Wednesday, 27 March 2013

The Church of Our Lady

Actually, the full title is The Church of Our Lady Immaculate, but the label is often shortened to just "The Church of Our Lady" for purposes of conversation. Here is an image of the Church of Our Lady from an unused postcard in my collection.



As the postcard was not used, there is no date or postmark, but you can just see the tail of a slab-like car from the around 1970 on the extreme right, dating the photo to that period. The postcard was produced by "Mutual Wholesale Stationary Limited" of London, Ontario, and finished in "Prismaflex color" by Wilson, Dryden, Ont.

The basic facts about the Church are summarized nicely by Anderson and Matheson (2000, p. 181), which I will excerpt briefly here:

Like traditional European towns, Guelph's Victorian skyline was defined by its church spires, most of them the product of a church-building fever in the late 1860s and early 1870s. The most commanding was the Church of Our Lady (1876–1888), the third Catholic church built on that site, succeeding the original St. Patrick's which was burned, and St. Bartholomew's [which was torn down]. Designed by Joseph Connolly, the leading Catholic architect in Canada, it was consciously modeled on medieval French Gothic precedents even though it was never a cathedral. The towers and interior were not completed during the 19th century.
I will save more background material for other postings.

The theme of this post is the "commanding" nature of the church, especially due to its siting. The downtown core of Guelph is overlooked by three drumlins, hills left over from the retreat of the glaciers. The closest is the site of the Church. So, the Church towers over the local scene through its lofty perch. Also, the Church anchors Macdonell St., a main axis, which stretches between the Church and the site where John Galt founded the town with the felling of a maple tree. How did a Catholic church end up on a premiere site in a planned, British town?

Briefly, the answer is that Galt was friends with the region's Catholic bishop, Alexander Macdonell, a fellow Scotsman. Macdonell was of material help to Galt in gaining access to the land. Galt reciprocated by naming a main street after the bishop and designating the choice site for the Catholic church, as Galt explains himself (Johnson, 1977, p. 113):

... a beautiful central hill was reserved for the Catholics, in compliment to my friend, Bishop Macdonell, for his advice in the formation of the [Canada] Company.
Also, it seems that Galt hoped Guelph would become the seat of Cardinal Weld and thus add to its importance. This ambition was never realized.

The vertical thrust of the building's facade makes it an impressive capital for the hilltop. With its two towers, central spire (somewhat in the background in the postcard), and tall pointed front gable, the church reaches heavenward. The only way to do it justice is with a portait-oriented picture. The oddity of the other option, that is, landscape orientation, is evident in the postcard below.



This postcard is also unmarked but appears to be from a series produced in the mid 1950s by "The Photogelatine Engraving Co. Ltd" of Toronto using the Kodachrome process. Although it is taken from a similar perspective as the first card, it illustrates the awkwardness of trying to capture the rather vertical facade in a horizontal frame. Our Lady appears like a weird, limestone toad squatting on a lily pad.

Here is a view of the Church from Google Streetview, from roughly the same perspective as the postcards above. Of course, it is available only in landscape orientation, so it appears a little different than the top view.


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To illustrate the dominance that the church enjoys by virtue of its site, I will include some further Streetview sightings here. This view is from near the foot of the drumlin, at Gordon and Surrey Streets.


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The view below is from the opposite direction, at the intersection of Yarmouth, Quebec, Paisley, and Norfolk Streets.


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The view below here is from near the crest of another drumlin across the downtown, on Eramosa Road. This view is more impressive in real life than it seems possible to capture in Streetview.


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I do not want to belabour the point, but I think that one more perspective will be of interest. In this case, the Church tower-tops can only be glimpsed in a gap in the tree-tops along Wellington Street. Yet, it is there, and more visible in the winter when leaves have fallen away.


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The value of these views is shown by the fact that the City passed a by-law in 1974 limiting the heights of buildings and towers along sight-lines to the Church. These views, like the building itself, are a part of the City's charm and heritage.

Friday, 22 March 2013

The floral clock

The city of Guelph has a fair number of parks, each with different attractions and amenities.  One of those attractions is the Floral Clock, located in Riverside Park.  Have a look:


What time was it?  I make it out as 3:32pm.

On the back, the image is credited to "L. F. Charter, R.R. 4, Picton, Ontario", while the printing process is described as "Spectrome color, Wilson, Dryden Ont.".  The label correctly identifies the image as that of "The Floral Clock, Riverside Park, Guelph, Ontario, Canada".

According to Paul Lavoie's "The Floral Clock in Riverside Park" (vol. 19, 1980), the floral clock is the work of John "Jock" Clark, who was the Park Administrator and servant of the City from 1948 until his death in 1973.  He was born at Crail Fife in Scotland on September 3, 1914, which would account for the nickname "Jock".

Besides his talents as a public servant, Jock was also a determined clock enthusiast.  The article notes that he had a hobby of collecting old clocks from various places while he was a young sailor.  Three years in the planning, the Floral Clock was installed in 1954.  The clock's face is 28' or about 8.5m across and requires the planting of about 6000 flowers and other plants, which are renewed each year.

The clock mechanism itself testifies to careful design.  The hands have (still?) an aluminum base balanced by a hidden steel plate and weigh 420 lbs (ca. 190 kg) when laden with 120 or so plants and soil.  The clock is set at a 27 degree angle, requiring the weight of the plants to be carefully balanced if the hands are to be able to turn through a full circle.  The challenges of running an accurate clock out-of-doors in all weather were also carefully considered (p. 74):

Jock's clocks were made to withstand climatic changes and Guelph's floral clock runs continually, summer and winter. The hands of the clock are run by a small one-quarter-horsepower motor. They are supported by a granite centre base to keep dirt off and the whole clock face is tile drained to prevent washout. To adjust the time, the motor is simply speeded up or slowed down accordingly.

To serve as an accurate timekeeper the clock has a reduction drive from an electric motor to the hands. This drive comprises a belt drive to a double reduction gear box, a worm wheel reducer from the gear box to a shaft which directly supports the minute hand and a first spur gear reduction train from the second shaft to a hollow shaft co-axial with the first shaft, the hollow shaft supporting the hour hand. The minute hand is twelve feet six inches in length and the hour hand is nine feet six inches.
Although it was inspired by a floral clock constructed in Edinburgh, Jock's design had the distinction of being much larger and was indeed patented (No. 64741) at the time.


Every spring, the clock face is re-planted to a special theme.  For example, in 1976, it was planted to honour the Montreal Olympics that took place that year.  In 1977, it commemorated the 150th anniversary of the City of Guelph.  The rim around the clock face often carries a slogan at the bottom and the current date at the top.  Neither feature is visible in the postcard above, but they can be observed in this Flickr photo by Victor Mazar:



The slogan is, "Making a difference" and the date of the photo was "June 9, 2008".  The then-new City of Guelph logo is visible on the clock face.  Note that the clock has gone from Roman numerals (in the postcard) to Arabic ones.

Because of tree plantings, it can be a little difficult to see the clock from Woolwich St.  Here is the best Google Streetview image that is available at present:


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The postcard has a smudged cancellation mark of June or July of 1964 and is addressed to "Miss Jaclyn O'Dell, 9 Dewey St., Sayville, N.Y., USA", Sayville being a small town on Long Island.  The message, scrawled in a broad hand, appears to read as follows:
Hi Sweethart,
hop this card find you in fine helth and good cheer as I am fine.  Wish you where here to help me out.
Uncle [?] Marshall
The "I am fine, wish you were here" expression is a standard sentiment for postcards later in the 20th century (and today), as explained in this British "Phrase finder":
'Wish you were here' has long been expressed in letters home by people on holiday. It is most often associated with postcards though. ...
The 'wish you were here' sentiment soon became a clich├ę and appeared on a high percentage of cards, often preceded by 'having a lovely time'. So much so that cards became available with the text pre-printed.
The text may be somewhat clich├ęd, but Marshall has added some personal touches, addressing his niece as "sweethart" and wishing for her help with some task that had apparently taken him to Guelph from New York.  I imagine that she was happy to have her uncle connect with her this way.

On April 23, 1827, John Galt and company founded the city by felling a maple tree near a bend in the Speed River.  On the next day, Robert Thompson relates how a clock, in the form of a sundial, was placed on the stump of that tree (p. 2):
The stump was afterwards fenced round, neatly leveled and dressed on the top, and a sun-dial placed on it, which answered as the town clock for several years.
So, I think that the floral clock is a very suitable centerpiece for a Guelph park as well as an appropriate monument to "Jock" Clark.

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Guelph after dark

This postcard is an unusual one.  Normally, postcards are based on photos of outdoor, daytime scenes.  Except in small spaces, there were few practical ways of illuminating a large, outdoor space in order to take a photograph.  However, this postcard is clearly set after dark.


The postcard was published by Valentine & Sons' Publishing Company of Dundee, Scotland, and was printed in Great Britain.  There is no writing or post mark on the back.  The text in the upper right corner says "Post Office & Wyndham St., Guelph, Ont."  In the lower right corner is the text "102,147 (JV)", perhaps a serial number from the publisher.

Probably, you recognize this scene as St. George's Square, which was introduced in a previous posting.    Recall from that posting that the "Old Post Office" (as it was later known) had a clock installed in its tower in November, 1906.  Since the clock is missing in the picture above, it should be from before then. It also happens that the Old Post Office received its third floor in 1902 (Coulman 1977, n. 147).  So, the photo in the postcard appears to show St. George's Square as it was in about 1905.

Set at nighttime, the picture is of special interest for a number of reasons.  For one, it emphasizes the importance of street lighting to the city.  Note the tall pole in the middle of the image, standing beside the island, to the left of the "Blacksmith fountain".  At the top of the pole is a crossbar from which two lamps are hanging.  Those lamps seem to be radiating a cool, blue light into the warm, dark air above the Square.

In fact, those lamps are arc lights.  Each lamp consists of two small carbon rods separated by a gap.  Light is produced by passing a spark across the gap at high voltage.  Although it is hard to tell from this picture, the lights are suspended from the cross bar by block-and-tackle set that can be accessed near the base of the pole.  That is a good thing as the carbon burns out quickly and must be frequently replaced.  The City would have had some employees whose job it was to maintain the lights.  They would go from pole to pole on a schedule, hauling a cart carrying supplies.  At each post, the employee would loosen the rope from its cleat, lower the lamps, and assess the carbon rods in them, replacing them as required.

David Allan (1939, p. 64) notes that the arc light system first appeared in Guelph on January 11th of 1888, replacing the previous lighting system based on coal gas.  In her book "The history of the Board of Light and Heat Commissioners of the City of Guelph" (2001, p. 10), Elizabeth Thomson notes that the arc lights were themselves replaced in 1912 by a system based on incandescent bulbs.

Beyond these technological changes, the presence of night lighting had some profound effects on how people used the streets.  For example, it changed the night life of the city.  As Paul Moore (2004) explains, city streets were associated with poverty, prostitution, and other unsavoury things, at least after dark.  The advent of street lighting allowed the nighttime streets to be rehabilitated for respectable, middle-class activities such as shopping and movie-going.

Of course, the opening up of city night life did have some unintended and unwelcome (to some) consequences, as becomes clear in this November 30, 1912 Toronto Star article, entitled "Guelph Young People Must Keep off the Streets":
A meeting of the Police Commissioners was held Saturday to consider drafting a by-law to prohibit young people from promenading up and down the streets of the city and in the public parks at all hours of the evening until late at night unless they have with them a chaperon.
Mayor [George] Thorp, one member of the Commission, states that some stringent means must be taken to prevent promiscuous promenading in the city for hours at night, as conditions here during the past year have been shocking.
Why not just turn off the lights?

Thorp's dismay highlights the general anxiety over regulation of night life in the era of street lighting.  With "stringent" control, perhaps with the aid of police, street lights would permit city night life to take on a safe and respectable, middle-class character.

Also, I am intrigued by a comment that David Allan makes about the character of the light shed by the arc lighting of the streets, based on the fact that they are suspended from a pole (1939, p. 64):
The light swayed back and forth with the wind and produced deep, shifting shadows.
Imagine walking through St. George's Square or down one of other old city streets at night with the lamps swaying back and forth in the breeze!

Unfortunately, there is no evidence of this dramatic lighting in the postcard.  Although the moon appears to be casting shadows, the street lights do not.  In fact, this observation suggests that this postcard is not quite what it appears to be: Why is the moon casting shadows but not the street lighting?  The answer is that this postcard scene is taken from a daytime photo of the Square, not one taken at night!  Have a look at the following postcard:



Look familiar?  In fact, this treatment of daylight images is not so unusual.  The trope involved taking a daylight image, darkening the sky and scenery, adding a moon wreathed in wispy clouds, then making other corrections, such as erasing a lady's parasol in this case.  Fiendishly, the colourizer has also erased the town clock, which is clearly visible in the daylight image.  In fact, this picture must date from after November 1906, when the clock in the Old Post Office was installed, but before the island in the middle of the Square was turned into an oval shape later in 1908.

Here is the scene today in Google Streetview:



Although the central island is long gone, the street light at the corner of Quebec and Wyndham streets, near the center middle-ground, is near to the location of the old arc lamp pole.  How many of the City's youth have promiscuously promenaded beneath it, I wonder?

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

The Priory

Here is a postcard of what is arguably Guelph's most historic structure, namely "The Priory".  Also, it seems to have been Guelph's most popular early postcard subject, to judge from the number of different printers that used this photo and colourized it in different ways (more on that topic another time).



The back of the card has the title "Private Post Card" but no maker is listed.  The text in the lower, left-hand corner says, "First house in Guelph (now C.P.R. station), Guelph, Ontario."

The Priory was the first permanent structure built in Guelph, after its founding on St. George's Day, April 23rd, 1827.  The structure got its name from its builder, Charles Prior, who was one of the party that accompanied John Galt, the founder, to the site where the city was to be located.  It was intended to be the residence of the Canada Company officers in the district, and so had to be of a dignified appearance.  Thus, Galt saw to its design and construction himself, as noted by Charles Burrows in Annals of the town of Guelph, 1827-1877 (p. 6):
The house, which is beautifully situated on the south bank of the river Speed, was built of squared logs, was large and commodious, and with the rustic porch, presents a very fine appearance, though somewhat rough, imitation of Ionic architecture, and stands to this day as a witness of the practical skill and artistic taste of Mr. Galt, who drew the plans and superintended the work.
Given the lack of buildings in Guelph's early days, it is not surprising to learn that the Priory served a number of purposes.  For example, the south wing, the lean-to structure on the closest side of the building in the picture, served as a tavern and a post office, even as it was being finished.

The Priory also had a variety of owners.  In 1838, for example, it was bought by William Allan, builder of Allan's Mill nearby on the Speed river.  On his retirement in 1847, the building passed in to the possession of his son, David Allan, until 1876 (Allan 1939, p. 29).  David Allan was the architect of some of noteworthy local structures, such as the distinctive Court House and St. Andrew's Church (Coulman, n. 10).  The Priory was then owned by David Spence until 1887, after which it became the  local Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) station, which it remained until 1911 (Coulman 1976, n. 11).

As you can see from this picture, the Priory initially had a beautiful view of the Speed river.  It was also conveniently located next to Allan's Mill (far left in the picture) and Allan's bridge over the Speed.  When it became the CPR station, that connection seems to have remained palpable, according to message written on the back of the postcard:
This is the first place we came to in Guelph and the first house that was was [sic] built in Guelph; it was so pretty it was all green and the river is on the other side of the line.
The postcard is not addressed or postmarked, suggesting that it was used not as a message to someone else but as a kind of aide memoire for the author when passing through the city.

According to Stewart (Vol. 1, p. 48), the photo in this postcard shows the station as it appeared around 1910.  (You can view the original photo here.)  Note the two ladders that appear in the scene.  On the far left is a short ladder placed up against a lamp stand.  I would guess that the lamp ran on coal gas and needed to be lit by a lamplighter each evening.  (I should have more to say about lighting in a later blog.)

Near the middle of the picture is a taller ladder leaning against the roof of the Priory.  Like the smaller ladder, this one is not present by chance.  Note that the ladder rests on a special pad in front of the railing and is secured to the roof by a bar.  Beside the top of the ladder is a pole that projects past the eve of the roof.  From the end of the pole is suspended a metal disk with two holes through it.  It appears to be a railway switch (or signal?)!  That is, it must be rotated in one direction to connect track A with track B, and in the opposite direction to connect track A with track C.

Have a look at the photo below.  It shows the Priory with a train in front of it but with no switch on the roof.  Instead, the switch is at the south end of the platform, in front of the camera, where the three tracks meet (courtesy of the Guelph Historical Railway Association).


It appears that the original switch (note: also accessed by a ladder) was later moved to the roof of the Priory.  Why would anyone move a switch to the roof of the building?  It seems horribly inconvenient to have to climb a tall ladder to change a switch!  The only reason that I can think of is that the location on the roof is easier for the train engineer to see than the location further away and lower down at the crossing in front of Allan's bridge.  Was there an accident that prompted the change?  (A search of the city newspapers might turn that up at some point.)

The new switch installation appears to have evolved over time.  This photo in the Guelph Public Library collection (ca. 1905) shows a ladder that is secured by simply being stuck on the ground and then having its top wedged under the eves.  (Also, the vines have been trimmed back, the gas lamp is present, and the railing in front of the station is of a simpler design.)  Hardly a robust setup!  Even though the ladder bottom appears to be painted, being wooden, it would eventually rot from moisture absorbed from the ground, and the whole thing would probably topple from time to time.  No wonder it was later shortened, placed on a stone pad and clamped to the roof.

You may be curious to know what the Priory looks like today.  Here is a Google Streetview picture, taken from roughly the same perspective as the photo in the postcard.


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The Priory would be on the other side of the railway tracks, in the vicinity of the tall utility pole that stands beside Woolwich St. in the middle background.  What happened?

Sadly, after 1911, the Priory fell into ruin and its carcass was dispersed.  Johnson (1977, pp. 317-321) relates the story in some detail, which I will summarize here.  At the urging of the City Council and Board of Trade, the CPR decided to construct a new railway station in the city.  This was completed and then opened in November of 1911.  After that, the Priory stood vacant.

George Sleeman, the brewer and former Mayor of Guelph, purchased the building and had it moved further away from the river to a vacant lot while trying to muster support for a preservation scheme.  However, there was not enough support from the community and the building deteriorated and was condemned by the City building inspector in 1926.

Sleeman moved the two lean-to sections to his own property.  (Why not the whole thing?) They were apparently donated to the Doon Heritage Village in Kitchener in 1957 (Stewart 1976, p. 48), a move that was described in the Guelph Mercury as "high-handed" and a "disappearance".  For all I know, they remain there still, like the Avro Arrow, crated up and waiting for the time of their return.  The logs of the main section were stored for a time and then dumped in Riverside Park in the 1930s, where they were cut up and used for firewood.

The final blow fell in the late 1970s, when Woolwich St. was moved east toward the river, so as to connect with Wellington St.  In the process, the site of the Priory was partially regraded and paved.

However, not all memory of the Priory has been lost.  Two models of the structure were made by Mr. W. A. Cowan from measurements of the original (Allan 1939, p. 32, n. 5).  A large one was stationed in Riverside Park, where it can still be seen (suitably restored).   A smaller model was given to the Guelph Civic Museum, where it still resides.  If you are in the neighbourhood sometime, you can drop in and have a look.

It is too bad that the Priory did not survive longer but 99 years is a long time for most structures.  If it were around today, it would likely be a central part of the Civic Museum, perhaps a National Historic Site and interpretive center.  In any event, its history serves as a reminder of how Guelph got its start, and how it adapted to changes in times and technology over the years.

Update (12 March 2013): In looking through my collection, I see that I have a postcard featuring the same picture of the Priory above with a post mark of 9 Oct. 1905.  Thus, the dating of the picture to ca. 1910 is too late.  The photo probably dates to ca. 1900.  In that case, this photo dated to ca. 1905 should probably also be dated back, to ca. 1895.

Update (20 March 2013): Ron Brown's book "The train doesn't stop here anymore" clarifies the nature of the disk hanging from the pole on the Priory roof.  It is an "order board"!  Here is how it worked (pp. 11-12):
They gave the locomotive engineer his instructions on whether to stop or to proceed without stopping.

Originally, there were no train order boards. Engineers were required to stop at each station and sign for their orders. ...

Oval in shape, the boards pivoted on a spindle and were controlled by a chain that was attached to a lever inside the agent's office.  When the board was parallel to the track, it was a "clear board" and the engineer could proceed without stopping.  When the board was perpendicular to the track, the engineer must stop. ...

With the introduction of the order board, the engineer no longer had to stop the train and enter the station to receive his orders.  Instead, he simply slowed the engine while the agent handed them up on the end of a long hoop or fork.
It would appear that the mechanism on the Priory roof is a (crude) version of this device.