Phoebe Watson had many jobs when she lived at the Watson House with her brother Homer. She acted as curator of the gallery, gave tours of the home, and hosted teas and fundraisers. A record of her efforts is recorded in the form of signed guestbooks, many of which are now a part of the collection at Homer Watson House & Gallery. Signed with the names of locals and travellers who came to appreciate the work of the two talented siblings, these books provide many interesting insights into tourism in Doon in the 1940s.
This guestbook is a repurposed Cash Ledger with hand drawn columns for visitors’ names, addresses, and a remarks section for visitors to comment in.
Inside, visitors wrote about their experience at the Gallery and sometimes left personal notes to Phoebe.
Phoebe’s niece Ruth Williams visited regularly and often left notes for her aunt.
Amongst plenty of entries from Kitchener, Guelph, Stratford and other Southern Ontario locales, these guestbooks also have examples of international travel passing through the Kitchener area. There are people from China, the United Kingdom, and Nigeria listed as having come in to peruse the Watson Gallery.
Besides signatures, this interesting symbol and the letters C.Y.H are in the remarks section on some pages and next to some visitors’ names. The meanings of symbols and acronyms often get lost to time, so some research was needed to figure it out. Given the context of its appearance in a guestbook, we started by looking up organizations related to travel and tourism.
Based on these considerations, we found that the acronym likely refers to the Canadian Youth Hostel Association. Founded in Alberta during the 1930s, the organization aimed to provide youth with an opportunity to get out into nature. A network of hostels soon spread across the country. By the 1940s, the program allowed Canadian youth to travel independently and inexpensively.
Objects like guestbooks tell us much more than simply who visited the gallery. They contain a variety of contextual clues about travel and demonstrate how Phoebe connected with her local community and with those who came from afar. This book gives us a peek into the gallery Phoebe curated and to and the warm welcome visitors received.