Wednesday, 21 December 2016

Merry Xmas Tokyo, 1908!

The picture side of this postcard is common enough, providing a view of the Priory, the "First House in Guelph, now CPR Station" printed by Warwick Bro’s & Rutter, Limited of Toronto.


However, the reverse side is more interesting, for two reasons.

First, it conveys Xmas greetings from Guelph to an unusual destination, that is, Tokyo Japan:

Xmas 1908 // Dear Miss Blackmore, As you are so ancient I suppose you will remember dates prior to the building of this house. I thought that you would be interested in old things. Merry Xmas. Hope you got my other message. Sincerely Yours, Margaret E. A.
The postcard was postmarked in Guelph on 30 November 1908 and in Tokyo on 26 December 1908.

The reverse side also has an interesting Japanese postmark and some Japanese writing on it.


Perhaps the Japanese writing provides a more specific address. If anyone can read it, please let us know what it says in the comments below!

I am not sure who the sender is. There was a Margaret E A Griffin, matron of the House of Industry and Refuge near Fergus. That would fit the signature "Margaret E. A." but that's about it.

Oddly, I have a better idea about the addressee, Miss Blackmore. I believe that she is Miss Isabell Slade Blackmore of North River district, Colchester County, Nova Scotia. Born in 1863, the third daughter of Richard and Margaret Blackmore, a Truro area farm family, Isabell had become a local school teacher. At age 19, she had joined the Methodist Church and began thinking about missionary work.

By her own account, the calling to spread the gospel overseas became urgent and she applied to join the Canadian Methodist Women's Missionary Society (WMS), noting in her application ("A sensitive independence", Gagan 1992, p. 26):

[T]he conviction that help such as I could give was needed in the Lord's Vineyards abroad, became so strong that I could no longer put it aside ... All I have and am I wish to belong to Christ. Gladly will I work in His service in any way or anywhere, if I may but know I am doing His will. As to how soon I can go, I feel I am given but one answer. When the Master has need of me.
Evidently, the WMS was impressed and sent Miss Blackmore to Tokyo in 1889, where she remained (with occasional furloughs back to Canada) until 1924.

Japan was an exciting place to be a missionary in that time. With the Meiji Restoration of 1868 and the establishment of the Meiji constitution in 1889, Japan became open to western influence. The WMS seized the opportunity to set the Japanese people on the right path amidst the resulting cultural tumult ("Missionary leaflet," February 1892, v. 8, no. 2, p. 7):

Great changes, due to contact with the West, are in progress, some of an alarming nature. We refer to Rationalism, Unitarianism, and the New Theology, which has filled the minds of some of young Japan’s travellers to the West. It is encouraging, however, for us to know that those missionaries, whose sole aim is to lead men to Christ and to build them up in holiness, have very little trouble with the new “isms” among their converts. The missionary, political and commercial atmosphere of Japan is now electrified as never before. The land lies before us, and shall we not “go up and possess it?” Pray that the God of all wisdom may guide this intelligent and energetic people in this transition period of their country’s history.
The missionaries set up schools, concentrating on the Christian education of Japanese children. Apparently, these institutions were popular and successful.

Of course, along with Japanese receptivity to western ideas came military friction with western powers, as everyone jostled for influence in East Asia. In the Russo-Japanese War of 1904–1905, for example, the Japanese navy decisively defeated the Russian navy, thus giving Japan hegemony over Korea and Manchuria.

Japanese expansion put it on a collision course with the United States, which was moving into the Philippines and Guam. Realizing the the US Navy was not up to a fight with Japan, President Theodore Roosevelt had ordered the construction of 11 new battleships. In 1908, in a sort of pivot to Asia, Roosevelt sent the newly beefed-up Atlantic fleet on a world tour, which included a call on Yokohama in October. Known as the "Great White Fleet" for its white paint job, the visit sent a not-very-subtle message that American power in the Pacific was not to be taken lightly.

The event was recorded in many postcards, which may be viewed online at the Old Tokyo Vintage Japanese Postcard Museum and at The Peaceful Sea. Perhaps the oddest souvenir of the visit is this ashtray with a commemorative postcard embedded in the bottom!

By Naval History & Heritage Command from Washington, DC, USA (76-172-I Ashtray, Souvenir, Great White Fleet) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

The postcard shows a picture of the USS Kansas and what I assume is her commander, Captain Charles E. Vreeland.

Although the missionaries of the WMS seemingly paid little attention to world events, they must have wondered what this visit portended.

Shortly thereafter, Miss Blackmore received a postcard from Margaret E A from Guelph. Isabell and Margaret may have met in Guelph before. Miss Blackmore had visited the Royal City during the week of 22 October 1901 on furlough, during the annual meeting of the Board of Managers of the WMS, that year in Dublin Street Methodist (now United) Church (Globe, 23 Oct. 1901).


(Dublin Street United Church, Guelph. Courtesy of Google Street View.)

Isabell expressed optimism about the work of the WMS in Japan:

Miss Blackmore, home on furlough from Japan, spoke on the revival there. She was sure the work would be permanent. The Japanese had shown a great deal of activity during the revival, in their giving and in their work. Results could be traced directly to past work, and the Japanese Christians had learned to delight in the work.
It may be that Isabell and Margaret met and struck up a correspondence then.

The United Church of Canada Archives have some pictures of Isabell (called "Isabella Blackmore"). Here is a small detail of one taken in 1910 ("A sensitive independence", Gagan 1992, p. 23):


In her other message to Isabell, Margaret may have spoken about recent events in Guelph. It had been a significant year in the Royal City. Guelph's first Old Home Week, a prolonged bash for Guelphites past and present, was held in early August. Harry Peer had skated 186 miles in ten hours at the Victoria roller rink. A new bridge across the Speed at been built on Eramosa Road.

On the police blotter, six prisoners attempted to escape from the County Jail by scratching a hole through the wall of their cell with iron parts harvested from their beds (Globe, 10 March 1908). However, the ring leader, John Cox, was caught scaling the wall and, after being "hauled over the coals", ratted out the whole scheme.

In addition, Inspector Oakes expressed concern over some "blind pigs" operating in St. Patrick's Ward (Mercury, 11 December 1908):

That the liquor traffic carried on in St. Patrick’s Ward amongst the Italians has reached very serious proportions, is the conviction of Inspector Oakes, who is still working on the case.
A "blind pig" was originally a drinking establishment that charged people to see oddities, like blind pigs, but provided alcoholic beverages "free of charge", thus circumventing laws against sales of liquor. Supposedly, the term "blind pig" was reserved for lower-class establishments, such as those of recent immigrants like Guelph's Italian community. More respectable, British, illegal drinking establishments would have been called "speakeasies."

Perhaps my favorite law-and-order item concerned efforts to keep people off the grass around the Blacksmith Fountain in the middle of St. George's Square (Mercury, 3 Nov. 1908):

At the Council meeting last night, Ald. Carter asked if the Parks and Shades Committee could not do something to keep the general public off the grass plot in the centre of St. George’s Square. Everybody seemed to want to walk on it, he said, or throw peanut shells all over it, and even the street railway employees made it a resting place.
Carter thought that some "Keep off the grass" signs would do the trick. Eventually, a fence was placed around whole installation.

Xmas in Guelph in 1908 was congenial (Mercury, 26 Dec. 1908). The weather was mild but winds were "raw", and the ice in the Victoria Rink (behind Knox Church) was too soft for skating. Even so, people enjoyed skating and tobogganing in the Open Air park (now Howitt Park), where the toboggan run had recently been improved.

Perhaps the weather was too good. Rev. Caleb Buckland of St. James's Church, evidently miffed at how many of his parishioners had voted with their feet, "took occasion to comment on the fact that Christmas day was looked upon by too many as a day of pleasure instead of one of worship."

Services at the Church of Our Lady were well attended. People may have been curious to see the results of the extensive interior renovations recently untaken there. However, many wanted to hear Rev. Dr. Drummond, a visiting priest widely known for his oratorical eloquence. Apparently, they were not disappointed.

Choral performances were put on in the city's hospitals, the Elliot Home, and the Homewood Sanitarium.

On the downside, 20 gallons of milk were spilled on the road at Quebec and Woolwich Streets (now beside the Cooperators Building) from a delivery sleigh after the horse pulling it took fright for some reason (Mercury, 24 Dec. 1908). The report neglects to say whether anyone cried over the spilled milk or not.

Guelphites took little notice of Japan that Xmas. However, the Ontario Agricultural College Review (v. 21, no. 3, p. 166) noted that December that some Japanese students were studying there. It published a picture of the main building surrounded by the coats of arms of some of its international students. The symbol of the rising sun can be seen among them.


Miss Blackmore remained in Japan until 1924. Her return to Nova Scotia was likely prompted by the great Tokyo-Yokohama earthquake of 1923. The powerful earthquake, followed by fire storms and tsunami, nearly obliterated Yokohama and likely swept away the institutions built by the WMS.

The event was also seized upon by Japanese nationalists as an excuse to remove foreign and liberal elements from Japan. It may have helped to set Japan on a militaristic course:

Though they may dispute its effects, historians agree that the destruction of two great population centers gave voice to those in Japan who believed that the embrace of Western decadence had invited divine retribution. Or, as philosopher and social critic Fukasaku Yasubumi declared at the time: “God cracked down a great hammer” on the Japanese nation.
The Japanese navy attacked Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941, an act that put Canada and Japan at war with one another. One wonders what Isabell Blackmore thought of that development. She died 26 days later, on 2 January 1942 and was buried in the Crossroads Cemetery, Valley, in her birthplace of Colchester County, Nova Scotia.

Friday, 25 November 2016

The wreck of the Royal City hay train

Although postcards typically recorded prominent places or structures, they also served as a popular way to capture current events. Parades, family reunions, and visiting dignitaries were often shot and duly immortalized on postcard stock. However, one sort of event almost certain to tempt local shutterbugs was a disaster. A good train wreck, for example, often provided compelling photographic imagery.

As the late Stephen Thorning pointed out, newspapers were keen to report train wrecks, knowing how people enjoyed reading about them. Before the automobile era, many readers were regular rail passengers. They could relate to the ups and downs of rail travel and knew that derailments were not uncommon:

There were many incidents on railways that were not major wrecks, but which resulted in injuries and destruction. Historically, railways had a cavalier approach to safety, especially that of employees.
With that in mind, have a look at the real photo postcard below.


The image shows a scene of disarray, with a broken framework on the right, an upset train car on the left and a group of men standing in between, looking a little hesitant. A locomotive stands in the background, obscured by a sizable pile of hay.

Interestingly, the message on the back says nothing about the wreck whatsoever. Postcards of disasters were often sent with banal messages, as if the damage depicted on the front were for visual interest only. However, a caption written on the front says, "wreck near Guelph while ago." At least this information gives us a place to start in tracking down this derailment.

A copy of this card in the Civic Museum archive attributes it to a wreck that took place in 1933. This attribution can be ruled out because the card above is dated "Sept. 13/12". This date is confirmed by the cancellation slogan, "Broadview // Boys Fall Fair // Sept. 19–21 // Toronto Y.M.C.A.”, a slogan used only in the late summer of 1912. So, the photo cannot be from a later time.

But, how long is a "while ago"? There had been a number of train wrecks in the preceding years. However, details in the photo help to pin it down. In the photo, the upset car on the left appears to be a coal tender, that is, a car attached directly behind a locomotive that carried its coal fuel. The framework on the right is likely the tender's undercarriage, suggesting that the car was sheared in two in the incident. Then there is the big pile of hay.

A derailment matching this description, near Guelph and shortly before this postcard was sent, is reported in the Toronto Globe (11 May 1912):

Guelph, May 10.—Grand Trunk way freight from Toronto to Guelph, with Engineer Williamson and Fireman Thomas Peters of Toronto, collided with the yard engine 100 yards east of Trainor’s Cut at 4.30 this afternoon and the line is blocked.
Engineer Williamson was taken to the General Hospital, his face badly cut, back badly sprained and bruised. All the others escaped by jumping. The yard engine was taking a load of hay to the Provincial Prison Farm siding. The operator at Rockwood, acting while the agent was on a holiday, forgot, it is alleged, to give holding orders to the way freight, and the two met head-on. The car of hay was completely telescoped, and the hay scattered down a fifty-foot embankment on both sides, and the tender and cab of the yard engine demolished. Only for the hay car both engines would have gone down the embankment. Trains to and from Toronto transferred passengers on each side of the wreck and then reversed their direction.
The Ontario Reformatory (popularly known as the Prison Farm) was located just south of York Road and west of Watson Road. It had a cattle herd that was maintained by prisoners as part of their reformation. The "yard engine" was traveling east hauling some hay for the cattle to the facility from Guelph when it collided with the way freight train traveling west from Rockwood along the Grand Trunk Railway line.

The line has high embankments between Cityview Drive and Watson Parkway, suggesting that this is where the collision occurred. Have a look at the map below.



The name "Trainor's cut" (sometime's "Traynor's cut") is a bit obscure. It is not written on any map that I have seen. I would guess that it refers to the place where the Grand Trunk (now Canadian National Railway) tracks bisect what is now Cityview Drive. It is given as the location of a number of train wrecks in this time period, suggesting that trains found the bend in the tracks to its east somewhat challenging.

The article says that the tender and cab of the yard train were demolished. The tender is likely the one found broken in two in the photo. The number painted on its side appears to be "2488". Happily, this Grand Trunk Railway locomotive is listed in a roster of CNR engines. It was an E-6-a Mogul type, built in May 1891 and scrapped in December 1925. (Thanks to Ray Verdone for providing this information!) I guess that the cab was repaired after this collision.

Another engine of the same type is shown in the picture below.

(Courtesy of "Old Time Trains"/Trainweb.org.)

Well, that coal tender looks familiar!

It would be interesting to know who the men are in the middle of the photograph. The gentleman in the centre may be a railway executive come to survey the damage and organize the cleanup. Or, could he be the operator in Rockwood? The others may be employees of the railway brought to the site to perform cleanup duties. Were any of them involved in the collision itself? Or, were they all just delivered by the locomotive in the background?

Also, does the shadow in the lower-right corner belong to the photographer and his camera? Could be.

The postcard was addressed to Ann Maria Fowke (née Norrish), who had emigrated from Guelph to Detroit with her husband in 1895. (It's not clear who sent it to her.) Hopefully, she enjoyed news of this minor disaster from the old burg! Today, it serves to remind us of how central train travel was in 1912 and also how perilous it could be.



Thanks to Jim Sorensen of the Ontario Electric Railway Historical Association and Ray Verdone of the Exporail Archive Centre for their help in interpreting this photograph!

Sunday, 30 October 2016

R.C.A.F. Wireless School No. 4

The postcard shown below portrays Upper Wyndham Street as it appeared in the early 1940s, in a somewhat hallucinogenic color scheme. The Dominion Public Building is quite recognizable on the right and the street is full of period cars.


This card was printed by the Photogelatine Engraving Co., Limited, Ottawa.

More important than the picture, though, is the message on the other side, which reads:

Hey. What’s the matter with everyone. I’ve sent a letter home and also to Esther and I haven’t had a [sic] answer yet.
What’s the matter.
K274563.AC2 Guigues W.W.
MPO105 R.C.A.F.
Guelph Ont.
The postcard was addressed to Mr. & Mrs. W.C. Guigues at 206 Devonshire Pl., Ottawa, and is postmarked at MPO 105 ("Military Post Office 105") on 23 October 1943.

The message is fun to read for two reasons. First, it is scolding its recipient for being remiss in sending a letter, a function that postcards were often used to fulfill. Second, it identifies Mr. William Guigues as a trainee at the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) Wireless Training School Number 4, Guelph.

The RCAF Wireless School Number 4 at Guelph began in July, 1941 with the task of training wireless operators to be part of airplane crews that might fly bombing raids over Europe or submarine patrols over the oceans. The history of the Wireless School is well documented on its Wikipedia Page, an article, "U of G's military history" (The Portico, 2008), and a story by Ed Butts (Mercury, 17 August 2015). So, I will provide only a short outline here but try to fill in some items that illustrate the life of trainees at the School.

At first, the Government of Ontario's plan was to close the Ontario Agricultural College (OAC), the Macdonald Institute, and the Ontario Veterinary College (OVC) and turn the entire campus over to the RCAF for their School. This plan met with strong objections from the local population. The RCAF surveyed the campus and determined that only a part was necessary for the needs of the School. So, only the Macdonald Institute was completely shut down during the Second World War.

A five-foot high fence featuring three strands of barbed wire was erected around the School's campus. Buildings within this campus included Johnston, Blackwood, Drew, Watson, Creelman, Mills, Maids, War Memorial and Macdonald Halls. The Macdonald and Trent Institutes, Mechanics Building, Bursar Hall, and Gymnasium were also enclosed.

A notion of the School campus can be gained from the photograph below, taken at its opening on 9 August 1941.

RCAF Guelph Official Opening Johnston Hall.jpg
By Unknown - University of Guelph, McLaughlin Library, Archives and Special Collections, Public Domain, Link.


Training for wireless operators ran for about 6 or 7 months. Several cohorts, or "entries", underwent training at any given time. Academic training included radio theory, Morse code and mathematics, and was taught by OAC faculty. Additional training included swimming and how to right a capsized dingy after a water landing, in the swimming pool. Flight training was provided at Burtch Airfield south of Brantford. Naturally, marching and fitness were emphasized too.

The daily schedule was intensive:

The day started at 6 a.m. with two hours of physical training and drill. Classes began at 8 a.m. and went until 5 p.m., with a break at noon for lunch. There were more classes after supper.
The trainees lodged in Johnston Hall and ate in Creelman Hall.

The No. 4 Wireless School Association held reunions in 1987 and 1988, and the local papers featured many interesting reminiscences of the School's graduates.

Mr. Eddy "Link" Traynor recalls how noisy life in Johnston Hall could be (Tribune, 22 June):

Everybody had a radio. With all the different tastes in programming, it made quite a cacophony in the halls, especially in the mornings when we were getting dressed and shaved.
Most of the trainees were new to Guelph, Eddy also notes:
Before I came, the only thing I knew about Guelph was that we had a stove at home in Montreal with "Guelph" on it.
Perhaps his stove was made by the Guelph Stove Company.

Frank Russell recalls a brainstorm that one squadron leader had to help the trainees learn Morse code in their sleep (Mercury, 29 June 1987):

He had us string electric light bulbs in the alcove behind Johnston Hall, so the light shone in the guys' barracks windows.
When the guys were trying to sleep, this bright light would be flashing in Morse code. That lasted two weeks before they were told to get it out.
Discipline was fairly strict. Trainees had to maintain a high level of dress and deportment, and some of the instructors could be harsh. As a result, not everyone passed the course. Failure could be a serious issue since trainees who did not pass were often trained to be tail gunners in bomber crews, a highly dangerous position.

Eddy found that the Royal City had some agreeable entertainments to offer.

The Ritz [now Van Gogh's Ear] had a dance hall upstairs with a juke box. It was quite a hangout for Air Force types.
There was another dance hall on Wyndham above Ryan's [now the Wyndham Building]. They had pretty good bands with a big band style. I remember Willis Tipping had about ten guys who were really good musicians with a Glen Miller sound.
Evidently, Eddy and many other trainees managed to get in many visits despite the 10pm curfew imposed by the School, although that was relaxed on Saturday nights.


(Van Gogh's Ear today—formerly The Ritz. The second floor held a dance hall with a juke box.)


(The Wyndham Building today—formerly the Ryan. Its second floor served as a dance hall.)

The extent to which trainees might go to get out on the town is illustrated by graduate Robert Allen, who wrote (OAC RE1 OAC A0670):

Would you believe we fooled the RCAF brass for 6 months—convinced them we were "Bush Baptists" (Religion); they couldn't find a minister to suit—hence we missed out on Sunday Church parades. We all got 10 days C.B. [Confinement to Base] when they found out, but the tunnel system under the sidewalks into Guelph was quite handy. I don't think they ever found out how we disappeared.
I would love to know what tunnel system he is talking about! At any rate, the story illustrates one of the downsides of relying on security fences.

Naturally, a big part of the attraction of the downtown hangouts was that they were also frequented by local girls. Eddy Traynor notes that many of the women in town were involved in war-related industries, such as making uniforms. Frank Russell recalls that the Knights of Columbus used to put on dances for the troops where they could meet some local girls, although they were "well chaperoned" and no drinking was allowed. That would be at former Knights of Columbus Hall on Dublin Street just north of Waterloo Avenue, currently the site of the Boarding House Gallery.


(The Boarding House Art Gallery today—formerly the Knights of Columbus Hall, where well-chaperoned and alcohol free dances were held.)

In any event, boys met girls. For example, Eddy Traynor met, courted and married Guelph native Elma Delaney, all within his six-month stay at the school!

I was not able to find any records in the University of Guelph archives specifically about our postcard writer, Mr. William Guigues. Records on Ancestry.ca show that he was born in 1925, married Helen Victoria Lord in 1945, and later settled in Ottawa, where his parents (Mr. & Mrs. W.C. Guigues) lived.

Fortunately, William's daughter-in-law Deborah has kindly provided a few more details. Perhaps most interesting is the following photo of William and Esther—whom he mentions in his postcard—in his parents' backyard in Ottawa.


They look happy! Given that Esther is still "in the picture", it seems likely that this picture was taken around the time that William was at the Wireless School. Deborah says that William was involved with radar. This tidbit suggests that William may have been in training as a "radio mechanic", as radar technicians were then known. The job of these technicians was to install and maintain radar equipment, and many such technicians were trained at the Wireless School in Guelph.

Another photo shows William at a railway station in Ottawa. This photo must be somewhat later since William has an Aircraftsman wing and Sargent's chevrons on his uniform.


The usual posting for a radar technician in that period would be to an airbase in Britain. However, William instead went to Summerside, Prince Edward Island. Perhaps he underwent navigation and spotting training at No. 1 General Reconnaissance School there. Among the things he spotted in town was his future wife, Helen.

Following the war, William worked in retail for a couple of years before rejoining the Air Force with the occupation of air traffic controller. This job took him to many military airports in Canada and also Germany. Finally, he retired and worked as an air traffic controller for a number of years at the Ottawa International Airport. He died in Ottawa in 2006.

Wireless School No. 4 closed on 12 January 1945 as the war was headed towards its conclusion. By that time, some 5000 to 5800 young men like William Guigues has passed through its gates. The campus, the city, and the nation began to return to their peacetime state.

Perhaps the most distinguished graduate of the School was Lincoln Alexander, later an M.P. and Lieutenant-Governor of Ontario. Of his time at the School, he said: "I remember the friendship and the fun. It made me a man. It taught me what authority was all about. It taught me to respect others. I'm proud of my service."



Thank you to Deborah Guigues for information and pictures of her father-in-law!

Thank you also to the staff of the University of Guelph Archives for help in locating the appropriate documents.

Friday, 30 September 2016

James Massie builder of the Alma Block

On the morning of December 15, 1867, we may imagine the scene as James Massie looked over the charred remains of the Alma Block on Upper Wyndham Street. The blaze began as a dropped match ignited the oil-soaked floor of Mulholland's hardware store. Flames spread quickly to Massie's grocery, crockery, and liquor stores in the same building. The fire destroyed a total of $150,000 worth of stock and structure (Promoli 1988, p. 9). Like William Dyson when the Suffolk House Hotel had burned down, Massie faced the question: Should he rebuild?

The answer was "yes." Massie had become a successful and prominent businessman in the Royal City, much interested and involved in its continuing development. Rather than move shop, or even leave town, Massie decided right away to replace the old building with a smart new one in the latest style. Architect James Smith, Toronto, was hired to design the structure, local contractors Kennedy & Pike were hired to do the masonry, Mr. James Barclay the carpentry, and Messrs Hamilton & Sons, Toronto, the iron work (Mercury, 8 Apr 1868).

The result, Gordon Couling notes (Couling 1996, p. 19), is "one of the most attractive examples of commercial architecture in Ontario from the 1860 decade." It is late Italianate in style, with masonry cut from local limestone. It is distinguished by a dentilated cornice featuring an elaborate parapet, carved stone window heads (still remaining on the second and third floors), tooled sill courses, and rusticated pilasters. The front windows on the ground floor were an impressive twelve feet high and glazed with thick pane glass.

That Massie was proud of his new establishment is confirmed by a professional drawing that he had made of it by the Ralph Smith Co. of Toronto. This picture is found at the top of an invoice issued by Massie, Paterson & Co. on 6 Dec. 1875.


The drawing focuses on the fine facade of the building and somewhat exaggerates its size by imaginatively placing a large group of diminutive men, horses, and wagons engaged in a whirlwind of business in front of it. The drawing also very clearly identifies the occupants of the building as James Massie; J.A. Wood; Massie, Paterson & Co.; and Hugh Clearihue & Co.

Perhaps the classy drawing on the invoice helped to soften the blow when the amount cited was a large one.

Compare the drawing with the Google Street view image of roughly the same scene today.



(Before you point it out: I realize that a drawing on a statement is not a postcard but I am bending the rules here to include this mass-produced image that was, after all, sent through the mail.)

Not much has been written about Massie and his place in Guelph history, so this image provides an excuse to shed some light on him and his role in the development of the Royal City.

James Massie was born on 20 October 1833 to Mr. James Massie Sr. and Mrs. Elizabeth Jane Massie (née Masson) in Lumphanan, Aberdeenshire, Scotland. Massie Sr. was a prominent local merchant and the apple evidently did not fall far from the tree. However, it did fall across the Atlantic. For reasons unknown, James Massie Jr. emigrated to Canada in 1854 and settled in Guelph ("Commemorative biographical record" 1907, pp. 190–192).

The biography provides the following details of Massie's business ventures:

James Massie came to Canada in 1854, locating at Guelph, where he engaged with the firm of Brown & Robinson for some two years, then with Mr. Rutherford and later on formed a partnership with W.J. Brown & Co., which continued for six years. At the expiry of this time Mr. Massie took over the entire business, which he continued until 1867, being burned out in that year. Shortly after Mr. Massie built the Alma Block and the “Wellington Hotel” at Guelph. In 1871 he retired from business, but resumed in 1873, and continued until 1878.
Further details are provided by Joyce Blyth ("Jugs & crocks of the Guelph merchants" 1982, p. 45):
According to an advertisement dated 1861 for the W. J. Brown & Co. store it is apparent that James Massie was in partnership with Brown at his store in the Alma Block; both names appear at the bottom of the advertisement. In 1863 James Massie opened his own business in the Alma Block at lot 45. Then in July 1864 there was a notice in the newspaper announcing that in order to accommodate those residing in the lower end of town they had opened a store in Day's Block at part lot 114. The store in Alma Block was burned out in 1867 but reopened when the new Alma Block was built the following year, 1868.

James Massie & Co. was an importer, wholesale and retail general grocery store. Massie sold the retail grocery and liquor shop to John A. Wood [a clerk in Massie & Co.] in 1869 and in 1871 he took William J. Paterson into partnership in the wholesale grocery part of the business under the name of Massie, Paterson & Co. James Massie retained a part of the building in which he dealt in wholesale confectionery and crockery until the year 1879.
Interestingly, the special edition of Guelph's Daily Herald (1 Nov. 1877) mentions only yet another of Massie's many businesses, that is, Massie, Weir & Bryce, the confectionary. The reporter evidently had a sweet tooth and speaks in glowing terms of the company's biscuits and bonbons, and its regional success. Everywhere in Wellington County and beyond, the confections of Massie, Weir & Bryce were held in the highest regard!

The reporter's story is backed up by the fact that the company employed 35 to 40 people on a regular basis, and up to 50 near Christmas time. Curiously, Massie was no longer involved when the article was printed. He had purchased the enterprise in 1872 from a Mr. Henry Berry and taken on a Mr. Campbell as partner in 1875. In 1877, he sold the company to Adam Weir and James Bryce, who decided, nevertheless, to retain Massie's name. I suppose that speaks to the lustre attached to Massie's business acumen by that time.

It is worth noting that not everything that Massie touched turned to gold. In 1877, Massie & Co. went bankrupt, apparently having assets of $212,000 but liabilities of $252,000 (Globe, 16 Aug 1877). By October, the company had been purchased by Hill, McIntosh & Innes, presumably at a considerable write-down.

Even so, Massie built himself a substantial house in 1873–75 at 85 Queen Street, some of it with stone salvaged from the second St. George's Church that stood in St. George's Square ("Slopes of the Speed", Partridge & Seto 1992, p. 9). He called it Gilnockie (sometimes "Gilnochie") after an ancestor's pile back in the old country. It has had a storied life!

Built in a picturesque version of Gothic Revival style, Gilnockie has been the setting for at least two movies. In 1979, for An American Christmas Carol, it represented an orphanage, and, more recently, for the thriller The Incubus, it was a haunted house! For this latter movie, some ornamentation was added to the house, including the finials on the gables, which, although they appear to be made of painted wood, are in fact plastic.
Massie later sold Gilnockie to his brother-in-law, J.B. Armstrong (one of the prime movers behind the Blacksmith Fountain).

(Gilnockie, ca. 1910. Item F38-0-14-0-0-188, courtesy of the Guelph Public Library Archive. See also photos A1985.110 at the Wellington County Historical Museum Archives.)

Besides his own companies, Massie sat on the Guelph's Board of Trade, which had been founded in 1862. The purpose of the Board was to enhance the Royal City's business scene and promote its regional dominance. In conjunction with this position, Massie sat on the boards of innumerable Guelph businesses that were started up at the time.

For example, Massie was a director of the Wellington Hotel Co., which built the Wellington Hotel on the corner of Wyndham and Woolwich Streets in 1877. This seems all the more fitting since the property on which the hotel was built belonged to James Massie himself. At that time, it was an undeveloped lot known as the "Salt Works".

In addition to real estate, Massie was keen on the development of railways. For example, he was instrumental in the construction of the Wellington, Grey & Bruce Railway (Mercury, 4 May 1904). This railway had been incorporated in 1864 to join the port of Southampton on Lake Huron to Guelph. Progress was slow due to competition with the Toronto, Grey & Bruce Railway, which was intended to cover a similar territory. Apparently, Massie and other businessmen from Guelph met with delegates from townships along the route in 1870 and overcame this difficulty (Burrows 1877, pp. 145–146). Construction began and the first leg from Guelph to Harriston opened in 1871.

The new railway worked out for Massie. It was at around that time that he sold off his retail grocery interests to concentrate on the wholesale trade in regions covered by the new lines.

Massie also had an active and successful political career. He had been elected an alderman for the North Ward from 1865–1868, and then Deputy Reeve and then Reeve (1872). He must have been well liked as a politician: In October 1876, Massie was acclaimed the M.P.P. for South Wellington, the position just then vacated by Peter Gow. Massie stood as a candidate for the Reform Party under Oliver Mowatt. Evidently, the Conservative Party was in such disrepute at the time that no Conservative candidate was even nominated in the contest! As a result, Massie became the M.P.P. for Wellington South on a platform of devolution of power to the provinces and promotion of the temperance movement (Globe, 14 Oct. 1876).

Although Massie appears to have been active as an M.P.P., his tenure at Queen's Park was not noted for any particular achievement. Indeed, he resigned his seat in June 1879 to take up the position of Registrar for South Wellington. One year later, he left that job in order to become the Warden of the Central Prison in Toronto, the job for which he is most remembered. His removal from Gilnockie to the Queen City must have been quite the send off. It was reported that he was given a purse of gold as a thank-you for his services to the Royal City!

The Central Prison in Toronto had been opened in 1874 ("'A terror to evil-doers'", Oliver 1988). It was built at the behest of J.W. Langmuir (the same J.W. Langmuir who went on to found Homewood in Guelph in 1883), inspector of prisons and advocate of prison reform. Impetus for the project came from the problem posed by prisoners who were given sentences that were more than a few weeks but less than two years. Criminals given short sentences could simply be held in county jails and then released. Prisoners given sentences over two years could be held in federal jails. The Central Prison was built to accommodate those who did not fall into either of the other categories.

The problem was that local jails did not have the means to hold many prisoners for long periods, and they could provide little for their prisoners to do. Ontarians had become very concerned about such prisoners: They were provided with room and board at taxpayers' expense and produced nothing in return. Furthermore, their cushy treatment might make a criminal career seem all the more attractive to them and, by being gathered together in idleness, prisoners might simply school each other in criminal behavior.

So, the purpose of the Central Prison was to extract some labor from prisoners and to terrorize them into shunning a criminal career out of fear of re-incarceration. The prison was located near King and Strachan streets in Toronto, near the railway lines so that products made by the inmates, including rail cars for the Canada Car Company, could be shipped readily. From the start, wardens of the prison established a punitive routine that could include a bread-and-water diet, solitary confinement, hanging in irons, and floggings.

This policy was apparently continued by Massie. Something of his attitude can be gained from his remarks following the flogging of a child molester named Dr. Whiting (Globe, 21 July 1888):

When all was over Warden Massie asked the press reporters present to accompany him into his office. He then made the following sensible remarks:— he had as much sympathy for the criminals under his charge is any man could have; but experience over the civilized world proved that for a certain class of criminals the lash was the only deterrent. Assaults and crimes of an indecent description were on the increase, and the class of men who committed them fear the lash and little else. A maudlin sentimentality had arisen, especially in the United States, and a few weak-minded women made heroes of murderers, sending them flowers in prison. They (the reporters) had just seen Whiting flogged for an offense for which the lash was really the only remedy, and the only punishment men of his class feared. When the last flogging at the Central Prison was administered, The News and Telegram gave sensational accounts of it. It was a mistake to do so. Those accounts were sometimes read by country J.P.’s, magistrates and judges, and when criminals of Whiting’s description were brought before them in the offense proved, they modified the sentence simply because they believed, from reading such reports, that flogging was a cruel and brutal punishment. It was severe, but not more so than the crime called for, and was the only punishment men guilty of such crimes really fear.

The reporters thanked the Warden for his remarks and withdrew. So far as Whiting’s punishment was concerned there was nothing cruel about it. He was lashed to the triangle in a humane and gentle manner. He was taken down with similar kindness, and the flogging might have been far more severe than it was. That the wretch howled as he did only showed his coward heart.
There is no mention that the flogging was part of Whiting's sentence; it seems rather to have been Massie's own idea.

Massie remained warden of the Central Prison until 1896. The prison had been investigated in 1885 for cruelty and ill-treatment, particularly of Irish Catholic prisoners (Oliver 1988, pp. 233–235). However, the investigation, headed by J.W. Langmuir, exonerated Massie and the prison management. If anything, the commission of investigation concluded, the prisoners' treatment should have been even more rigorous.

In any event, the prison came under increasing scrutiny because its manufacturing operations were mostly money-losers. There were various reasons for this issue. A significant one was that prisoners were typically not skilled at their jobs and, because their sentences usually ran to only a few months, they could not be trained to the point of proficiency. Langmuir and others tried to encourage judges and J.P.s to issue longer sentences but they proved to be resistant, as the above news article notes.

In 1895, Massie clashed with prison inspector James Noxon over the appointment of one Walter Scott as foreman of the prison's carpentry shop (Globe, 5 Nov. 1885). Massie had promoted a prison guard named Reid as foreman but Noxon considered him unqualified and incompetent, and appointed Scott in his place. Massie charged Scott with theft and cooking the books to make Reid and Massie look bad. Evidence for these charges was weak and perhaps even fabricated, with the final result that Massie himself was charged with insubordination by an investigative council.

The fracas was settled when Massie resigned from his position and was appointed to the job of Registrar of East and West York (Globe, 23 Jan. 1886). Dr. J.T. Gilmour, the sitting Registrar, took over the job of Warden. Massie retained this position for the rest of his life.

In Toronto, Massie held positions in many benevolent and social organizations. These included the Children's Aid Society, the House of Industry Board, Treasurer of the Caledonian Society, Treasurer of the Associated Charities Board, St. Andrew's Society, and elder of St. Andrew's Church. He also gave many lectures and testimonials in favor of temperance, noting that alcoholism was a significant contributor to criminal behavior.

Massie died suddenly on 1 May 1904 in his house at 68 Bloor Street West (Mercury, 2 May 1904). He had returned to his residence from work seemingly in no difficulties. He was found unconscious in his room at dinner time and died two days later. He was survived by his widow, Mary Ann (née Armstrong); two sons, Dr. James Massie of Santa Fe, New Mexico and Robert Massie of Elora; and two spinster daughters, Jessie and Elizabeth.

The Guelph Mercury published the following sketch of Massie with his obituary.


On 3 May, Massie's body was taken to Guelph by train and buried in the family plot in Woodlawn Cemetery. A memorial remains over the spot, concealed by shrubbery.

Monday, 22 August 2016

The ghost garden of the O.A.C.

Today, Guelphites and University of Guelph students know Johnston Green as the large and pleasant lawn encountered while traveling to campus from the direction of downtown. Surveyed by the Johnston Hall tower, the green is a favourite spot for seeking verdant relief from the built environment of the campus. However, it has not always been simply trees and grass. Once, it was graced by a large, formal flower garden.

The old flower garden may be viewed in the postcard below, printed by The International Stationary Company of Picton, likely shortly after 1910. The photo was taken from the top of Massey Hall, next to the green.


The sepia hues are the card's original colouration and not due to aging.

The garden layout is formal and geometrical. It is roughly an oval, divided into quarters by gravel paths. In the middle is a round flower bed. Each outside quadrant features four flower beds: three arranged radially and one, triangular bed placed near the long ends of the oval. Each bed appears to feature a single variety of flower or, perhaps, one variety surrounded by another.

On the right-hand side is the north wing of the Main Building, the residence where the O.A.C. students lived during their studies. In the background on the left-hand side is the top of Macdonald Hall, across College Street, where the students of the Macdonald Institute lived during their studies.

Another postcard shows a reverse angle, taken from the Main Building with Massey Hall and the Biological Building (now the MacLachlan Building) in the background. To the right lies the garrison gun known as "Old Jeremiah", sitting in a graveled notch (hidden in the first image), pointing down the Green away from the Main Residence.


This postcard was printed by the Valentine & Sons Publishing Co. around 1910, and gives a more colourful idea of how the garden may have looked.

The placement and form of the flower garden were not the result of some last-minute decorative impulse. Kaars Seipesteijn (1987, pp. 38ff) points out that the garden played a central role in plans for the Green from its inception.

In 1882, well-known American landscape architect Charles H. Miller of Miller & Yeates, Philadelphia, was hired to create a master plan for development of the growing Ontario Agricultural College (O.A.C.). The Ontario Fruit Growers' Association, which had helped to establish a campus Arboretum, prompted the Provincial government to spring for a formal campus plan to be drawn up. Since the O.A.C. had been modeled on US land-grant colleges, it made sense to consult an American designer.

The Main Building had achieved its final form in 1880. So, the central concern of the plan for the Green was how to turn this field, which still bore the marks of Frederick Stone's plow, into a suitable lawn for this building. Miller's solution reflects many ideas of Frederick Law Olmsted, the "father" of American landscape architecture. Olmsted adapted the approach of the English Landscape school of architecture and had designed numerous American college campuses, though he remains best known for his work on Central Park in New York City.

(Frederick Law Olmsted/Courtesy of Wikimedia commons.)

Olmsted's influence is visible in the belt of trees that surround the Green and the semi-circular carriage driveway leading through it from Brock Road (now Gordon Street) past the front of the Main Building. The trees and driveway provide a little drama as the Main Building was "unveiled" only when travelers got quite close to it.

Another important influence on the design of the Green was the other "father" of American landscape architecture, Andrew Jackson Downing. Downing promoted the "gardeneque" style in which, among other things, flower beds were prominently featured. Downing advocated the use of formal flower gardens in the English style. Formal flower gardens could be used to designate important parts of the landscape such as the position of significant structures.

(Andrew Jackson Downing/Courtesy of Wikimedia commons.)

In his Treastise (1841, p. 364), Downing gives an interesting illustration of a set of English gardens along a circular walkway. In the illustration, flower beds are arranged "spottily" along the path and given blob-like shapes. The two exceptions are the beds behind the main structure in the lower left and the conservatory ("b") at the top. The latter beds, particularly, are round and highly regular in shape.


It may be no coincidence that the circular garden beside the conservatory bears a family resemblance to the O.A.C. flower garden. This garden was meant to provide a kind of transition or buffer, separating the relatively informal Green from the significantly formal Main Building. In short, the oval garden at the top of the Green was carefully designed to dignify the Main Building and mark it off from the more haphazard parkland below.

Perhaps Miller had this very illustration in mind when he designed the O.A.C.'s new flower beds.

The resulting layout of the Green can be seen in an aerial photograph apparently taken just after World War I. The caption reads, "Agricultural College, Guelph, Ont., taken from an aeroplane." The copyright notice attributes it to the Canada Post Card Co. of Toronto in 1919. Mills Hall appears to be under construction along the north side of the carriage way. The aeroplane's wing appears on the left edge of the photograph.

(Courtesy of rych mills.)

The significance of the flower garden at the apex of the driveway to the Main Building is readily apparent.

As the postcards above attest, the flower garden persisted through the early twentieth century. However, events finally overtook it. The first event was the adoption of the automobile. As more and more Guelphites drove cars, they demanded more and more pavement on which to drive them and park them.

The second event was the construction of the new Administration Building (now Johnston Hall) in 1931. When the old building was razed and the new one put up in its place, the opportunity was taken to install a paved road flanked with parking spaces, accessed by a lane from Moore Avenue (now College Avenue). The flower beds were torn out and paved over, and the cannon moved away to the south. Asphalt and automobiles—not flowers—now divided the building from the Green, as they continue to do to this day.

To be more precise, though, the flower garden was only half paved over. The half closest to Gordon Street was simply buried under sod. Thus, the gravel paths that once guided visitors around the beds still lurk under the grass. The result is that, during dry periods, the ghost of the O.A.C.'s flower garden returns to haunt Johnston Green.

In the postcard below, the gravel paths of the western half of the old flower beds are eerily visible as swaths of yellow grass in front of the Administration Building.


This postcard was printed by the Peterborough Post Card Co. around 1960.

These areas of extra-dry grass are known as parch marks. That is, the grass there can become parched quickly during a dry spell because of materials below the surface that prevent root growth or simply do not hold water as well as the surrounding soil. Aerial photographs taken during droughts can sometimes reveal subsurface features of archaeological interest, as they have recently at Stonehenge.

The summer of 2016 has also been a dry one. So, I was interested to see whether or not the paths of the old O.A.C. flower bed would return. Indeed they did, as you can see from this panorama taken on June 30.

(See "Old garden path"/Flickr.com)

The half-arc of the pathway can be seen sweeping to either side of Johnston Hall. In front of the arc is the gravel notch where Old Jeremiah used to sit.

So, if you are observant, and the conditions are right, you can follow in the footsteps of students and faculty from years gone by, walking on the paths of the ghost garden and standing where the cannon once stood guarding the end of the O.A.C. Green.

Wednesday, 27 July 2016

The Priory gets rebuilt—almost!

My previous posting left off with the demolition of the Priory in 1926. Salvageable logs from the main body had been hauled to Robert Stewart's Lumber Company on Cardigan Street and the side wings remained as an independent structure on George Sleeman's property on Waterloo Avenue. However, even this scattered state of affairs did not entirely end plans to reconstitute the Priory.

For example, the Public Works Committee recommended to the City Council of 1926 that they should recommend to the City Council of 1927 that a model of the Priory, 24 feet by 20 feet and built from the stored lumber, be constructed in Riverside Park, at an estimated cost of $2200 (Mercury, 21 Dec. 1926). This plan would enable the Priory to be present, in reduced form, for celebration of the Royal City's 100th anniversary in 1927.

Alas, though "considerable enthusiasm reigned" around this scheme, it came to nothing (Mercury, 14 June 1927). Perhaps, in the press of preparations for the city's centennial, the notion of building a miniature Priory from the remains the original structure were set aside. Indeed, one alderman went so far as to suggest that the old logs be sold off in order to save on storage costs. Although the councilmen had abandoned their rebuilding scheme, they were not yet prepared to part with the remaining lumber. The suggestion was turned down.

In the end, logs sitting in Stewart's shed did make their way to Riverside Park: They were dumped there in the 1930s to be used for firewood by Guelphites suffering in the Depression.

It appears, though, that not all of these logs were consigned to the flames. Ross Irwin noted that John Power made gavels from some of the salvaged wood. In the 1930s, he was head of Manual Training at Alexandra Public School, and a Mason. He presented a gavel made from Priory elm wood to each Master of Waverley Lodge No. 361 when they retired (4 Oct. 1954). It would be interesting to know if any of those gavels were still to be found!

Undoubtedly the oddest story connected with the logs of the Priory concerns the fate of the side wings taken by George Sleeman to his property in 1911. Connected end-to-end, the wings remained in place for decades after Sleeman's death in 1926.

The Sleeman family fortunes took a turn for the worse in the Depression (Mercury, 15 Jan. 2011), when they fell afoul of the law for alcohol smuggling. In 1957, the family estate was sold to Al Watson, who turned the residence into a hotel. The ground where the Priory wings sat was destined to become a parking lot, so Watson was looking to get rid of the extraneous logs (Mercury, 4 May 1956).

By a curious coincidence, there was a party on the prowl for just such a collection of lumber, the Ontario Pioneer Community Foundation (OPCF). (This story is related in detail in "Identifying the local past, the Waterloo Historical Society, part 2" by Mary Tivy, Waterloo Historical Society, v. 99, 2011, pp. 111–164.) In the years following World War II, there was a surge of interest in the province's pioneer era. Perhaps this interest was, in part, a reaction to the upheaval of the war. In any event, Ontarians became quite interested in the history of early settlement of their province.

In addition, the philosophy of historical museums was changing. In prior years, historical museums functioned as a kind of "community attic", a repository of curios left over from elder days. The new philosophy involved "living history", that is, engaging visitors in the pioneers' lives more than their things. To carry out this idea, historical museums were to be places where pioneer life was reenacted as accurately as feasible. To add authenticity, museums were to include actual, representative pioneer buildings. In other words, the "pioneer village" as we now know it was born.

In 1953, Kitchener radiologist Dr. A.E. Broome and the Waterloo Historical Society began a movement to put together a pioneer village in Waterloo County. A suitable site was identified at Doon, southwest of Kitchener. The OPCF campaigned for its proposal against other contenders, including a proposed village beside the Ontario Agricultural College in Guelph. In the end, the Doon site won out and the Ontario Pioneer Community Museum officially opened on 19 June 1957.

Despite the ceremony, the Museum was not yet open for visitors. In fact, it was still unclear exactly what buildings would be featured and why. In their initial rush of enthusiasm, the OPCF accepted any sufficiently old building from the region that seemed interesting and was not nailed down. As luck would have it, Al Watson in Guelph happened to have part of a very historic building that he would be happy to part with.

On 5 December 1957, Guelph historian Verne McIlwraith published an article entitled "Historic Priory wrecked, stolen" in the Guelph Mercury:

In an action that is reminiscent of the cloak and dagger activities of the old days, someone slipped into the city in the style of the commandos of World War II and carted off Guelph's number one historic relic—a portion of the old Priory.
The raiders in this case were the OPCF, led by their secretary, Dr. Andrew Taylor. Taylor had recently visited the structure on the Sleeman property and noted that it should be removed for the purpose of preservation. In the event that it could not stay in Guelph, he suggested that it would be perfect for Doon.

Professor D.B. Schutt of the Wellington County Historical Research Society had applied to Guelph City Council for funding to move the structure to Riverside Park (of course!) where it might be replicated in its entirety by combining new timber with the remaining old logs. Before the Council had publicly responded, Taylor's raiders had swooped in and moved the logs to the Doon site!

As McIlwraith later found out, the City Council had, a month earlier, declined to contribute to any reconstruction. The Council had written a letter to the local and Ontario Historical societies to say so but had not made any general announcement. Instead, Council had accepted Taylor's proposal to remove it, which Taylor promptly did. So, the 100 or so logs were removed to Doon much to the surprise of concerned Guelphites like McIlwraith (22 Feb. 1958; KW Record).

The removal was accepted with resignation among fans of the Priory. "Better Doon than dust," quipped William Cowan, who had been involved with the effort to save the Priory back in the 1920s.

The OPCF was thrilled with their acquisition. Louis Jones, an American museum curator consulting for the foundation, absurdly called it "Ontario's Ellis Island and Plymouth Rock all poured into one!" Taylor made grand plans for the Priory. Like Schutt, he proposed to stage a full-scale reconstruction of the Priory at Doon. The new Priory was to sit at the center of the pioneer village, with a cluster of streets leading away from it towards the other buildings like the "sun's rays."

Then, as rych mills aptly put it, "reality hit." The OPCF was told that a full-scale reproduction of the Priory would cost upwards of $40,000. With a total annual budget of $25,000, Taylor's dreams were clearly unaffordable. The project was shelved—forever. Its rescued logs were stacked in a secluded corner of the Doon site and quietly allowed to rot away. The long struggle to preserve Guelph's original house finally concluded in another county.

The tale reveals how much the Priory continued to exercise people's historical imaginations. Initially, it was seen as a kind of outsized curio, a noble survivor of Guelph's earliest days. Although this view clearly gripped Guelph boosters like George Sleeman, it gained too little hold on residents of the Royal City in general to motivate them to save it.

In the 1950s, the Priory fit into a new historical perspective in which it could serve as a stage for reenactment of pioneer life. Authentic structures would lend verisimilitude to ways of living that seemed increasingly quaint but strange to modern audiences. The old Priory did not even need to be in Guelph to perform this function.

Both efforts foundered on the reef of economy. The notion of preserving an old building for posterity was somewhat novel in Guelph's earlier days, so no provision was ever made to keep up the Priory. Instead, the building reached an advanced state of decrepitude before any action was taken. At that point, funding needed to accomplish grand plans for its revival exceeded what Guelphites were willing to pay.

The OPCF partially overcame this problem by involving the provincial government, an institution with deeper pockets. Unfortunately, the Priory proved still too expensive to revive when there were other buildings in much better condition available for the pioneer village at Doon. Had Wellington County succeeded in founding its own pioneer village, perhaps matters could have been different. However, it was just not in the cards.



Yet, the cards are not completely unkind. Old postcards of the Priory may be used to make a virtual reconstruction of the old building.

In the previous posting, I constructed a map to show where the Priory used to stand near John Galt Park. Below is a composite photograph combining an old postcard view of the building imposed on a photo I took from roughly the same vantage point (on the Downtown Trail just west of Macdonell Street) as the postcard. I used the map to figure out what part of the photo's background the Priory should overlap. As before, the result is rough-and-ready but suggestive, at least.


Thanks to rych mills for help with research for this post. See
his Flash from the Past column for a synopsis of this quirky tale.

Wednesday, 29 June 2016

The Priory—a sad ending

In his essential History of Guelph, Leo Johnson remarks that the Priory—the first house in Guelph—came to a sad ending (1977, p. 317). I have outlined the history of the Priory in an earlier post but it is worth revisiting this particular event in some detail: On the eve of the 100th anniversary of the city and the building, how was it that this historic structure was hauled away in pieces, never to be seen again?

The sad ending begins many years earlier, in 1887, when the Priory was sold to the Guelph Junction Railway (GJR). The GJR was a corporation formed in 1887 by local merchants and the city to create a transportation link to Guelph to compete with the Grand Trunk Railway, thus lowering shipping rates and costs for Guelphites and their businesses. The railway built a track from near Campbellville through the city itself. Instead of running the railway themselves, the corporation leased it to the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR).

There had been some discussion of using the existing Grand Trunk Station downtown as a depot, thus creating a Union Station. However, the GJR instead acquired the Priory, which had been a private residence owned by David Spence. The 99-year lease to the CPR gave them the right to modify the property as necessary for the purpose of operating a station. No thought was given to what would become of the Priory in the event that the CPR no longer wanted it. Although some citizens were concerned about the erosion of links to Guelph's past and its founder, John Galt, there was no sense that preservation of certain structures for posterity was a significant project or something that might be enshrined in the city's contractual relationships, much less public policy. That proved to be fateful for the Priory.

The Priory's previous owners had created quite a park around the structure. The grounds featured a variety of flower and vegetable gardens, with paths in between. In the gardens could be found gooseberries, apples and plums, including the "Glass seedling plum" developed by David Allan's gardener, Alex Glass (Mercury, 5 Feb. 1955). Iris, narcissus and tulips were grown beside the main path, and the greenhouse featured several rare plants, including Spanish grapes.

The Mercury records the suggestion that the grounds be maintained in order to beautify the station and gratify visitors to Guelph (4 July 1888):

The Priory Trees.—The attention of the directors of the Guelph junction might be called to the need of caring for the valuable trees on the Priory lot. Owing to the grove being completely open from the track, but secluded by the clothes fence, from the street, young vandals have taken advantage of this license and have stripped three white birch trees of their bark. No grove perhaps in the city for its size contains more valuable specimens of choice trees there being 15 varieties of evergreens alone. It is a beautiful spot and will make a very comfortable resting place for travelers, and if thrown open for the benefit of the public would give them a nice park also. A fence behind the station along the track, with footpath through and seats round would put it under the protection of every citizen, and all would feel a just pride in preserving the small but valuable park.
In the end, most of the gardens, paths, and other features were removed to accommodate the tracks, platform, and access to Priory Street. Although the CPR was not wantonly destructive, neither was it much interested in the maintenance of gardens or the provision a civic park. As a result, the Priory did not receive "the protection of every citizen."

During the "golden" age of postcards in the early 20th century, the Priory was one of the most popular postcard views of Guelph. One particular image, taken from the east where Macdonell Street meets the Speed, is likely the most common Guelph postcard ever made. Here is the version of this image as produced by the Pugh Manufacturing Co. of Toronto.


This view shows the building as it appeared around 1900. With its contrasting colors, it nicely picks up the details in the building, including the Virginia creeper growing over much of its exterior.

Although the caption on this card says only, "C.P.R. Station, Guelph", captions of many cards from other companies often note that it was also the first house in Guelph and once the home of John Galt. Messages on these cards often mention the Priory, as in the following example from a card printed by the A.L. Merrill Co. of Toronto, sent in 1908:

I know you like historic buildings. This is the first house that was built in Guelph. It is about one hundred years old now. The C.P.R. use it as a station on account of it being the first house. they are not allowed to pull it down. J. M.
(Courtesy of John Parkyn.) It is interesting that Joe Merlihan (J.M.) remarked on the possible demolition of the Priory, since that had already become an issue of much discussion.

Before proceeding with that matter, I want to put up an unusual postcard that shows the Priory from across the Speed. This postcard was printed in the format of a bookmark and thus provides a panoramic view of the building and its surroundings at another point in its career as a CPR station.


This card was published by Rumsey and Co. of Toronto, around 1910. The photo reveals the screen of trees behind the building that still separated it somewhat from the downtown behind it. Note also the locomotive on the tracks to the right.

It would also help to have a bird's eye view of the Priory and its surroundings. No postcard or other such image survives, that I know of. However, one can be concocted by taking a satellite view of the vicinity from Google Maps and overlaying an early survey of the Priory and neighboring lots done by Captain Strange (and copied in 1957 by Mr. Shoemaker, a surveyor; University of Guelph Archives XR1 MS A379094). The outline of the Priory is emphasized by a black box with its porch facing the Speed.


I adjusted the overlay by locating two fixed points: The first is the bend of Woolwich Street immediately east of Thorp Street (Woolwich used to bend south there instead of north); the second is the location of the bridge at Allan's Dam, where the railway bridge was later constructed. The result is a rough-and-ready map of the Priory. The bulk of the Priory's plan is now under Woolwich Street with the porch to the north of the sidewalk, facing the metal canoe in John Galt Park. The map helps to give a sense of the scale of the building and its grounds, the latter comprising all the lots between Priory Street and the Speed River on the map.

Progress soon made the Priory seem obsolete as a railway station. In 1904, the CPR began construction of the Guelph to Goderich Railway, at the behest of the GJR. It was proposed that Priory be razed and replaced by a larger and more modern building as a part of this project (Johnson 1977, p. 318). Although the cost of $40,000 proved prohibitive, the proposal brought the matter to a head. Many residents viewed the Priory as something of a relic, one that seemed increasingly shabby and out-of-place in modern Guelph. Others viewed it as a significant connection with the Royal City's past. Even the Mercury, normally a voice for progress, urged that the old place be preserved (Mercury, 4 June 1904):

And, by the way, now that C.P.R. extension is in the air and a new station is talked of, what is to become of the old Priory? If the citizens of Guelph have any respect at all for, and pride in, the city’s history, they will see that this historical building is preserved intact. Would it not be a good idea to place it on rollers and remove it to the Exhibition grounds, to be used as a museum, containing interesting relics of Guelph, and including such old pictures as are now available.
Since the CPR's lease seemed to give them a free hand, the obvious way to save the Priory was to move it to another site. Buildings were moved around regularly in that era, so the scheme raised no technical problems. However, the notion of a historic park where old buildings might be located was, so far as I know, a novelty. Would it attract much support?

One important supporter of preservation was brewer George Sleeman. In 1905, then-Mayor Sleeman received a letter from one Gilbert Campbell, a Scottish fan of John Galt. In the letter, Mr. Campbell asked for confirmation of a story that had reached his ear to the effect that Guelphites proposed to destroy Galt's old residence. He offered a photo of Galt's birthplace in exchange for a photo (perhaps a postcard?) of the Priory. The Mercury (16 Oct. 1905) printed the letter along with the following observation:

His worship the mayor is one of the many citizens who hope that the old landmark will not be disturbed. He will acquaint to Mr. Campbell of the present situation.
In 1908, the CPR agreed to deputations from Guelph City Council urging them to build a new, better station in the town (Johnson 1977, p. 318). Construction of the new station in Trafalgar Square by the Eramosa Road bridge began in 1910. Their plans for the Priory site no longer included the building. Instead, they had plans to construct a short spur line and some pens and storage sheds at that location.

The crisis point was reached in 1911, upon completion of the new station. A letter from Donald Guthrie, a local lawyer, addressed to the Board of the GJR explains the situation (8 July 1911; UoG Archives XR1 MS A801—box 16, file 10). He explains that, in his opinion, the Priory is the property of the GJR and the CPR's lease does not entitle them to demolish or sell the structure. He reports that Mr. Oborne, Superintendent of the CPR, did not agree and said that, notwithstanding this news, the Company would demolish the building if it were not removed within a week! Mr. Guthrie advised that while the GJR could sue the CPR, it might be more expedient for Sleeman to contact Oborne personally to discuss the matter, as Sleeman was a prominent local customer of theirs.

Sleeman and the other Parks Commissioners explored numerous options. One scheme was to transport the building to Riverside Park. However, the cost estimate of $500 was more than could be mustered without help from either the CPR or the City Council, both unlikely. Besides,the building might not even fit under the streetcar wires on Woolwich Street.

Another scheme was to move the Priory a short distance back into Priory Park (the current location of the Blacksmith Fountain). However, the City Board of Works would not issue a permit to allow the move, a decision that the police promised to enforce (Mercury, 19 July 1911).

The CPR refused another suggestion to allow the building to be moved to the empty southwest corner of their site.

The situation provoked much popular discussion, much of it negative. Consider the following reports in the Mercury (26 July 1911):

All kinds of opinions continue to be expressed regarding the old building. Mr. C.J. Eisle was of the opinion that if its disposition were referred to the people they would 99 out of every hundred vote for its destruction. Six or seven men passed him when the fire bell rang the other day, and for fun he told him the fire was at the old C.P.R. station. In each case they expressed the hope that it was. This was Mr. Eisle’s method of taking a plebiscite. These opinions are in accordance with that of a prominent manufacturer, said if the disposal of the building were left to him he would put a stick of dynamite under it and blow it up.
Another wag suggested that it be taken to St. George's Square, halved in size, and used as a comfort station for streetcar passengers there.

The City's Finance Committee recommended a grant of $500 for removal of the Priory to Riverside Park. However, this proposal was flatly rejected by City Council in a session that featured "fireworks" (Mercury, 19 Aug. 1911):

Ald. Penfold was not a bit backward in stating his objections to any grant, in fact he was very much opposed to it. “The idea,” said the alderman, “of spending that amount of money for the removal of a few rotten logs! Why the idea is preposterous, and not to be thought of at all.”
Others objected that the shabby building would discredit the city and its citizens if displayed prominently in a city park:
Aldermen Calvert came back with a remark that if it was erected on the Priory Park site it would look like a man with a black eye.
Finally, the controversy also revealed a division along class lines. Most of the advocates for relocation of the Priory were wealthy and prominent men. Many citizens found the whole scheme evidence of how misguided and out-of-touch their wealthy patricians could be:
Alderman Howard was decidedly opposed to the removal of the building to Riverside Park. ”It is ridiculous,” said the alderman. ”I have interviewed a great number of the ratepayers, and not a single man has said that he was in favor of the project. The majority of them had said to tear it down. Furthermore, the council has no right to be dictated to by a few people who have a lot of money.”
City Council refused the grant. So, the ball landed squarely in George Sleeman's court. Sleeman had in the meantime purchased the building from the GJR and spent $300 on preparations for its relocation. He now contacted Mr. Oborne again and convinced him to allow the Priory to be relocated at the back of their site. It was relocated behind the Priory Hotel, on a laneway from Woolwich Street (as it was then) to Priory Street, roughly where the Supreme Car Wash stands on Woolwich Street today. The CPR had no immediate plans for that particular part of the site. Their condition on this agreement was that the Priory would be removed within 30 days of the CPR notifying Mr. Sleeman at some future time (2 Sept. 1911; UoG Archives XR1 MS A801—box 16, file 10).

The Mercury heaved a sigh of relief. On 29 Sept. 1911, a headline read, "Fate of the old Priory at last determined." However, the old building had merely been granted a reprieve. Also, dismantling of the structure had begun. Oddly, George Sleeman had the two side wings of the Priory removed and taken to his property on Waterloo Avenue, there erected as an independent structure (Mercury, 28 Aug 1911). Is was only the remainder of the building that was moved to the rear of the CPR grounds. It is unclear why Sleeman made this move. Perhaps it was the only way for the building to fit into the space made available by the CPR. Perhaps, seeing that the Priory was not out of danger, he had removed as much of it as he could afford to. In any event, the signs were not good.

Without anyone to maintain it, the Priory fell into disrepair and increasingly became an eyesore. It acquired the bad habit of catching fire, which it did at least three times in 1922 (Mercury, 27 Sep. 1922). That same year, members the City Parks and Buildings Committee asked the Council for some money to purchase the Priory from Sleeman with a view to moving it to Riverside Park, apparently in connection with a dam to be constructed there to make a swimming pool. Once again, the money was not forthcoming.

In 1923, the Guelph law firm of Guthrie & Kerwin corresponded with the CPR, suggesting that the railway lease the land on which the Priory then sat to the city, so that they could make a small park around it (31 July 1923; UoG Archives XR1 MS A801—box 16, file 10). Although CPR Superintendent Rutter confirmed that the company had no plans for that location, they were not willing to lease it out. The building caught on fire once again (Mercury, 28 Sep. 1923). At that point, the Fire Chief Knighton expressed the view that the ruin had become a fire hazard to the other buildings around it.

In 1924, the City Council consulted with Wellington Thompson of Huntsville, an expert on log cabin construction, for his opinion on whether or not a memorial to the building could be built in Riverside Park with the salvageable logs from the Priory (Toronto Globe; 29 May 1924). He expressed the view that a small model of 18 by 22 feet might be erected. The work was never carried out but the incident shows that the Council had given up on the idea of saving the whole structure.

In 1926, George Scroggie, building inspector for the City's Public Works Committee, was instructed to assess the remains of the Priory (Mercury, 2 March 1926). He reported that it should be condemned:

I have examined the building as requested and found it to be in a very bad repair. The roof has fallen in, adding to the danger of complete collapse, as the pressure on some parts of the log walls is now outward. As there has been considerable talk about the restoring of this structure, I have hesitated up to this time to condemn it, but the time has come when something must be done, and I would urge that it be torn down as soon as possible.
The Mercury published the following photo of the old derelict (16 March 1926):


On 4 May 1926, the Priory was demolished (Toronto Globe, 5 May 1926). Salvaged logs were stored at Robert Stewart's Lumber Company on Cardigan Street (KW Record, 22 Feb. 1958), the idea being to use them to construct a model replica of the Priory in Riverside Park the next year for Guelph's Centennial celebrations (Mercury, 21 Dec. 1926). However, the scheme was not carried out. The Priory was then just a memory.

It is certainly curious that Guelph's oldest building, and one associated so closely with the city's founder, came to such a sad ending. It is especially poignant that it was demolished on the eve of its 100th anniversary, when there was to be a celebration of the city's history. To understand this outcome, it may help to compare the Priory to other buildings that have been preserved.

Consider Zavitz Hall on the University of Guelph campus. When slated for demolition, Zavitz Hall was occupied by the Fine Art Department, for which no other accommodation existed. By contrast, the Priory was an empty shell, and one slated for replacement by the CPR not long after the Railway occupied the building. Also, whereas Zavitz Hall contributed positively to the space of Branion Plaza, the Priory was widely seen as an isolated relic shorn of the gardens of its former residents.

Importantly, supporters of the Priory lost the political battle to save it. Prominent political figures such as George Sleeman worked to preserve the building but were unable to raise sufficient money to carry out their plans. Many of the Aldermen and much of the electorate saw the scheme as the pet project of an elite out of touch with the priorities on the man in the street.

This last point is perhaps crucial. In the case of Zavitz Hall, supporters could articulate a vision for the future of the University in which the building played an important part: in making Branion Plaza a pleasant space, in honoring the significance of Charles Zavitz, and in respecting the achievements of the Fine Art Department. By contrast, would-be saviors of the Priory had difficulty making a similar case for it. The Priory had become a "black eye" that evoked no sympathy. Its association with John Galt was of little moment because, I suspect, most Guelphites knew little of or cared very much for Galt and knew the Priory mainly as an inadequate railway building, recently deprived of even that function.

The concept of using the Priory as museum and a tourist attraction was perhaps ahead of its time. As Guelphites grew tired of the building, some out-of-town newspapers expressed admiration for it and its historical associations, suggesting that the scheme was not hopeless. However, it seemed to make little sense to citizens of the Royal City at the time. Things changed dramatically by the end of World War II, as evidenced by the development of the John McCrae Memorial Garden and house as tourist attractions at that time.

Indeed, the Priory was later resurrected in various ways for this purpose. However, that is a story for another time.


Thanks to the folks at the University of Guelph Archives for help in locating documents for this post!