Friday, 4 May 2018

Religion, conscription and interdiction: The Guelph Novitiate Raid of 1918

At about 9:30pm on Friday, 7 June 1918, late visitors knocked on the door of Saint Stanislaus Jesuit Novitiate, situated a short distance north of Guelph. It was not a social call—the callers were a squad of military police led by Captain A.C. Macaulay, all dressed in civilian clothes. They had arrived on serious business, to look for young men evading conscription amongst the students. They meant to arrest all suspected "slackers" and take them into custody.

Thus began the notorious "Guelph Novitiate raid."


The Novitiate was a Jesuit school that had been founded only a few years before when the Jesuit Society purchased a 300-acre farm north of Guelph from Thomas Bedford (later a prime mover behind the John McCrae Memorial Garden in town.) Young men studied there to join the priesthood.


The Society built a generous structure to house the school. Happily, photographs of the Novitiate are preserved in a couple of postcards. The first is a real-photo postcard, that is, a photograph printed on postcard stock, by Lionel O'Keeffe, a Guelph photographer, ca. 1920.



The building is an impressive one, looking much like a fancy hotel, to my eye. Certainly, it must have looked commanding at the brow of the hill from the Elora Road. I wonder if Macaulay felt any trepidation when approaching it.

The second postcard shows the other side of the building. The fieldstone walls of the first and second floors were left from "Langholm", the name that an earlier owner, Charles Mickle, had given to his stone farmhouse on which the Novitiate was later built. A subsequent owner, Maurice O'Connor, called the property Mount St. Patrick and had a large portrait of the saint under the gables of his house. Perhaps it was only natural that it became the site of St. Stanislaus Novitiate later on (Mercury, 20 June 1927).



This postcard was printed by the J.J. Pinsonnault Co. of St. Jean Quebec, probably also around 1920. Together, the postcards leave an impression of a substantial building, designed to impress.

The story of the raid has been told in detail in several venues (see below). Relying on these sources, I will outline the events presently but want to set the scene first, framing the raid in the context of the Conscription Crisis of 1917 that gave rise to it.


The Great War was not going as hoped. In 1917, the situation on the western front looked grim. Germany was certainly winning the conflict in the east, where the Russian revolutions seemed destined to knock that country out of the war. In that event, the German army would be able to deploy many more forces to the western front in 1918 to launch an all-out assault. In spite of American entry into the war, prospects for victory were far from bright.


This was the situation as presented to Canada's Prime Minister Robert Borden as he attended the Imperial War Conference in London in March–April 1917. Even though Canada had contributed mightily to the war effort, and had just won a famous victory at Vimy Ridge, the ultimate outcome remained in grave doubt.


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Robert Borden (Miesianiacal - Library and Archives Canada (PA 028128)/Wikimedia Commons)

The Imperial War Cabinet wanted Canada to do yet more, mainly to supply more soldiers. Perhaps to sweeten the deal, the Cabinet adopted Resolution IX, which offered (nearly) full autonomy to the British Dominions, including Canada. Borden determined to act. He decided that the only effective response to the situation would be to introduce conscription. Although he had previously maintained that compulsory military service would not be necessary, Borden now saw things differently. The result was the Conscription Crisis of 1917.


A federal election was due late in 1917. At that point, Borden's Conservative Party had uncertain prospects of returning to power. However, the conscription issue enjoyed broad support in English Canada. So, running on a pro-conscription policy would substantially improve his chances of success. At the same time, conscription was less popular in French Canada and rural Ontario. French Canadians were more likely to view the conflict as an imperial, British affair instead of a Canadian matter. Also, many were unhappy about government policies that they viewed as anti-French, such as Ontario's Regulation 17, which severely curtailed French-language schools in the province. Farmers in rural Ontario also tended to oppose the policy, fearing that removing their young sons from the farms would threaten their livelihoods.


As a result, a policy of conscription was sure to cause upheaval along existing, social fault lines.


Borden undertook several measures to improve his odds of success. Knowing that many English Liberals supported conscription, he formed a Unionist coalition in which Conservatives and pro-conscription Liberals could both join. Hugh Guthrie, formerly a Liberal MP for Wellington South, joined this coalition.


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Hugh Guthrie (Library and Archives Canada (PA 027564)/Wikimedia Commons)

The Conservative government also passed acts to swing the electorate in their favor. The Wartime Elections Act enfranchised women in federal elections for the first time but only those with close relatives serving in the military. It also disenfranchised Canadian citizens who came from "enemy-alien" countries, that is, Germany and Austria, and were naturalized after 1902. The Military Voters Act enfranchised all soldiers in the Canadian Expeditionary Force, even those who were recent British immigrants. Military voters could vote simply for the "Government" or "Opposition", in which case the government itself would choose which riding to allocate the ballot to.


These measures were calculated to boost votes for the Unionist government and suppress votes against it.


To quell unrest in rural Ontario, Major-General Mewburn, the Minister of Militia and Defence, pledged that conscription would not be applied to farmers' sons. Mewburn's pledge was made official by an Order-in-Council.


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Major-General Sydney Mewburn (Canadian Annual Review, 1923/Wikimedia Commons)

After perhaps the bitterest and most divisive election in Canadian history, the Unionists were elected by a large majority and conscription was duly enacted. The election drove a wedge between various social groups, especially English vs. French, and Protestant vs. Catholic. It is in this context that the significance of the Guelph Novitiate Raid of 1918 should be viewed.


In English Canada, opposition to conscription among French (and therefore mainly Catholic) Canadians was regarded as unfair and perhaps treasonous. By 1918, the view that the war represented a clash between civilization, in the body of the British Empire particularly, and barbarism, in the guise of Germany especially, was well established. Thus, the very survival of Canada as a civilized country was at stake. Conscription was seen as necessary for victory, so opposition to it was viewed as tantamount to Kaiserism. Furthermore, enlistment in French Canada trailed that of English Canada, so that it appeared that French Canada was reaping the benefits of resistance to the Huns without making a fair contribution to it.


In Guelph, suspicion began to fall on the Novitiate. In no small part, this suspicion originated in a provision of the Military Service Act that exempted clergy from conscription. Among Protestants, young men studying for ordination were not regarded as clergy. Thus, they were subject to conscription. Among Catholics such as the Jesuits, on the contrary, young men studying for ordination were considered bona fide clergy. Thus, they were exempt from conscription. Not a few Protestants saw this situation as unfair. In addition, rumour had it that the Novitiate might be hiding "slackers" from elsewhere. The neighbouring riding of Waterloo North had voted Liberal, which some Guelphites thought was out of sympathy with Germany. Perhaps Hun sympathizers from Waterloo were abroad in the region, where they would, it was thought, find aid and comfort for their treasonous schemes at St. Stanislaus.


Jesuit authorities had taken measures to head off problems. In September 1917, the Bishop of Hamilton visited the Novitiate to tonsure the students, that is, to officially induct them into the Jesuit order as clergy. Also, Father Henri Bourque, the Rector, arranged for official documents to be drawn up for each student at the Novitiate, confirming their status as clergy. Students were instructed to carry these documents with them at all times when off the Novitiate grounds.


Yet, increasing pressure was put on military authorities to do something. Members of the Guelph Ministerial Association complained publicly about that the Novitiate students were in violation of the Act. Rumors began to circulate that the Jesuits had dug tunnels to keep slackers or the sons of wealthy Catholics out of the trenches. It was also speculated that the Jesuits had acquired a cannon and were stockpiling ammunition for some sort of uprising.


Henry Westoby, city alderman and registrar and secretary-treasurer of the local enlistment league, complained to military officials of Father Borque's repeated refusals to register the students for conscription. He reiterated some of the rumours in circulation and said that there was going to be an "explosion" unless military officials took action. Local Unionist MP Hugh Guthrie passed on to Major-General Mewburn the names of three men reported to be hiding out at the Novitiate. Taking this information at face value, Mewburn issued a communique to his staff to follow up, which was passed on to military police in London, Ontario, with an ambiguous note to "clear out" or "clean out" the Novitiate. (A later search failed to find the note, so its wording remains unclear.)


Captain Macaulay and nine men were duly assigned the job and arrived in Guelph, in plain clothes so as to be discrete. Macaulay and several men searched the buildings while others covered the grounds, in case any slackers or subversives tried to flee. To make a long story short, no such people were found, neither were there any tunnels or ammunition stockpiles. Of the three young men on Mewburn's list, only George Nunan was actually there, although he was in compliance with the Act.


The situation quickly became heated. Macaulay began to interrogate members of the Novitiate. As it happened, these included the Reverend Father William Power, then head of the Jesuit Order of Canada and described as "a formidable character," and Father William Hingston, an army chaplain just returned from a tour of duty in France, who appeared in his Captain's uniform. In addition, Father Bourque had got on the phone and alerted a number of people including Patrick Kerwin, their lawyer, Thomas Bedford, then Justice of the Peace, and Judge Hayes of the County Court. Judge Hayes advised Father Bourque to allow Macaulay to inspect the grounds and interrogate members of the Novitiate. This Bourque did, under protest.


Macaulay proceeded to interrogate students while making no effort to ascertain their status under the Act. That is, he did not ask for proof of their membership in the clergy, although their documentation was on hand. As it happened, one of the students was Marcus Doherty, son of Charles Doherty, the Justice Minister of the Unionist government. The younger Doherty was able to reach his father on the phone, who then contacted the Adjutant for Canada, Major-General Ashton. Ashton was put on the phone to Macaulay and told him to return to town without making any arrests. Macaulay had identified 36 people he considered suspicious and was about to take three away with him. Given the situation, he removed himself and his squad from the grounds.


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Charles Joseph Doherty (A history of Quebec: its resources and people, 1908/Wikimedia Commons)

In the end, only one person at the Novitiate could not be immediately accounted for. In fact, he turned out to be a demobilized soldier, Private O'Leary, with a distinguished service record. Father Bourque made a written complaint to General Mewburn, who replied with an official apology and blamed the affair on Macaulay. A later inquiry endorsed this view and Macaulay was reassigned to Winnipeg.


At this point, the story moves away from the Novitiate itself. Naturally, the raid was the talk of the town and beyond. The government invoked a press ban, so discussion was either informal or conveyed by clergy from their pulpits. There remained a great deal of resentment about what was seen as special treatment of Catholics in general. The Minister of Justice was seen as particularly responsible, as an Irish Catholic from Montreal who had a son of military age at the Novitiate itself. (It is worth noting that Marcus Doherty had already been declared unfit for military service by Army doctors.) Others argued that judgement should be reserved until the facts were in.


The press ban collapsed on 19 June when the Toronto Star broke the story, after which it became a cause of much discussion nationally. Press reports in the Guelph papers tended towards conciliation, as accounts of the raid came in and it was realized that the whole affair was casting the Royal City in a rather scandalous light.


After a few weeks, the press of outside events drew attention away from the raid. It was later played down. For example, no mention of it appears in the Centennial edition of the Guelph Mercury in 1927, which contained a lengthy history of the city's first century. Although the divisive issues that played a role in the raid simmered on, the raid itself was perhaps seen as part of the unpleasantness of wartime that was best left unrecalled.


The old Novitiate building soldiered on until it burned down in 1954. It was afterwards succeeded by the Ignatius Jesuit Centre, which remains on the top of old Mount St. Patrick today.




The account above is taken from the following sources:


Although largely forgotten today, the Conscription Crisis and its aftermath remain, arguably, the ugliest political upheaval in Canadian history. English and French Canadians felt unfairly treated by the other. Feelings surrounding the Guelph Novitiate Raid relate significantly to French Canadian enlistment or the apparent lack of it. French enlistment was lower than in English Canada, a point that vexed many Guelphites. However, it is worth remembering some further points. About half of all Canadians in the Canadian Corps were British born. Enlistment among Canadian born men was never equal to their proportion of the population in either French or English Canada. In no small part, this situation was a result of a massive wave of immigration of single, young men from Britain in the Edwardian era, a wave that bypassed French Canada. So, the supply of unattached young men available for service in English Canada was much higher than in French Canada, both numerically and proportionally. Details like this were largely overlooked in the heat of the moment.
























Friday, 30 March 2018

Personalizing postcards: X marks the spot

Picture postcards were introduced in the Edwardian era as souvenirs and as collectors items. Yet, as often happens with popular products, consumers soon found new uses for these cards. In particular, postcards often showed images of significant local buildings, such as churches, court houses, and schools. In Guelph, many postcards showed images of the Ontario Agricultural College (OAC) and the Macdonald Institute and Hall. These cards could be sent away to show off Guelph's interesting structures or to please collectors of images in those categories.

However, postcards could also be modified to convey extra information relevant to the sender and the addressee. Anyone who collects Guelph postcards will soon notice that more than a few are marked by their senders with an "X" at a place of special significance. For example, consider the following card of the then-new Macdonald Institute and Hall, produced by Charles Nelles:


The sender, Miss Margaret Smith, has put an "X" beside a third-storey room in the middle of the top picture with the notation, "X is my room" underneath. Beside the pictures, in her meticulous handwriting, Margaret adds, "My address is Macdonald Hall, Guelph." On the reverse, she writes:
Dear Uncle:—This is a picture of our home and school. Hope you are all well, poor Carolyn is having sick time in Toronto. Lovingly, Margaret Smith.
The postmark shows that the card was mailed on 30 May 1906.

Of course, the modification is a simple one. Still, it changes what was a generic image meant for mass consumption into a personal representation, specially meaningful to Margaret and her uncle at an important time. Her stay at the Macdonald Institute may well have been Margaret's first prolonged time away from home, in a place where she would learn how to run a household of her own.

Besides their accommodations, young women at the Institute used postcards to indicate where they conducted their studies. The card below is typical:


Three Xs hover determinedly over rooms of the building. On the back, their significance is explained in the accompanying message:
Dear Auntie,—I am feeling fine and we all are. The places which I have marked are the places where we have domestic science. G.B. from G.H.
No doubt, the postcard was selected because it provided a vantage of the rooms G.B. had her classes in. It was sent in 24 Feb 1908.

The young men at the OAC were no less interested in communicating where they lived and worked on campus. One student, whose initials appear to be CTA, sent this card to his friend Keith to keep him up on current events.


In the message, we learn about the writer's academic progress and his attitude towards marriage:
O.A.C. 30/14 // Dear Keith—Mighty glad to get your card. better use multiplication table & make it a letter. I pulled turnips about as big around as a foot ball one afternoon this week. Haven’t got my false head yet. Have been doing lots of studying lately. Hear Bert Milliken is married also Russ. Feel awful sorry for them. CTA (??) I live in room X.
Careful examination of the picture shows an "X" in the third-storey window just to the left of the central mass of the Main Building (since replaced by Johnston Hall). The card is postmarked 30 October 1914.

As did the young women of the Institute, the young men of the OAC used postcards to show where they did their learning. In the card below, young R. Harris shows his Auntie Alice where he takes his dairy classes:


Four windows on the upper floor are marked with Xs while four below are marked with asterisks, as R. explains:
Dairy School 13/2/08 // Dear Aunt. // Your card received & here is one in return. I wish I could get some more pictures of the Dairy Buildings. This is the Main building with Dairy Class room up stairs with X on windows. Creamery & Butter Making Dept. downstairs marked "*" on windows. Hope you are both well. R. Harris
The Dairy Department had several structures on campus of which this "Dairy Building" was the main one (since demolished). It was indeed the only dairy edifice to be shown on commercial postcards of the era. The postcard was postmarked on 14 February 1908.

Other buildings were occasionally marked with Xs by their occupants. For example, N.N. sent a postcard of the new Macdonald Consolidated School to Miss Barbour of St. Marys, Ontario:


Instead of Xs, N.N. has used brackets and "My room" to indicate the first-floor classroom south of the main entrance, facing out onto Dundas Road (now Gordon Street). The Consolidated School was part of an attempt to improve rural education, sponsored by Sir William Macdonald, by concentrating rural students to central locations where they would have access to better facilities and teachers than were usually available in one-room schools. Assuming N.N. is a girl, she would have learned skills in cooking, sewing, nursing, and gardening in addition to the three Rs. Her room also had an excellent view of the lane next to the school where the vans would gather after class to take the children home. The card was postmarked on 18 November 1907.

Postcards of the OAC and Macdonald Institute are the ones most frequently modified in this way by consumers. This is likely because these institutions had a high turnover of occupants, many of whom wanted to inform their friends and relations about where they were off to school. However, postcards of other places were sometimes given similar treatment. For example, here is a postcard of the Opera House block in which Xs flag a couple of places of business.


The message explains:
Aug. 31/12 Hello Nellie:—This is where I am spending the holiday. Received your kind letter and will answer when I get back. The places marked x are my brother-in-law’s stores. Hope you are keeping fruit (??). Will
Interestingly, the Xs point to the Opera House Pharmacy, operated by Frederick Bogardus, the subject of an earlier blog post. The postcard was postmarked on 31 August 1912.

Since Frederick Bogardus was Will's brother-in-law, we can identify him as Wilfred Henry Hill, brother of Ada Maude Hill, who married Bogardus in 1910. Unfortunately, I have little further information about Mr. Hill to share. I hope he enjoyed spending Labour Day in Guelph!

Picture postcards could seem quite impersonal, the mass-produced ones being generic and disposable. However, people found ways to make these items more personal, such as marking Xs to designate places that were in some way special to them. Among Guelph postcards, these were often cards of the OAC and Macdonald Institute, which the young men and women, newly arrived in Guelph, would mark up to communicate some of the excitement to their friends and relations back home. When looking at old postcards, it is worth paying attention to these little signs for the glimpse they offer into the personal lives of those who put them to use.

Sunday, 25 February 2018

"A national victory": The OAC triumphs in stock judging, 1907

A cold but ebullient crowd of students presses around the Blacksmith Fountain in St. George's Square. Two of their number stand atop the fountain, handling the Blacksmith while the rest cheer them on. Bystanders gather around the margins of the Square, taking in the spectacle. A placard held by the students reads "National Victory". A spectator on the second floor of the Bank of Commerce, on the east side of the Square, grabs a nearby camera and takes a snap. This great day for the Ontario Agricultural College (OAC), Guelph and, apparently, Canada, is duly immortalized.

Later, the photo was turned into a postcard featuring the caption "O.A.C. National Victory Celebration." It can still be seen today, courtesy of the John Keleher collection:


This photo appears to capture a moment in celebrations of the OAC's third victory in competition for the Spoor Trophy, a prize awarded for achievement in stock judging. John A. Spoor was an American business man with particular interest in the livestock trade. In 1900, he became President of the International Livestock Exposition in Chicago and instituted a livestock judging competition for agricultural students. At the end of November, students from around North America converged on the Chicago exhibition to show their judging chops.

Spoor commissioned a bronze trophy for the occasion, in the form of a large bull. The OAC took an interest in the competition and began to send teams of students to take part.

The OAC offered a variety of degree programs focussed on agriculture. Students who majored in the Agriculture Option studied a number of subjects including Animal Husbandry. This included study of the principle breeds of cattle, sheep, pigs, and horses and their preferred characteristics, along with practical work in judging these on inspection. The point of this study was to enable students to continue improvements to animal breeds that they might raise on their own farms. Improvement could be measured in the financial returns that farmers realized from their stock (OAC Review, v. 25, no. 9, pp. 431–433):

... every breeder, if he expects to accomplish results as an improver of his live stock, must know the conformation consistent with each animal's utility and the type which will yield him the largest returns.
The utility of an animal depended crucially on the condition of its tissues and internal organs. These could not be viewed directly in a live animal, so the trick for students was to learn to judge these matters from an external inspection.

At the Guelph campus, judging practice often took place in the Judging Pavilion, now known appropriately as the Bullring, and shown in the Valentine & Sons postcard, ca. 1905, below:


In their Senior year, the best students in the Agriculture Option were selected and trained for the competition. At the appointed time, similar teams from agricultural colleges across North America would converge on Chicago for the ultimate test of their mettle. The contest is described in detail in the OAC Review (1910, v. 23, n. 2, pp. 67–68):
On the day of the contest they meet in the great arena and are divided into four sections. Four different classes of live stock are brought in the ring and a section goes to each class and has eighteen minutes to place the animals and write notes. After the eighteen minutes they are moved to another class of stock and twice again, until the four rings are judged. Then the boys are marshalled in four sections and take turns in going before the judges. There are four sets of judges, one set for each class of live stock. Each boy has from one to two minutes to state his reasons for his placing of the class. After giving his reasons he retires to his section and remains until all have given reasons, then the section moves along to a second set of judges, and so twice more until reasons are given on the four classes of stock. This completes one-third of the work. Again four classes of stock are brought in and the same course pursued, and yet once more. Owing to tedious delays, the contest is not usually over until ten p.m. The boys come out from giving their last reasons a wearied, jaded crowd, despondent if they discover many mistakes in placings, awfully weary, but knowing that another contest would find them better prepared in every way.
In a nutshell, each student is rated according to how well his judgment accords with that of the experts. The Spoor Trophy went to the team with the best overall score in the various categories.

Student teams from the OAC won the trophy in 1905 and 1906, so the 1907 team went south with great expectations, and their efforts were crowned with success! Because the 1907 victory was the College's third in a row, it was judged not merely a victory for the institution but for the whole nation. The Toronto Globe proclaimed, "No international prize ever brought to Canada was better won or more beneficently significant than this trophy" (Mercury, 4 Dec 1907).

The OAC Review (Jan 1908, v. 20, n. 4, pp. 179–183) contained photos of the winning teams, the Spoor Trophy, and a breathless account of the victory celebrations. Here is the winning team:


As the leading man in training the team, Professor Day gets the special, central and rectangular treatment.

Then there is the trophy itself:


This fine specimen was created by August Nicolas Cain, a French sculptor known for his portrayals of animals in bronze.

Then there is the hometown celebration, leading up to the event in St. George's Square, as related by the OAC Review:

Monday, December 2nd, 1907, will long be remembered in the annals of the college as the day on which we concentrated all the means at our disposal to celebrate the great national victory gained by our stock-judging team at Chicago. As President Creelman had granted us a half-holiday, accordingly about 2 p.m., the students, over two hundred strong, assembled in front of the dormitory. The bronze bull, mounted on a wagon decorated with red and blue, headed the procession, and with flags, pennons and streamers flying, with horns blowing and college yells filling the air, this truly great demonstration of patriotic spirit and enthusiasm filed down the college hill. Accompanied by a number of Macdonald girls in a carryall, we arrived in the city, and proceeded to make things lively. The residences of some of the various professors were visited, and the usual cheers given. The procession, then headed by J. Hugo Reed on horseback, marched back to St. George's Square and surrounded the statue while two of the students gave it a much-needed protection against the weather in the form of a liberal application of red and blue paint.
Red and blue were the College colors.

Of course, this treatment of the poor Blacksmith is reminiscent of the current practice of University of Guelph students who occasionally paint the cannon Old Jeremiah on campus today. This observation invites the question: Why didn't the OAC students paint something on campus—even Old Jeremiah itself, which sat on Johnston Green—instead of the Blacksmith in the middle of town?

I suspect that the answer is that this "national victory" called for a more prominent, public acknowledgment. Since the Blacksmith Fountain sat in the centre of Guelph, in the midst of its main thoroughfare, it was the most "national" of objects available for decorative commemoration.

This idea is confirmed by subsequent events. After the students finished with the Blacksmith, they repaired to the City Hall (now the "Old City Hall") to receive congratulations from every available public official. The students were eulogized by Mayor Newstead, M.P.P. J.P. Downey, and M.P. Hugh Guthrie. Even Police Chief Randall was roped into making a congratulatory speech. (Did he know his audience had just painted a public monument?) The Mercury (3 Dec 1907) describes the scene):

The boys in the burlesque costumes lined up on either side of the steps and gave vent to their feelings at each appreciative sally of the speakers in cheers loud and continuous. They rallied round the bull and each speaker was given three hearty cheers led by the man on the wagon.
It also records Hugh Guthrie's affirmation of the significance of their achievement:
"The judging team of the Ontario Agricultural College are a credit not only to the Institution they represent, the city of Guelph, and the Province of Ontario, but to the whole Dominion of Canada."
Glowing with this lavish praise, the crowd carried on back up Wyndham Street to the Kandy Kitchen, where they gorged themselves on treats. Then, sated and elated, they dragged themselves and their trophy back to campus perhaps for more merriment.

According to the rules of the competition, any institution that won a trophy three times in a row got to "retire" it. Accordingly, the OAC kept theirs. (Since Iowa State won the first trophy in 1901, 1902, and 1903, that version remains there.) Evidently, the trophy remains with the OAC even today.

So, we have both the trophy and the postcard to remind us of the time when, in the stockyards of Chicago, the OAC won a great victory for themselves, for Guelph, Ontario, and for their grateful nation. Perhaps the Blacksmith also remembers the event but maybe not so fondly.



Identification of this postcard with the OAC celebration on 2 Dec 1907 rests on three points:
  1. Real-photo postcards of this type became popular locally around 1905, so the image is not earlier than that year. Also, the octagonal garden around the Blacksmith Fountain was changed to a long oval in the summer of 1908, in preparation for Old Home Week that year. So, the image is not later than that year.
  2. The scene in the image matches descriptions of the celebration. It occurs in winter, involves a large crowd focussed on the Blacksmith Fountain, two of whom are handling the Blacksmith itself in a way that is consistent with painting.
  3. The OAC Review describes the 1907 win in particular as a "national victory", probably because it brought permanent possession of the Spoor Trophy to the OAC. The congratulations offered to students by Guelph's dignitaries confirms this signification. This gibes with expression "national victory" as found on a placard in the photo as well as the postcard's caption itself.
Maybe students from the OAC could be persuaded to re-stage the celebration someday, just for old-time's sake, minus the paint, of course.

Sunday, 28 January 2018

Trade cards and postcards: Selling Wm. Bell's pianos

Imagine that you are going with your family to buy a piano in late Victorian Guelph. Having looked at the different makes and models, you have settled on a Bell Piano, a quality instrument made right here in the Royal City at the Bell Organ and Piano factory on Macdonnell Street! The whole family troops excitedly to Chas. W. Kelly & Son's music store at 33 Wyndham Street (current home to City Pawnbrokers), the local sales agent for Bell.



In the store, the final decision is confirmed as everyone gathers around the piano soon to join you in the parlor of your handsome abode. Having made the financial and delivery arrangements, Charles Kelly smiles and hands you your copy of the bill of sale and, as a bonus, some trade cards. The cards have an intriguing, colored picture on one side and a drawing of the nearby Bell factory on the other. The children want the cards for their collections! Alright, but only in exchange for practicing on the piano every day! A deal is struck.



Picture postcards have long been used as advertisements for businesses. Before the advent of the picture postcard, many businesses used "trade cards" for this purpose instead. A trade card is typically a small card made out of heavy paper that combines pictures and text for the purpose of promoting a business. Trade cards originated in the 18th century in western Europe and spread to North America with the colonists (Hubbard 2012).

When picture postcards appeared in Canada in the Edwardian era, most businesses made the switch from trade cards to advertising postcards, that is, postcards that combined promotional text and pictures.

In Guelph, one of the most prolific users of trade cards was the Bell Organ and Piano Co. I have traced the history of the Company and its clock tower in a previous posting. It was founded in 1864 by William Bell and his brother Robert but soon taken over by William himself. It became quite successful, reaching its zenith in the 1880s when the new factory and clock tower were built. At the time, the company billed itself as the biggest producer of organs in the British Empire.

It was around this time that advertising cards for the Company seem to have begun to circulate. Here is an example, which is typical for American trade cards of its era:


The picture shows both the front and back. The front features a generic picture of a girl with a dolly and a basket. Space is left front and back for text that describes the business using the card.

Curiously, as the alert reader may have noticed, nowhere is there an organ or piano in sight. In fact, no trade card that I have seen for the Bell Organ and Piano Co. features a musical instrument. It was typical for instrument makers to feature instruments in their trade cards, as the Boston Public Library's gallery on Flickr demonstrates. So, the Bell Co. must have had a particular reason for not following convention, though it can only be guessed at. My own suspicion is that Bell was more concerned to show off the international reach of his business and its fit within the well-to-do lifestyle of his era. In the card above, the text emphasizes Bell organs and pianos as the "standard instruments of the world." Modern advertising psychologist Robert Cialdini calls this approach "social proof," where the implicit approval of others for a product is displayed as an inducement for the viewer to approve of the product as well. After all, if people around the world like Bell pianos, so will you!

The picture of a young girl might remind viewers of the duty of upwardly-mobile parents to ensure that their daughters have all the customary feminine accomplishments, such as being able to play and sing at the piano.

Another Bell trade card shows an even higher degree of specialization.


The front shows a colored drawing of an "Ice Palace" framed by a patriotic maple leaf and a shield identifying the advertiser. The back shows an impressive drawing of the Bell Organ and Piano factories on Carden Street, the smoke of industry belching forth from their chimneys.

The "Ice Palace" is a building made of ice for the Montreal Winter Carnival of 1883, which handily dates the trade card to the mid 1880s. The structure was made with 500 lb. blocks of ice cut from the St. Lawrence and assembled in what was then called Dominion Square.

Here is a photo of the 1883 palace, taken by noted Montreal photographer William Notman & Son:


(Courtesy of the McCord Museum, Montreal.)

Ice palaces of larger and more elaborate design were constructed for the Carnival through 1889. The Ice Palace exemplified the kind of thing that a well-to-do Canadian might travel to see as a winter tourist.

Other trade cards of the same design displayed different items of interest to well-heeled Canadians. Here are the fronts of two more (the backs are the same as above):


The top card shows an image of Niagara Falls, still a premiere regional tourist attraction today. The bottom shows a picture of the S.S. Parisian, which first sailed in 1881 on the north Atlantic route. As the drawing shows, the Parisian was a hybrid ship, propelled mainly by steam engine but also equipped with masts and sails, just in case. Today, the Parisan is best remembered as one of the ships that responded to the distress signals of the Titanic in 1912. She did not find any survivors.

As with the first one, these trade cards evoke not musical instruments as such but rather the lifestyle of the potential customers of the Bell Organ and Piano Co. The Company has its quarters in an impressive, world-class facility in Guelph, with offices throughout the province. Its products comport well with the lifestyle of upwardly-mobile Canadians who might hop on a train to Niagara Falls, Montreal, or even to take ship to the Old Country.

The variety of pictures also reflects an awareness of how trade cards of the era circulated. They were given out to customers who expressed an interest in a company's products and also with the products upon purchase. One reason was perhaps to look for repeat business. Another reason was that some people collected these cards or circulated them among family and friends. Having a variety of cards on offer might result in a broader interest in the cards and, thus, more market exposure for the Company and its offerings.

Around the same time that Bell Organ and Piano Co. started circulating these trade cards, changes began to take place in the postcard market. Previously, postcards had no illustrations; regulations stipulated that a message should appear on one side and an address on the other. (See a German example in this posting about F.C. Harrison of the O.A.C.) Yet, advances in printing technologies allowed for the inclusion of small illustrations on inexpensive cards.

Some European makers began to include small illustrations that left sufficient space for messages or addresses. Postcards featuring illustrations on the address side of the card became popular souvenirs at the World's Columbian Exhibition in Chicago in 1893. Postcards of this design were officially allowed under Canadian regulations in 1895. Businesses began to produce them for correspondence and advertising.

Ever sensitive to the latest advertising trends, Bell got in on the act. Below is a trade postcard printed for Bell and mailed to Mr. G.N. Ackerman of Norwood, Ontario, postmarked in Guelph on 8 April 1901.


Ever consistent, the card does not feature any musical instruments.

The card looks like a kind of hybrid. Like earlier trade cards, it features a picture of the Bell Organ and Piano Co. factories in Guelph as well as printed text lauding the Company. Like later postcards, it contains spaces expressly for an address and a message. Unlike later postcards, the illustration is a small one printed on the address side instead of on the opposite side, by itself.

Perhaps the most significant difference between this advertising postcard and previous trade cards was that this card could be sent through the mail just by sticking a stamp and address on it. Postcards rule!

Time moved on. The modern form of postcard found its way to Canada around 1904, where an image dominates one side while the other is divided into halves, one for an address and the other for a message. Because of this design, such cards are referred to as "divided back" among deltiologists, that is, people who study postcards.

Still keen on trade postcards, the Bell Organ and Piano Co. came out with a new set. It will not surprise you to learn that these cards do not feature organs, pianos, or other musical instruments. Instead, they feature images of young women, perhaps English actresses, whose job, it seems, is to confirm that to own a Bell piano would be a beautiful thing indeed. Here is one example:


The young lady sports a fashionable dress and broad "Merry Widow Hat," items made internationally popular by Guelph's own Lady Duff-Gordon. Perhaps this young woman should be viewed as a predecessor to the modern promotional model (or "booth babe").

This card is also the only Bell trade postcard that I know of that was actually postally used. The message reads:

from Luella Barrett // Dear Sister: I am well & hope you are the same. This girl on this card is called the Bell Princes [sic]
It is addressed to Miss Della Barrett, Natural Bridge, N.Y., Route 1 and was sent from Sydenham, Ontario (near Owen Sound). The message suggests that Luella had some experience with a Bell Co. representative. It may be that she got the card while shopping for a piano. Was she due to have music lessons?

Unfortunately, there are no later Bell Organ and Piano Co. trade postcards that I am aware of. The company was at its height in the 1880s, when its first trade cards appeared. It was sold to a British syndicate in 1888 but seems to have declined over the years. It was sold to a Brantford syndicate in 1928 but went bust in 1931, the Great Depression having administered the coup de grace.

Still, in the late Victorian era, the Bell Organ and Piano Co. was a world leader in production of those instruments. In addition to its wares, its advertising trade cards and postcards carried its name and the Royal City with it far and wide. Today, the persistence of the Company in advertising with these cards provides us with an interesting opportunity to see how they were used for commercial promotion at the dawn of the golden age of postcards.



Your piano arrives at last and it looks beautiful. The neighbors will be jealous!