Rowen-Ogg: Guelph’s Last Shoe Manufacturers
The Rowen family was well known in Guelph for their boot and shoe store on Wyndham Street. Daniel R. Rowen (1847-1927) operated his shop at 16/18 Wyndham during the late 19th century. Lorando (Orlando) Ely Rowan (1875-1920), his only son, is listed as operating it in 1905, then alone from 1908-to 1909. It was in the following year that L.E. decided to go one step further and manufacture women’s, girls and children’s shoes. He joined in partnership with James (John) Ogg, John J. Doherty and Thomas Dowdell to form Rowen-Ogg.
All involved parties were experienced in the manufacturing of shoes. Ogg was originally from Cincinnati, Ohio. He was in charge of the cutting room of (Edwin) Getty and (Francis Stewart) Scott Ltd., Galt before joining Ogg & Rowen.
Doherty had also been working for Getty & Scott. He had been in control of the Mckay room. Before that, he had also been in the employ of various large American shoe manufacturers, including John Kelly and the Peihlor Shoe Company of Rochester NY.
Thomas Dowdell another American, had worked in several well-known shoe firms in the States. Among them were the Mahoney Brothers of Rochester, NY. In Ontario, he, too, went to work for Getty & Scott of Galt.
In 1910, Rowan-Ogg was installing new machinery at 157 Suffolk Street as part of the complex of buildings at the corner of Yorkshire. The company was to open before the end of that year. The building had formerly housed Morlock’s furniture. An article in the Shoe and Leather Journal of 1911, describes the 4-story structure as being “modern architecture.” Rowen and his partners further improved it by not only adding new machinery but choosing to operate it by electricity. It was set up to simplify production by separating departments accordingly:
- Top Floor: This was the cutting room. The machinery in this and all but the Fitting Room had been made by the United Shoe Machinery Company of Canada.
- Third Floor: The fitting room. The machinery here was by Singer, Wheeler and Wilson. Here you would have found I. Campbell. Audrey Robinson, Gertrude Bell and F. Boulk working in 1913. As well as fitters, lasters would also be working on this floor. Among them were Fred Krause, P. Donovan and C. Hamilton.
- Second Floor: Here making, treeing and finishing took place. Among the employees in 1913 would have been Charles Roth, Alfred Scaldwell, Katie Flaherty
- Ground Floor: This was reserved for shipping and had stock rooms for storage. Joseph Hull was a clerk who may have worked on this floor in 1913.
Other employees included:
- F. M. Goodwin a stenographer (1912)
- Nolan Lawrence, Jr. (1913)
- Lucy Staiger (1913)
Specializing in Women’s Shoes
The focus of Rowan-Ogg was to be on shoes – not shoes and boots. They wanted to specialize in footwear for women, female youth and children. The brand of women’s shoes created by them was the “Fashion Shoe.” It is described as a high grade. In 1911, the newly formed firm of G. D. Hardie and J. E. Moore, late of the George E. Boulter Co of Toronto were acting as agents for the Rowan-Ogg Company and its Fashion Shoe. They were to handle the positioning of sales in Toronto and Eastern Ontario.
Although the company is not known today, it seems to have made an impression in the industry. Its opinion on what types of shoes would be popular is noted in length in the trade journals of the time. In 1913, the Shoe and Leather Journal quotes the company several times. It notes that for the spring of 1914, Rowen-Ogg are predicting “Buttons Will Be Strong,” and “patent, gunmetal and tan [will be] the leading leathers.” The same journal later remarks that: “Rowen & Ogg Co., of Guelph, Ont., believe that there is a tendency toward a return of the laced shoe in women's and misses' and several large orders already to hand show that the button boot is not as strong as it was. The firm have prepared an exceptionally attractive line for fall and the samples are neat and artistic. They are sampling fairly heavy on nut brown, patent leather and suede lines, with both slip and single soles.”
Trials, Tribulations and Liquidation
Yet, while it seemed to be successful, Rowen-Ogg was soon faced with major problems. The first came in the form of a disastrous fire. During a major storm in June 1913, a lightning bolt struck the factory, and travelled down and into the switchboard. The resulting fire spread throughout the premises causing damage to the tune of several thousand dollars. This was a bad time for it to happen. Production was peaking with many orders to finish and send out.
Although the fire was quickly brought under control by the fire brigade - within half an hour, the damage was severe. Most of the leather components, moulds and finished goods were destroyed by water much of it used by the firefighters while some of it was sewer water which had backed up and helped put out the fire.
While it was believed the plant would soon be up and running again, this was not to be the case. Although it did have insurance, Rowen-Ogg closed its doors forever after the fire. Talks about re-organization proved to be just that – talk. It seems the assets and liabilities were in equal portions.
The company went into liquidation with N. L. Martin of Toronto appointed as liquidator. Under the Winding-up Act, the assets were sold at auction on November 12, 1913, by Suckling & Co., located at 5 Front Street East, Toronto. Many of the items offered did not even reach the reserve bid. Those were to be sold separately at a later date by the company’s creditors.
James Ogg, once vice-president of the company left Guelph. He took a position in the cutting room of the Galt Shoe Manufacturing Co., Galt. This was another prominent shoe manufacturer, a competitor to the former Galt & Scott Shoe factory.
As for L. R. Rowen, he retired completely from all business ventures but not from community involvement. From 1915 to 1917 (inclusive), he was a City Alderman. During his stint on the council, Rowen was behind the organization of the city government. In January 1920, he caught Influenza. It was followed by pneumonia. When he died on February 1st, 1920, the flag was hung at half-mast. The city aldermen all attended his funeral expressing sincere regrets at his passing.