Readers solve button, Hudson-Terraplane mysteries

The following is a re-print of a past column by former Advertiser columnist Stephen Thorning, who passed away on Feb. 23, 2015. Some text has been updated to reflect changes since the original publication and any images used may not be the same as those that accompanied the original publication. This week’s column is a compilation of two columns published in the Fergus-Elora News Express in 1997.

Once in a while I take a look through a bulging file I have labelled “Unsolved mysteries.” For this week’s column I pulled out two items that so far have proved to be dead ends in my research.

Exhibit A is a small piece of cardboard that once held eight buttons. On it is printed “Anchor” and “Maritime Button Supply Co. Elora, Ontario.” It was originally priced at 40¢, and later marked down to 20 in ball point pen.

From the style and type face, I believe the item is from the 1940s, but it could be earlier, or possibly later.

Hazel Johnston gave me this item some weeks ago, and asked if I knew anything of the firm. I had never heard of the Maritime Button Supply Co., or any other firm that made buttons in Elora.

In 1886, Emily Vogelsang, a button manufacturer from Berlin (now Kitchener), announced plans to build a button factory in Elora if the village would give a loan to him. The loan was defeated in a referendum, and Vogelsang went home and expanded his existing plant. So far as I am aware, this was the closest Elora got to the button business.

I could find no mention of Maritime Button in any of my notes, reference sources, business directories, or telephone directories for the 1930-to-1950 period. No firm of this name is in any of the Canadian Manufacturers’ Association Trade Indexes that I have.

At the county museum, Susan Dunlop could not recall seeing anything concerning the firm, but she did confirm my date estimate. I then showed the item to Joan Bosomworth, who saw quite a few buttons in her years at the Kingsway Store. She thought the anchor name rang a bell, but Maritime Button was a mystery.

Other Elora old-timers only frowned and scratched their heads when I showed them the card. No one has been able to offer so much as a hint of explanation.

The best explanation I can give is as follows. 

Kitchener was once the button capital of Canada, with over a third of the country’s manufacturers located there. It was a surprisingly persistent industry: as late as 1951 there were six makers in the city.

I suspect that someone in Elora operated a small packaging business out of their home, acquiring buttons in bulk from one of the nearby Kitchener factories, and attaching them to cards which in turn were shipped to wholesalers or retailers.

One other possibility is that Maritime Button was part of the T. Eaten knitting business that operated in Elora briefly in the late 1940s.

Exhibit B is an envelope, sent in 1934, with a peculiar return address: “Elora Hudson-Terraplane Sales.” A friend of mine picked it up a few years ago in New Brunswick.

Elora boasted a handful of car dealers in the 1920s and 1930s. Among them were D.H. Jones (Oldsmobile), J.E. Thomas (Ford and Chev), and W.J. Sheppard. Harvey Gerrie, best remembered as a horticulturist, was a car dealer for a while with a Durant dealership.

I can identify no one, though, who advertised Hudsons in Elora. J. Templin and Sons in Fergus did operate a Hudson dealership through the 1920s and 1930s. Did they have someone acting as an Elora agent? This seems to be the most probable explanation. Another possibility is that the business failed before it got off the ground.

Can any old-timers remember a Hudson dealership in Elora?

Mysteries solved two weeks later

Readers of this column, particularly Elora old-timers seemed to enjoy the unsolved mysteries from two weeks ago. I received more than 20 calls from helpful readers.  The two items are now out of the unsolved file.

The first call came from Don MacKenzie of Armac Printing. He recalled printing cards for Anchor buttons in the late 1970s. He also remembered that the name changed to Maritime Button Supply after a time. The customer was a European gentleman named Hans who lived at 233 Geddes Street.

Don and Ron Archibald confirmed that the card was their work when they saw it. I had thought the item, from its appearance, came from the 1940s, so I was out by a good 30 years. From here it was a simple matter to check the old assessment records. The gentleman was named Hans Larsen, and he lived in Elora from 1975 to 1981. For about four years, beginning in 1976, he also operated a business at 233 Geddes named the Sewing Chest, which some readers may recall.

My initial suspicion was correct: Anchor Button was a small business operated from a home, and conducted, apparently, largely by mail order. It was unknown to most people in the village. Larsen never paid any business tax on his button business.

Don Mackenzie remembers that Larsen moved to northern Ontario, and placed a couple of orders for button cards after he left Elora.

The Anchor button card is an interesting modern Elora collectible, and perhaps an elusive one.

The story of Elora Hudson-Terraplane sales sent many minds back 60 years. 

Harry Boyd called first to identify the dealer as R.M. Boswell, one of the true characters of Elora a couple of generations ago. Several others confirmed the identification. The dealership was located in the old Clarke block on Metcalfe Street, now the location of Drimmie’s florist shop. I had known a garage was once located here, but not a new car dealership.

There is still evidence of this use: the curb in front of the building is ramped to allow cars to drive into the front of the building.

T.H. Farley opened a repair shop in the building about 1912. He had operated a bicycle and machine shop on Mill Street for 15 years prior to this, but required larger quarters when he began working on automobiles.

I spent a couple of hours fishing through newspapers from the early 1930s, trying to find more details and precise dates. Eventually I found it: R.M. Boswell took over the building in June 1934.

Jack Scott of Fergus called with more details. R.M. Boswell was a neighbour when Jack was young, and Jack remembers him clearly. As I suspected, Elora Hudson-Terraplane Sales did not enjoy great success. Jack believes that Boswell sold only three cars, one of which was to himself. Dr. Kerr was a purchaser of a Boswell Hudson; the other sale was to Esmond McCully, an Elora old boy who became a manager with the Bank of Montreal. 

In the 1930s McCully was on the staff of the branch in the Royal York Hotel. His car, a bright red Terraplane convertible, turned heads whenever he came back to Elora to visit friends and relatives.

Many younger readers probably have never heard of the Hudson. It was a solid, well-built car, with either a six or straight eight cylinder engine. In the 1930s most models fell in the $900 to $1,000 range, which was more than a Ford or Chev, but a little less than an Oldsmobile.

The Terraplane was a relatively short-lived sporty model produced by the firm. After the Second World War Hudson became a component of American Motors, which was in turn absorbed by the Chrysler Corporation.

Finally, Lew Hornsby called with the recollection that Boswell rarely, if ever, drove his car himself. Lew remembers that Boswell often hired his father to drive the car when he wanted to go somewhere.

My thanks go to all readers who called or stopped me on the street to talk about these items.

*This column was originally published in the Fergus-Elora News Express on Feb. 12 and 26, 1997.

Thorning Revisited