“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.
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:
- Matthews-Wells – Preserves, jams
- Guelph Elastic Hosiery – Flotation devices
- Northern Rubber – Rubber boots
- 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.
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.
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
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
1st on Right Steve Lewis
3rd from Right Ozzie Harrington
4th from Right Clarance Spikman
14th from Right Bessie Borthwick
4th from Left Pat Guest
10th from Left Catherine Turner?
12th from Left Angelina Gazzola
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
9th from Right Shorty Carson (later Cunningham)