Big Ontario Publishers Gave Exposure to Small Towns

By Mike Smith

One of the things that always surprises me when compiling a new handbook on a particular Canadian postcard publisher is the number of small towns represented on the cards. For example, given the rules of the marketplace one would think that views of small Ontario towns and villages would mostly give way to larger centres and tourist areas such as Toronto, Hamilton, Ottawa, Muskoka and Niagara Falls. In fairness, this is probably true when one considers the quantity of each different card published. However, the number of little places given exposure by Ontario postcard publishers during the golden age (1900–1914) is truly amazing. Please bear in mind that many of the little places I’m going to showcase in the next few paragraphs may not be so little anymore.

One of the most prolific postcard publishers during the golden age was Brantford’s Stedman Bros. Saving much of the money earned from peddling newspapers in the late 19th century, the three Stedman brothers (Sam, Ted and George) opened their first general merchandise store in Brantford on New Year’s Day 1905. After much early success, which led to expansion into books, stationery, postcards, and fancy goods manufacturing, Stedman Bros. Ltd. was incorporated under a provincial charter in 1908. The firm began ordering postcards with Canadian views from US and German printers right off the bat in 1905, and eventually printed its own cards as required. When it came to publishing cards of small Ontario towns, Stedman Bros. was king. Of the 3,220 different Ontario views recorded by this publisher so far, 95% are of places outside of the major centres and tourist areas listed in the first paragraph. Figures 2 and 3 show two such places.

A rare Ford Model K is shown in this circa 1908 postcard of downtown Leamington by Brantford’s Stedman Bros.
Stedman Bros. published this postcard of canoeists on the Rideau River at Smiths Falls around 1906.

Another big publisher that issued a huge hoard of view cards of small Ontario towns during the golden age was Toronto’s Warwick Bros. & Rutter. This firm started life in 1848 as a Woodstock bookstore run by Montreal-born William Warwick. Warwick would soon expand into the book, bookbinding and stationery business, which grew exponentially after a move to Toronto in 1868. After he was mortally injured in a carriage accident at the Toronto Industrial Exhibition (now CNE) in 1880, Warwick’s wife and three sons ran the business at different periods. Arthur Rutter, who joined the firm as an engineer in 1873, eventually earned a partnership which led to a company name change to Warwick Bros. & Rutter in 1893. Exactly 10 year later, Warwick Bros. & Rutter produced its first all-colour Canadian postcards at its plant in Toronto. Of the 2,800 different Ontario views recorded by this publisher so far, over 80% are of small towns. Two wonderful examples are shown as Figures 3 & 4. 

Aboriginal Canadians setting out to pick blueberries are shown in this sepia-coloured circa 1906 Warwick Bros. & Rutter postcard of Cutler.
This Warwick Bros. & Rutter circa 1907 colour postcard shows three miners at a Cobalt camp.

Given that he went bankrupt in 1908, I’m amazed at how many postcards Toronto’s W. G. (William Godsoe) MacFarlane managed to publish after he jumped onto the postcard bandwagon in 1901. Arriving in Toronto from Saint John around 1900, MacFarlane hooked up with Grip Limited, a printer-engraver founded in 1873 by prominent Canadian cartoonist J. W. Bengough, and soon made a name for himself publishing souvenir view books. Unlike rival Toronto publisher Warwick Bros. & Rutter, W. G. MacFarlane escaped the carnage of the Great Toronto Fire of 19 April 1904. By 1905, the business was so successful that an article in Bookseller and Stationer, a contemporary Toronto-Montreal trade magazine, called MacFarlane “an apostle of the picture postcard in Canada.” And by 1907, Bookseller and Stationer ads referred to W. G. MacFarlane as “Canada’s Greatest Post Card House.” 

Although MacFarlane was the leading Canadian publisher of patriotic and heraldic postcards during his truncated stint in the golden age, his firm did manage to issue about 3,500 different view cards. Of this total, approximately 1,700 were Ontario views, and 65% of these were of small towns. One of my favourite MacFarlane views is shown as Figure 5. On the card there’s a terrific vignette of the Commercial House in Sturgeon Falls. And in addition to the horse-drawn sleigh lower right, there are a dozen people on the hotel porch and second-floor balcony posing for the photographer. What a great postcard!

A vignette of the Commercial House at Sturgeon Falls is shown in this terrific, circa 1906 view card by Toronto publisher W. G. MacFarlane.

I must add a quick word about W. G. MacFarlane’s bankruptcy. Ever the entrepreneur, in 1905 he opened branch offices in Buffalo and later New York City to take advantage of the US postcard market. Alas, after publishing over 500 different American view cards, the fierce competition south of the border strained his finances to the breaking point. By May 1908, MacFarlane was bankrupt and $20,000 worth of his “high grade postcards” were sold off at “cost and less than cost” by an assignee in Toronto. Incidentally, according to an internet calculator, $20,000 in 1908 would be worth over $644,000 today. Yikes!

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