Tuesday, 26 February 2013

St. George's Square

This panoramic postcard depicts the epicenter of downtown Guelph, namely St. George's Square, looking north.  The street to the left is Upper Wyndham St., whereas the street on the right is Douglas Street.



This postcard is an unusual one because it is, so far, the only double postcard in my collection.  That is, it is the width of two standard postcards.  If you look in the middle of the card, you can see a crease where it is designed to be folded in half, with the picture on the inside.  I suppose this arrangement makes sense since it leaves the destination address visible outside to the mail handlers.

The card was printed by the Warwick Bro's & Rutter of Toronto, which we have seen before.  The card was not sent or postmarked, so the date of production is unclear.  However, the scene itself can be dated by clues from the structures depicted in it.

For example, note the tower of the "Old Post Office" in the center of the picture.  In A Picture History of Guelph (p. 56), Robert Stewart notes that the clock was installed in the tower in 1906.  Since the tower is shown with its clock, it cannot be older that that.

Notice also that the streetcars in the picture are diverted around the fountain and plantings in the octagonal island in the middle of the Square.  (The fountain was known as "Blacksmith Fountain" and has since been moved to another location.)  A photo from the Guelph Public Library database, taken of the Guelph "Old Boys Reunion" in 1908, shows that the island had been replanted strictly with grass and restructured into an oval shape, with its long axis aligned with Wyndham St.  So, the postcard, with its octagonal island, cannot be newer than that.

Therefore, let's say that the photo in the postcard was taken ca. 1907.

One of the most basic questions about St. George's Square is, "How did it get that name?"  In the postcard, if you look down Douglas Street to the right of the Old Post Office, you can see the spire of St. George's Anglican Church reaching upwards at the end of the block.  In fact, St. George's Church was originally located in the middle of the Square, right about where the Fountain later stood.  As noted in the History of St. George's Parish (p. 3), John Galt, the founder of Guelph, had "set aside for the Anglicans a plot of rising ground where they might build their church."  The first St. George's was a frame building, followed by a stone structure on the same site.  However, a third and perhaps more convenient St. George's Church was built from 1870 on Woolwich St., at the end of Douglas.  This move allowed the creation of St. George's Square, a generous public space in the middle of the city, named in honour of the structure that made way for it.

St. George's Square remains the middle of downtown Guelph, although its configuration and environment have been profoundly altered, as the current Google Streetview image shows:


View Larger Map

There are plenty more views of St. George's Square, so we shall return!

Thursday, 21 February 2013

Park Avenue

Here is a postcard that provides an image of a residential street in Guelph, namely Park Avenue.  The card is postmarked for August 1st, 1914.


This postcard was printed in Canada for C. Anderson and Co., Guelph by Warwick Bro's & Rutter of Toronto.  Printing in the lower left-hand side identifies the scene as Park Avenue in Guelph.  Vernon's City Directory of Guelph in 1917 (p. 70) lists C. Anderson and Co. as  "booksellers, stationers, china and fancy goods" at phone number 256, located at 53 Wyndham St. (now the location of the Quebec St. mall in St. George's Square), the perfect sort of place to find postcards.  Warwick Bro's & Rutter were a Toronto-based company that printed over 7,000 different postcards during the "Golden Age of Postcards" in 1901-1913.  So, this card is in some good company.

The photograph looks down Park Avenue from London Rd. W. towards Suffolk St. W.  The photographer was probably standing on the edge of Exhibition Park, for which I assume Park Avenue is named.  One thing that impresses me about the picture is the tree canopy: Each side of Park Ave. is lined with a regular row of trees, probably maples.  Now, have a look at a similar angle from Google Streetview:



The street remains remarkably similar, with many of the same trees probably in both pictures!

Also in evidence is the same house on the right side of Park Ave.  That is "Parkview", the immodest home of George B. Ryan, the prosperous owner of G. B. Ryan & Co. a "dry goods, millinery, clothing and furnishings" store on Wyndham St.  Parkview is listed in the Canadian Register of Historic Places, so I will defer to their description:

Parkview was designed by architect, G.M. Miller. Miller also designed the famous Massey Hall, at the University of Guelph. Parkview was built from 1894 to 1895 for G.B. Ryan. Ryan was a prosperous Wyndham Street clothing merchant. This building is one of Guelph's most palatial homes and remains a valuable contribution to the heritage buildings in Guelph.
Designed in the Baronial phase of the Queen Anne style, Parkview is a fine example of the skilled craftsmanship and ornate detailing of mason T. Matthews. Parkview features masses of heavy masonry, typical of Scottish Baronial architecture, specifically surrounding the porch entrance. Characteristic of the Queen Anne style, Parkview exhibits tremendous variety and complexity of detail, with complex wall surface patterns and various roof pitches, including a tower. Parkview is among the most outstanding examples of this late Victorian style in Ontario. It was built of pressed red-brick on a red sandstone foundation, with masonry details of sandstone and a roof of grey slate. The exterior features a circular three-storey tower, including a conical roof, as well as decorative gables and porches.
Clearly, the dry goods and clothing business in Guelph was very good!

The Guelph Civic Museum has pictures of Parkview from ca. 1907 and from 1978.  

Just on the left edge of the frame is another house of note, this one designated by Heritage Guelph, that is, "London House".  It is now the site of the London House Bed and Breakfast, from which we can obtain this description:
The house was built in 1893 for John G. Sully ... John G. Sully, a carpenter, later became General Manager and half-owner of the Raymond Sewing Machine Company. Sully also served as a director of the Guelph Opera House, and alderman for St. David’s Ward, Chairman of the parks Committee and head of the Fire and Light Department.

Like Parkview, London House is an example of the then-popular Queen Anne style, although with its decoration mostly in scroll-cut and painted wood instead of Baronial stonework.  One wonders what John Scully thought of George Ryan's monster home being built right across the street only one year after the construction of his own dream home.

In any event, if you want stay in a historic house in Guelph, this may well be your best choice!  (As another distinction, some of the scenes for the TV movie "Me and Luke" were shot in front of this house.)

The presence of Parkview and London House testify to the fact that Park Ave. is perhaps the smartest address in the Exhibition Park neighbourhood.  It is curious, then, that the postcard does not clearly capture either residence.  The street itself is what the photographer evidently thought most worth recording.  We can only speculate as to why that is.  Perhaps the straightness of the road and the regularity of its tree planting provided a worthy example of the taming of nature in civilization. 

In addition to the picture on the front, this card has a message recorded on the back:
8-1-14
Hello Archie: Lovely day for the race, isn't it.  The rain did not effect [sic] the corn any.  Good thing isn't it.  Think I'll go coon hunting tomorrow.  Can you loan me your two good coon dogs.
E.M.C.
The card was addressed to "Mr. A. G. Dingman, R.R. #3, Shedden, Ont."  Shedden is a small town just southwest of St. Thomas, and is the "Rhubarb capital of Ontario" according to its Wikipedia entry.  Apparently, it was also once a great place to shoot raccoons.  Why E.M.C. should have and choose a postcard of Park Avenue in Guelph to arrange some 'coon hunting in Shedden is something likely now lost in the mists of time.  Nevertheless, I am glad that he did.  Also, it illustrates the fact that postcards were often used at the time to communicate quotidian messages over short distances, rather than to illustrate one's travels to people far away.

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

St. Agnes School

I have been working on my collection of postcards of Guelph and decided that a blog would be a good way of sharing them with the community.  My plan is to scan and post pictures of Guelph from times gone by, as recorded in postcards.  My hope is that these images and commentaries will provide an interesting window onto the history of the city.

Shout out to Postcards Then and Now on which this blog is modeled and to Parisian Fields where you can find fascinating postcards of Paris along with other information about the City of Light.

My first posting is about St. Agnes School.  Here is an image from a postcard postmarked in 1913.


The postcard was printed by Valentine & Sons United Publishing of Toronto and Winnipeg.  According to the Toronto Postcard Club, the Valentines were Scottish photographers whose company eventually expanded to include postcards of Canadian scenes, around the turn of the 20th century.

The postcard shows St. Agnes school viewed from Cork St. W., near the intersection with Dublin St.  The text printed in the upper right corner identifies the building as "St. Agnes School, Guelph, Ont., Canada".  In the lower right corner is "106,384 (JV)", perhaps a numeric identifier and the initials of one of the Valentines.   There is a cancellation mark in the upper left corner, across the top of the school tower.

The book Guelph: Perspectives on a century of change 1900-2000 contains some interesting facts about the school.  It notes that St. Agnes was an elementary girls' school  paired with the elementary boys' school St. Stanislaus alongside the Church of Our Lady on the City's so-called "Catholic Hill".  Boys and girls were rigourously separated (p. 13):
The girls were not allowed to walk home past the boys' school.  If they lived on that side of town, they had to go the long way around.
The postcard shows a young woman standing in the doorway to the right of the tower, perhaps considering which direction she would rather set off in.  The book notes that St. Agnes acquired its second story in 1909, suggesting that the postcard photo dates from between then and 1913.  In 1932, the Catholic schools were reorganized, at which time primary boys' and girls' classes were located at St. Agnes, while senior boys and girls went to St. Stanislaus (p. 33).  The school was closed around 1953, perhaps in favor of the new and larger Holy Rosary School.

Built in 1877, the school was built in a version of the then-popular Second Empire style, with its high mansard roof and dormers.  The building is still quite recognizable now, although the dormers in the tower have been removed, as can be seen in the Google Streetview image here:


The Guelph Mercury notes that St. Agnes may soon face the wrecker's ball, in spite of some interest in it, due to its poor condition:

Noon [Pastor of the Church of Our Lady] said there are no immediate plans for St. Agnes School, a vacant building along Cork Street, just west of the new Guelph Civic Museum. A number of interested parties have taken tours of the building, but all declined to make a bid because of the costly renovations needed. It is not a heritage building.  A condominium developer, a fitness club, and a law office all expressed interest, “but backed away when they saw the amount of work that needed to be done in there,” Noon said.“It’s just sitting there now. We put interest out, but we got very little response.”
The Streetview image shows metal bands attached to the right-hand corner of the building, testifying to its rough condition.  Even so, it is a lovely building, redolent with local character and in a prime location.  I can only hope that some means for rejuvenating it can be found.

The Guelph Civic Museum (now housed in the Loretto Convent next door) has a photo of St. Agnes from 1979, showing its dormers, crest rails and cross still intact.  Was it still in use at the time?

Besides its subject, the postcard also contains a message.  It was addressed to a "Miss Edna Wilson, R.M.D. Guelph, Canada."  (If anyone knows what R.M.D. stands for, please note it down in the comments!)  Here is the text:
45 Woolwich St.
Dear Cousin:
I am sorry I didn't write before this.  I am back to school again.  You would hear that Papa went west.  I heard from him last week.  Are you at nonies' [?] now?  Write soon.
Regards to all.  Ethel
There is an Ethel Maud Wilson of Guelph (daughter of Cornelius Wilson) listed in the 1911 Census, as well as an Edna E. Wilson of Eramosa (daughter of David H Wilson) who may be the correspondents.  Ethel was born in 1887, and so would not have been a student at St. Agnes, so it is unclear what school she is referring to in her note.

The address of 45 Woolwich St. no longer exists; it is now the approximate location of the River Run Centre.  However, from Vernon's City Directory of Guelph from 1917, it appears to have been the residence of Frank Taylor, a tailor!  Did Mr. Taylor rent out rooms?

Also intriguing is the fact that Ethel's father "went west".  Where to, for what purpose, and for how long?

I note that both originating and delivery addresses are in Guelph.  It appears that neither woman had easy access to a telephone and would not have had the opportunity to speak face to face.  In any event, the card illustrates how postcards were often used to convey short notes intended to stay in touch, as opposed to the later norm of sharing special places that the sender had visited.  Besides, in those days, mail within the city could sometimes be delivered on the same day that it was sent, so that messages sent by postcards could be much more immediate than you might expect today.

That's all that I have for now.  Comments welcome!



30 April 2016: Further details about the history of St. Agnes—and some corrections—can be found in my article about the school.