Guelph Mercury “Trip of a Lifetime”

In the fall of 1909, at a time when travel was alluring and rare, the Guelph Mercury announced the “Trip of a Lifetime” subscription contest.  The contest boasted “a free outing to beautiful Florida,” an all-expenses paid, two-week trip for ten lucky women to escape the Canadian winter.

Black and white photograph of The Guelph Mercury "Trip to Florida" winners taken at Burgess Studio in Guelph. Sixteen women and two men are grouped into four rows with some standing and some sitting.

Guelph Mercury ‘Trip to Florida’ Winners

An immediate success, the town was buzzing within days of the contest’s announcement. From Guelph, winners would travel by CPR parlour car, train, and steamer all the way to Jacksonville, Florida. With stops in Toronto, New York City, Charleston, and St. Augustine, the contest winners stayed at some of the finest hotels in the country, including the Park Avenue Hotel in New York City, and the Windsor Hotel in Jacksonville. The contest included a day trip to the historic Alcazar Hotel, pictured, in St. Augustine, Florida. The luxury Alcazar Hotel, built in 1888, promoted the world’s largest indoor swimming pool at the time.

To enter, residents from Guelph and surrounding communities could nominate any eligible woman, 18 years or older. Residents voted on contestants from each district from ballots that were published weekly in The Guelph Mercury. For encouragement, a $5 gold piece was offered to anyone whose nominee made it to the final round. The number of ballots submitted exploded, reaching almost two million, as the end                                                                                                       of the contest drew near.

Black and white photograph of The Guelph Mercury "Trip to Florida" winners in Florida. Seventeen women and two men are lined up single file along a small bridge posing for the photograph. The bridge sits above a small body of water with buildings and palm trees visible in the background. The trunk of a large palm tree is visible in the middle foreground. White text along the bottom reads "Kugler and Thrasher Photo, The Guelph Mercury 'Trip to Florida' Party at Alcazar Hotel, March 1, 1910".

Guelph Mercury ‘Trip to Florida’ Party at Alcazar Hotel, St. Augustine, Florida, March 1, 1910

The winners were announced in January 1910, to much anticipation: Ella Zeigler, B.M. Henderson, Katie Wolfe, Sadie Melrose and Nellie Barrow of Guelph; Gertrude Johnson of Belwood; Gertrude Maitland of Ponsonby; Lula Fletcher of Nassagawaya; Myrtle Hamilton of Rockwood; Annie Currie of Erin; Ida Kirby of Marden; Lilian Tough of Grand Valley; and Eliza Henry and Lena Heffernan of Arthur.

William Macalister, the Guelph Mercury’s business manager, his wife, and R.L. Thompson accompanied the group as chaperones.

Posted by Dawn Owen on July 3, 2019

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