Caleb Chase: Reeve, Mayor And Carriage Maker

Caleb Chase (1838-1903) is recognized by Guelph political historians as one of the city’s mayors. He was elected to serve the 1863-1864 term replacing George Sleeman. Yet, Chase was more than a politician. He was also a tradesman and entrepreneur. He became involved in several enterprises but his best-known venture was his wagon/carriage shop on Woolwich Street.

 Caleb Chase: His Carriage Manufactory and Political Life

Caleb Chase came to Guelph in 1856. He was a young man of 18 eager to learn a trade. At first, he was engaged – or possibly apprenticed, to a local blacksmith and/or wagon maker. He learned the trade but chose to follow another path until in 1870/71, he set up shop on Woolwich Street, opposite the newly constructed Wellington Hotel. This carriage manufactory was listed as occupying 143-145 Woolwich Street in 1870 and 113 Woolwich in 1875. His business was to remain there for all its operating days.

In 1870/71, Chase had 14 hands. According to The Herald in 1878, he gave “employment to a force ordinarily numbering fifteen.” These were excellent workmen, supervised by Chase, himself. As a result, the paper could only conclude that the carriages and wagons Caleb Chase’s shop produced were “perfect in material and workmanship” “and whether cheap or expensive, the same painstaking care is shown in their construction.

In 1883, Chase became Mayor of Guelph, a position he held for two years. He had earlier expressed his interest in politics. However, instead of sitting as a member of Guelph’s Council, he became a third Deputy Reeve and then a Reeve (1879) for Guelph township.

Chase was also active in matters that impacted the overall economic and social well-being of Guelph. These ventures were not done alone but he contributed significantly to them. Among them was the running of the newly formed Guelph Public Library. He, together with James Goldie, George Sleeman and Samuel Terrell. was one of the initial members.

When another blacksmith/carriage maker – JB Armstrong, proposed the construction of the Blacksmith Fountain, Chase was in office. The decision had been made to erect a fountain in the Town Square. One issue was money; the other was choosing a design. Armstrong, a very successful man in his own right, wanted to honour the city’s industrial heritage. He sent the following letter to the Mayor and Council:

To His Worship the Mayor and Corporation of the City of Guelph:
In reply to a wish by the Council toward erecting and fitting up a fountain on St. George’s Square, I beg to say I should be pleased to present the city with a fountain according to the accompanying design, the other subscribers to furnish the base surrounding and fit it up. It will be about 12 or 14 feet high, the central figure representing Industry.
Mr. Hall has kindly furnished the accompanying sketch, and will furnish you any particulars you want.
Yours very truly,
J. B. Armstrong.

Chase and his council got behind the project. Various groups and individuals contributed money towards it. Amateur theatrics and other fundraisers finally arrived at the necessary sum required. The Blacksmith Statue was created and placed in the very heart of Downtown Guelph – St. George’s Square on May 13, 1885 – Queen Victoria’s birthday.


Chase was also there when the city was trying to obtain a charter for the Guelph Junction Railway. He, together with other prominent Guelph businessmen including Thomas Gowdy, JB Armstrong, Nathaniel Higinbotham and Charles Davidson, were the company’s incorporators. Yet, his interest went beyond paperwork. He helped to select the best possible site for the terminus. Chase was later chosen to be one of the provisional directors.

Everything Comes to an End

Chase did not continue with his carriage business into the 20th century. It was no longer a functioning shop during the 1890s. By 1894, his son Charles, who had worked alongside his father since he was able to do so, was now a foreman at a specialized carriage manufactory – the Guelph Carriage Top Factory. Caleb Chase remains listed in later directories. However, his name is no longer all in caps – a common indication of someone of importance who operates a business or professional enterprise. He is also not described as a carriage builder or maker but as a blacksmith. He died in 1903.

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