Edmond Miles

At the mid-point of the nineteenth century, Bytown was little more than a lumber town, its economy predestined by geography.   Forests were plentiful and the Ottawa river was a source of cheap and ready power to drive mills, as well as a means to transport goods.  The population stood at just under 7,700.  

Bytown achieved city status in 1855 and was renamed Ottawa.  Only two short years later, the new city was chosen as the capital of the united Canadas (Canada East, Canada West).  Once again, Ottawa’s fate was decided (at least in part) by geography.  It was located at a mid-point between the business centers of the two provinces (Toronto and Montreal) with the opportunity for trade both to the south with Upper New York State and the Northwest.  In addition, what with the high bluffs of the Ottawa river and the presence of the Rideau Canal, Ottawa was considered to be a defensible position in the event of war with the United States.  

In the wake of the announcement that it was to become the capital, Ottawa was transformed.  The old economy of wood and water remained and expanded with  the development of Chaudière Falls.  Construction of the Parliament buildings began and labourers, tradesmen, businessmen and professionals alike flocked to the city in the anticipation of the coming of government and the seemingly inevitable prosperity that would accompany it.  Among the newcomers was Edmond Miles, hairdresser, and his two brothers Charles and William.  While the family was from England, it is not known whether they immigrated directly to Ottawa from there or from someplace else.  

In the Spring of 1858, Edmond, aged 23, opened the Prince of Wales Hairdressing Salon on Rideau Street.  Seven years later, the civil servants arrived from Quebec City to occupy the new Parliament.  Around this time, Edmond demonstrated his business savvy by moving his shop from Rideau to Sparks Street and changing its name to the Parliamentary Hairdressing Saloon. Edmund’s interests were clearly not restricted to matters of the hair, but of the ears and eyes as well.  As early as 1864, he is listed as a hairdresser and wig-maker as well as a dealer in musical instruments.  By 1868, he is the proprietor of the London Music Store and Lessee of Her Majesty’s Theatre, Ottawa’s first.  References to the theatre and the music store appear for only a few years (1868-1869/70), after which only the hairdressing business is mentioned.  

A wonderful advert from the Cherrier & Kirwin’s Ottawa Business Directory of 1872/1873 , gives us a rare glimpse into the Parliamentary Hairdressing Saloon.  Edmond, impeccably dressed in formal attire, stands, attending a client who bears an uncanny resemblance to none other than Sir John A. Macdonald.  Given the caption below proclaims the patronage of Governor Generals (present and past), there is no reason to doubt the customer is any other than the architect of Confederation and Prime Minister of the day.  Edmond is employing some mysterious, possibly mechanical device to give Sir John that explosively fly-away look his hair often had in photos.  John looks ill, and was quite probably drunk, staring blurry-eyed into the mirror.  A number of bottles and accessories line the luxurious vanity.  The caption states that Edmond is a wig maker, manufacturer of ornamental devices and “hair-work” (made from what exactly is not clear) and exporter to all parts of the Dominion.  One puzzling thing about this advert is the reference to Edmond’s having “long experience in the largest cities in the world.”  Given he was in business in Ottawa at the age of 23, it begs the question when he had the opportunity to travel for extended periods.  It is possible there were other hairdressers working at the Parliamentary Saloon, leaving Edmond free to travel for extended periods, or perhaps he moved around in his youth as an apprentice?

 In 1883, Edmond changed the name of his business again, this time to the London & Paris Hair Works.  The location of the shop remained on Sparks Street for decades (at a number of addresses), while its proprietor seems to have been perpetually on the move, changing his own personal residence virtually every year.  It is difficult to say exactly when Edmond stopped cutting hair or when he left the business.  The last entry in the business directories for E. Miles is in 1932, where he is listed as a hairdresser & hair specialist, importer of hair goods & fancy novelties.  However, it is likely that Edmond either died or, as the very least, left the business long before this. In 1932, Edmond would have been 97 years old.  In 1933, the Laura Thomas Beauty Salon is listed at the address on Sparks formerly occupied by Edmond’s business (presumably still called the London & Paris Hair Works).   

Only one bottle is known to have been manufactured with Edmond’s name embossed on it.  It is likely that he used paper labels on the majority of his products.  The embossed bottle is rectangular in shape with paneled sides and an unusually long neck.  It is about 8 inches tall.  “Racine” is French for root.  The product quite possibly promised to stimulated hair growth.  This bottle is known in both aqua and amber, both of which are very rare.

 Here they are:

 

Miles1.JPG (193183 bytes)

Miles2.JPG (90230 bytes)

Bibliography

 Taylor, John H.  Ottawa: An Illustrated History. James Lorimer & Publishers: Toronto 1986.

 

 

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