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Hats off to a good story

Richard Lautens, Staff Photographer


Occasionally a little gem of a story comes out of the blue and can really make your week.

Last week I had to go from Toronto to London, Ontario to make a couple of portraits for a feature I was working on.  Just before leaving, my assignment editor asked if I could ‘pop’ by Guelph on my way to work on another story. Personally I consider it more of a long extra drive on an already long day than a pop however.

As it turned out, it was a wonderful little story about the Biltmore hat company that has been running for close to a hundred years.  I had heard of them but thought they were long out of business.

I have always liked hats.  As a child I had a hat collection from around the world and in university I loved by gray, fur-felt, 2 ½ inch snap brim fedora from Issie Rotman’s hat shop on Spadina.

Going into the shop in Guelph was like going into a museum.  Most of the machinery has been there since the beginning I think and perhaps some of the employees as well.

The new owner of the company with the pencil thin moustache and well-matched hat looked right out of the Cotton Club era.  It was a wonderful combination of small-town hospitality and wonderful light streaming through the windows.

My only regret was that I had very little time there before I was back on the road.

Check out the Star on Saturday or thestar.com for the full story.



Owner Eric Lynes is seen behind his desk.



Wayne Paylor sands the brim of an RCMP hat.




An old Biltmore box sits next to some Panama type hats on a display rack.


Richard Lautens/Toronto Star




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