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MATTHEWS-WELLS: As Good As the Rose Is Beautiful

“As good as the rose is beautiful.” This was the slogan for the Rose Brand products made by Matthews-Wells in their plants. They opened the Guelph plant on Victoria Road in the former Dominion Linen factory in 1931. Initially, the company had only fifteen employees. They worked under the supervision of a surplus of owners/managers – four of them: James Matthews, Arthur Wells, Jim Dunlop and Howard S. Matthews.

Expansion of the plant began almost immediately. Two factory additions were constructed. The first was in the spring of 1933; the second was in 1936. In January 1937, the company was once again expanding. However, this was more of a rearrangement and specific utilization of existing space in the 1936 extension. With new machinery, the company was adding to its product line. They were expanding beyond pickles and into the manufacture of jams, jellies, marmalades and comparable products which, as the Guelph Mercury stated were “items allied to their present line.” Although the company had produced a “Zest” line of flavouring extracts in 1932, they were always known for the Rose brand of products.

By this time, the number of employees had grown to sixty. By 1962, Matthews-Wells employed about 160 people. However, because their product depended on local and regional produce such as Rosemount Orchards in Beamsville, the greatest number of employees were hired during the busy season. This was a boon to many of Guelph’s young adults looking for summer work. The late newspaper man, Alan Ferris, worked there among the large pickling vats while others hulled strawberries or sorted the various fruits and vegetables intended for the various jams, jellies and other products the company was producing.

By the early 1960s, the factory covered a 12-acre site increasing the plant’s floor space to about 80,000 square feet. The company appeared to be doing well. They sold nationally and even internationally. Loblaws sold the Rose Brand product line. In 1939, a 36-ounce jar of Rose Brand Pickles cost twenty-nine cents.

Advertising Works

Matthews-Wells ran an advertising campaign to help sell its products. They appeared in several media forms. This included newspaper and radio. In 1950, they advertised in Camping Magazine the article stated “Why Gamble? Camp Health Comes First.” They then stressed the purity and great taste of their various jams and jellies. In 1951, the company advertised on the radio, sponsoring the “Showtime from Hollywood” show. A 1959 ad also extolled the products’ addictive qualities. It read “The Fridge Raider Strikes Again.” In short, it described how difficult it was to prevent family members from eating Rose Brand Pickles.

Matthews-Wells also pushed its products at various conventions and exhibitions. The earliest was a major one. The British Industries Fair of March 1935 featured 51 Canadian companies. Five of these were from Guelph. They were:

 

  1. Matthews-Wells – Preserves, jams
  2. Guelph Elastic Hosiery – Flotation devices
  3. Northern Rubber – Rubber boots
  4. Sterling Rubber – Balloons and gloves

They appeared at various exhibitions relating specifically to the business including the 1958 annual Canners Show in Atlantic City, New Jersey.

During this time, the company continued to ensure its brand remained controlled. A challenge was made in 1949 against Rosario G. Dastous and Rose Canned Food Products. Matthews-Wells felt the use of a rose on the canned products was a patent infringement meant to deceive the grocery shopping public, even though the products in question differed and were referred to as “Rosie” and not Rose Brand.

Initially, Matthews-Wells won. However, they lost on appeal in the Supreme Court. The judge determined there was no infringement or theft of intellectual property, despite one of the most prominent patents and trademark agencies – Smart and Biggar arguing on behalf of Matthews-Wells.

Nabisco Takes Over

In 1959, Nabisco took over Matthews-Wells. The intent was to broaden its product line. Expansion of the existing facilities and installing new equipment was also on the agenda, according to the 1959 annual report for the company. The new owners ran the plant until 1968. During that year, they sold it to a Canadian firm – Robin Hood Flour. The reason given for the sale was simple. Nabisco Ltd. felt the market presence of the company was too small. They also believed any chances of growth within Nabisco were limited.

 Robin Hood Flour

The change of ownership in 1968 was, on paper, not to impact the company. Initially, Robin Hood mentioned they planned to put the sale of products under their own sales force. According to the news blurb in The Northwestern Miller, the Matthews-Wells line consisted of “10 varieties of “Rose Brand” jams and marmalades and approximately thirty types of pickles, relishes and olives. While the products continued to be manufactured in the Guelph plant, change was fast in coming. Rather than continue operating the plant, Robin Hood closed it in September of 1968.

Addendum:

This is a list of many of the employees at Mathews-Wells in the included 1955 photo. Guido Sartor generously provided the names and photos. His mother is in the second row.

Back Row                                                               

2nd from Left          Bill Turner Senior                   

9th From Left          Herman Layton                       

10th from Left        Bill Turner Jr.                         

5th from Right        Jack Ralston ?                         

4th from Right        Jack Meighan                          

5th Row                                                                  

14th From Right     Jim Borthwick                         

15th from Right      Jack Dempsey                         

12th from Right      Jimmy Bresson                       

Beside Jimmy         Naish Saccary                         

9th from Right        Jim Mugford                           

2nd from Right       Len Richmond                        

4th Row                                                                  

1st on Right             Steve Lewis                             

3rd from Right        Ozzie Harrington                    

4th from Right        Clarance Spikman                   

14th from Right      Bessie Borthwick                    

3rd Row                                             

4th from Left          Pat Guest                                 

10th from Left        Catherine Turner?                   

12th from Left        Angelina Gazzola                    

2nd Row                                                                 

8th from Right        Elena Sartor (my mother)       

6th from Left          Muriel Cunningham (later Bedrosian)

8th from Left          Marion Cunningham (later Mahoney)

12th from Right      Joan Gidden                            

 Front Row                                                              

9th from Right        Shorty Carson (later Cunningham)

 

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This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. Bot Pamela

    I grew up in that neighborhood, I recognize a lot of the names, my sister worked there for a short time.

  2. Jim Matthews

    Very interesting article. My grandfather was James Matthews…as a child growing up we never heard a thing about the company. The age of the internet has given much lost information as all of these people are gone now. Thank you very much. Regards. James Matthews.

  3. Laura Paylor

    My mom Marion Becker worked in the office.

    1. Bonnie Durtnall

      Nice to know