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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. The names and photo were generously provided by Guido Sartor whose mother is in the second row.

Back Row

       

2 nd for 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

   
           

3 rd 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)

 

12th from Right

Joan Gidden

   

6th from Left

Muriel Cunningham (later Bedrosian)

8th from Left

Marion Cunningham (later Mahoney)

           

Front Row

       

9th from Right

Shorty Carson (later Cunningham)

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  1. Bot Pamela

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