Interview with Mr. and Mrs. Fred Wheat conducted on 2 August 1978.
Mrs. Wheat was an operator at the Bell Company for 25 years. Mr. Wheat was Fire Chief, as well as working at Malcolms since 1931. In this interview, they tell us about the Bell, the Fire Department and the history, products and changes at the Malcolm Condensing Company.
Interviewer: Where was the Bell Telephone Co. located?
Mrs. Wheat: Well, you know where Dorothy Sager and Marion Maxwell live. Bight in the apartment where Marion Maxwell lives, that was the Bell. But I think that the first telephone in St. George was located in Dr. Robinson’s place. He was a veterinarian. You know where Pusn’ Nylon lived? (That’s located Just three doors down. Where Legere’s live that was the old machine telephone co. and Dr. Robinson ran that. But I believe that the Machine Co. was first, before the Bell. The Bell telephone Go. was located where Dorothy and Marion live.
Interviewer: That was my next question, what about the Machine Phone Co. versus the Bell? What was the difference and did they work together.
Mrs. Wheat: I have no idea because I never worked on the board at the Machine Co. I think the Bell took over the Machine Co.
Interviewer: Was the machine a different Co. from the Bell?
Mrs. Wheat: It was completely separate from the Bell. Dorothy Sager might know about that.
Interviewer: How did the telephone Go. rum? Did all the calls go through the operator?
Mrs. Wheat: Yes, they did.
Interviewer: How many people in the village would have phones?
Mrs. Wheat: Well it’s hard to say. I think the Bell would have record of that. You could ask of write to them. Everybody had a phone then, though, very few people did not have phones.
Interviewer: How many operators would there have been?
Mrs. Wheat: When I first started there were just three of us and we sorked alone at that time. Aunt Flossie (Sturgis) ran the telephone Co. and I worked for her. There was the night operator, who was Dorothy and Marion’s mother. There were different ones before I went there. You know Pusn’ Nylon-Agnes Nylon, she worked there too.
Interviewer: Could you recall any exciting phone calls from when you were working?
Mrs. Wheat: A lot of fires and many a time I went over to the fire hall and broke the glass in the door and started the alarm and rang the bell. We’ve had bad fires and Vern Gofton was the fire chief and he lived where Earl and Joyce Honk house live now. I used to go over there and he did not have a phone in his home but he had one in his blacksmith shop and many a time I went over there three or four o'clock in the morning and knock on his door. It used to make me kind of mad because he used to come to the door all dresses to go to the fire instead of sticking his head out of the window to let me know he had heard me.
And we used to have to call all the firemen and all the neighbours. If your house or barn was on fire we used to call all the neighbours to help.
And we used to give a lot of recipes over the phone. Someone would call in and want to know how to make such and such a recipe and we’d let them know if we knew. I laughed one day. I forget who called in, but Mrs. Snelgrove from Hamilton, she was over all the operator's in Lynden, St. George and Paris and all the small offices and sine came in. She just loved to come to St. George because she said she always had a lot of fun when she came. Dorothy Lawrence was running the business then because Aunt Floss had passes away. But Mrs. Snelgrove always liked to work on the Board when she came undone day someone phoned up and said: “Hi Sot, can you give ne that recipe for that rhubarb pie?” and Mrs. Snelgrove said "sorry this isn’t Dot bat D Dot’s right here. “Weil of course Dot was kind of embarrassed but. Mrs. Snelgrove said not to be because she wanted the recipe herself.
Everything was on a more personal basis. We looked after all the doctor’s calls and if the doctor was out we always knew where he was. We could always get him. If anybody was going to have a baby. Dr. Gordon would always call in and say that he was going up to Ed Dawrason of Mr. Nixon to play bridge and if Mrs. So and So called in he had us ask her how many minutes her pains were apart and all. We always knew when to phone and send her to the hospital and let the doctor know.
I can remember one time, this is a long time ago. I wasn’t working at the Bell then, but I used to go over all the time and visit Aunt Floss and she used to let me work and Babe Jackson and Dr. Gordon was going down to Harrisburg and I forget who it was expecting a baby and there was the worst snowstorm you could have and they started out in a horse and cutter and they were down the road towards Harrisburg when they got stuck and they started to walk. Somebody down that road knew they were coming and they came out and met them with a big farmers bobsleigh with a team of horses and they stayed there the night, the next day and all the next night. They could not get out so they had to stay there.
Interviewer: Mrs. Wehrstein said that one time you saved someone who was having a heart attack. Could you tell us about that?
Mrs. Wheat: Oh yes, that was Howell. They lived up the toad here. You know where Lichty’s live? It was one morning I was working. Dorothy Lawrence and I were working (we had 2 girls then) and they were on a rural line and at that time there would be 12 or so parties on the line. This was the 91 line. Well someone rang in and I answered but nobody answered me. I could hear someone and I said to Dorothy “doesn’t that sound like someone asking for help?” So she listened and thought so. Finally, I said I thought somebody was in trouble so I rang everyone on that line to find out where the trouble was. When you were on a rural line and somebody had their phone off the hook you had an awful time because the rings come through all muffled, so that’s what I did. I called everyone and Miss Howell N never answered so I said to Dorothy “it’s her” I phoned Dr. Welden and he wasn’t home from the hospital so I told Audrey a bout it and she called the doctor right away: at the hospital and told him to stop in there and he did and she was on the floor. I don’t know what happened but she went to call and she was lying there on the floor and the receiver was hanging by her side. So he got her right to the h hospital. But Dr. Welden said that I saved her life.
Do you remember Mr. & Mrs. Howey? Well, I can remember when the telephones men were here and putting in the phones before we went dial. These 2 men went over to Howey’s and Mrs. Howey came to the door and she wasn’t going to let them in. They said who they were and Mrs. Howey said my husband and I have talked it over tad we have decided that we want to stay with the girls (operators). We’re not going to have that new phone. Because we helped the old p people you know. We knew everyone and their numbers.
Mr. Wheat: Most people didn’t ask for a number, they asked for a name.
Mrs. Wheat: And you take Mrs. Switzer. She was old, you know, and practically blind. We used to look after her. She’d call in and ask for the grocer and we’s get him for her.
Mr. Wheat: Now maybe you didn’t know who Mrs. Switzer was. She lived up here on the Campbell farm.
Mrs. Wheat: Older people like that we’d always help. A lot of people used to phone in and ask for the doctor. I don’t know nil ether they thought the doctor was right there with us or not, but they called anyway, and we got him.
Interviewer: What were the phone numbers- were they just 2 digits?
Mrs. Wheat: Yes, just 2 numbers. I can remember the Butcher shop was 15, Burners store was 10 and Malcolms Condensing was 12.
Mr. Wheat: But the numbers out in the country were so many rings.
Mrs. Wheat: Oh, yes. Well, supposing you were in 24, ring 5; or 24, ring 6; or 22, ring 5. 32, 32 and all those were numbers. 25 was a private line that was Sam Russell’s. You can remember a lot of those old numbers.
Interviewer: When did they switch to dial?
Mrs. Wheat: That’s something I’m not sure of. I worked there for 25 years. I had the most service. And I can remember poor old Gwen Sass the night we cut over- you see we cut over at 2:00 in the morning and all the girls were there and Gwen was there as the night operator. She must’ve worked there the last 10 or 12 years. I can remember these 2 gentlemen who came up from Hamilton and it was getting around 1:00 in the morning and this one man said to me “Now, I understand that you’ve been here for 25 years”, and I said yes, and he said “Well, I think maybe you should get your headset on and get on the board here.” I said I didn’t want to do that, because Gwen was the night operator and I felt she should have the privilege of taking the last call. Because everyone was calling in and saying goodbye, and we were all crying. Everybody you’d think we were going to Russia or something. But the man insisted that they always asked the one who had the most service take the last call, and they take your picture and everything. So I said okay, but Gwen was quite disappointed.
Well, at about 2 minutes to 2, Dr. Weldhen called in and he was the last call. At 2:00 they cut the wires.
Interviewer: It must have been like the end of an era.
Mrs. Wheat: It really was, you know. And we all started to cry.
Interviewer: Then it was really all house-to-house?
Mrs. Wheat: Yes, It was sad. Then we had a party, I don’t think we got home till 6:00 in the morning, did we?
Mr. Wheat: Well, it was quite late.
Mrs. Wheat: It must’ve been 3 to 4 days after we cut over to dial and I got up in the doming and got washed and ready for work, and I went over and the door was locked. I couldn’t get in. And I hammered and pounded and I thought “What the heck’s the matter with. Gwen, She hasn’t even got the Venetian Blinds open and it’s 8:00 in the morning.” And all of a sudden it just dawned on me that I was no longer working there any more.
I can remember one other time when Gwen Sass, poor Gwen, she took sick in the night, and I think she called me around 5 in the morning, and the said she'd had the flu all night. But anyways, I got up and dressed and went over and when I got there, I phoned Dorothea and Marilyn and got Dorothy Lawrence to come down because Gwen had been sick all over the bed and board, and it was all among the keys and she was in a heck of a mess. Well, I got her in the bathroom, and I washed her all up and cleaned her. We had to take the daybed outside and everybody’s washing and scrubbing and going on, and in comes 2 men all dressed up. So we asked them if we could help them. They told us who they were, they were from Niagara Palls and they were on their way to a meeting in London, and they’d never been in the office in St. George, so they thought they would look in. Well, one fellow asked them where the operator’s were- he’d presumed we were the cleaning ladies. Well, we said we were all operators. They asked us what we were doing all the cleaning. We had phoned Brantford then to come and clean the Board. What a mess. I felt sorry for Gwen, but she was embarrased.
Interviewer: I wanted to ask Mr. Wheat a bit about Malcolms.
Mrs. Wheat: Oh, Golly.
Interviewer: Could you give us some idea of some of the products Malcolms originally made?
Mrs. Wheat: Originally they just made sweetened condensed milk, aid skim milk powder and whole milk powder and butter.
Interviewer: When did you start working for them, Mr. Wheat?
Mrs. Wheat: In 1931, and I’m still there. I’m supposed to be through at the end of this year.
Interviewer: How many people would Malcolms have employed?
Mrs. Wheat: Eight now? At that tine I suppose they had about 20. They were making iced cream and they hired more than 20, but they had students working evenings, etc., maybe till 10:00. They made ice cream novelties, so I wouldn’t be counting them.
Interviewer: How about today?
Mrs. Wheat: Today there’s about 62 or 63 on the payroll. I has expanded an awful lot. They’ve had three additions since Beatrice took over.
Interviewer: Could you tell us how that came about. First it was run by the Malcolm family?
Mrs. Wheat: Originally it was run by Kitchens. It was a cheese factory. I had a picture, but I can’t find it. It’s either at the old school, or at the office at Malcolms.
Interviewer: When it was a cheese factory, did Kitchens own it?
Mrs. Wheat: After that it was Malcolms. Graham’s the fourth generation Of Malcolms to run it. Before Beatrice, it was owned by John Labatts for one year. Malcolms sold it quite some time ago to Consolidated Bakeries, which was Wonder Bakeries, and they were owned by Ogilvies Flour Nills. Well, then Ogilvie’s sold out every to Labatts. Well, Labatts only had us for one year then they sold out to Beatrice Foods. But it still goes under the Malcolm name.
Interviewer: What type of products do you make now?
Mr. Wheat: Well, we make principally the same products us originally. We make butter except that is at a minimum now; skim milk and whole milk powder: sweetened condensed whole milk; sweetened condensed milk (skim); and evaporated milk, that’s so far as the dairy products go. All the new part since Beatrice bought it are pretty numerous to name, but there’s dried shortenings, which is used in donut, cake and pie mixes. We sell that to companies in drums and they make up these cake mixes and whatever. There s different types of cheeses that we make. Dried cheeses that go into pizzas, and you buy packages of macaroni and the powdered form cheese. Powdered butter for cake mixes and different things and dried vinegar. They use that for salt & vinegar chips- dust it over them. We have made such things as dried blood for processed meats. Bologna and stuff is all colored.
Mrs. Wheat: We don’t eat bologna any morel
Mr. Wheat: We have done that on 3 or 4 different occasions for companies, so you can dry anything. We dry powdered cream for coffees. There’s whip like Reddi-Whip in bulk forn we don’t package it. We also make a product for Tang called Cloud. That is one of our biggest lines.
Of course, we are into the cream cheese line now the only one that’s in opposition to Philedelphia, which is Kraft. So we’re putting that up for the four major supermarkets.
In two weeks we’re supposed to be going into another new line of chocolate syrup for hot chocolate. It’ll be in cans and distributed by someone else.
In all our beatrine products, they are handled by an English Company in Toronto called Simmons-Taylor. All are sold and handled by them.
We make powdered sour cream and a dried yogurt. But most of our dried products are made of soybean oil or cottonseed oil. The coffee whiteners are mostly cocoanut oils.
Beatrice foods dry about £50 different dried foods. Like Worcestire sauce. They will import it from England, and dry it into a powder and send it back. Then it can be used in baking.
Interviewer: Were you at Malcolms when they had the big fire?
Mr. Wheat: That was in 1987 or 28. You can find out when Ted Mason was born. It burnt on the day Ted was born.
Interviewer: What were some of the big fires you'd remember?
Mr. Wheat: I was on the fire department right after the bakery burnt. I helped them that day. We just lived a couple of houses down from that. Everybody was helping carry furniture and stuff.
Mrs. Wheat: Were you here, Freddy, when the livery stable burnt?
Mr. Wheat: No, I was working on Haas Brothers farms then. I came up to the fire that night. That would have to be somewhere near 1929 or 30. Sam Russell and Howells lost 30 horses between them.
Interviewer: Did anything else burn?
Mr. Wheat: There was a blacksmith shop beside it, but it didn’t burn. Mel Horning ran. that. Then there were about 3 blacksmith shops.
Interviewer: What kind of equipment did you have to work with to fight these fires?
Mrs. Wheat: Then they had a 27 Chev which we still have in the Fire Hall, and a 28 Graham- a Dodge make. But I can’t show you a picture, they have one in the Fire Hall.
Interviewer: How many men would have been on the force?
Mr. Wheat: Oh, the force would have been about 10 or 12 men then. They sang a hell and in those days at first they had a steam engine that was pulled by teams of horses. There was x number of trains down in the station that came, and there was a lot of transportation between the station down here and the village. I think there were two livery stables, the one that burnt down and there was one back behind the hotel, I believe. When the firebell went, the first team that got to the firehall, they Just pulled the bolt out of the Wippletree and they’d run to the hall to part the steam engine. And the hose cart that we had they use to run with that. It was all hand powered. There was lots of men helped.
Interviewer: Were there any other big fires in the downtown area that you can remember?
Mrs. Wheat: Oh, yes. Fred Ellis had a store there where the Cleaners are that was a big fire.
Mr. Wheat: There was the Radio Station, that was before I was here Rose Patterson could likely tell you about that. It was Station 10BQ. That eventually went west of Kitchener way up that way.
Mrs. Wheat: Was there a fire at the hotel?
Mr. Wheat: Nothing serious that I remember. Of course the Creamery Freddy Uren’s Creamery. The methodist Church. Then there was a lot of Barn Fires and things.
Interviewer: Thank you very much Mr. & Mrs. Wheat.