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The Guelph Carriage Top Company: 1879 to 1923


The Guelph Carriage Top company was formed in 1879 when Christian Kloepfer and Charles Walker – a former employee of Charles Raymond, went into business together. The company planned to focus on the various accessories and components required in the carriage and buggy trade. These included:

    • Carriage and buggy tops
    • Seats
    • Chests

The partnership was not to last. In 1885, it was dissolved, and Kloepfer went to premises on Wyndham Street where he sold wholesale carriage products while Walker made an agreement with R. H. Glass to continue in this business. At this time, the company’s factory was a solid structure at the corner of Dublin and Norwich – the former Worswick factory. It measured 50×125 feet in dimensions and consisted of two storeys. An L-shaped structure extending from the main building housed the company’s blacksmith shop and boiler room.

In 1885, the company employed between 8 and 12 people, the number possibly increasing to as many as 32 people, one of them female (Miss Louise Barber) in 1886/1887. That year, the company’s workers numbered 40. They were boasting of the possible export of 4,000 buggy tops in 1887.

Barber was also listed as a carriage top maker in 1889 along with William Webber. They were joined in 1891 by Miss Bella Bathgate (1863-1918) whose occupation is listed as a machinist a very unusual occupation for a female to have at the time. Work was busy but economic times eventually resulted in a fiscal crisis. Although in 1888, the company had received an order from Australia, later that year the company was unable to make its payments.

In July 1889, the company was still forging ahead. Its employees made an excursion to Puslinch Lakes. However, later that year, The Gripsack announced the company had failed. However, through an influx of money, it was able to survive. Mitchell became involved and took an interest in it by December 1, 1890.

By 1891, it was “mailing a very handsome catalogue to the trade.” It was 29-pages in length. The trade magazine Hardware noted, “amongst the styles worthy of special mention are the Walker folding carriage top, Walker’s folding wagon top, Cately’s patent carriage top, springs, improved steel stays, etc., etc.” The article also remarked that the company was so busy it was behind on its orders.

This did not mean this new version of the Guelph Carriage Top Company was immune to economic or even seasonal swings. The winter months of 1891 resulted in half the workforce being laid off. This was the slow season, but the company expected to rebound in January 1892.

The company was to falter once more before the century ended. In 1899, Mitchell was able to save the company by borrowing money. However, in 1906, because of the money lent to him to keep the company afloat, he faced a lawsuit from the lenders.

The Guelph Carriage Top Company in the 20th Century

By 1903, the Guelph Carriage Top had agents in other parts of Canada. MM. Delorme Freres at 15 rue de Bresoles, Montréal, were their agents in Quebec. They also took part in the usual social events of companies during that period. That same year, they were at the Dominion Exhibition in Toronto, displaying their products on the second floor as part of the Transportation Exhibition”

In 1904, the employees of the Guelph Carriage Top company had a joint picnic with the employees of both H. A. Clemens & Co. (a lumber/planing company) and Steele’s Wire Works (wire springs). It took place on the grounds of Idylwyld. It combined the usual elements of sporting events, music and food. The “principal feature” however, “was the relay race between the three factories… won by Clemens.

For the years preceding the war, the company seemed to be a successful operation. In 1908, the company was described as having “an extensive plant” “fitted with all modern machinery.” By this time, the blacksmith and boiler room both occupied separate buildings. The company also had “spacious lumber yards” with a “modern kiln for drying and seasoning the lumber.” Employees were said to be 75 providing products that were shipped not only “all over the Dominion” but exported outside of the country as well. John Mitchell remained in charge. A. S. Foster was the company’s sales agent.

During World War One, the Guelph Carriage Top Company was part of the war effort. However, they did not produce carriage seats or buggy tops. In 1915, they ran their plant day and night to produce wooden boxes for packing army shells. To help them keep up with such orders, they planned to purchase a 50 hp. to 80 hp. engine.

One other product of the War was the incorporation of the company. On February 8, 1916, Guelph Carriage Top Company became the Guelph Carriage Top Company, Limited. 500 shares at $100 per share were issued. The Provisional Board of Directors is listed as:

    • Charles Lawrence Dunbar and Leo William Goetz, esquires
    • Helen Mary MeTague, stenographer
    • John Sutherland, the younger, and James Sutherland, insurance agents

The president at that time was John Mitchell. The vice president was John B. Mitchell.

The End of the Guelph Carriage Top Company

By 1922, Mitchell had requested and received permission to change the name of the company. Under a patent issued November 16, 1922, “the Guelph Carriage Top Company, Limited,” became “John Mitchell, Limited.” At this point, John Mitchell was president and manager while W. J. Parker was vice president and assistant manager.

The following year, the company included a few different products. Among them were red cedar chests and truck bodies. Since the company was listed in Canadian Industry, Commerce and Finance in 1916 under Automobile Tops and Trimmings as well as the various categories of carriages, it was probably producing components for vehicles during and following World War I.

The 1923 Guelph city directory no longer lists Guelph Carriage Top Company. Although a factory still operated on Dublin Street, it is referred to as John Mitchell, Ltd. Instead of buggy tops, the listed product is refrigerator truck bodies. John Mitchell still held the position of president, but JB Mitchell was now vice-president. Parker held the position of secretary-treasurer. This enterprise was short-lived.

In 1926, the Live Wire Co., a manufacturer of Insulated wire, purchased the property and planned to remodel it. The company stayed there 10 years before moving into the former premises of the Crow Iron Works on Suffolk Street.

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