Author: Cameron Shelley

Publication Date: 2013

 

Introduction

One hundred years ago, from fuly 27 through August 2, Guelph threw itself a big party called "Old Home Week." Residents, former Guelphites, and their well- wishers converged on the City for a prolonged celebration. Celebratory activities included parties, speeches, parades, music, athletic competitions, decorations, an technological spectacles. By all accounts, the partygoers had a fine time.

Perhaps any excuse for a party is a good one. However, residents of Guelph had some particular reasons for throwing this sort of party at this time. At the opening of the 20th century, many cities in Ontario were holding their own "Old Home Week" that allowed them to look back with nostalgia but also forward to the future with hope. In addition, each party served as a kind of marketing ploy, allowing host cities to promote their vitality and rosy prospects.1 Furthermore, Old Home Week was an opportunity to build on the social solidarity of each community.

The custom of Old Home Week seems to have begun in New England late in the 19th century.2 Frank Rollins, a successful entrepreneur in Boston, returned to his native New Hampshire to run for governor. Upon his election, he surmised that ryany other native sons of the state also shared his nostalgia for it. In 1899, he arranged a homecoming celebration for them. The event was so well received that the notion spread quickly to neighbouring states, and to the provinces of Quebec and Ontario.

Guelph held its first Old Home Week in 1908. The event was apparently such a success that it was decided to hold another one only frve years later. The purpose of this article is to discuss the Old Home Week held in Guelph in 1913, with particular attention to its significance for the community.


Organization

Old Home Week was organized by a special committee that included many prominent businessmen and politicians of the time. For example, J. W Lyon, head of the Guelph Boarcl of Trade, was the honourary President, and former mayor G. j. Thorp was the chairman of finance.3 Hugh Guthrie, M.P., Henry Scholfielcl, M.P.P., and mayor Samuel Carter were all honourary Vice-Presidents.

What exactly the Committee did to organize and promote the event is unclear. There are no acls for it to be found in the Toronto newspapers, for example, which might be expected. However, like other Ontario towns, Guelph did have an "Old Boys Association' that organized comrnunity events from time to time, such as excursions or sporting cornpetitions. The Association also maintainecl ties with former Guelphites who had moved away from the city. So, promotion of Old Home Week 1913 may have relied upon the social network represented by this Association.

Commercial and political connections with the Committee probably also helpecl it to secure the special railway fares that were offerecl by both the Grand Trunk and C.P.R. Iines for travellers to the city during the week. Rail was the primary means of long-clistance travel at the time, so discount fares woulcl have helped greatly in bringing visitors to the city.

In addition, the Post Office createcl a special cancellation stamp for letters and postcards mailed from Guelph around the time of the event. The starnp read, "Guelph's Old Home Week  1913 July 28 Aug 2." By 1912, special cancellation stamps had become a popular way of marking civic events in Canada, and Guelph was not to be excluded.4 Perhaps the special mark prompted people to mail more letters and postcards than they might have otherwise.


Commerce

In the lead-up to the celebration, the Committee felt confident that the week would go well and that it would be advantageous to the city in many ways. According to a report inthe Guelph Evening Mercury on 4 July 1913, the committee met and "expressed the hope that every citizen would take right hold and make the reunion a great advertisement for the city as well as a time of pleasure in the meeting of old friends...".5 The promotional aspect of the event was clearly irnportant to the committee.

Historic Guelph Old Postcard V52A5

Reverse of a postcard sent from Guelph during Old Horne Week, 1913. Note the special slogan in the cancellatiorì stamp in the upper-right corner. bnage frorn the author\ collection.

 

Local merchants did not pass up the opportunity to "take right hold" of the potential for sales. With the approach of Old Home Week, Guelph businesses began to advertise their party supplies. Charles Nelles, for example, who happened to be treasurer of the organizing Committee, began to advertise decorations available for purchase in his store downtown. These featurecl patriotic flags ancl also Chinese lanterns, the latter probably being paper lanterns in the form of a ball and illuminated by a central electric light.

An emphasis on electrical decorations is also to be found in aclvertisements in the Mercury by George E. B. Grinyer on 21 July 1913, who ownecl a plumbing, heating, electrical, and tinsmith business on Wyndham Street. He aclvised potential customers, "Have your electrical decorations done early: We can do your work at once; next week, we'll be busy."6 As we will see, the popularity of electrical decorations took the organizers somewhat by surprise.

The best acls belong to the firm of D. E. Macdonalcl & Bros, who hacl a dry goods, and "men's furnishing" store at l-9 Wynclham St. They took out several, large advertiseirents for festive items of all types including lanterns, flags, and bunting, with the slogan, 'Are you going to decorate the interior of your home for the occasion?"7 The Macdonalds were clearly out to maximize their sales. However, their main pitch concerned apparel. The wonclerful ad shows how fashionable men and women should be adorned for the occasion. A straw boater and cane for the men, and a bonnet and parasol for the ladies!

Clearly vendors of goods and services were elated with the prospect of a city swollen with happy people with money to spend. However, other business owners were not completely pleasecl. As it happened, Old Home Week was to take place on the week before the Civic Holiday Monday at the beginning of August. In other worcls, OId Home Week was to be followed immediately by a three-day weekend, which several factory owners thought would unduly lower their productivity.

Historic Guelph Ad in the Paper V52

An ad in the Guelph Evening Mernury, 29 July 1913, for clothing at the D. E. .Macdonald & Bros. store.

 

Mayor Samuel Carter suggested to the City Council that the August Civic Holiday should therefore be cancelled or moved ahead to occur within O1d Home Week itself. The Guelph Evening Mercury,24 July 1913 reported:

[Factory owners] claim that in all probabiiity tirey will have to ciose down cluring Oìd Home Week, and tirat they cannot affr¡rd to close down again on the Monclay following.8


The Old Home Week committee and the Güelph Tracles and Labour Council met together and jointly recommended that the Civic Holiclay be moyed to Tuesday, lvly 29, during the Week. However, these last-lninute efforts appear to have been in vain, as threre is no evidence that such a measure was adopted. An editorial in the Evenittg Mercury on 25 |uly 1913 provicies a number of cogent reasons why such a change was not workable:

  • The date of the Civic Holiclay was set by a by-law, which probably could not be amended by City Council in time;
  • The railways gave special rates on the official Civic Holiday and wouid not change the date at the last minute;
  • Stores in town woulcl have to close on the proposed holiday Tuesday, taking away a great deal ofbusiness and inconveniencing visitors.

It should be noted that subtracting holidays from the calendar has never been a big vote getter.

 

Beginning

People had begun to show up for Old Home Week even before it kickecl off officially. For example, the "City News" column of the Evening Mercury makes special note of the following arrival on 22 July 1913:

For Old Home Week.

Mr. J. M. Ogilvie and Mrs. Ogilvie and family motored up to the "Old Burg" for Mr. Ogilvie's vacation. They will be here for two lveeks, for as Mr. Ogilvie says, "We wouldnt miss a Guelph Old Boys Reunion for anything. That's why I got my holiday right now.

Arrival by car was still a notable event, as few people could afford them. As Ross Irwin notes, "Even by 1912, car travel was still, to most people, more of a sport than a means of transportation-a summer sport, in fact, and one restrictecl to the rich, the eccentric, and the adventuresome."9 So, Mr. Ogilvie's mocle of transportation was a taste of things to come.

Of course, most visitors arrived by train. On July 28, the Mercury notes that the 'old boys" were arriving in throngs at the train station and then choking the length of Wyndham Street. "with a seething mass of humanity" How exciting! The author also notes horv splendid the city looks, all decked out, remarking that, "The decorations were beautiful, and rvhen the lights were turned on at 8:30 the vari-colored bulbs, flags, pennants and bunting presentecl a magnificent vista of color" Special mention goes to the Mahoney, who had a plumbing business on Quebec Street, for their enormous Union |ack studclecl with coloured lights. The first evening was cappecÌ offby a concert in Exhibition Park by the Guelph Musical Society's Band and the Philharmonic Chorus. In acldition, there were numerous speeches by important persons which, the Mercury writer predicted, would be all but inauclible to the distractecl guests in the Park: The average speaker has not the souorous vocal outfit to be a successful outdoor orator, ancl it may be amusing, although not exactly entertaining, to see the gestures, but hear no words. At any rate, the old boys and girls will now take it for granted that they are
welcomed.

The 1913 Guelph Old Home Week and Summer Carnival Programme laid out a full schedule of events and opportunities. In sports, there would be a series of baseball games, races, tug-of-war, etc., as well as many more musical performances. In addition, there would be a multitude of exciting amusements:

During the entire week various kinds of attractions and amusements will be provided by the Committee, such as Side Shows, Animal Shows, Electrical Devices, Wax Works, Moving Pictures Shows, Ferris Wheels, Merry-go-Rounds and Galloping Horses, and everything in the amusement line that can be procured, and the Committee wish to assure the public that there will be nothing allowed that coulcl offend the most fastidious.

It seems as though the city had metamorphosed from a provincial 'bld burg" into a super-charged theme park. Of course, when the conventional rules are suspended in favour of spectacle and indulgence, there is the risk of behaviour that could be considered less than fasticlious.

 

Carnival

On the following da¡ the 29 lvly l9l3 Mercury reported on some interesting examples of misbehaviour in the crowded streets of the Royal City:

Many of those who attended the carnival five years ago [Old Home Week 1908] were wise in their generation, and knew what to expect. They wore their old duds. But of the others who did not know what was ahead of them-many of them had their best clothes ruined by
talcum powder. The crori¡d ran riot, and girls and young ladies were openly seized and kissed on the street; hats were knocked off, and kicked about by the swirling crowd, and the air was full of talcum powder and confetti.

An editorial in the same issue callecl upon the police to put a stop to the disorderly goings-on. It appears that they did so, at least to the extent that the throwing of talcum powde¡ confetti, etc. soon ceased. Instead, the crowd switched to "ticklers", paper tubes rolled into a coil that, when blown into on one end, uncoil and make a trumpet sound. Vendors of these noisy "fun makers" did a roaring business.

Historic Guelph Old Home Week Celebraion V52

Old Home Week celebrations, 1908, Grand Parade looking north on Wyndham Street towards St. George's Square. lmagefrom the Guelph Historical Society Collection.

 

The Mercury editorial on July 29 also explained the disorderly conduct by describing "the chief offenders [as] being the non-English speaking element." This somewhat coded expression seems to refer to the Itaiian population of Guelph. Immigrants from ltaly had begun to arrive in Guelph around the turn of the century and were regarded with some anxiety by the predominantly British population of the city.10 Accounts of odd or ofensive behavior by Italians appear from time to time in the paper. Indeed, the August 5 issue reports that an ltalian, George Longo, pled guilry to charges of disorderly conduct on Wyndham St. during the Carnival. Sensitivity to the behavior of non-English-speaking residents reinforces the impression that Britishness was an important aspect of Old Home Week.

Although police action may have put an end to throwing talcum powder, it did not stop the licentious kissing of girls and young ladies on the street. On July 31, the Mercury reports that this behaviour continued, albeit in a kind of ritual form:

The crowd was out for a big time, and they apparently had it, as the streets resounded with laughter, as arm in arm the boys and girls, young men and young women, promenadecl the streets. Cordons were formed, and woe betide the girl that was caught in the charmed circle. Before she got out she was forced to pay toll.

The "toll" paid is not described explicitly but a kiss seems a likely candidate. The indulgence with which this pursuit of young women on the streets was viewed suggests a masculine aspect to the Old Home Week. As noted above, it was organized by the Old Boys Association and was sometimes called the Old Boys Reunion, which makes it sound like an event focused mainly on men.

There were tensions at the time about the role of women in public life. Young women were getting jobs outside the home, for example, at the telephone exchange.11 Also,the Mercury oftenfeatured headlines about the latest actions by members of the suffragette movement, who campaigned for votes for women. Not everyone was content with this change in social arrangements. The Macdonald Institute, for example, was established on College Hill in 1903 in order to teach young women'domestic science", to help them become good wives and mothers as an alternative to seeking employment.12 In any event, the Old Boys were in town for a good time, and that might mean, among other things, that they felt entitled to behave assertively with any young women who were there too. What the young women thought of this situation is not recorded in the paper.

 

Technology

In cultural terms, Old Home Week may have been nostalgic or reactionary. However, in technological terms, it was rnore forward-looking. This orientation can be seen in a number of ways. For example, as has already been noted, many of the outdoor decorations included electrical lighting. This emphasis on electrical ornamentation seems to have caught the Committee by surprise. They had a contest for the best decorated house but, as noted in the Mercury of fuly 31, did not consider electrical ornaments as decoration: 'As the competition was for the best decoratedi not the best ãecorated and illuminated' home, the judges could not take into account the electrical effect..." For this reason, Mahoney's house, which was illuminated by a giant, light-studded Union ]ack, won only the second prize. '

Today electric lighting is an indispensible part of decorations for many holidays. It would be hard to hold a Christmas celebration, for example, without abundant strings of lights. In 1913, however, it was such novelty that officials did not consider it to be a proper decoration at all.

Another kind of technology on display was the automobile. As noted already, motor cars were still an unusual item and considered more a curiosity than a serious means of transportation. Of course, given the nature of Old Home Week, car owners were happy to show off their wheels. To facilitate this spectacle, a Grand Parade of cars was held in which "all motor cars belonging to the City of Guelph and those visiting' would proceed from City Hall to Exhibition Park. Unfortunately, no account of the parade exists in the available issues of the Mercury. However, the special nature ofthe parade can be gleaned from considering how the idea of a parade ofevery car in Guelph would be received today.

Unfortunately the concentration of cars in the city also foreshadowed another problem that came with the automobile: a few people were struck by cars during the celebrations, though none fatally.

Undoubtedly the most impressive display of technology at the Old Home Week was the appearance of Victor Carlstrom and his amazing Blériot airplane. Carlstrom was a Swedish-born American who had become a prominent aviator of the period. Described as the "Swedish bird-man', Carlstrom was evidently on a tour of western New York State and southern Ontario to promote the new technology. Early aircraft were hardly reliable, however, making it difficult for Carlstrom to make all his planned appearances. The Brantþrd Expositor on 25 fuly noted with regret that:

Victor Carlstrom, the aviator of the Ferari shows, who was to have made a flight here, but who could not get his machine in shape until the shows were leaving the city, again passed over this city this morning on his way from Hamilton to Woodstock. Carlstrom, it will be remembered, when flying from Brantford to Toronto, fell 700 feet at Oakville, the machine dropping into a tree at that point owing to the steering tail breaking.13

Historic Guelph Airplane V52A5

A Blériot Xi, similar to the type that Victor Carlstroñ flew at Exhibition Park. Image courtesy of Library of Congress via Wikimedia commons

 

Carlstrom's mechanical difficulties continued. The July 29 Mercury reports that he arrived in Guelph from Woodstock on Jvly 28, as planned, but came by train (as did his aircraft, one assumes)! His planned ascent on July 29 was scuppered by mechanical troubles. Things did not look good for heavier-than-air flight in Guelph.

However, Carlstrom was able to get his Blériot airborne the next day, as testified by the breathless account given in the fuly 3l Mercury:

With wings spread like a soaring eagle, Carlstrom, the bird man, sped over the city yesterday afternoon in his new Bleriot aeroplane. Rising from the grouncl at Exhibition Park, the daring aviator mounted to an elevation of a quarter of a mile, and swinging in a graceful circle, till he got his bearings, flew in a south-eastern direction.

The machine, propelled by a powerful 75-horse power engine, passed over Trafalgar Square, the people being made aware of the gasoline engine, which could be distinctly heard.

As the airship crossed the river and circled to the north, it was so high up that the airman at the wheel, who guided it in its evolutions, could not be seen. As it turned to the south, it dipped, and as it sped on a line, as the crow flies, on the return trip to Exhibition Park, it was much nearer to the house tops, and the aviator could be plainly seen guiding the machine.

The writer could be forgiven for being so awe-struck; the program states that Carlstromt flight was the first in the city and, probably, first in the experience of most of its citizens. It must have been thrilling!

It is not clear from the article what moclel of Blériot Carlstrom was flying. However, the Toronto World14 states that the plane was the same asthe one Blériot had flown across the English Channel in 1909, which was a model XI. In terms of electrical lighting, automobiles, and aviation, Guelph had seen the future.

 

Conclusion

By the end of Old Home Week, the populace seems to have been partied out. A headline in the August 2 Mercury states, "Old Home Week is concluded:

Crowds have apparently had fun enough." It notes that crowds on city streets were thinning out and had lost their former vigor. It also seemed that the city itself had had enough. A young man selling ticklers on the corner of Wyndham and Quebec streets had lost his stock when a discarded match from a passerby ignited it. A pipe had burst (the second time) in Exhibition Park the day before which, 'although it made rather a pretty improvised fountain, it did no damage." It seemed to be time to go.

People reporting on their experience at Old Home Week reported having a good time. For example, one postcard in the author's collection sent at the end of the week reports:

Dear Auntie. Received that piece yesterday. You ought to have come to Guelph. We had a great time there. It was awful noisy though. Thank you very rnuch for sending that piece. While we were at Guelph we went all to see the college. Love to all, George [sic]

Old Home Week in Guelph, 1913, was certainly a great party. However, it was clearly more than just that. It was an exercise in nostalgia for old times and old friends. It was also a chance to display and defend British patriotic feelings and the preeminence of the Old Boys. In addition, it provided a spectacle of things to come. Undoubtedly many Guelphites were looking forward to another such occasion in the coming years. Of course, the First World War put a stop to any such plans. The next Old Home Week lvould have to wait nntil Guelph's centennial year in 1927.

 

ENDNOTES

  1. Francoise Noël, "Old Home Week Celebrations as Tourism Promotion and Commemoration: North Bay, Ontario, 1925 and 1935", Ilrban History Review 37 no' 1 (2008), pp' 36-47'
  2. Jere Daniell, "Oid Home Days |' in Encyctopedia of Locat History, eds. Caroi Kammen' and Norma Prendergast. (WaÌnut Creek AltaMira Press,2000), pp. 356-357'
  3. Guelph Museums, "Guelph ol<1 Home week and summer carnival Programme, (1913)l' t976.40.19.
  4. The Canadian Philatelic Society of Great Britain. "The slogan cancellations of Canaóal' MaPle Leaves 6 no.7 (Dec. 1956), pp.177-181.
  5. Guelph Evening Mercury,4 July 1913
  6. Gueþh Evening Mercury,2l july 1913
  7. Guelph Evening Mercury,29 luly 1013.
  8. Guelph Evening Mercury,2{Jriy 1913.
  9. Ross lrwin, 'Automobiles & garagesJ' Retrieved July 4, 2013, http://www3.sympatico.calrwirwin/ GuelphHistoryArticles/cars.htm
  10. Pat Bowley, "Italian Community in St. Patricr-s Wardl' Hrsforic Guelph,33 (1994)' pp. 55-64.
  11.  "The Bell Telephone Company in Gu elphl' Guelph Historical Society Publications 14 no. 4 (1974)' pP.t-s.
  12. flrry crowle¡ 'Adelaide Hoodless, women's Education and Guelphi' Hrstoric Guelph25 (1986), pp.26-49.
  13. Heatherlbbotson,"Flashbackluly25l'BrantþtdExpositor,25lriy2}l3'RetrievedFeb.9,2014, http://www.brantfordexpositor.ca I 2013 I 07 I 25 I flashback-july-25'
  14. "Flew to Hamilton from Savonal' Toronto World,25 ]uly 1913' p' 3'