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Canadian History
William Bell


Guelph. William Bell, the head of the well-known firm of organ-builders at Guelph, Ontario, was born in Dumfries, Scotland, on September 5th, 1833. He is the son of William Bell, also of Dumfries, Scotland, and of Mary, whose maiden name was Wateret. When old enough, young Bell was sent to school, attending the educational institutions in his native town. When he left school he was equipped with a sound English education; for he was always a bright and a brilliant lad, and had turned his school days to good account. Having completed his education, he must needs turn him to employment; consequently, he mastered a trade, which he plied for some time; but when he reached his twentieth year he resolved that he would ascertain what fortune had in store for him in the new world. He arrived in Toronto, but made no lengthened stay in that city. To New York he was resolved to go; and here he remained till 1864, during which year he paid a visit to his brother, who had begun the manufacture of organs and melodeons at Guelph, Canada. So allured was he with the prospect which the enterprize held out, that he took a partnership in the business, and remained in Guelph. After a little, his was the head that planned and the hand that directed the business. In time the brother retired, and the management came entirely into the hands of William. We have seem it stated that the Bell organ manufactory, like many another important undertaking, had its origin in a very humble way. In 1865 the upper room in "a rickety building on Windham Street was enough to meet the demand", while a couple of hands were all that was necessary to turn out the one complete organ each week. Very soon, however, the enterprize, with Mr. Bell's strong hand and soundly calculating head behind it, got out of its swaddling clothes. Not long thereafter there reared itself upon the site of the old factory a capacious and stately three-story brick building, equipped with every convenience for the trade to be carried on within its walls. In the newly equipped establishment there were turned out each month 100 organs; and there were about 100 hands employed. In a little, Mr. Bell's instincts taught him to look to England for a market, and the result of the effort was a splendid success. The editor avails himself of the following extracts respecting Mr. Bell and his splendid factory, from Brianard's Musical World: "... In 1881, being unable to obtain more room for extension at the old building, he decided on the erection of a second factory, and to occupy both. This idea, once formulated, was carried out with an energy, which showed the man to be equal to the emergency. The new building was erected at a cost of $35,000, from which an estimate can be formed of its dimensions. But the acquisition of room was not the only question considered in its construction. Architectural beauty was not lost sight of, and its basement walls of cut stone - above that the three-story pile of brick work, with the whole surmounted by a mansard - make it one of the handsomest as well as one of the largest structures Guelph can boast of. Four large dials on the tower, which surmounts the central corner, announce the time of day to the neighbourhood and to passengers on the Grand Trunk Railway, the station of which company is quite contiguous to the factory. Both Mr. Bell's institutions are now running to their full, and they have a capacity of turning out twenty-five complete organs per day. In short the history of this trade has been development and success from the time of its inception. Now fifty different styles of instruments are made, varying from one valued at 100 to a large church organ, with double banks of keys and imitation pipes. The same superior finish is shown in all, both with respect to tone and appearance, and this is one secret of the success which Mr. Bell has achieved. While his organ now has secured the greatest part of the home trade, it is constantly gaining a large share of patronage in foreign markets. In one year over fifteen hundred instruments were shipped to England alone, and since then this has been increased to an average of a car load every four days, which are sent direct to London, and thence distributed throughout the kingdom. Shipments are likewise sent regularly to Continental Europe, Australia, South America, the West Indies, India, Java, New Zealand, China, Mexico, Tasmania, South Africa, and even Japan has received her quota. In private like Mr. Bell is known as a genial-hearted man. In public life he has done much for the good of the community with whom he dwells, by employing a very large force of hands at good wages. In this he has been a public benefactor, and the results of his beneficence are visible in the comfortable, happy homes of many of his workmen. The regard in which he is held by his fellow-citizens is shown by his election for several years to the School Board, of which he is now a valued member. He is also a prominent member of the local Board of Trade, and in his capacity he has been instrumental in securing many advantages for the royal city of Guelph. Having done his share of hard work, he now endeavours to find more time for leisure, and in order to do this the better he has taken in as partners his son, W. J. Bell and A. W. Alexander. [The former has been for seven years closely connected with the business and whose special duty is to do the foreign trading and look after the export business generally. This young man has been in nearly every foreign country, and has just returned from the South Pacific, and in preparing to go to England to take charge of their European branch in London]. Mr. Bell is vice-president of the Traders Bank and director of the North American Assurance Company. He is a member of the Presbyterian church; and has been for twenty-two years a Freemason. He married in 1861 Isabella M. Christie, and by this lady has had two children.


David Briant has sent in some interesting information about William Bell. He has also said he'd be more than happy to receive any information on the said William Bell if you have anything to offer.


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