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Summer Pleasures in Guelph

Picnics and Excursions

While people continued to work during the long, sweltering summer months, they did have one occasion to look forwards to. This was the company picnic. This was a major event.

Workers dressed up for the occasion and rode in decorated wagons. Some factories incorporated a parade into the affair. The company’s mascot or special wagon headed the parade. This was good advertising. It also strengthened the idea of this as something special. Guelphites could line up and view the parade even though they were not employees of the company holding it.

Common destinations were Riverside Park Waterloo Park in Waterloo and Swastika Beach on Puslinch Lake. Picnickers swam and held various sporting events. They also ate a picnic lunch and enjoyed the time away from work.

These events were immensely popular during the late 1800s and well into the 1930s. The workers from Bell Organ and Piano, Lancashire Felt, Standard Brands, the Guelph Lumber Company, McCrae’s Woollen Mills and Northern Rubber all celebrated this summer pleasure. Even the city’s tailors, bakers and retail clerks spent a day on a picnic or excursion.

Some unions also held a picnic as a group. However, it did not necessarily mean employees got the day off from work. Employers tended to pick a Civic Holiday to hold the company picnic or excursion.


As transportation became faster, and roads more accessible, excursions farther away from Guelph became popular. Guelph workers joined the exodus. They or their company purchased discount railway tickets. They boarded the train and left for larger cities en masse. As government legislation altered the patriarchal industrial landscape and people began to choose their holidays, company picnics became rarer.

While a few people still swim in Guelph’s rivers, many more choose to splash in the city’s splash ponds, wading pools and swimming pools. The rare exception is Riverside Park. People continue to enter the river and play in its waters as they have for more than a century. 

Photos Courtesy of the Guelph Civic Museum: Bell Excursion, 1901; Bell’s 1895; Guelph Lumber Co, 1902; Plumbers, 1910; Standard Brands, 1932;  Northern Rubber, 1934, Lancashire Felt, 1935; and Riverside Park, 1900.


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