Author: Dr. Terry Crowley

Publication Date: 2012

Edited: 2023


Ward One in Guelph has been the least-known part of the old nineteenth-century City. As a section of Guelph's core, Ward One is cut off from the Downtown by a drumlin and two rivers that restricted its early settlement and make it difficult for cars. The layout of the street pattern dates from a survey of 1855 commissioned by Canadian politician John A. Macdonald. Looking at the plan, it is clear that the surveyor's intent was to funnel pedestrians and ground transport over bridges across the Speed River, especially the Neeve Street bridge, which opened in 1850. Other connections to the rest of Guelph included Allan's Bridge near Allan's Mill, which was one of the town's earliest industrial establishments, and another bridge at the foot of Wyndham Street where York Road begins. Thoroughfares had to be connected by passageways with such names as Cross Street and Short Street. Human and material traffic would then flow into the Wyndham Street area that was about to expand with the arrival of the Grand Trunk Railway. What proved expeditious for those on foot or horseback in the nineteenth century has not been greeted so kindly by drivers trying to find a bridge crossing or manoeuvre a car through short streets at strange angles.


Apart from an aura of mystery about Ward One in some quarters, the area has served for a century and a half as one of the City's foremost meeting places: between humanity and geography; between people and business; and between peoples of diverse cultural backgrounds and religions. Ward One was called East Ward and St. Patrick's Ward at various times, though from the middle of the twentieth century it became known as "The Ward" largely as a result of its Italian population.


Ward One is topographically low-lying. Human settlement in the area was governed by its geographical position between two rivers, the Speed in a westerly direction and the Eramosa towards the south. The drumlin on the Ward's northern edge - what we know as the bluffs where the 100 Steps are located - serves as a further demarcation, one that was followed by the Grand Trunk. Ward One grew up in the old City at the same time as the more prestigious locations across the Speed River and around the Eramosa Hill above the bluffs. The street surveys for both areas appear on Frederick J. Chadwick's 1855 map of Guelph as protrusions from the main settlement on its eastern and southerly sides. Since waterpower was essential to nineteenth-century industry, small mills and factories were established along the Speed early in the development of Ward One. And as human activities create garbage, refuse was dumped along the rivers, notably in what is today York Road Park where the two rivers meet and a modern covered bridge assists pedestrians.


Because a good portion of the terrain in Ward One is low-lying, wealthier Guelphites tended to seek higher ground. Flooding became worse in the nineteenth century through the destruction of forests to make fields for agriculture. With less tree cover and natural vegetation to retain moisture during spring or times of heavy rains, floods increased and were particularly bad in 1869, 1912, and 1929, when the Eramosa River swept away the Gordon Street bridge. One area between Richardson Street and York Road in Ward One remained subject to flooding, even following the 1930s when municipal work first began on widening the riverbed.1 As the ground falls away steeply below Richardson Street to a flat area, the section flooded badly during Hurricane Hazel and the associated second storm on October 15th, 1954. Before the municipality installed storm water runoff, the area was generally swampy and known as Richardson's Pond. In winter it was flooded as a skating rink. Another part, where there are springs and a small stream, was used as a market garden. Vietnamese immigrants, arriving following the end of war in their homeland in 1975, attempted to grow rice there. In the nineteenth century before the discovery of bacteria, many people believed in a miasmic theory of disease that attributed illness to vapours associated with low-lying areas.


Historic Guelph Map of the Town Of Guelph V51P7

Map of Town of Guelph, 1855.

(Image courtesy of Guelph Museums, 1981x.230.1).


Historic Guelph Ward One Area V51P7

Ward One Area.


From early on, mixed industrial/residential usage characterized this part of the City, and accounted for its social composition until the end of the twentieth century. It is possible to delineate four overlapping periods in the shifting mix of residences and businesses in Ward One. Small manufactories - either freestanding or attached to homes - took root from the 1840s to the 1930s. Particularly in response to the National Policy tariff structures of Sir John A. Macdonald and his Conservative party, which were designed to make excises high enough to allow Canadian infant industries to compete with foreign imports, large factories started to proliferate around 1880 and continued to sprout until the 1920s. Although hit hard by the economic depression of the 1930s, the output of these industries nevertheless increased due to wartime demand between 1939 and 1945 and then in response to the exceptional position of the Canadian economy in the post-war years when so many other countries lay in ruins. The stagflation of the 1970s and huge increases in oil prices through the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries led to a first faulting of the industrial economy in Ward One, a third stage in this process. Lastly, after 1990 the earlier trend intensified so much that a major shift began in the residential/workplace balance in Ward One because the forces of de-industrialization and globalization began to impress more heavily. Ward One became increasingly residential and much less industrial. 


Historic Guelph Aerial Photo V51P8

Aerial photograph of Harding Yarns Worsted Spinning Plant, circa 1950.

(Photo courtesy of Guelph Museums, 1987.60.2).


The availability of water prompted the expansion of textile-related industries, such as the Guelph Carpet Factory, which began in 1873 and was located at 83 Neeve Street. In 1902, the Carpet Factory and associated Guelph Spinning Mills commissioned Guelph architect W. Frye Colwill, who also created the Carnegie Library (demolished in the 1960s) on Norfolk Street and Torrance School (now Montessori School) on Waterloo Avenue, to design the new factory at 26 Ontario Street on the corner of Cross Street. The location was situated on one of Guelph's underground streams. The first section built on the right today in the Mill Lofts, was constructed as a two-storey timber-framed brick structure with a low-slope gable roof. The second middle section, built in 1907, was a three-storey brick addition that filled in the Arthur Street frontage. By 1920, when the company needed a third three-storey section on the left, Guelph architect W. A. Mahoney (who also designed Tytler School) chose a concrete framework with large multi-paned windows, timber posts, and beams with steel trusses. Apart from the main building stood a tapered brick powerhouse chimney and brick, gable-roofed bleach house.


In the mid-1920s, when the company was called Guelph Carpet & Worsted Spinning Mills, there were 80 power looms with over 400 employees producing worsteds, yarns, and carpet fibres. As Arthur Street was once called Queen Street, during the interwar period (1918-1939) the factory was referred to jokingly as "Queen Street College" - the destination for youth not proceeding through advanced education and needing paid employment to earn a living. At the time of the floods of 1929, the company suffered major losses when metre-high water damaged the boilers, machinery, yarns and carpets. In 1952, the mill was Guelph's largest employer with more than 600 workers. It continued to turn out worsteds, yarns, and/or carpet fibres until 1975, when it had fewer than 100 employees. It was operated over the years by Guelph Yarns, Newlands-Harding Yarns, and Dobbie Industries. Thereafter it was used for a combination of commercial and industrial purposes, most notably Len's Mill Store. The edifice was converted to residences in 2000 and renamed the Mill Lofts. The creation of these residential units marked a resurgence of interest in living in Ward One that has continued unabated in the twenty-first century. Around the same time, construction was completed on the new apartment buildings sitting on the old carpet company lands to the west of Neeve Street that had been occupied by Danby appliances. Special provision was made for physically challenged citizens in some of the new construction that was finished in 1999.


The Biltmore Hats site on York Road at Morris Street is slated to add to residential housing stock as the factory was demolished in 2012. This business originated in Niagara Falls in 1917 as the Fried Hat Company, moved to Guelph two years later, and then was sold to new owners Frank Ramsay, Arthur W. Mean and Edward L. Macdonald. As the advent of the cinema and rising wealth spread the gospel that a gentleman was properly attired in a chapeau, the company changed its name to Biltmore Hats in emulation of a well-known New York hotel. The business prospered, operated a straw-hat division in a cement-block building at the corner of Yorkshire Street and Suffolk Street, and endured a strike in 1938 by Hat Workers Union Local 182 who wanted better pay and better working conditions with less heat and dust.


Historic Guelph Strike Committee V51P10

Strike Committee, Biltmore Hats, 1938. 

(Photo Courtesy of Guelph Museums, 2005.4.2).


Biltmore Hats bought Lancashire Felt Company in 1952. Lancashire's facility at York Road and Morris Street was revamped to consolidate Biltmore's expanded operations and construction was completed by 1957. The company sponsored a popular Junior A hockey team, the Guelph Biltmore Mad Hatters, which won the Memorial Cup in 1952. The team name was changed to Royals in 1960 and the franchise moved to Kitchener three years later. By then, fickle fashion led to the demise of the hat as an essential aspect of male apparel. The company shipped 2,400 hats a day in 1957, but numbers fell precipitously by 1970. A second strike hit in 1968, one intent on better wages and increased holiday time, but the larger concern was that the decline in the hat market could be compensated through contracts to supply apparel to institutional purchasers such as police. Despite being purchased by Stetson Hat Company of Missouri in 1982, the checkered history of the business led to its eventual demise in 2011 when just 20 employees were left.2


The drive to convert industrial locations into housing sites originated not just in the de-industrialization apparent in eastern North America by the 1980s, but also in planning practices that gained popularity following World War II. Municipal planning departments did not like the close accommodation of workers' abodes with industries, especially because pollution might have deleterious health effects. The widespread adoption of cars and expansion of bus services in the prosperity that accompanied peace allowed for the segregation of work from residence through the creation of industrial parks. Businesses moved, and when old businesses died, the Ontario provincial government instituted a "brownfield" policy to avoid the decay and rot that blighted so many cities in the United States. Guelph's 'Brownfield Redevelopment Strategy', adopted in 2002 as one of the first in Ontario, encouraged the creation of urban housing. It provides municipal incentives that help the City reach provincially-mandated residential densities that were especially important after Ontario created the greenbelt around Metropolitan Toronto in 2005. The density of population in the old city is increasing significantly, but the province has also mandated targets to ensure tree cover in order to be more environmentally friendly. The decision by the City to create a vital transportation hub around the former 1911 Grand Trunk Railway station changed the entire complexion of the area starting in 2012.


The brownfield strategy came into effect in regard to another of Ward One's industrial relics, this one known as the W. C. Wood lands. The built environment on this site dates from near the beginning of Guelph, as it was originally part of Allan's Mills (at Allan's Bridge). A section of the structures across the river from the mill was built in the 1840s as a distillery. The site was then used by a woolen mill and notably by the foundry Taylor-Forbes, which manufactured a large number of metal devices, including manhole covers. The W. C. Wood Company acquired the property and revamped it extensively for operations beginning in 1956. testWoods had initially specialized in farm electrical appliances, but as that market contracted it came to emphasize refrigerators and freezers whose sales grew after 1945. As the fresh food revolution slowly gained strength over the latter part of the twentieth century, freezer use declined noticeably. When the company was sold from local ownership in 2007 after 77 years, its workforce had been reduced to some 250 employees, though revenues stood in excess of 200 million dollars. Expanding into Mexico produced such financial difficulties that the company fell into receivership during the major economic downturn of 2009. The Ward One property was sold in 2010 and demolition followed the next year with a view to the eventual construction of residential units.


Properties are not easily changed from workplace to residential accommodation when polluted soil is left behind. Such has been the case with International Malleable Iron Company (IMICO), which was attracted to Ward One by businessman J. W. Lyon in 1913. Buying some 400 acres in Ward One around 1906, Lyon hoped to attract businesses by offering free land in anticipation of the cheap hydroelectric power that would arrive from Niagara in 1910. Since the period from 1896 to 1914 saw the highest levels of immigration in Canada's history, Lyon gained his profit through the sale of residential lots to factory hands. This section of the City was ideal for industrial expansion since the Grand Trunk Railway ran along its upper reaches. As well, the City's streetcars, begun in 1899, allowed cheap (four cents a ride) and quick access for workers to the downtown from York Road via Ontario Street, a service that would continue until buses replaced the street railway in 1937.


Lyon claimed to have attracted enough industries to provide some 2,000 jobs in the City. In addition to IMICO, these were principally heavy industries that employed water and electricity: Standard Valve and Fitting Company; Berg Manufacturing (brick-making equipment); Gilson Manufacturing (engines, farm equipment and appliances); Guelph Stove Company; and Dominion Linens Company. With the First World War (1914-1918), IMICO grew so quickly that it became the City's largest employer at the time.3


Historic Guelph IMICO V51P13

International Malleable lron Co. Ltd., 1948. 

(Photo courtesy of Guelph Museums. 1991X.51.1).


IMICO closed in 1990. Rampant soil contamination and the cost to clean it up led the property to pass to the Church of the Universe, run by Walter Tucker, whose sacrament was marijuana and vestment the naked body. The new church headquarters was named Hempire Village. The property reverted to the City for tax arrears in 1998, but the cost of reclaiming the contaminated soil has deterred development since.


Nowhere was the proximity of factory and workplace closer than at the Northern Rubber Company, a five-storey reinforced concrete building abutting Alice Street at the corner of Huron Street, constructed in 1920. Making rubber was one of the growth industries in the early twentieth century, but it was an activity initially reliant on the production of natural rubber often under slave-like conditions in Africa and Asia. This factory produced foot apparel and soon employed nearly 600 people. Among those employees were the parents of the current Guelph member of parliament, Frank Valeriote, who says his mother and father dated at Carere's coffee shop on the corner across from the factory. After World War II, the workforce dropped to between 300 and 400 people and the company became Dominion Rubber and then Uniroyal and later Chemtura. 


Historic Guelph Northern Rubbr Co. V51P14

Northern Rubber Co. Employees, 1932. 

(Photo courtesy of Guelph Museums, 1978.93.1.1).


The proximity of people and industry tended over the decades to emphasize the working-class character of Ward One, but never its ethnic, cultural, religious or linguistic uniformity. The Holy Protection Mother of God Ukrainian Catholic Church (called St. Mary's) was built on the edge of York Road Park. A bold symbol of diversity in stark contrast to the hidden Polish Alliance of Canada Hall at 5 Empire Street, this church is clearly visible by its three onion-turreted towers. Ukrainian Catholicism is a distinctive unit within the larger Roman Catholic church and follows some worship rites similar to Eastern Orthodox churches. The sanctuary and hall were built between 1954 and 1963 to designs by Toronto architect Ewhen Gren. As well, for many years the Guelph Sikh Society worshipped on Stevenson Street in the old Brewers' Retail building, but they have now broken ground for a temple on Clair Road.


Jews, such as Jessie and Samuel Enchin, also lived in Ward One. Sam Enchin's brother Zolman emigrated from Russia to Canada in 1906, just two years after the first Jewish wedding took place in Guelph. Within a half-dozen years Zolman's two brothers, Samuel and Alexander, joined him. The Enchins wanted to improve their lot in life and escape anti-Semitic persecution. As practising Jews, the Enchins worshipped with others in a house on Albert Street across the river and it continued to serve as a place of worship after it was moved to 31 Surrey Street West before Beth Isaiah Synagogue was constructed on Dublin Street at Surrey Street in 1949. At the apex of the former house of worship can still be seen a bricked area masking the former Star of David that had proudly testified to the Judaic faith.


Sam Enchin's house, which stands at 43 Ontario Street, was built of white buff yellow brick in Queen Anne Revival style with stick and patterned shingle gables. At this address, Sam built a shoe store that abutted the sidewalk in the manner of Vincenzo Valeriote's shoe repair shop on Alice Street. Today only part of the shop's concrete footprint remains visible. The 1917 City Directory placed Sam Enchin at 6 Ontario Street. Later in life he operated a used furniture business on Wilson Street near City Hall.


Newer groups built alongside the English, Irish, Welsh, and Scots settlers of the nineteenth century, with Italians coming in the largest numbers after 1900. British and Irish features of the built environment remain strong in Ward One nonetheless, as evinced by the Crown and Victoria dairy buildings, concentrated especially in the areas close to bridges across the Speed River. After the municipality constructed the Guelph Junction Railway through Ward One in 1888 to connect the City to the Canadian Pacific line, a small red-light district grew up along Sackville Street (named after a thoroughfare in Dublin) where trains edged slowly along after passing the now demolished engine house on the other side of Alice Street (named after Queen Victoria's daughter).


Historic Guelph Sackville Street V51P16

Sackville Street, 2012.

(Photo Credit: Ann Guthrie).


In 1860, John Oliver built a Guelph limestone cottage 23 Toronto Street. Oliver was part of the original contingent wintering in the new settlement of the Canada Land Company in 1827 and 1828. The Oliver family participated in a famous blood feud in early Guelph between the Irish orange (Protestant) and green (Roman Catholic) that involved the Coghlin family. As a result of this vendetta, Richard Oliver died in 1847, Charles Coghlin was hanged, and civil disturbances erupted in the town.


Much larger is the Catherine and Dennis Coffee semi-detached house at 101-103 Neeve Street that is also identified with Irish settlers in Guelph. The Irish Roman Catholic innkeeper Dennis Coffee was the original owner of the house built two years before Confederation. The building is Neo-Classical in style, a term that refers to an eighteenth-century fashion that emphasized simplicity and symmetry in the manner of buildings in ancient Greece. The Catherine and Dennis Coffee house retains its original chimneys - structures that rival those on the John McCrae family house, called 'Janefield', on College Avenue.


Dennis Coffee came to Guelph in 1848, the year after the worst of Ireland's great famines. He moved to the United States and there married Catherine before returning to Guelph in 1855.4 The couple ran Coffee's Hotel, Victoria Hotel, and the old Wellington Hotel in the Downtown (this earlier Wellington Hotel stood on St. George's Square on the corner later occupied by the Customs House and then Scotiabank). Dealing extensively in real estate, Dennis and Catherine abandoned inn-keeping for contracting in 1875. By this time, they were sufficiently wealthy and aspiring to call themselves gentleman and gentlewoman. The couple had at least three children, and sons John and Thomas in 1886 headed the St. Patrick's Benevolent Society that helped poor Roman Catholic Irish. Towards 1900, Dennis Coffee oversaw the operations of the quarry in St. Patrick's Ward located just south of the Northern Rubber Company factory off Huron Street.  As City Councillor for this ward for twelve years, Dennis Coffee insured that his co-religionists and constituents were represented.

 Historic Guelph Henry H. Oliver's house V51P18

Henry H. Oliver's Residence, 172 Arthur Street.

(Photo Credit: Ann Guthrie).


Another impressive Guelph stone residence from British and Irish settlement is the Henry Oliver house that stands at 172 Arthur Street and looks out on a commercial nexus that grew up much later along Ontario Street's tramline. Built about 1860 in the then fashionable Neo-Classical style, the house sports a Roman arch window on the second floor and particularly impressive hand-tooled stone window frames, door transom, and decorative carved keystone. Henry Oliver was an early landowner who in 1838 subdivided 40 building lots. In 1852, he became a teacher in one of Guelph's two common schools for boys after a scandal forced his predecessor to depart hastily. There were 40 students in Henry Oliver's charge, and he was paid £21 per annum.5 In 1878, the City named Oliver Street after him.


The more modest house at 60 Manitoba Street recounts the English residents of Ward One and tells us much about the evolution from small manufacturing during the nineteenth century. This house was built about 1878 in an L-shaped style on a tenth-of-a-hectare (a fifth of an acre) property. Within a year, eleven people were identified with this site. English-born Samuel Carter began his business career here between 1884 and 1892 with a small knitting factory - a cottage industry. Manufacturing in a house such as this was almost akin to the scale of contemporary production in the lower east side tenements ("sweatshops") of New York City and the tiny domestic weaving manufactories on the Scottish islands of Lewis and Harris.


Historic Guelph Samuel Carter's Cottage V51P19

Samuel Carter's Cottage, 60 Manitoba Street, 2012.

(Photo Credit: Ann Guthrie).


Samuel Carter was a smart businessman who went on to establish the Royal Knitting Company with a factory at the southwest corner of Cardigan and Norwich streets (which today houses apartments). His residence at 76 Cross Street no longer exists. A keen Methodist who helped build Paisley Memorial Church; Carter also worked to organize the Guelph Cooperative Association in 1904. Growing to have between 300 and 400 shareholders who received reductions on purchases, the association presaged the formation of a student coop at the Ontario Agricultural College in 1913. As City Councillor, Samuel Carter championed municipal ownership of public transport (the streetcar) and electricity. He served as mayor and member of the provincial parliament. Carter's philanthropic endeavours continued throughout his life.


When a proprietor wanted to subdivide Carter's former property, Heritage Guelph (Guelph's municipal heritage advisory committee) secured City Council's approval in 2008 to initiate heritage designation under the Ontario Heritage Act. The proprietor then sold the house to environmentalist and former Green Party candidate Ben Polley and his wife Jen Woodside. As owner of Harvest Homes, the Polleys undertook a green heritage renovation.


 Historic Guelph Royal Knitting Co. Employees V51P20

Royal Knitting Co. Employees, June 1932.

(Photo courtesy of Guelph Museums, 1991.7.1).


Of other significant homes from the pre-1900 era much less is known. The board and batten house at the corner of Short and Ontario streets was built around 1875 and is reputed to have its original wooden cladding. The stone residence at 157 Ontario Street was built about 1883, has a heritage plaque on it, and comes with an unusual story. The construction of this house is relatively uncommon, and, while the face is Guelph limestone, the sides and back are made of fieldstone. There are carved keystones over the windows, and during the restoration of the home, the original gargoyle above the entrance, which had previously been lost, suddenly reappeared and was mortared above the door again.


A rich and varied architectural inheritance greeted Italian immigrants coming to Ward One after 1900. As many who came were labourers and a good number were sojourners intent on saving money to send remittances to their families in Italy, the less expensive accommodations in this predominantly working-class area proved attractive. Italians reinforced the working-class character of Ward One and they became the most identifiable immigrant group due to numbers, language, culture, and religion. As Canada experienced its highest levels of immigration between 1896 and 1914, initial sojourners frequently brought relatives to settle and both chain migration and cluster settlements resulted. Louis Embro's father arrived alone in 1904 and his wife did not join him until seven or eight years later. Embro grew up to run more than one grocery store in the centre of the City. Other immigrants arrived as young couples hoping for a better life or as families already in the making. They occupied houses mostly in the middle of the ward and in proximity to the new industries attracted by J. W. Lyon. Many found employment on public works in the back-breaking work of laying tracks for railways or streetcars, or excavating streets for new city sewers and water lines as the municipality continued to lay the foundations for its initial underground infrastructure.


The largest early groups of Guelph's Italians came from Treviso (near Venice) in northern Italy and Calabria in the south, especially San Giorgio (St. George) Morgeto in Italy's "toe." Poor people, primarily from rural backgrounds, they left a country where the hand of government was weak and the will of landlords strong, Most were former rural labourers, who had perhaps only secured seasonal work as "giornalieu" - day labourers, or they had been "contadini" - peasants who owned or leased small plots of land. These people brought traditions of providing for themselves and settling their own disputes without government involvement. Such characteristics fostered vendettas and mafia activity, although the clandestine nature of the Mafioso makes it difficult to say much except that the dominant Anglo culture exaggerated the extent of mafia activity within the Italian community. Scurrilous books today continue the same exaggerated claims, but it needs to be noted that other immigrant groups, such as central Asians, Vietnamese, and Chinese (arriving before the revolution of 1949), also brought firm traditions of settling family matters internally and without recourse to police even if criminal activity emerged. In Canada, the arm of the law is stronger, but it often takes time for new immigrants to adjust to this reality and to benefit from it.


Guelph did not have a "Little Italy," as found in some other North American cities because even by 1931 Italians occupied only a third of properties in places such as Alice Street. The Italian newcomers were distinct, but relations with non-Italians were generally cordial. Italians enjoyed wine and distilled spirits, activities that offended many Anglos, especially during prohibition in Ontario from World War I to 1927, when the Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO) started. Alice Street was known for bootleggers and speakeasies. Ferguson Street attracted more northerners, but Alice Street became the heart of Guelph's Italian community during much of the twentieth century, as it was home to the Roman Catholic church and school. Louis (Harpo) Macerollo, born around 1926 and raised here, liked to say he had graduated from, "The University of Alice Street," because this and the surrounding neighbourhood seemed a world unto itself. Alice Street entered city mythology in various guises, some good, some bad. Richard Valeriote's Alice Street; A Memoir provides a readable introduction to the area by a youth born in 1929.6


The rise of Benito Mussolini and fascism in Italy during the 1920s and 1930s helped to isolate Guelph's Italians. Mussolini, frequently an object of derision among Anglos for his pompous parading, made the trains in Italy finally run on time and brought improvements in a poor country with weak government structures. The size of Guelph's Italian community was increased with the migration of compatriots, primarily northerners, from Cape Breton during the great economic depression of the 1930s. Separation and alienation from the dominant Anglo culture increased when Mussolini's Italy joined Germany in fighting the Allies during World War II. Suspected Italian enemy aliens in the City were interned without explanation and many people had to report to the police station regularly. Conversely, a large number of young Guelph Italians enlisted to fight in the Canadian Armed Forces. Still, friends of Antonio Pagnan, a high school student, were forbidden by their parents from entering the War during the 1940s.


Historic Guelph V51P23

Michele, Elisabetta, Mary and Pacifico Valeriote at the back of VaIeriote's Grocery, 1923.

(Photo courtesy of Guelph Museums, 2000.38.4).


Visible remains continue to attest to this early immigration. The building at 132-4 Alice Street belonged to Dominic Tedesco and then Michele (Michael) Valeriote who arrived in Canada from San Giorgio Morgeto. Michele worked first as a railway labourer laying track and later moved to Guelph. He married Elisabetta (Elizabeth), opened Valeriote's Groceteria here in 1911, and ran a butcher shop as well as a postal outlet (acquired as a political plum through the good auspices of Tory M. P. Hugh Guthrie). Michele assisted the immigration of four brothers: Guiseppe, Angelo, Vincenzo, and Domenic. Angelo opened another grocery store at 176 Alice and his brother Vincenzo ran the shoe business down the street that was constructed in the early 1920s. Vincenzo married Anna Anunizata Raco and they had ten children, but only five survived. In the early 1920s Ralph Macri built an Edwardian cottage for them and a separate building abutting the street, called V. Valeriote Shoe Repairing Shop.


Michele and Elisabetta Valeriote had a piano on which Michele loved to play the music of Guiseppe Verdi and the couple also enjoyed listening to opera on the radio. Elisabetta gave birth to sixteen children, of whom only ten survived past the age of six. She was a religious and charitable woman, fatalistic in outlook and whose most frequent expression was "Dio lo vuole" - "God's Will." Italian immigrant women like Elisabetta took care of home and family, but gradually moved out into the workforce for paid employment. As they did, the number of large families subsided. Italian women also played a major role in domestic production of a different order. Animals abounded in Ward One with chickens, rabbits, goats and cows being particularly popular for eggs, milk and meat. Home production was vital to reduce the cost of living in order to provide education for the young. Gardens and grape arbours were seen nearly everywhere.

Historic Guelph 4 Valeriotes V51P24

Four Valeriotes in front of Valeriote Shoe Repair Shop on Alice St., 1938.

(Photo courtesy of Guelph Museums, 2000.38.3).


Members of the Carere family ran a variety shop at 111 Alice Street on the corner of Huron Street. Casual hangouts also included Sam and Carmel Embro's grocery store and snack bar (still called Sammy's) on the corner of Elizabeth and Huron streets, and Domenic and Marguerite Tersigni's barbershop beside it. The Spaghetti House restaurant, owned by Rose and Domenic Ferraro, stood at 49 Huron Street, close to Elizabeth Street. Jazz great Lionel Hampton patronized the Spaghetti House when he performed gigs in the area and said it was the only place he wanted to eat. Italians taught Guelphites what to eat and how to cook, thereby transforming retrograde British cookery. Still, they were welcomed only grudgingly by the resident Anglo population and sometimes assisted in the same cold manner, such as when an unidentified epidemic broke out in the Ward in 1915. The contagion was probably intestinal, and it was attributed to broken sewage pipes leaking into water conduits. Improvements occurred only after the municipality assumed control of the water works in 1919.


Italian women attended the Legion of Mary and, later, the Catholic Women's League, while the men formed the Sons of Italy, a self-help organization akin to St. George's and St. Patrick's clubs. With some 60 to 80 members, the Sons of Italy met at Sacred Heart Church until the club disbanded during World War II. The Italian Canadian Club then began on Ferguson Street in 1953 as successor to the Sons of Italy. On that street as well, hockey player Lou Fontinato grew up and remembered quarrels with siblings about who would fetch the backyard cow for milking.


Italy was and remains highly regionalized with important differences in wealth and outlook between north and south. John Tantardini, a northern Italian from Trecate in the province of Piemonte, arrived shortly after 1900 and operated a fruit store on Wilson Street close to City Hall. Making money, John Tantardini extended his efforts to developing a travel agency that secured steamship tickets and transacted money orders for Guelph's Italians. Like Michele Valeriote, John Tantardini also served as a reference point for new immigrants, helping to get them settled and deriving small profits. Rooming and boarding were common phenomena, especially among sojourning immigrants.


Immigration from Italy was so high following World War II that Guelph's Italian population swelled. As people prospered, Italian Canadians moved east and north in the City along Victoria Road (where St. John's Roman Catholic Church was built) and then eventually fanned out in all directions. Lou Fontinato (Leaping Lou) became well-known playing hockey with the New York Rangers, Joseph Macerollo for playing accordion, Manny Sobara for boxing, Lou Maschio as a National Hockey League referee, Bill Toneguzzo as a Canadian Football League player with the Montreal Alouettes, Joe Tersigni as an award-winning high school history teacher, and Mico Valeriote, John Carere, Peter Brazolot, Gloria Kovach, Rocco Furfaro, Rick Ferraro, and Frank Valeriote as politicians representing Guelph at municipal, provincial, and federal levels.


The activities of J. W. Lyon as developer at the turn of the twentieth century and the arrival of large numbers of immigrants helped to flesh out the institutional structures of Ward One. Before 1900, the only institution of note was the East Ward public school on Ontario Street near York Road. Dating from 1878, it had originally been built of stone, but in 1908 it was replaced with a four-room brick structure renamed St. Patrick's Ward School. The new school was designed by Guelph architect William Austin Mahoney in the restrained style called Edwardian Classicism (named after Edward VII, 1901-1910). This structure has limestone lintels, sills, banding, and ornamentation. The front entrance on Ontario Street features a central squared bay with gabled roof line, an imposing Romanesque arched entry, matching arched windows above, roof dormers and tall, narrow windows. The rear façade features a crenulated entry and roof parapet with banks of large windows and an imposing arched entry with fanlight and limestone quoins (delineated corners). Lion gargoyles adorn the front entry. The lion became the school's mascot and the gargoyles adored by school children.


Historic Guelph St. Patricks Ward School V51P26

St. Patrick's Ward School (Tytler School), circa 1912.

(Photo courtesy of Guelph Museums, 1986.18.58).


In 1922, St. Patrick's Ward School was renamed Tytler Public School in honour of William Tytler who had promoted the continuing education of working people through the local Mechanics' Institute (the beginnings of Guelph's public library). As a school teacher, Tytler also helped Guelph become the first Ontario community to have a free public library in 1883. William Tytler served as the first principal of the Guelph Collegiate Institute, a school inspector, and secretary of the Board of Education.


To provide for Roman Catholics, the Jesuits, who ran the Guelph parish of Our Lady in the centre of town, opened a schoolroom in a house at 158 Ontario Street just down the street from the East Ward school. Catholics named the school after St. Patrick and moved it to Alice Street in 1912. St. Patrick's was also the name chosen by Anglicans for their parish in Ward One. Begun by British and Irish immigrants and built on the corner of York Road at 122 Harris Street in 1908, this St. Patrick's was constructed in the style of Edwardian Classicism on land given by businessman J. W. Lyon. It was enlarged in 1925 but was sold in 1966 and recycled as the Boy Scout Centre, theatre, daycare, and Unitarian Congregation of Guelph meeting place. St. David's and St. Patrick's Anglican church in the northeast quadrant continues as its legacy. Opposite this church is Lyon Park that was given to the City by J. W. Lyon in 1908 on condition the municipality spend 250 dollars a year for ten years to make it appropriate for public use. Guelph's only outdoor public swimming pool was built in Lyon Park in 1950 by architect John Watson of Simcoe and contractor Angelo Battagia.


Remains of the Scots and Presbyterian influence in Ward One can still be seen at Short Street and Toronto Street, where the former St. Paul's Presbyterian Church has been converted into residences. St. Paul's was initially established as a mission in 1899 by the Presbyterian congregation on Quebec Street and called Knox Sabbath School. Within ten years a Presbyterian church was organized, and this modest Edwardian building was constructed. The Gothic touches seen in pointed windows are carried over into interior transepts. When the number of adherents declined and Westminster-St. Paul's was formed in the City's northeast end, the building was sold to the Emmanuel Canadian Reformed Church, a denomination derived from Dutch immigrants and their offspring. In 2002, the building was sold to Jason and Terra Ashdown, who spent six years converting it into a domicile with a separate apartment unit. With Lloyd Grinham as architect, a third storey was added, and dormers placed in the second-floor roof.


Historic Guelph V51P28

St. Paul's Presbyterian Church, 44 Short Street, now a private residence, 2012.

(Photo Credit: Ann Guthrie).


The Methodists had the largest religious institutional presence in the early days of Ward One. Paisley Memorial United Church on Howitt Street, dated from 1907, and was the third building to serve the congregation.7 The Tudor Revival architecture was originally designed by well-known Toronto architect Henry Langley (1836-1907) for Second Baptist Church on Woolwich Street (later St. Paul's Lutheran) but the plans were sold to the Methodists to construct this building. The stunning feature of the church is its windows, the most original of the City's churches. Designed by heritage advocate and University of Guelph Fine Art professor Gordon Couling; they were created and installed between 1962 and 1984.


Paisley Memorial had its origins with Primitive Methodists who began to worship on Waterloo Avenue in 1846 and moved to Paisley Street, where their church burned in 1906. In 1925, Paisley Memorial joined the new United Church of Canada. The manse, or parsonage, for the church stands at 57 Howitt Street and was built in 1913 by T. W. Taylor. After years of struggling to survive in the face of declining membership, Paisley Memorial was sold to an independent congregation with the provision that protection under the Ontario Heritage Act, be sought for the windows by Couling.


Historic Guelph V51P29

Paisley Memorial United Church, 2012.

(Photo Credit: Ann Guthrie). 


Sacred Heart Church and St. Patrick's School made Alice Street an early focal point for Italian communal activities. The church, however, did not arrive until a decade after the school. Although services were held with a portable altar in the school, the Church of Our Lady Immaculate was the only parish for Guelph. New immigrants found the trip over town inconvenient and as those unwilling to pay pew rental fees had to enter by the side door and sit in the transept, a movement got underway for a second parish in the City. Four women were especially important in transforming the mission into a new parish: Maria Veroni, Rose Carroll, Martha Heffernan, and Sarah Meagher. In 1922, when a chapel was constructed on the corner beside the school, the Jesuits chose the name of Sacred Heart. The cult of the sacred heart of Christ was longstanding in Catholicism but re-emphasized during a late nineteenth-century liturgical revolution, when women became more important in church activities. The new name avoided confusion with the Anglican St. Patrick's and was shortly applied to the adjoining separate school.


Religious processions on the feast of Corpus Christi (Body of Christ) were the most colourful of religious rites observed annually in the Sacred Heart parish between World War I and World War II. Altars were set up around the church and the school where the procession stopped for observances. The crowning of the Blessed Virgin in May and the Feast of Christ the King were also well attended, as was the annual garden party in July.

 Historic Guelph V51P30

Sacred Heart Roman Catholic Church, 26 Alice Street.

(Photo Credit: Ann Guthrie).


Constructed of red tapestry brick with white stone trim, Sacred Heart's original seating capacity was 350. Extensions at both front and rear were added in 1932 and nearly doubled the capacity. The architectural style of the church is reminiscent of worship spaces in Rome. When the mission became a parish in 1930, the first incumbent priest had the very un-Italian sounding name of Father Patrick O'Brien, but as he had earned a doctorate in Rome, O'Brien spoke Italian (though the Mass was said in Latin with the homily provided in vernacular languages) and he served the parish for sixteen years. A large and impressive Sacred Heart Rectory was constructed in 1935 on Manitoba Street during Father O'Brien's tenure. The rectory was designed in Neo-Georgian style that was popular during the interwar period. Although essentially simple in design, Georgian edifices often had elaborate porticos similar to this rectory. The large house possesses such a commanding view that occasionally, in winter, local police used its upper storeys to identify whisky stills from the steam that escaped from people's roofs in the Alice Street area.


Sacred Heart school, originally called St. Patrick's, began in a house at 158 Ontario Street where Italian-speaking Jesuits from Hamilton provided Sunday morning Mass using a portable altar. Relocated to Alice Street in 1912 and originally designed by Guelph architect William Austin Mahoney, teaching was conducted by nuns who maintained exacting discipline using a wooden spoon to hit students on the head, though brutal punishments in the name of discipline were common everywhere until the 1960s. The school's most well-known students were Niagara auxiliary bishop Matthew Ustrzycki, ordained in 1959, and federal member of parliament for Guelph-Wellington, Frank Valeriote. A plaque in front of the current school recounts its history and the booklet, The Sacred Heart Parish of the Ward, provides greater detail.


People, businesses, languages, cultures, and religions have all animated Ward One for a century and three-quarters, but this section of the City is currently in the midst of a process as profound as that seen 100 years ago when J. W. Lyon brought new heavy industries to Guelph. As with previous transitions, the current situation has been marked by tensions, but such antagonisms have been handled in a reasonable manner. Ward One remains so diverse that on a walk it is possible to find what was Quarrie's Lucky Dollar, the former grocery store at 85 Ontario Street that Kate and Jack Quarrie ran between 1966 and 1972, decades before Kate became Guelph's Mayor. As more people take up residence in what was once Guelph's industrial east end, new facets of the City's foremost meeting place will be revealed.



I have become indebted to innumerable people during the course of my research on Ward One, but I can at this time only acknowledge the sterling qualities of Robin Baird Lewis's illustrations in Ward One Guelph: A Walking Tour from the Eramosa River to the Bluffs and the support of Sally Wismer and the Guelph Arts Council. The Guelph architectural inventories at the Guelph Public Library by Gordon Couling and by Peter John Stokes and Frank Burcher have proven invaluable in the preparation of this article. Those interested in exploring Ward One on foot can get a copy of Terry Crowley and Robin Baird Lewis, Ward One Guelph: A Walking Tour from the Eramosa River to the Bluffs (Guelph: Guelph Arts Council, 2010).



  1. The Grand River Conservation Commission began in 1932. The province of Ontario passed legislation in 1946 to enable conservation authorities to improve watershed conditions, but Guelph itself remained vulnerable to flooding until after the construction of the Guelph Lake dam during the 1970s.
  2. Andrew M. Thomson, Biltmore Hats, A Brief History. [Accessed 27 August 2012]. (Edit:
  3. The father of New York Rangers hockey player Lou Fontinato worked at IMICO even though he also owned five acres of land above the bluffs on Lane Street where he maintained a market garden.
  4. See Dennis O'Keefe, "An Irish Catholic of Nineteenth-Century Guelph," Historic Guelph, The Royal City, Vol. XXXIII, p. 68.
  5. See Leo Johnson, History of Guelph, 1827-1927 (Guelph, 1977), p. 137-138.
  6. Richard Valeriote's book was published by McGill-Queen's University Press in 2010. See also Patricia Bowley, "The Italian Community in St. Patrick's Ward, Guelph, Ontario, 1900-1939," Historic Guelph, The Royal City, Vol. 33 (1994), p. 55-72.
  7. Howitt Street was named after Charles and Jane Howitt who were in the early cattle business.
  8. John W. Keleher, The Sacred Heart Parish of the Ward. (Guelph, Ontario: Parish, 1980).