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The Working Class In Winter
Bonnie Durtnall
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The Working Class In Winter

Work And Sports

Winter In Guelph

Winter meant more than a change in the weather for Guelph’s working class. Many workers found themselves receiving “winter wages.” In fact, one former Guelph council member, Hamilton, on February 17, 1843, boasted he was able to offer cheaper goods because of this. The laws of surplus labour played a role. Unless you were a member of a union, your pay could vary as winter replaced summer.

Seasonal Work

During the winter, Guelphites could make money by cutting and hauling wood and harvesting ice. However, the weather could defeat the former with ease. If the snow fell relentlessly, working outdoors in the forests cutting wood became more difficult. On the other hand, a warmer winter made the cutting of ice challenging if not a lesson in futility.

Ice harvesting took place on Guelph’s rivers and ponds. A popular place for ice harvesters was Goldie’s mill. Here, just above the dam, men went to work cutting and removing the ice. Ice harvesting also took place on other parts of the Speed River as well as at the correctional center. The work could be dangerous. If the ice gave way, you were plunged into the freezing waters. In January 1895, Timothy Hastings was cutting ice just above Goldies’ Dam when the ice gave way.

However, ice harvesting was a way of life for many in Guelph. It was essential if iceboxes were to continue to keep perishables cold during the warm months. This practice of cutting local ice continued in Guelph at least into the 1930s.


Workers and classes united in enjoying the outdoor pleasures winter weather could bring. Popular pastimes included curling, hockey, skating and tobogganing. These four sports provided the working class, retailers and factory owners with a pleasant and healthy way to celebrate the change in seasons. While some sports stirred up competitive feelings, others were just enjoyable. However, not all groups shared the same experience. The upper classes possessed what the lower classes did not – time and money.

While the working class played in industrial or city leagues, the upper classes formed clubs and associations. They met at specific times during the day and left the city to play for various trophies. Workers did not have the leisure time to leave their jobs. Most of their games took place in the evening. The same applied to retailers and bankers. In fact, the bankers and various shop employees would often play against the various factory groups.

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