together, Elizabeth and Charles (Jr.).

("Suffolk Street and Raymond Factory, Guelph, Canada." Postcard published by Rumsey & Co., ca. 1905. Suffolk Street (right) here intersects with Yarmouth Street (left), with Woolwich Street in the foreground.)

As the appetite for Raymond machines contingued to grow, Raymond purchased the Arms & Worswick sewing machine factory, then a frame building at the corner of Yarmouth and Suffolk streets, in 1870. Only two years later, this "branch plant" burned to the ground. Raymond had it expanded and rebuilt in stone, so that it reopened in 1874. The building remains there to this day and its end can be seen in the postcard above.

(Raymond's Sewing Machine factory on Yarmouth street (left) and the old Knox Church (right), which was incorporated into the factory, ca. 1870. Courtesy of the Guelph Public Library, F38-0-14-0-0-414.)

Fire tested Raymond's resolve yet again in 1875, when a blaze consumed the Yarmouth steet factory, including the former Knox church. He took the opportunity to expand his plant again, this time building the three storey, 120x108 brick factory that now (once again) carries the company's name.

("Raymond's Machine and Moulding Shop, Guelph, Ont.," ca. 1905. Postcard published for A.B. Petrie. Note that the factory is buff-coloured and not gray as the lithographer has depicted it here.)

In 1878, Raymond had an iron foundry built on the lot adjoining the north side of the Yarmouth street factory.

(Advertisement showing both Raymond factories, plus Yarmouth street foundry, ca. 1895. Courtesy of Guelph Public Library, F38-0-7-0-0-89.)

The early 1880s probably represents the apogee of the Raymond Sewing Machine company. As Brent (1980) notes, initial resistance to sewing machines in Canada had largely abated by 1860. (In 1852, the introduction of sewing machines to the Toronto tailoring firm of Walker and Hutchison occasioned Toronto the Good's first organized labour strike.) On the home front, most women, including the well-to-do ones, had daily sewing tasks to perform for their families. Sewing machines could considerably shorten this labour. A frock coat that took 16 1/2 hours to sew by hand could be sewn in 2 1/2 hours with a machine!

(Charles Raymond, printed in 1880 biography.)

As it became recognized as a labour-saving device, the sewing machine became a social status item (Connolly 1999). Having a machine at home, visible to guests and visitors, suggested that a household was up-to-date and its womenfolk well supported and domestic. Manufacturers responded by dressing their wares in appropriately domestic garb. Whereas early household machines were often iron gadgets simply clamped to existing furniture, later machines were nicely japanned and painted with feminine designs, and housed in smart looking, special-purpose furniture. A great deal of factory space, including in Raymond's facilities, were dedicated to japanning and cabinet making as a result.

Raymond, or his marketing department, made generous use of trade cards to help drum up business. By the mid-1870s, printing technology allowed for cheap cards carrying colourful images to be made up in large quantities. Businesses ordered cards to hand out for free to potential customers with the idea that they would keep the brand in their client's minds when buying decisions were made. Space was left on the cards, sometimes just on the back, for each business to print information about itself.

("Before purchasing see the “New Raymond” with compliments of Charles Raymond, Guelph, Ont. // Copyright 1884 by J.H. Buffords Sons."

Images on the cards tended to be generic. For example, the card above shows a scene of a group of well-dressed Victorians out for some fun roller skating. There seems to be little relation of roller skating to sewing machines, unless viewers were supposed to associate the fancy clothing with their sewing needs.

(Front of a Raymond trade card, ca. 1900.)

Much like postcards in the Edwardian era, trade cards appealed to collectors and so were probably reasonably effective in drumming up interest in a business's goods or service.

(Back of the Raymond trade card above. "National Cream Separator // Manufactured by The Raymond Mfg. Co. Limited, Guelph, Ont. Also manufacturers of the celebrated Raymond Sewing Machines.")

The Raymond Manufacturing Company stuck with the trade cards for some time. Many of them advertise not only sewing machines but the cream separators that were made under license in the early 20th century.

(Raymond sewing machine with table, ca. 1879. Courtesy of Guelph Civic Museums, 1978X.00.145.3.)

Raymond's Sewing Machines became the second-biggest manufacturer in Canada, behind only Wanzer & Co. of Hamilton. Sewing machines were a solid Canadian export in this era as well, and Raymond was quite invested in markets abroad. A note in the Mercury (13 May 1876) records that Raymond shipped a consignment of machines, worth $10,000, to Cuba and Brazil!

(The beaver logo that became the trademark of the Raymond "beaver" sewing machines. Courtesy of Guelph Civic Musuems, 1988.30.37.)

Yet, what goes up must come down, they say, and this was true of Raymond's Sewing Machines. A number of factors ate into the trade during the 1880s. The depression of 1882–1885 cut into business, especially iron and steel, which was crucial to the sewing machine trade. Changes in Canadian law opened domestic markets to American firms, such as the giant Singer Co., which unloaded low-priced machines north of the border. In addition, ready-to-wear clothing began to rise in popularity. Instead of making clothes at home, families could simply purchase clothing made in factories (using commercial sewing machines), the beginning of the modern clothing and fashion industries. Domestic sewing certainly didn't vanish but the trend towards consumable clothing did begin to undercut the need people felt to have their own machines.

("Raymond "Beaver" Sewing Machine," ca. 1880. Here, the machine has been concealed by the "drop table." Courtesy of Guelph Civic Museums, 2012.67.1.1.)

This change in trends was duly reflected in the design of sewing machines themselves. In particular, sewing machines began to appear in "drop cabinets," in which the machine itself could be hidden from sight by being lowered beneath the cabinet top when not in use. Thus, visitors to a home need not be confronted with the sight of a sewing machine and would, therefore, not infer that the householders weren't up to buying their clothes at a specialty store. Descriptions of Raymond sewing machines shown in exhibitions in the 1890s make note of the "latest thing in drop cabinets, of which Mr. Raymond is the only manufacturer in Canada" (Globe, 8 September 1892).

("Sewing Machine, Raymond Sewing Machine Company, circa 1900." Courtesy Guelph Civic Museums, 1978.55.1.5.)

Anyone curious about more information regarding the details of Raymond's sewing machines is directed to Vern Schafer's Raymond Sewing Machine Research Project.

("Livingroom of Mr. C. Raymond," ca. 1870. Courtesy of Guelph Civic Museums, 2014.84.69.)

Partly in response to the difficulties of Canadian manufacturers, the government of John A. Macdonald implemented the "National Policy" in 1879. A key element of this policy was raising tariffs against imports in order to make Canadian-made goods more competitive domestically. In the case of sewing machines, imports went from a tariff of 17.5% to a 20% tariff, plus $2. At first, Raymond was against this policy, arguing that, by sheltering Canadian products against American ones, it would allow Canadian producers to market inferior goods (Globe, 14 September 1878). In addition, it would encourage Canadian manufacturers to inflate their prices, thus making their goods uncompetitive on the export market.

(Charles Raymond and family in their front garden, 187?. Courtesy of Guelph Public Library, F38-0-14-0-0-417. This image may be from a set of photographs of the Raymond house and grounds taken by local photographer W. Marshall in 1879.)

However, experience changed his tune. Raymond later admitted that the National Policy had helped his business. Mainly, it mitigated the impact of American manufacturers dumping inexpensive machines on the Canadian market, which buoyed sales of Raymond machines (Globe, 19 April 1882). These sales helped to support the company despite the lower margins it realized on sales abroad.

(Detail of a portrait of Chas. Raymond, 1892. Courtesy of Guelph Civic Museums, 2016.3.1.)

By the 1890s, the difficulties of the sewing machine business were telling. In 1895, the Raymond Sewing Machine Company was sold to the "Raymond Manufacturing Company," which diversified into other lines, such as bicycles, cash registers, silver platters, and sundry brass and iron goods.

(The Raymond Sewing Machine factory (foreground) and the National Separator Works (background), 1905. Courtesy of Guelph Civic Museums, 2009.32.820.)

In 1897, Charles Raymond retired as president of the Raymond Manufacturing Company. Thirty-five years in charge was certainly a long time, and new perspective might help keep the business afloat. Raymond was succeeded by the vice-president, Christian Kloepfer. That same year, the company was sold to the White Sewing Machine Company of Cleveland, Ohio. By 1899, the company joined the rush to market mechanical cream separators. For this purpose, a new, three-storey factory was built on the Baker Street lot, where the old burying ground once stood.

(Detail of "Insurance plan of the city of Guelph, Ontario, Canada," 1911, page 6. Courtesy of Library and Archives Canada, R6990-430-9-E.)

However, the decline of Raymond Manufacturing Company continued. In 1916, the White Sewing Machine Company took over direct management of it and, in 1922, the company's affairs were wound up.

However, Charles Raymond did not live to see its dissolution. He died on 4 June 1904 due to complications of a surgery meant to alleviate a threatening illness.

(First Baptist Church, still sporting its steeple, printed by the International Stationery Company, ca. 1910.)

Raymond's obituary in the local paper has not survived. However, it would certainly mention not only his business life but also his involvement in public affairs. For example, Charles Raymond was a deacon of the Baptist church and a Superintendent of its Sunday School. An 1880 biography also states that Raymond was a prime mover behind the construction of the First Baptist Church on Woolwich street, not far from his residence. Besides this, Raymond also had been President of both the Home and Foreign Baptist Missionary Societies. The biography also mentions that he contributed a "large sum" to the construction of the Congregational church, which was sited across Norfolk street from his residence. Apparently, Raymond attended Congregationalist services early in his residence in Guelph, having found the Baptist minister too Calvanist. (Also, his daughter Emma married John Crowe, another prominent local business figure and Congregationalist.)

Raymond was also active in civic affairs. He served on the local School Board and was Chairman of the city's Building Committee during his stint as a city alderman (councilor). In this office, Raymond was credited with playing an indispensible part in the building of the Central School on Dublin street.

("Portrait of Wellington County Council members, 1875." Courtesy of Wellington County Museum and Archives, A1981.90. Chas. Raymond is front row, centre.)

Besides Guelph, Raymond was active in County politics, serving as deputy Reeve of Wellington County and, as such, being instrumental in the building of the County "Poor House," now the Wellington County Museum in Aboyne.

("Raymond family on grounds in front of their second house, from a photograph that appeared in The Globe (Toronto) newspaper, 06 August 1892." Courtesy Wellington County Museum, A1985.110, ph. 7608.)

One other thing that Charles Raymond was remembered for was his hosting of His Excellency the Marquis of Lorne, Governor-General, and Her Royal Highness, the Princess Louise, during their tour of Guelph on 17 September 1879. The Marquis and his royal wife holed up at Raymond's residence for an hour or so during a break in official engagements in town, during their tour of Ontario cites. This visit was remembered in the city as it afforded the occasion when Guelph was semi-offically christened "The Royal City." For his part, Raymond commemorated the visit by naming his house Lornewood, a moniker that is still sometimes remembered today.

(Lornewood, 2009. Courtesy of Google Steet View.)

However, Raymond's name is today remembered mainly in connection with "Raymond's Sewing Machines" as it once again says on the sign over his old Yarmouth street factory.


Of course, Charles Raymond did not build and run the Sewing Machine factory by himself. At its height in the 1880s, the business employed about 200 people, a considerable number in a city of about 12,000.
("Raymond Sewing Machine Factory Employees circa 1890." Courtesy of Guelph Civic Museums, 1985.73.2.)

When Raymond first moved to Guelph in 1862, he brought 15 hands with him from Brattleboro (Mercury, 20 July 1927). One of those hands was Myron Burr, who later set up the "Burr & Skinner" furniture company with F.W. Skinner, at the corner of Oxford and Yorkshire streets. After Skinner retired from the firm, Myron and his brother Frank changed it to the Burr Bros. furniture company. This was bought up by the Canada Furniture Manufacturers in 1900.

In 1873, the Mercury (21 August) made note of J.B. Clyne, a young mechanic employed by Raymond who invented a kind of mechanical pigeon, after reading a description of one in an English newspaper. Called the "gyros pigeon," copies of the invention were available for purchase from Mr. P. Kribs. The Mercury reported its working as follows:

The flyer is a piece of tin, resembling in shape a two-bladed screw propeller, and a swift rotatory motion is given to this by an apparatus worked by a spring, which can be held in the hand or affixed to any stationary substance. The flight of the mock pigeon resembles curiously that of the living bird, and the direction of its movements can be controlled, by the person flying it; it can be made to skim along the ground, or to soar upwards; and one of its usual flights is to describe a circular path in the air like a boomerang.
The purpose of the automaton was to substitute for live pigeons in the popular sport of pigeon shooting, which had become controversial due to the cruelty it involved. Unfortunately, unlike the gyro pigeon, this idea never flew.
("Raymond Sewing Machine Office, Guelph," ca. 1903. Courtesy of Guelph Civic Museums, 1989.7.2.)

Another employee of note was Sam Terrell, who worked at the Raymond factory for 35 years, 20 as a foreman. When he retired in 1913, he was presented with a silver service of four pieces plus a tray. Terrell then moved to Victoria, B.C., to live with his daugther and son-in-law. However, he was interred in the Union (now Woodlawn) cemetery in Guelph after his death in 1923.

("Raymond Sewing Machine Factory Workers," 1910. Courtesy of Guelph Civic Museums, 2009.32.822.)

A final special employee was Mr. Isaac Spencer, an African American who was born in Virginia and enslaved there. Fortunately, he found his way to freedom and became an employee of the Raymond company around 1865. He worked there for some 30 years, nearly to the day of his death (Mercury, 21 October 1895). His obituary adds the following details:

He delighted to amuse his hearers by telling thrilling reminiscences of his early slavery days. Though he could neither read nor write he was possessed of a shrewd sense of fair judgment, and withal was honest and upright, and led a good life. His age is given as 75 years, but many believe he is much older. He was married the second time a few years ago, and his widow survives him. He was well known in the city, and respected by all for his honesty, industry and good character.
It is a shame that his story, and his stories, are not better known.
Works consulted for this post include: