Introduction

John McAteer, 1907

John McAteer, 1907

During the late nineteenth century, thousands of Irish men and women emigrated to Canada. Some were escaping unfortunate circumstances in their homeland and sought a better life. Others followed friends and relatives who blazed the path previously. Some were attracted by the opportunity for a new start and others by the lucrative opportunities of a blossoming agrarian and industrialising economy in the young Canadian dominion.

The McAteer family were exemplary of this trend and demonstrate perseverance, success and response to circumstances and personal challenges.

John and Catherine McAteer eventually found their way from County Antrim to the emerging Town of Guelph where the family became successful hotel keepers and enjoyed involvement not just in the business community but in politics. Three generations found a new livelihood and a generally comfortable existence in Guelph.

This exhibit chronicles some aspects of their tale and provides a broader look at the practice of keeping in a late Victorian community.

Volatile business cycles, fickle markets and a rapidly changing economy challenged the ability of the Victorian hotelkeeper attempting to run a profitable business. To succeed, the keeper had to contend with far more. The late 19thC keeper sought a livelihood from a business that was the subject of this ongoing social contest - Victorian moral rectitude and the stringent demands of temperance movements cast the hotel as the site of illicit assignations, bar room brawls and drunken licentiousness, and as a result, it was subject to scrutiny by police and liquor license inspectors.

Hotelkeeping demanded specialized skills on the part of the proprietor to negotiate the turbulent waters of moral crusaders and the close attention of government license inspectors and still turn a profit. The social side of the hotel trade recognized that many keepers were mothers and fathers, members of a wider community, raising families and seeking to maintain respectability within the community. 
Nonetheless, while under attack on multiple fronts, hotels continued to thrive and prosper, which allowed their keepers to accumulate significant wealth. Throughout the Victorian era, the community continued to patronize the hotel, even during local prohibition and demanded new functions such as a place to conduct business, both private and public. Some hotelkeepers succumbed to business pressures, but many met the challenge and were rewarded for their success in adapting to change and managing risk. They developed specialized skills and capitalized on the opportunities that the trade offered.

John McAteer was one such individual. Born in Co Antrim, he was a member of a continuous stream of humanity seeking better prospects in a new country. In 1878, he arrived in Guelph in 1878. 
The curator is grateful to the staff of the City of Guelph Museums and Archives and the University of Guelph for support, direction and a life-changing voyage of discovery and learning.

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