Author: Cameron Shelley

Publication Date: 2013

Edited: 2023




One hundred years ago, from July 27th through August 2nd, 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, and 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 twentieth 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 nineteenth century.Frank Rollins, a successful entrepreneur in Boston, returned to his native New Hampshire to run for governor. Upon his election, he surmised that many 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 five 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.



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 Board of Trade, was the honourary President, and former mayor G. J. Thorp was the chairman of finance.3 Hugh Guthrie, M. P., Henry Scholfield, 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 ads 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 community events from time to time, such as excursions or sporting competitions. The Association also maintained 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 helped it to secure the special railway fares that were offered by both the Grand Trunk and C. P. R. lines for travellers to the city during the week. Rail was the primary means of long-distance travel at the time, so discount fares would have helped greatly in bringing visitors to the city.


In addition, the Post Office created a special cancellation stamp for letters and postcards mailed from Guelph around the time of the event. The stamp 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.



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 in the Guelph Evening Mercury on July 4th, 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 important to the committee.


Historic Guelph Old Postcard V52A5

Reverse of a postcard sent from Guelph during Old Home Week, 1913. Note the special slogan in the cancellation stamp in the upper-right corner.

(Image from the author's 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 featured patriotic flags and 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 advertisements in the Mercury by George E. B. Grinyer on July 21, 1913, who owned a plumbing, heating, electrical, and tinsmith business on Wyndham Street. He advised 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 ads belong to the firm of D. E. Macdonald & Bros, who had a dry goods, and 'men's furnishing' store at 1-9 Wyndham Street. They took out several, large advertisements 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 wonderful 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 pleased. 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 words, Old 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 Mercury, July 29, 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 Old Home Week itself. The Guelph Evening Mercury, July 24th, 1913 reported:


"[Factory owners] claim that in all probability they will have to close down during Old Home Week, and that they cannot afford to close down again on the Monday following."8

The Old Home Week committee and the Guelph Trades and Labour Council met together and jointly recommended that the Civic Holiday be moved to Tuesday, July 29th, during the Week. However, these last-minute efforts appear to have been in vain, as there is no evidence that such a measure was adopted. An editorial in the Evening Mercury on July 25th, 1913, provides a number of cogent reasons why such a change was not workable:

  • The date of the Civic Holiday 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 would not change the date at the last minute.
  • Stores in town would have to close on the proposed holiday Tuesday, taking away a great deal of business and inconveniencing visitors.

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



People had begun to show up for Old Home Week even before it kicked off officially. For example, the 'City News' column of the Evening Mercury makes special note of the following arrival on July 22nd, 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 weeks, for as Mr. Ogilvie says, 'We wouldn't 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 restricted to the rich, the eccentric, and the adventuresome."9 So, Mr. Ogilvie's mode of transportation was a taste of things to come.


Of course, most visitors arrived by train. On July 28th, 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 how splendid the city looks, all decked out, remarking that, "The decorations were beautiful, and when the lights were turned on at 8:30 the vari-colored bulbs, flags, pennants and bunting presented a magnificent vista of color." Special mention goes to the Mahoney's, who had a plumbing business on Quebec Street, for their enormous Union Jack studded with coloured lights. The first evening was capped off by a concert in Exhibition Park by the Guelph Musical Society's Band and the Philharmonic Chorus. In addition, there were numerous speeches by important persons which, the Mercury writer predicted, would be all but inaudible to the distracted guests in the Park:


"The average speaker has not the sonorous vocal outfit to be a successful outdoor orator, and 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 could offend the most fastidious."


It seems as though the city had metamorphosed from a provincial 'old 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 fastidious.



On the following day, the July 29th, 1913 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 crowd 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 called 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 powder, 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.

(Image courtesy of the Guelph Historical Society Collection).


The Mercury editorial on July 29th 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 Italian population of Guelph. Immigrants from Italy 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 offensive behavior by Italians appear from time to time in the paper. Indeed, the August 5th issue reports that an Italian, George Longo, pled guilty to charges of disorderly conduct on Wyndham Street 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 31st, 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, promenaded 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 often featured 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.



In cultural terms, Old Home Week may have been nostalgic or reactionary. However, in technological terms, it was more 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 July 31st, did not consider electrical ornaments as decoration, "As the competition was for the best 'decorated,' not the best 'decorated 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 Jack, won only the second prize. Today, electric lighting is an indispensable 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 of the parade can be gleaned from considering how the idea of a parade of every 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 Brantford Expositor on July 25th 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 Carlstrom flew at Exhibition Park.

(Image courtesy of Library of Congress via Wikimedia Commons).


Carlstrom's mechanical difficulties continued. The July 29th Mercury reports that he arrived in Guelph from Woodstock on July 28th, as planned, but came by train (as did his aircraft, one assumes)! His planned ascent on July 29th 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 July 31st Mercury:


"With wings spread like a soaring eagle, Carlstrom, the bird man, sped over the city yesterday afternoon in his new Blériot aeroplane. Rising from the ground 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-easterly direction."


The machine, propelled by a powerful 75-horsepower 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 Carlstrom's 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 model of Blériot Carlstrom was flying. However, the Toronto World states that the plane was the same as the one Blériot had flown across the English Channel in 1909, which was a model XI.14 In terms of electrical lighting, automobiles, and aviation, Guelph had seen the future.



By the end of Old Home Week, the populace seems to have been partied out. A headline in the August 2nd 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 much for sending that piece. While we were at Guelph, we went all to see the college. Love to all, Georg [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 pre-eminence 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 would have to wait until Guelph's centennial year in 1927.



  1. Francoise Noël, "Old Home Week Celebrations as Tourism Promotion and Commemoration: North Bay, Ontario, 1925 and 1935," Urban History Review 37 No. 1 (2008), p. 36-47.
  2. Jere Daniell, "Old Home Days," in Encyclopedia of Local History, eds. Carol Kammen, and Norma Prendergast. (Walnut Creek: AltaMira Press, 2000), p. 356-357.
  3. Guelph Museums, "Guelph Old Home Week and Summer Carnival Programme, (1913)," 1976. 40. 19.
  4. The Canadian Philatelic Society of Great Britain. "The Slogan Cancellations of Canada," Maple Leaves 6 No. 7 (December 1956), p. 177-181.
  5. Guelph Evening Mercury, July 4, 1913.
  6. Guelph Evening Mercury, July 21, 1913.
  7. Guelph Evening Mercury, July 29, 1913.
  8. Guelph Evening Mercury, July 24, 1913.
  9. Ross Irwin, "Automobiles & Garages." Retrieved July 4, 2013, [Link broken].
  10. Pat Bowley, "Italian Community in St. Patrick's Ward," Historic Guelph, 33 (1994), p. 55-64.
  11.  "The Bell Telephone Company in Guelph," Guelph Historical Society Publications 14 No. 4 (1974), p. 1-5.
  12. Terry Crowley, "Adelaide Hoodless, Women's Education and Guelph," Historic Guelph 25 (1986), p. 26-49.
  13. Heather Ibbotson, "Flashback July 25," Brantford Expositor, July 25, 2013, Retrieved February 9, 2014, [Link broken].
  14. "Flew to Hamilton from Savona," Toronto World, July 25, 1913, p. 3.