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The Working Class In Winter

Guelph has several hills. These include the ones down which Eramosa Road and Gordon Street run. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, children and adults took to sleighing or tobogganing. As with curling and skating, the upper echelons formed groups. Guelph had its own formal association – the Snowshoe and Toboggan Club.

The Snowshoe and Toboggan Club

As was common to many groups at this time, the Snowshoe and Toboggan Club dressed appropriately, wearing ties and outfits in red, white and blue. On January 27, 1886, they opened their slide on Gordon Street. This run was natural and ran 400 yards in length. Fifty lights made it visible to slide down.

Like other groups then and now, they held special events. On March 23, 1886, the Snowshoe and Toboggan Club hosted a formal get together with entertainment by Professor Valliance and Mr. Whitehead – who sang Annie Laurie “that beautiful Scottish ballad.”  In 1887, the 23 Snowshoers of the group met with a “delegation from Australia at the Royal Hotel before tramping a trail around the town. The event was reported at some length in the Mercury. It had this to say after the club arrived at the Boat Club landing:

 On arriving at the hut a good fire was started, the kettle was set a boiling, after which a programme of stories, songs, speeches, etc, was gone through. Everyone had something to do … A very pleasant two hours was spent, when a start was made for town… [on the way back, the Sergeant-Major] “gave a few points in fence jumping, the chief feature of which was showing how to stand on one’s head, and several other acrobatic feats.

The Club also held several winter picnics. They even put together and presented a “Tableaux: in front of City Hall illustrating “Sports in Canada.”

Kids, Streets, Sidewalks and Sleighs

As for the working class children – they found great pleasure in sledding down the hills of Guelph. Unfortunately, the hills they seemed to prefer were those already occupied by streets and sidewalks. The most dangerous at the time in common use was Cork Street, although the hill that makes up Eramosa is deliciously scary for sledding. Dublin Street also featured prominently in news about kids and sleds.

Various reports in the papers of the 1880s and 1890s cited examples of near misses and accidents between vehicles and sleighs. From 1879 to 1893, local paper recorded several examples of complaints about children “coasting” on and “monopolizing” sidewalks. At the corner of Gordon and Fountain House, a boy coasting knocked down a man. The paper stated he was “badly bruised.”

More dangerous was the interaction between sleighs, cutters and other vehicles and children. Two boys got hurt on February 1, 1888 when they ran into a cutter. Later that month, an accident occurred between a bob sleigh and Kenny’s Milk Truck.  Although many children did sleigh without causing any problems, others did not. Several seemed to be tampering with the new electric lighting on these streets. The situation was serious enough in February 1888 for the authorities to state that a number of young sleighers “would be invited to an “At Home” of the Police Magistrate if they did not leave the street lamps alone. 

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