Funeral of Mayor Thomas Goldie was big event in 1892

A characteristic of the late Victorian period was a fondness for staging public events and ceremonies.

A perfect example was the funeral for Guelph Mayor Thomas Goldie in 1892. His unexpected death in February of that year, at the age of 41, stunned the city. The subsequent elaborate funeral was perhaps the largest public event in The Royal City that year.

Thomas Goldie was one of five sons of James Goldie, owner of Guelph’s largest flour mill. The Goldies were a dominant family in the middle part of the Grand River valley. James had milling and other business interests in Guelph. Another branch of the family headed the Goldie and McCullough firm of Galt, a major manufacturer of industrial equipment.

The Goldies were a Scottish family, but their journey to Canada was interrupted by a stay in Paterson, New Jersey which, in the early and mid-19th century, was a significant manufacturing centre.

Thomas Goldie was born in Paterson in 1850. The family soon moved to Utica, New York. By 1860 they had migrated to Canada, settling in Guelph, where James took over a flour mill, known as Pipe’s Mill, on what is now Speedvale Avenue. Later he took over another mill, farther downstream, at the Norwich Street bridge. He invested heavily in new equipment to improve efficiency and boost production.

All five of the sons became involved in the business in one way or another. Young Thomas was more interested than his brothers in civic activities. He became a leader with various sports and social groups, particularly the cricket club and the famous Maple Leafs Baseball Club. In 1881, at the age of 31, Guelph voters elected him to council. In January 1891 the city’s voters voted him to the major’s chair by a majority of more than 500, a considerable margin for that period.

By then Thomas had taken over most of the management activities with the mill, and over time he became a spokesman for the milling industry. Early in 1892 he was elected president of the Canadian Millers Association.

Thomas Goldie married in 1877 to Emma Jane Mitchell. Her brothers were important in Guelph history: Richard Mitchell served as city clerk, and Robert Mitchell operated a law practice in the city.

Thomas and Emma Jane had a family of five children. The couple took a strong interest in providing a solid education to their youngsters. As well, they took a major role in the congregation of Knox Presbyterian Church.

January of 1892 began well for Thomas Goldie. At the start of the month he was acclaimed as mayor for another year. Three weeks later he contracted a cold, which quickly became quite severe. He took to his bed on Jan. 29, and became progressively worse. The family called in doctors, who agreed the mayor had pneumonia. The medical men believed Goldie, a strong and robust man, would recover quickly. They soon were proved wrong. On the evening of Feb. 3 Goldie fell unconscious, and early the next day he died.

Guelph’s elite immediately began planning the funeral, scheduled for the following Saturday, Feb. 6. City council and the board of education met in special sessions on Feb. 4, passing resolutions and making plans to march in the funeral procession.

A general state of mourning pervaded the city on the day of the funeral. Black ribbons and bunting hung from many of the downtown buildings. Saturday, being market day, brought the usual crowds of farmers into town, but their numbers were far greater than usual, as country folk arrived to pay their respects to the late mayor. For some, he had been a chief buyer of their grain for years. Other mourners arrived by train: his activities in the milling association had brought him into contact with businessmen across Ontario.

Ceremonies began early in the morning with a private funeral service at the Goldie home, conducted by two ministers and attended by city council and the employees of the Goldie Mill.

At 11am the body was taken to a waiting hearse, and escorted by a parade, moved slowly from the family estate on Delhi Street known as Rosehurst (now part of the Homewood Sanitarium grounds) to city hall. Pallbearers took the casket into the council chamber, which was draped in black and filled with floral tributes, some from provincial officials, and one from the Grand Trunk Railway. Goldie had been their largest shipper in Guelph.

Hundreds of mourners filed past the casket prior to the funeral, which was scheduled to begin at 3pm. So large was the crowd that the doors remained open for almost another hour. A special train from Toronto bearing more mourners had arrived by then, and was met at the Canadian Pacific station by civic officials.

Those arriving included members of the Toronto Board of Trade, and officials from several insurance companies.  The Goldie family had large investments in the insurance industry, and several family members sat on the boards of directors. And of course there were many members of the Dominion Millers Association, of which Thomas Goldie had been president. More out-of-town dignitaries arrived on a special car attached to a Grand Trunk train.

The ministers who had officiated at the family home that morning conducted a brief service before mourners who crammed the council chamber and the hallways of city hall. Though Goldie had been a Presbyterian, Rev. H.B. Williams of the Congregational Church delivered the chief address. As was the Victorian custom, he praised Goldie’s virtues as a citizen, Christian and family man. Goldie’s last words, according to Rev. Williams, were words of regret that he would not be able to devote more time and means to the service of his God.

Both ministers were, at times, overcome with emotion. Tears streamed from the eyes of many of those present. Following the brief ceremonies, the eight pallbearers removed the casket to the hearse waiting at the front doors of city hall. They had been selected by Goldie himself, and were listed in his will. They included Dr. Lett of the Homewood Sanitarium, several Guelph businessmen who were family friends, and Henry Hortop, representing the local milling industry.

Members of Goldie’s extended family formed the official mourning party. They included his brothers, his son Lionel and a number of cousins.

Hundreds of people milled about, despite the winter cold. Guelph’s fire brigade led the procession, followed by members of Knox Church, the Sons of Scotland, the Order of United Workmen, and a dozen ministers, all preceding the hearse. Various groups and officials, numbering about 600, followed the hearse on foot. Members of the public brought up the rear. Altogether there were more than 400 carriages in the procession as it headed north on to the Guelph cemetery. Thousands of people braved the cold wind to line the route with their heads bowed.

All Guelph stores closed during the procession, and the bells on all churches tolled mournfully. Flags all over the city fluttered at half mast. About 2,000 people stood in the cemetery for the burial service, then sadly made their way home.

Thomas Goldie’s funeral, if not the largest in 19th century Guelph, certainly ranks as one of the biggest. Such public displays of tribute and mourning became less fashionable in the 20th century. As well, men like Thomas Goldie, with very public lives in both business and civic spheres, seemed to disappear over time.

Today, it is hard to imagine the Royal City would virtually shut down in tribute to a deceased citizen.


Stephen Thorning