April 23 comes and goes each year and Guelph, like most cities, hums along as if it is any other day. St. Patrick’s Day gets all the partying! St. George’s Day, not so much…
April 23 honours the patron saint of England, Saint George, slayer of dragons. It also marks the date that Guelph was founded by John Galt, who ceremoniously chopped down a tree and proclaimed his new city. Galt tells the story best in his autobiography:
“It was consistent with my plan to invest our ceremony with a little mystery, the better to make it be remembered. …The tree fell with a crash of accumulating thunder, as if ancient Nature were alarmed at the entrance of social man into her innocent solitudes with his sorrows, his follies, and his crimes. I do not suppose that the sublimity of the occasion was unfelt by the others, for I noticed that after the tree fell, there was a funereal pause, as when the coffin is lowered into the grave ; it was, however, of short duration, for the doctor pulled a flask of whisky from his bosom, and we drank prosperity to the City of Guelph.
The name [Guelph] was chosen in compliment to the royal family, both because I thought it auspicious in itself, and because I could not recollect that it had ever been before used in all the king’s dominions….
It may appear ludicrous to many readers, that I look on this incident with gravity, but in truth I am very serious ; for although Guelph is not so situated as ever to become celebrated for foreign commerce, the location possesses many advantages independent of being situated on a tongue of land surrounded by a clear and rapid stream. It will be seen by the map of the province, that it stands almost in the centre of the table-land, which separates four of the great lakes, namely, Ontario, Simcoe, Huron, and Erie, and though its own river, the Speed, as I named it, is not large, yet at the town it receives the Eramosa…advantages which few inland towns in the whole world can boast of at such a distance from the sea. In planning the city, for I will still dignify it by that title, though applied at first in derision, I had, like the lawyers in establishing their fees, an eye to futurity in the magnitude of the parts.”
I hope we’ve done you proud Mr. Galt.