I Love By-Laws – Part 2

Part One click here.

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!  


I Love By-laws!

But not the way you think!

By-laws are simply functional rules by which citizens of a municipality govern themselves and behave as a community. They are wide-ranging and in most cases cover everyday governance matters, such as street names, sidewalk widths, plans of subdivision and appointment of by-law officers.

What I love about by-laws is how they reflect the community and the time period in which they were enacted. By-laws tell the story of Guelph.

I happened to borrow an old book of by-laws from City Hall over the holidays, and will share a few humourous tidbits over the next few days.

As background, the Ontario Municipal Act came into effect in 1849. In 1850, the Town of Guelph became officially recognized in Schedule D of the Act as a corporate municipal entity. Once recognized, Guelph now had the right to enact by-laws.

Enacting a by-law speaks volumes about Guelph at the time. Since by-laws are for the governance of the town, what kind of by-laws were needed to regulate a community with a population of less than 3,000 people? This is where the interesting part starts…..

First things first, By-law No. 1, enacted of January 31, 1851, was “for carrying into effect the Assessment Act.” In other words, giving ourselves the right to levy taxes. It makes perfect sense that this was the first order of business.  Afterall, that is what a municipal government does.  It is our primary purpose — tax and spend — to provide services and programs for the benefit of the community. Today, we may agree or disagree on how to spend tax money, but when it comes right down to the basics, levying taxes and using them for the operation of the town was as relevant in 1851 as it is today.

Which brings us to By-law No. 2. Enacted February 10, 1851, By-law No. 2 was for “regulating the keeping of dogs.” That’s rather curious from a modern perspective. With sweeping power to enact new laws, Guelph’s second act of governance was to regulate dogs. It turns out that feral and unleashed dogs were a huge problem in 1851, because they killed and injured livestock and ran loose in the streets. By-law No. 8, forbidding animals from running at large” was passed in March 25, 1851.

Now that the dog problem was dealt with, what next? By-law No. 3 should come as no surprise — “for the granting of tavern licences.” In fact, several by-laws followed relating to the appointment of tavern inspectors, amendments to the original tavern by-law and licencing storekeepers selling liquor. The consumption, and therefore the regulation, of alcohol, was an issue that fell to the local authorities in most early Upper Canadian towns. Community safety, security of persons and property and public order continues today as an issue of prime importance in policing.

The next few by-laws are more routine, such as rules of governance, appointment of officers, fines, etc.

Stay tuned — I will post more in the next few days! Some of the funnier by-laws passed by Town/City Council over the years still to come….


What Should I Do With My Christmas Tree?

Guelph never ceases to amaze me! This is why we are the Most Caring City in Canada – a true community collaboration. Not sure what to do about your Christmas tree now that city collection has ceased? Don’t worry – for a donation to Guelph Children’s Foundation –Trees for Tots — your tree can go to a good cause. More information can be found here: http://http://www.childrensfoundation.org/stories/extra-extra/trees-for-tots-christmas-tree-pick-up-in-support-of-grants-program

Other ideas: chop up branches and put in green cart, take to Waste Resource Innovation Centre, saw into firewood or campfire wood, or compost branches and use trunk for landscape purposes.

Guelph Transit Changes Proposed Based on Customer Feedback

The old saying “the best laid plans of mice and men often go astray” (Robbie Burns) is appropriate for Monday’s Operations and Transit committee meeting. It is not easy when a plan does not go exactly as envisioned. The implementation of the Transit Growth plan was a major evolution of the Guelph Transit system, and despite having numerous benefits and efficiencies, it was not perfect.

General Manager of Transit, Michael Anders, should be applauded for his honesty and his courage in coming back to Council with his findings on transit route efficiency and customer service issues. He has listened to customers and drivers, and then validated their feedback with on-the-ground data, and is now proposing adjustments that will better meet the needs of our riders. One year after implementation, many tweaks and adjustments, and customer service feedback, Anders is proposing that 20 minute peak transit service should be the model moving forward (changed from 15 minute peak service).

Read the report here.