Travellers’ Best: Trade Sign for an Inn
mpey’s Inn (1814), situated on the King’s Road in the township of Cornwall, Upper Canada (Ontario), was an important stop in the early 19th century on the stagecoach route from Montreal, in the east, to Toronto, five or six days to the west. As such, Henry Empey’s message is simple in choosing to emphasize the service and product he deems most appealing to the travelling public of the day: an alcoholic and restorative stop on the long journey (and perhaps a bed as well). A bottle with pontil mark visible and a wineglass with stem lend an upscale touch to the sign. If we look back to Greek and Roman antiquity, we can find the Western origins of this imagery in the records of the wine merchant’s trade, represented conventionally at the time by a bunch of grapes carved in stone or marble, indicating to us in iconic and comparative terms an evolutionary path from raw material to bottle and glass. This particular trade sign provides rare concrete evidence, both social and economic, of travel in the early days of Upper Canada.
John Fleming and Michael Rowan are the co-authors of the recently published book Canadian Folk Art to 1950.