The summer picnic was a regular component of working-class lives in Guelph. Although those of the 19th century – featuring parades, musical accompaniment and a promenade downtown, were more elaborate than those of the early 20th, they still retained very popular. These later models had their own charm and attraction for participants.
As to be expected, June, July and August were the months when annual picnics were held by both businesses of all kinds and various unions. Sometimes, it was an “Excursion” using the train as a means of visiting another city; other times, the event was distinctly a picnic. For Guelphites, this meant not simply outdoor dining, but also games and various family-oriented events.
The 1920s and 1930s Summer Picnic
The picnics of the 1920s and 1930s were a mix of union and company-sponsored events. The picnic held on July 5, 1923, was for the unionized postal workers while the one held by Dalyte Electric Company on July 30th, 1923, was for both staff and employees. The Lancashire Felt Co held a “Monster Picnic” on July 16, 1934 at Edgewood Park for all its employees and their families. After all, picnics for unions and companies were intended for every one that fell under that umbrella.
Excursions could refer to picnics involving groups of people. However, it could also mean taking a train. In the 1920s this was an easy way to escape Guelph for more “exotic” places. The employees of the Guelph Herald boarded a train for their annual picnic at Wabasee Park in Hamilton. In 1934, on July 11, the workers at Northern Rubber were treated by their employer to an excursion out of Guelph. The company officials hired a “special train.” In 1939, the same company employees boarded another train – this time the destination was Waterloo Park – the same place the employees of Gilson’s went to in 1922.
Popular Picnic Spots
Locally, one of the most popular places to go was Puslinch Lake. Swastika Beach at this lake was popular for many workers during the hot summers of the late 1800s and early 1900s. It boasted a pavilion, boats and various forms of entertainment. On the Civic Holiday of August 4, 1930, the park was crammed with visitors. The advertising for this date proclaimed “THRILLS – SPILLS – CHILLS” The draw was “Canada’s OUTSTANDING SEA FLEA DRIVERS.” They were going to be in competition with “Our Own BILL BUTLER, Canada’s Record Breaker.” Beneath this ran another ad meant to ensure people knew how easy it was to get to the lake. It stated how people could take a “Bus line to Swastika Beach” with “Hourly Service Right into Park.”
Puslinch Lake was also the choice for the inaugural picnic of the City of Guelph’s Public Works Department. Held on July 18, 1939, it boasted many of the characteristics common to company picnics. It had several races for adults and children, the most unusual being the “Aldermen’s Race.” This was won by Alderman Gordon Rife who was chair of the Public Works’ Committee of City Council. A close runner-up was Alderman Matt C Ruddell with Alderman EC Fulton coming in third.
Among the other pastimes on that day were boat rides for the youngsters in the afternoon. Children rode rafts on the lake then were plied with treats. The outing was considered perfect. In fact, the only thing that marred the entire event, according to the Guelph Mercury was “the number of cases of charley horses that developed among the older persons present as they took part in the various sports events.”
Other options for those intending to picnic en masse were Riverside Park and Exhibition Park. Both were close and Guelph’s streetcar system easily accommodated riders. This was the choice for the Guelph Lumber Company Picnic in 1922. The photo shows the employees standing around and on a bandstand on the grounds. Other companies that held their picnic here were Standard Brands Ltd. in June 1932. At this time, attendees may also have decided to actually access the river by crossing over to the side that housed Simpson’s Old Mill Swimming Pool and other attractions.
Riverside was to continue to remain a popular picnic spot in the 1940s when companies such as Malleable Iron brought their employees here who “greatly enjoyed” the day out. In fact, it still remains a place where families can come and, even if it no longer has a swimming pool or a zoo (1914), have a picnic, ride the merry-go-round or the train, catch a performance at the bandshell or grab an ice cream cone.