The 1850 – 1880s must have been an interesting time in Guelph. The transformation from a town of 3,000 to a city of over 10,000 came with significant financial, social and cultural change. Guelph was given the power to enact by-laws in 1851, the railroad arrived in 1856, major industry was booming (Raymonds Sewing Machines, Bell Organs, Guelph Wire and Spring, Colonial Dresses, Sleeman Breweries to name a few). Agriculture was central to everything and the Ontario Agricultural College was founded in 1874. Growth was rampant and the need to invest in infrastructure was critical. Demand for macadamized roads, sidewalks, storm sewers, water works infrastructure, firefighting, and policing had never been greater. Macdonell Street was nicknamed “whiskey alley” and commerce was brisk.
The by-laws enacted between 1850 – 1880 reflect this reality. I sympathize with the Council of the day, because the only way to pay for this level of rapid growth would have been taxes and debt. Taxes paid for annual operating expenses and debt was used to invest in capital growth-related projects. Glancing through the book of Consolidated By-laws of the City of Guelph, it is startling how many by-laws were enacted for the purpose of issuing debentures to pay for growth.
By-law No. 14 (1851): “for the assessment of taxes.”
By-law No. 30 (1853): “to raise a loan of £375, repayabe in equal installments extending over three years.”
By-law No. 32 (1853): “to authorize the raising of a loan for £1,000, redeemable in ten years.”
By-law No. 56 (1856): “to authorize the issuing of debentures to the amount of £6,000 for the purpose of building a market house” (Town/City Hall at 59 Carden Street)
By-law No. 59 (1856): “to authorize the issuing of debentures to the amount of £1,750 for the purpose of purchasing a site for a market house.” (and Town Hall)
By-law No. 67 (1857): “to authorize the issuing of debentures to the amount of £5,000 for completing the market house.” (and Town Hall)
Issuing debentures for large projects continued through the 1870-80s:
Central School: $20,000 (1874)
Improvements to streets and highways: $30,000 (1877)
New School House: $18,000 (1878)
Guelph High School: $7,000 (1878)
Water Works: $75,000 (1878)
New Public School: $15,000 (1879)
Completion of Water Works: $25,000 (1879)
Random by-laws authorizing the issuance of debentures of $10,000 each appear throughout the 1880s without a specific project attached.
Stay tuned for the next instalment — a day in the life of the Police Chief!