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Keeping In Tune: The Bell Organ and Piano Company

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Bell Organ and piano were once one of the largest employers in Guelph. Founded in 1864, they remained a viable concern until they were finally closed in 1934. In fact, Bell pianos were found in parlours around the world. Queen Victoria was the proud owner of one of their models. The employees suffered a variety of blade-related accidents common to factories where machinery was not guarded. This lead to the formation of the Piano Workers' Union in 1902 - the first of its kind in Canada. 

The Rise And Fall of Gilson Manufacturing Company Ltd.

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Townhouses are being built on the land at 249 York Road between Morris and Huron Streets. Beyond the tracks that subdivides the land is a parking lot. This property was once home to the Gilson Manufacturing Co. From 1906 to 1977, the plant produced a variety of items beginning with gas engines and ending up with a full line of washers and freezers. During its long life, it went from being a minor Canadian subsidiary of an American Firm - the Gilson Manufacturing Co. of Port Washington, Wisconsin, launched in 1850 by Theodore Gilson, to being a nationally recognized Canadian owned and operated company.

W C Wood Strike 1959

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W.C Wood’ is best known as a manufacturer of freezers. It relocated from Toronto in 1941, setting up shop on Woolwich Street. During WWII, Wood’s produced parts for aircraft and tails for bombs. After the war, the company went back to manufacturing freezers, adding portable units as well as coolers.

 

The company moved to Arthur Street in 1955, taking over the old Taylor-Forbes Plant. Between 1955 and 1967, they produced bulk milk coolers and bottle cappers as well as freezers. In addition, using designs of the old T-F Company, they produced wood clamps, clothesline pulleys, barn and home ventilators and oat rollers. On April 3, 1959, one of Guelph's most vicious strikes began. It was to drag on almost a year.

Under The Big Top: The Circus In Guelph

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In 19th century, one source of entertainment was the Circus. When it came to town, offices and businesses closed so everyone could at least watch the parade through the centre of town. This was free, making it affordable to even the poorest in town. In Guelph, working, middle and upper classes alike went to see exotic animals, unusual inventions and strange people. 

Guelph's first circus came to town around 1849. One of the most famous circus of this Golden Age, Barnum's, arrived first by road in 1852 and later in 1874 by train. Train allowed circuses to move more freely. It also made it possible for those who lived around Guelph to quickly make their way to town.

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The Guelph Soap Company: Over A Hundred Years Of Production

In early Guelph, as with most pioneer communities, soap tended to be made at home. However, for many women who were brought up to believe a lady’s hands should be soft, home made soap was not desirable. Bought soap – particularly imported French soaps, were the answer.  With more goods available and an increasingly urban society, store-bought soaps (among other items) became increasingly common. The entire supply chain was shortened even further when a Guelph manufactory  the Guelph Soap Company or Guelph Soap Works began to produce soap.

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For The Love Of Cars: Guelph's Automotive Industry

In the 19th century, Canada began to produce automobiles. The first Canadian-made vehicle was steam-propelled. This was the famous Taylor Steam Buggy built by Henry Seth Taylor in Stanstead Quebec. It was seen crashing around the Eastern Townships in 1867, clearly marking Canadian confederation. And crashing is the right word. The car suffered from a problem. Taylor had failed to include brakes in his design.

Guelph flirted with car production with the Gilson and Jules 30. The manufacturers were more serious and showed greater longevity when it came to tire production and the manufacturing of automotive components.

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Vulcanization: Guelph's Tire Manufacturers

Guelph was quick to embrace the automotive craze of the early 20th century. Although it never did manage to produce automobiles, it did more than satisfactory in manufacturing a variety of car components – a trend that continues today. However, in the early 19th century, where it increased factory size and employment was in the production of tires. Several tire companies were created to meet the needs of the  growing automotive industry. Interestingly enough all set up their shop in the same structure on Metcalfe (Huron) Street.
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