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Sole Work: Guelph Boot And Shoe Manufacturers: Part 2
Bonnie Durtnall

Sole Work: Guelph Boot And Shoe Manufacturers: Part 2

Other Boot and Shoe Manufacturers

During the 19th century, Guelph was home to a few boot and shoe makers. Whether they operated factories or small shops and how mechanized they were remains unknown at this time. Very few have left more than a trace of their existence. Among them are:

  •   John Cridiford: He is found in several directories with premises on Wyndham Street in 1867, 1868 and 1870
  •   Able (or Abel) Parker: An Irish, West Methodist, he made boots and shoes with the help of two employees – John Hart and Robert Leith, in 1867 and 1869.
  •  John McNeil: Both an 1869 and 1870 directory list him as a boot and shoe manufacturer. In 1871, the shop had a staff of around 15 individuals. Ten males and four females were over the age of 16. One male was under 16. His output annually was around 4,500 pairs of boots/shoes.
  •  Frederick K. Borsh: In 1891, he is noted as having 4 employees.
  • CW Dempsey: Dempsey hired four employees in 1891.
  •  George Purkins: He gave employment to one individual in 1891.
  • James Tindal 1891: He had 1 one employee in 1891.

Several other shoe and boot makers provided “custom” shoes for sale. Among them were:

  •  LM Abbs at 77 Perth 1882/1883
  • George Bell at Hutch’s block, Woolwich in 1885/6
  •  Samuel Powell at Woolwich near Norwich in 1885/1886
  • William Sweeney on Wilson opposite Market in 1885/1886

John McMillan

One individual who did not fit into the factory-made mold but still offered shoes and boots in a factory-like setting was John McMillan.  Hailing from Scotland, he moved to Douglas (Belwood) then to Fergus where he set up his first boot and shoe shop offering customers custom-made product. He then expanded into Elora (1863). His next move, in spite of challenging economic times – including the influx of factory-produced boots and shoes as well as those produced by the inmates at Kingston Penitentiary, was to open a shop in Guelph in 1862.

McMillan operated a small shop. It was to both manufacture and sell his products. In 1871, he had 2 female employees working for him as well as three males over the age of 16. He was only producing around 600 pairs of footwear annually. By this time, his Fergus warehouse was gone – up in smoke under mysterious circumstances. McMillan had taken out a large policy on this property.

Before he could receive any money, McMillan was forced to declare bankruptcy. His creditors wanted their money and this was their only means of obtaining it. Their suspicion of him and his business increased over the following months. In fact, they investigated his economic affairs, discovering he had hidden assets from them.

The result was McMillan was dragged into court and charged with fraud. The sentence was a year in jail. The accounts owing were settled by his creditors. However, they did leave a sizable amount for McMillan.

McMillan exited to an extremely ill wife. She did not have long to live. He did not try to reassemble the pieces of his life but became reclusive.  In February 1880, he hung himself from the door of his three-room home at the corner of Gordon and Wellington. A suicide note offered detailed instructions of how to handle the body. His last wish had been to donate it to the Toronto School of Medicine.

Factory Shoes Triumph

In the 20th century, the Boot and shoe factories disappeared. So, too, did many of the custom shoe and boot makers. The availability of cheaper machine-made products made local boot and shoe makers almost obsolete and the ability of small factories to survive unfeasible. A few did remain; however, people were now buying ready-made shoes and boots from other countries. The entry in the Guelph Classified Business Directory for 1930 says it all. Under the heading of Boots and Shoes which had previously listed the various individuals and companies involved in producing shoes and boots were these three words: “See Shoes – Retail.”

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