Vacuums, X-rays, Melville church: More historical briefs for 2014

Last week’s column featured a few odds and ends that have been accumulating in my files. Here are a few more to end the year.


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Just after New Year’s in 1929 the Beatty Brothers Company of Fergus announced another step in its growth and expansion that had characterized the 1920s.

This one was an arrangement with the Cadillac Home Appliances Company of Chicago, a division of the Clement Manufacturing Company. The Beatty firm would manufacture Cadillac vacuum cleaners at Fergus.

The vacuum cleaners, an upright style with many of the parts of cast aluminum, would be assembled in the second floor of the old part of the Hill Street plant.

The Fergus operation was organized as a Beatty subsidiary firm, using some parts made in the United States, but with sufficient Canadian content to avoid federal import duties. The operation began with 17 employees. Within months the Beatty firm expected to have many additional workers.

The arrangement with Clement gave Beatty’s exclusive rights to sell the Cadillac vacuum cleaner across Canada. Beatty’s was particularly anxious to have a good local market. It offered special low prices to Fergus residents, whether employees or not, and offered potential customers free in-home demonstrations, either at the Hill Street plant or in their own homes.

The Cadillac was one of the better vacuum cleaners on the market in the 1920s. The motors turned on ball bearings, and had special lubrication that eliminated any chance of oil dripping from the machines. They came with a two-year guarantee on parts and labour.

The Clement Company was one of the first firms making vacuum cleaners, beginning in 1911. The arrangement with the Beatty firm allowed them to exploit the Canadian market free of the import duties that hampered American makers of home appliances.

Later details of the arrangement with the Clement Company are hard to come by. Clement made models in the United States with the Cadillac imprint at least until the 1950 era, and it appears to have had a patent-sharing arrangement with the Eureka Company. At one point in the late 1930s the firm was involved in litigation with the Hoover Company, which it lost.

The Beatty firm continued to make vacuum cleaners for years, but without the Cadillac name on them. Apparently there was some sort of falling out with the American firm.

Beatty’s may have done some redesign work that permitted more economical manufacturing and avoided the patents owned by the American firm. Beatty’s did have a small but active design and development department which undoubtedly was involved with vacuum cleaner design.  

In any case, old Beatty vacuum cleaners are rather common, but models with both the Beatty and Cadillac name on them are rare. The Wellington County Museum, which has a number of Beatty appliances, would be thrilled to have one.

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This column has previously noted the fascination of Dr. Abraham Groves of Fergus with the X-ray.

He was a pioneer in the use of X-rays both for diagnosis and for treatment. Even so, this columnist was surprised to stumble on a news story from February 1930 stating that the Fergus hospital was installing its eighth X-ray machine since the first arrived shortly after the hospital opened in 1902.

During the first decades of the 20th century, X-ray technology evolved quickly. The early machines emitted horrendous amounts of radiation, and were a hazard to both patients and to the staff operating them.

Newer machines, when they came on the market, emitted much less stray radiation, and focused their rays more specifically on the region of the body under investigation, and with a smaller quantity of rays than older machines.

Eight machines in 26 years means X-ray machines lasted slightly more than three years in the Fergus hospital. That is a figure that was probably unmatched in many large city hospitals.

It is entirely possible that Dr. Groves recouped some of his investments by selling the older machines on the second-hand market.

In any case, the turnover of machines at the Fergus hospital was remarkable, particularly considering Dr. Groves’s reputation as a cheapskate, and the fact the hospital consistently failed to generate any profits for him.

It is a testament to his faith in new technology, and his determination to provide his patients with the best care possible.

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The major construction job in Fergus in 1930 was the immense wing added to the rear of Melville United Church to accommodate the Sunday school classes and to provide meeting and activity space for other church functions.

Melville had been a Presbyterian church prior to the church union of 1925. Some loyal Presbyterians left Melville to join St. Andrews Church at the time of the union, but the members of the Fergus Methodist church joined Melville en masse. The result was a growing demand for space to house the newly enlarged congregation and its many activities. There were over 400 youngsters in the Sunday School, and about a dozen other groups associated with the church.

Martha Beatty, widow of one of the founders of the major industry in Fergus, spearheaded a fundraising drive to enlarge the church. She had taught Sunday school for a half century at the old Methodist Church.

Melville, after 1925, might be considered the official church of Fergus. The Beatty family was prominent in its direction and senior Betty employees held most of the offices in the congregation.

A committee consisting of Wes Ham, John M. Milligan, Harvey Matthews, A.C. Deacon, J.H. Stevenson, Mrs. J.B. Ketchen, and the minister, acted as a committee to advance the plans and raise money.

Soon they had pledges of $60,000, an immense amount in the Depression years. Much was raised through the pressure and influence of the Beatty family, who were part of the migration from the Methodist Church and quickly came to dominate affairs at Melville.

Martha Beatty was the special guest at the laying of the cornerstone on Aug. 30, 1930. The design was the work of the noted Toronto firm of Horwood and White, and Schultz and Company secured the contract for the major work.

Construction proceeded quickly. The cost, originally estimated at $75,000, ultimately reached $90,000, more than four times the cost of the church itself three decades earlier. The work required a small mortgage, which was paid off within 15 years.

Constructing the addition, which was named the Christian Education Building, was a remarkable feat in the midst of the Depression. The new quarters opened with a month of special services and guest speakers, following the annual meeting of the congregation in March 1931.

A feeling of goodwill permeated that meeting, as various church members congratulated one another. Milton Beatty and Joseph Rutherford congratulated the building committee, and proposed that the group continue until all the details had been completed. Beatty and Rutherford, in turn, received congratulations on their work.

Further congratulations went to various people and committees who had been active during the construction, and those present thanked the donors of various pieces of furniture and other items.

Melville featured special services each Sunday during March of 1931. Several former ministers preached, including Rev. R.W. Craw, a former minister who had served the Melville congregation for 18 years. At one service the members of St. Andrew’ Church were invited to attend as special guests.

By the standards of other churches, Melville was a major operation. Income for 1930 exceeded $45,000, exclusive of the building fund.

As well as the church itself, the congregation supported a minister and his wife who worked in China as missionaries, and heavily supported missionary work in the Peace River area in northern Alberta.




Stephen Thorning