Times Past: The more things change…

  • History   Friday, April 8, 2022   Betty Jo Belton

News reports in the nineteenth century Stratford Times sometimes sound a bit like today’s headlines. Stories that were published in the spring of 1888 describe residents hopeful about an expanding local industry but concerned about a possible housing shortage. And, as we still do in spring, they were redecorating their homes, updating their wardrobes and organizing themselves for summer sports leagues.

On April 4, 1888, the Times reported that it was “a settled fact that the Grand Trunk shops at Hamilton will be removed from that city to Stratford about the 1st of August. Fully 550 men, about 300 of whom have families, will come here…This means an acquisition to the population of Stratford, from one place alone, of fully 2,000 people…The question arises where are the men to live? There are not a dozen vacant houses in Stratford, fitted for respectable mechanics to live in. What is wanted in this city is a Building Society, and that right off quick!” By early May, it was reported that “houses are rushing up in Stratford like mushrooms, especially cottages” and that the GTR intended to erect a number of houses for their workers. 

If you already had a home to renovate, Bosworth’s at 17 Market St in Stratford had NEW STYLES of WALLPAPER for 1888 with “prices much lower than former years.” W.&F. Workman announced they had fresh paint, “having just received a full assortment of prepared paints in over 30 different colours.” A. MacNair and Co. had “spring styles of carpets and curtains…the largest stock of carpets held by any one house west of Toronto.” Or, if outside work was needed, William Kompf was prepared to do all kinds of garden work, “such as preparing for and planting vegetables etc and also making flower beds, attending to gardens and all work in that line.”

If you just wanted to spruce up your personal appearance, you could get a hair cut at J.E. Stark’s barbershop. Though the Times reported that one of Stark’s customers, a farmer named Ball from Blanshard Township who hitched his horses to the barber shop lamp, had some bad luck during his visit. Apparently, “the horses were so pleased with the bars and stripes that they tried to carry it away and succeeded in smashing it. Mr. Ball paid $25 and went home as pleased as any man could be under the circumstances.”

If a new hat was needed, several options were advertised in the Times. For example, the Cheapside House of Stratford held their Grand Spring Millinery Opening on April 5, 1888 and extended “a cordial invitation to the Ladies of the County of Perth to examine our display of French, English and American hats and bonnets.” Scott and Bastings Big 7 store in the Idington Block had an event in honour of their “spring millinery opening” on April 12 – 14. David N. Hogg & Co. had “hundreds of lovely Spring Hats and Bonnets and some of the daintiest little wraps and dolmans you ever saw…Everything is wearable and tempting – no outlandish styles but all very lady-like and in good taste.” They reported “La Tosca” as the most stylish hat in their store – “this hat is an exact copy of the one worn by the famous Madame Sara Bernhardt, for whom the play was written…It is a fine white Leghorn, faced with white tuelle arranged in shell design and fastened with a gold pin set with brilliants. A tasteful arrangement of broad reptile-green ribbon, its edge shaded into dark brown and apple green, and this surmounted with a sheaf of fine wheat, proclaims La Tosca the hat of the season.” 

Girls’ baseball clubs were reported to be “all the rage in Stratford.” The Conservatives and the Reformers had a cricket match at the Stratford Junior Cricket Club which the Conservatives won by 9 runs. The Bicycle Club met on Market Square for their first group trip of the season while Stratford Lacrosse Club and Stratford Tennis Club both held their annual meetings in April that year. The Lacrosse Club membership fee was set at one dollar and it was agreed that they would wear uniform suits and buy new sticks for the players. Thorton and Douglas, local merchant tailors, were given the contract for the uniforms – “knickerbockers made of light great Halifax tweed with royal blue cording in the seams and jerseys of royal blue.” 

Of course, many things have changed since 1888.  Most women’s summer hats tend to be plain and practical. Sports uniforms are rarely, if ever, made from tweed. And home decorators have considerably more than 30 colours of paint to choose from. What hasn’t changed is how much we all welcome spring with its warm, bright days and the promise of summer fun ahead.