Author: Bonnie Durtnall

Publication Date: 2007

Edited: 2022



Guelph was founded on April 23, 1827, the product of John Galt and the Canada Company Charter of August 1826.1 It was a planned community - a metropolis with a particular intent - designed to be a service centre for the rural hinterland surrounding it. With this in mind, the site selected was in the midst of good agricultural land at the junction of two rivers, the Speed and Eramosa. The farming population was to supply produce to the town and a market for the town's goods, and the rivers provided motive power for running the saw and grist mills. These combined factors encouraged further trade between the hinterland and the town.


Galt also had plans for the amenities associated with a healthy and functioning community. He sought not only settlers to clear and farm the hinterland, but also tradespeople who were integral to maintaining the settlement. For this reason, Galt established connections with immigrant scouts in North America, including James Buchanan, the British Consul in New York. In May 1827, Buchanan recruited John Owen Lynch to go to Guelph.2 Lynch set off with his wife to become the community's first blacksmith.


In the earliest days of settlement, a blacksmith was an extremely important figure. He was the proverbial jack-of-all-trades. While farmers took care of their tools, it was the blacksmith who was trained to make and repair these same tools. Using forge, anvil and hammer, the blacksmith worked with the single most important and common metal of the period - iron - to produce hammers, axes, adzes, files, chisels, and carving tools. He made nails, screws, springs, bolts, chains, clamps, hinges, shutter fasteners, latches, fireplace cranes, pokers, spits, and other iron fittings that were used by settlers in the construction, fitting, and maintenance of houses and other structures. The blacksmith worked in conjunction with the wagon-maker and the carpenter in supplying the community's needs. Since the progress and prosperity of the town and surrounding townships were almost inseparable from 1827 to 1832, the smith played a significant role in the area's growth.3 In these backwood settlements, far from civilization where tools and equipment could be bought, the blacksmith was the most important craftsman in town.


As Guelph was considered by many as a stop-over in its early years, the blacksmith was involved in a fair amount of vehicular repair. He saw to the shoeing of horses and acted as a veterinarian. This function was essential in a world where horses and oxen played a primary role.4 In fact, in May 1828, Lynch imported the first horse - a mare - and the first cow, which he loaned to community members. As the only horse within a 14-mile (20 kilometer) radius, she was so over-worked that her healthy condition rapidly deteriorated. Within a few months, she was skin and bones. Fortunately, a merchant, J. D. Oliver, imported a team of horses later that year and the mare received a well-earned rest.5


As Guelph's hinterland developed and farms increased their productivity, demands for the smith's services rose. He was called upon frequently to repair and make agricultural equipment. These early repairs involved wooden ploughs with wrought-iron tips or mould boards. While the United States had invented variations using cast iron, Guelph farmers continued to be restricted to implements that the blacksmith repaired and reconstructed.6


The role of farrier also became more important as the area grew. Many of Lynch's clients were settlers passing through Guelph on their way to the hinterland.7 Their animals were horses, cattle, and oxen. The blacksmith would take care of these animals when the farmer came to town.8 This role increased with the arrival of the first grist mill. From 1830 to at least 1850, farmers from as far away as Owen Sound brought their grain to Guelph to be processed.9 By 1853, Allan's Mill had built its own distillery, cooperage, and blacksmith shop to handle the trade. As the community of Guelph grew, the demand for services and skilled craftsmen, including blacksmiths, increased. In 1853, there were seven blacksmiths in Guelph, including Seaman Garrard, John Owen Lynch, and Allan Simpson.10


As the town grew, demand for general household furnishings increased. The basics of many households - knives, forks, spoons, spits, ladles, strainers, and fire tongs - were made to order by the blacksmith.11 ln short, the blacksmith was indispensable. His work provided the basic tools of survival for the community. To perform his tasks, the blacksmith needed to combine brawn and skill with intelligence.12 Contrary to popular myth, blacksmiths were literate.13 Lynch purchased a spelling book in 1828, an indication of his ability to read.14 The 1861 census of Guelph noted that all the local smiths were able to read and write. Their children and live-in apprentices were either at school or capable of reading and writing. Literacy was a necessity of the trade. Blacksmiths had to keep the accounts of their business, order supplies, and conduct their business practically and efficiently.15


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View of Allan's Mill by GTR track, circa 1880. By 1853, Allan's Mill had built its own distillery, cooperage, and blacksmith shop.

(Photo courtesy of Guelph Museums).


John Owen Lynch, in lifestyle and behaviour, was the quintessential smith. He was about 29-years-old when he arrived in Guelph. Finding no structure suitable for his business and family needs, he built a house of elm logs on what is now Gordon Street. The blacksmith shop, a 'low log structure,' was constructed at the rear of his home and faced Farquhar Street.16 It was the normal arrangement of the smithy to have home and shop as part of the same structure or in close proximity.17 Lynch was the first blacksmith to adopt this arrangement in Guelph. Other blacksmiths, including the Sallows family, James Dow, William Flooper, Allan Simpson, and James Algie copied this model with some variations.18 In adopting the traditional model, Lynch and other early blacksmiths continued the practice of teaching apprentices the craft and hiring journeymen to help at the forge. Peter McGarr was Lynch's first helper.19,20 Later a journeyman, James McGarr, helped out when demand for services increased.21


Blacksmiths believed their work had to maintain certain standards. This and pride in their craft led blacksmiths to fight against the emergence of 'helpers,' as opposed to an apprentice system.22 A helper, as distinct from an apprentice, was not skilled or apprenticed to a blacksmith. A helper earned his keep without the benefits of the years of experience in the trade, and a helper, unlike an apprentice, never moved up through the ranks as a journeyman or master craftsman. It was an important fight since apprentices were an essential part of the craft system of training. The average smith in Guelph maintained this tradition. In 1846, Dan Linderman had an apprentice, Thomas Sheehan.23 William Sallows apprenticed first with blacksmith John Sallows, Jr. in 1842, then worked for Dan Linderman and George Wilson, both Guelph blacksmiths during the 1850s.24


Historic Guelph V46P26

Sallow's Blacksmith Shop, circa 1870. 

(Photo courtesy of Guelph Museums).


Lack of available apprentices was a common problem. Robert Armstrong, a wheelwright, and blacksmith, advertised repeatedly in 1846 for apprentices for his blacksmithing business while, in 1855, Thomas Anderson was seeking both an apprentice and a journeyman.25 An alternative, which was relied upon during economic hardship, was to incorporate family members into the business. The Sallows blacksmith shop was built upon the active participation of family members.26 Founded by two brothers, William, Sr. and George, it expanded to include their children, Henry, William Jr., John, and David. Other blacksmith businesses were also family-based: the Algies were a father and son affair, as were the Bards, the Baileys, and the Gibbs.27 The McKenzie's blacksmith shop consisted of brothers and their sons, as did the Armstrong's and the Anderson's.28


The family-focus did not prevent any of the shops from hiring or training outside help, Several prospective Guelph blacksmiths learned their trade within these family businesses. In 1861, Joseph Blake (aged 21) and George Blake (aged 19) learned their craft under Thomas Anderson, while Charles Eby (aged 15) was apprenticed to William Sallows.29 Thomas Matthews, William Pla(y)ter, and William Gray worked as apprentices, then journeymen, for a period of up to ten years for master blacksmith Duncan McKenzie.30 Pla(y)ter then worked as a journeyman for master smith Bartholomew O'Connor.31 The Sallows had hired George Oaks, Henry Morrish, Duncan McKenzie, Charles Pinder, and William Bailey for a year or two.32 These men were either apprentices or young journeymen furthering their skill and knowledge, while earning money to establish their own shop.


In fact, a major difficulty with the apprentice system was that in times of labour shortages and high wages, a journeyman quickly made enough money to establish his own shop. As a result, the training period was shortened, and the master smith was continually seeking new workers. Therefore, the proliferation of small blacksmith shops in many communities was due, in large part, to a system that allowed a journeyman to complete his training and earn enough money to set up shop within three or four years of serving his time as an apprentice.33 William Sallows, after several years training, set up his own shop in the early 1860s at the corner of Wellington and Gordon Streets but George Rodger and William Gibb spent only one year at Dennis Coffee's Blacksmith and Wagon Shop before opening their own establishments, in 1864 and 1865, respectively.


The start-up costs for a blacksmith shop differed in each community. While figures do not remain for the 1820s, Dan Linderman's shop in the 1850s, was worth 43 pounds, ten shillings.34 As in other businesses, premises could be bought or rented. George Wilson let a stone building complete with dwellings, gardens, stables, sheds and two sets of tools. His 1852 advertisement revealed the advantage of this particular shop - it was next to a wagon-maker's establishment thereby ensuring extra income.35 As tools were expensive, the additional set of tools included in the purchase price meant the blacksmith had equipment for an apprentice or a family member. Samuel Wright, in 1846, charged extra for the tools that came with his blacksmith shop.36 The larger tools, purchased by a journeyman blacksmith, were the most expensive investments he had to make. Fortunately, the outlay was required only once.37 In cases of breakage, the smith repaired his own tools, although later on stores in Guelph began to sell blacksmith tools and foundries manufactured them.38


In the shop, the master smith had ultimate control. He was responsible for both the product and the training of new blacksmiths. His role was to teach the apprentices not only how to produce finely crafted metal work, but also to be good representatives of the craft. The process involved taking apprentices into the home and teaching them morals, manners, and school work. The apprentice lived in the home of the master smith, attended the local schools and worked in his shop. The contract between the apprentice and the smith stipulated that the smith provide food, clothing, shelter and, frequently, instruction.39 In 1857, Morris Coffee lived at May's Blacksmith Shop and James Dempsey at John Owen Lynch's shop; in 1860, Charles Pindar was found at William Sallow's forge and home. In 1861, Pindar was still there, along with Charles Eby. Pindaa now 22, had become a saddler while Eby, at age 15, was learning how to shoe horses. Thomas Anderson, during this same period, housed Joseph Blake and George Black - Blake, a journeyman and Black was an apprentice.40 Payment was sometimes included as part of the agreement. As a result of the lack of apprentices, money became an added incentive to sign on with one blacksmith over another.


Within the shop itself, the role of the apprentice depended upon his stage of training.41 He began with the simple tasks of the shop - working the bellows and bringing in fuel for the fire, and slowly moved to the more complex and skilled work. An apprentice would then make nails before graduating to fabricating parts of equipment. The more skilled he became, the more he was trusted with such complicated tasks as using the sledge and bending metal. By the end of his apprenticeship, he was able to make everything from tiny carpet tacks to huge metal spikes, from decorative iron work to kettles and ploughs. The new journeyman who emerged was versed in all aspects of these tasks. While book learning prepared him for running his own shop, the shop work prepared him to produce his best work. Poor shoeing or ill-wrought wagon repairs were quickly rejected by customers.42


The work was hard, and the pay was low for master smiths. Until the middle of the century, payment was often 'in kind,' rather than cash. Patrons often paid off their debts with scrap metal, old iron, meat or produce, or a customer would work off the bill in the smith's garden, shop, or home.43 Where cash payment did exist, the smith made approximately $1.25 a day. Blacksmiths in Guelph made this wage in 1830.44


While blacksmiths contributed substantially to the growth and development of the community through their trade and skills, they were not active politically and socially. They did not run for office or occupy positions at provincial or municipal levels, sit on boards of trade or actively lobby separately or as a group for better roads, a railroad, or any other additions to the community.45 The reasons are unclear. Was it because they were members of a marginally respectable class, or was it that they simply did not have the time? In the early days of communities such as Guelph, blacksmiths were too busy to be involved with these activities.46 After all, they put in an average of 14 hours a day at the shop. A shop run by the master smith did not function without his presence. Economically, he could not afford the time away from work.47


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Robertson's Foundry, circa 1920. The various foundries in Guelph employed blacksmiths. Often blacksmiths had to choose to either work with animals or for industry.

(Photo courtesy of Guelph Museums).


While Guelph blacksmiths continued to follow the tradition of apprentices, and sometimes journeymen, living in the blacksmith's home; over-time, living arrangements began to change. With increasing industrial development many workers and employers began to separate their home from their crafts. The by-laws regarding home construction within certain sections of town, the increase in land costs, and a change of attitude towards work and workers altered the homework relationship. The skills and craft required for the trade were no longer prized by society. The change of the blacksmith's role from the only metal producer and repairer in town to one of many, and then to a limited role as a farrier, helped to alienate the smith from his traditional craft. The addition of new job opportunities further complicated what had been a close living and working relationship between the master blacksmiths and their employees. It became more and more common for journeymen to board at hotels and boarding houses or, if financially possible, buy or lease a home. This was particularly true of smiths who worked in the factories and foundries with set hours and wages. While some like James Dow and John Hooper had their shops and home side by side as late as 1885, most did not.48 The McKenzie Brothers - Duncan, Roderick, and Murdock - lived away from their forges.49 Thomas McIntosh, a blacksmith journeyman, boarded at the American Hotel in 1889, moved to Queen Street by 1894 but worked on Wyndham Street. George Wilson lived on Toronto Street but was a master smith in a shop first on Cork Street and then Macdonell Street.50 John Kelly, Batholomew O'Connor, William F. Steel(e), John Slater, George Beattie, Robert Reid, John McConnell, and William Baily adopted this way of life. Apprentices no longer lived with their employers, with the exception of family members.


Changes in accommodations were more superficial than those changes that took place within the craft itself. The result of new technology, which began with the arrival of the Guelph Foundry in 1847, left two routes for a blacksmith if he wished to continue his craft, work with animals, or for an industry. In Guelph, both were followed. The McKenzie's continued to be independent blacksmiths working for themselves, but they became specialists, restricting their services to horse-related matters. Rod McKenzie was described as an, "Expert blacksmith, horseshoer, and specialist in the treatment of diseased feet and hoofs..."51 The advertisements for both D. Coffee's 'County of Wellington Blacksmith Shop' and for William Gibb's shop in 1864, emphasized their skill in horseshoeing and working with animals rather than in agricultural equipment. Blacksmiths were now specialists and recognized in the community as such.


Industries - the carriage-making industry, the foundries, or the agricultural implement manufacturers that eventually replaced the foundries - were the second choice for blacksmiths. Bell Organ and Piano and Raymond's Sewing Machine Factory also had blacksmiths on staff,52 but it was to the foundries that many blacksmiths turned for employment.53 The Wellington Foundry hired William Aiken and James White in 1867. The Guelph Foundry employed blacksmiths John Hackney and Frank Hilliard in 1867 and Francis (Frank) Keo(u)gh in 1885,54 while Thomas Worswick's Foundry and Engine Works paid John Heeney to practice his craft there in 1885. More blacksmiths were found at implement manufacturers and carriage makers. The Tolton Brothers Implement Works employed Henry Grindell, Robert Phillips and James Younger, while Gowdy's implement manufactory hired James Algie, Cherri(y) Yetman, and others. The Guelph Axle Works, run by T. Pepper and Co. (carriage works), employed several blacksmiths of various levels of skill.55 Some journeymen in the factories, such as Charles Champion, Thomas Matthews, and William Bailey, rose above the limitations imposed by the factory system to become master smiths with their own shops.56


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With the advent of new technology, some blacksmiths specialized in horse-related services.

(Photo appears courtesy of the Guelph Public Library Archives, C6-0000-253 Guelph Horse Shoeing Forge, 189?).


Innovations also developed in business organization and personnel management. J. B. Armstrong hired John McConnell as a foreman from 1873 onwards.57 By employing McConnell in this capacity, the craft of the blacksmith was devalued, and he was reduced to the status of a labourer within a factory system.


The role of the blacksmith changed with the advent of new technology and the growth of the town. No longer was the blacksmith the provider of all the community's metal needs. He had been reduced to horseshoeing and horse-related matters. In the factories, his role was altered to suit the demands of industry. His independence was removed and his significance within the community greatly diminished. One factor that reflected this change was his wages. The $1.25 a day wage received in 1830 had only increased to $1.52 by 1889.58


It was not simply a fluctuation in market demand or new consumer tastes that brought about these changes. The change in what was produced, who it was made for and the significance of the craft to the community, can be traced to the entry of a new competitor into the marketplace. A competitor who with advanced technology could not only duplicate the smith's services but also improve and extend them into unknown areas. The arrival of the foundry meant that farmers not only could have their equipment repaired but also buy the latest and newest agricultural implements and innovations.


In Guelph, the 'New Age of Technology' had arrived when Adam Robertson, Senior, came to Guelph in 1847 and rented the newly built foundry on Norfolk Street.59 This enterprise later operated under his name and as the Guelph Foundry. Its arrival marked the end of the traditional craftsman and the birth of modern industry. While the foundry remained a simple form of industrial production, it nevertheless introduced the basic elements of the factory system. The foundry divided the work among individuals and introduced de-skilling. The blacksmith, once so important to the community, became an employee in a foundry, a footnote in the workplace. Eventually, the foundry itself was absorbed by the factory system, becoming one small cog of a very large industrial wheel.


  1. For general information on Guelph during this period the following sources were used unless otherwise stated: G. Stelter, "Guelph and the Early Canadian Town Planning Tradition", Ontario History 77, no. 2, p. 83-106; Leo A. Johnson, A History of Guelph, 1827-1927 (Guelph, Ontario: Guelph Historical Society, 1977); W.H. Smith, Canada: Past, Present and Future, Vol. 2 (Toronto: T. Maclean, 1852); The Guelph Mercury, "Sketches", A series printed January 11, 25, and 28, February 8, 15, and 22 and March 15 and 22, 1866; A. Burrows, Annals of the Town of Guelph; and J. Cameron, The Early Days of Guelph: Guelph and the Canada Company (Guelph, Ontario, 1967).
  2. The basic information about the role and significance of the smith in a community can be derived from the following sources: W. Wylie, "The Blacksmith in Upper Canada, 1784- 1850: A Study of Technology, Culture and Power", Canadian Papers in Rural History, 1, p. 17-213; C. Bridenbaugh, The Colonial Craftsman (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1961); A. Bealer, The Art of Blacksmithing, 3rd ed. (New York: Harper & Row, 1976); and M. T. Richardson, ed., PracticaI Blacksmithing, (New York: Weathervane Books, 1978).
  3. Cameron, The Early Days of Guelph, p. 26.
  4. Historian Alex Bealer has noted that the blacksmith's, "Skill and technique were absolutely required to weld and fit wagon tires and hub rings, to shoe horses and oxen and to make and fit all the metal accoutrements of wagons, carriages, and sleighs of a horse-drawn society." Bealer, The Art of Blacksmithing, p. 19.
  5. Burrows, Annals of the Town of Guelph, p. 22; and Cameron, The Early Days of Guelph.
  6. A. Skeoch, "Developments in Plowing Technology in Nineteenth-Century Canada," in Canadian Papers in Rural History, Vol. 3, p. 156-177; and A. Skeoch, "The Ontario Agricultural Implement Industry, 1850-1891," Annual Agricultural History of Ontario, Seminar Proceedings, 1878, p. 4-22.
  7. Cameron, The Early Days of Guelph, p. 27.
  8. Burrows, Annals of the Town of Guelph, p. 22; and Cameron, The Early Days of Guelph.
  9. Cameron, The EarIy Days of Guelph, p. 27, 32-33.
  10. Smith, Canada: Past, Present and Future, Vol. 2; and. Assessment Roll (AR), 1852-.
  11. Bealer. The Art of Blacksmithing.
  12. Bealer, The Art of Blacksmithing, p. 22; See also Wylie, "The Blacksmith in Upper Canada."
  13. Bridenbaugh states the contract binding apprentices to their master included a clause on schooling.
  14. Ledger for F. W. Stone's Store for 1828, (University of Guelph Archives).
  15. Wylie, "The Blacksmith", p. 23; and Bealer, p. 22.
  16. Burrows, Annals of the Town of Guelph, p.13.
  17. Wylie, "The Blacksmith" Part Two.
  18. The Assessment Roll indicates the arrangements to be done. The City Directory also provides further verification on this topic.
  19. In any skilled trade or craft, the apprentice was the beginner. He learned his trade from the master craftsmen and from the journeymen. A journeyman, more skilled than an apprentice, was biding time, roaming from town to town and working under various masters until he had learned and earned enough to open his own shop.
  20. Robert Thompson, A Brief Sketch of the Early History of Guelph. (Guelph, Ontario: Ampers and Printing Co., 1977), p. 8; Burrows, Annals of the Town of Guelph, p. 22; and Cameron, The Early Days.
  21. Burrows, Annals of the Town of Guelph, p. 16.
  22. These same concerns faced craftsmen from such seaport towns as Halifax to the inland communities of Toronto and Hamilton.
  23. Guelph and Galt Advertiser, Oct. 16, 1846; The Guelph Daily Mercury, Oct. 14, 1895.
  24. The name of the Sallows that William Sallows worked for was not given in his obituary of Oct. 12, 1895, but the Gore District Census of 1839 lists that there was a John Sallows in the area. This would coincide with William Sallows' arrival at age 16 in 1842.
  25. Guelph and Galt Advertiser, Oct. 16, 1846.
  26. Guelph Daily Mercury, Oct. 14, 1895 and Guelph Evening Mercury, June 13, 16, 1906.
  27. Guelph Directory, 1864, 1885-1886, 1889, 1905; Census Rolls, 1891.
  28. Guelph DaiIy Mercury, April 25, 1908; Guelph Advertiser, "Progress of Guelph", June 30, 1853.
  29. Census Rolls, 1867 and 1871.
  30. Guelph Directory, 1885-1886, 1889, 1892-1894, 1897 -1899.
  31. Guelph Directory, 1889, 1892.
  32. Guelph Directory, 1861, 1864, 1871, 1865.
  33. Wylie, "The Blacksmith", p. 50-53.
  34. In terms of real and personal property.
  35. Guelph Advertiser, January 9, 1852.
  36. Guelph and Galt Advertiser, November 4, 1846.
  37. Wylie, "The Blacksmith," p. 50; Bealer, The Art of Blacksmithing.
  38. Worswick's lron Works manufactured blacksmith tools in the 1870s. In 1864, Mr. Mulholland told his customers that he carried tools for machinists and blacksmiths. Guelph Weekly Mercury, July 13, 1864.
  39. Wylie, "The Blacksmith," p. 50.
  40. Census Rolls 1861 and Assessment Roll, 1857, 1858, and 1860.
  41. For information, see Wylie, "The Blacksmith;" Richardson, Practical Blacksmithing; Bealer, The Art of Blacksmithing.
  42. Bealer, The Art of Blacksmithing, p. 22.
  43. Wylie, "The Blacksmith," p. 53-57.
  44. Cameron, The Early Days of Guelph, p. 42.
  45. Wylie, "The Blacksmith," p. 62-67.
  46. P. Russell, Attitudes to Social Structure and Mobility in Upper Canada, 1815-1840. (New York, 1990).
  47. These are of the larger concerns of Armstrong, Andersory Coffee and Chase, all blacksmiths by training who started wagon shops differed. Their financial investment increased their interest in the survival of the community and they now had time available to protect their interests through community involvement. A larger shop meant increased responsibility. But with a larger workforce came a foreman, and a partner to help manage the work allowing the owners to have outside interests. As a result, unlike blacksmiths, they became politicaliy and socially involved.
  48. Information gathered from the Guelph Directory of the period.
  49. In 1883, Duncan lived at the American Hotel.
  50. Guelph Directory for the years: 1883, 1889,1894 and 1899.
  51. The Guelph Mercury, "Commercial, Industrial and Progressive Edition of Guelph, Ontario," 1916. Bills from the late 1890s referred to their establishment as "McKenzie's Shoeing Forge."
  52. Guelph Directory, 1889 and 1897.
  53. See the Guelph Directory for 1867 onwards.
  54. Guelph Directory, for the years 1867, 1885, 1889 and 1897.
  55. Guelph Directory, 1867,
  56. Charles Champion had his own business after 1886. Thomas Matthews had his own smithy after 1886 as well. He ran it until 1892 when he worked for another blacksmith, Duncan McKenzie. James Algie worked for the Gowdy implement company in 1889 after being with Penfold's carriage works for 1885 to 1886. He set up his own blacksmith shop by 1892.
  57. Guelph Directory, 1874-.
  58. Bureau of Industries, Annual Report, 1889.
  59. The Guelph Advertiser, July 9, 1847.