“The City Can’t Be Trusted With Our Heritage”

I overheard this comment last night at the Community and Social Services meeting where the fate of the Wilson Farmhouse at 80 Simmonds Drive was on the agenda. I understand where the sentiment was coming from, because one of the shared reflections from all involved (neighbours, staff, heritage advocates and members of council) is that the Wilson Farmhouse file has not been a shining example of how to conserve cultural heritage assets in our community.

We recognize that. We can debate on what to do about it going forward (that debate will happen September 30 at Council). We can also debate on how to do better and get our other heritage assets in order.

But the city’s track record on heritage, taken as a whole, is something to be proud of and celebrate. Council decisions on heritage over the past two terms has been exemplary and many projects have been lauded as best practices, receiving awards and recognition for the city. This past spring, the City of Guelph received the Lieutenant Governor’s Ontario Heritage Award for Community Leadership.

Council decisions led to the inclusion of the heritage wall of the Provincial Winter Fair building into the new City Hall, the conversion of the Loretto Convent into the new Guelph Civic Museum and the restoration of old City Hall into our new Provincial Offences Court. We support private heritage stewardship through tax-increment financed grants that has  resulted in restoration of the heritage character of many downtown buildings.  As well, we have policies in place to protect key sites, such as the former Allan’s Mill distillery and mill buildings at 5 Arthur Street, which is being preserved as a central feature in the draft plan for this significant redevelopment site.

In other words, the City can be trusted with the protection and conservation of our community’s heritage.

Regardless of the outcome of the Wilson Farmhouse file, I will be advocating for a more pro-active approach to maintaining heritage assets in public ownership. There are assets (buildings, bridges and public art) that need some attention. With appropriate resources and protocols in place, I hope that we can rebuild public trust that our heritage is in good hands.



Who is John Galt?

The opening line of Ayn Rand’s famous novel Atlas Shrugged, Galt is later revealed to be the book’s main character.  Rand’s Galt is a fictional character who, ironically, is the opposite of Guelph’s John Galt.


The real John Galt is a more complex and interesting fellow than the fictional one.  The founder of the City of Guelph — celebrated locally each August civic holiday Monday as John Galt Day — deserves his name day.  Our city was conjured up in the imagination of our founding father before the town was even born.   Galt was much more than the entrepreneurial secretary of the Canada Company.  He was a novelist, political and social commentator, world traveller, adventurer, biographer, city planner, builder and inspirational leader.   He travelled in diverse circles, was a friend of Lord Byron, and his son, Alexander, was one of Canada’s Fathers of Confederation in 1867, who later became the country’s first Minister of Finance.


Read more on John Galt here.


Happy John Galt Day 2013! 

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….


Museum a Shining Jewel

Friday, February 24 was a day of celebration for the many citizens, organizations and worker bees who made the opening of the new Guelph Civic Museum a reality. The museum is officially open — and it is spectacular. Multiple galleries, a children’s learning gallery, meeting and workshop space, collection storage and a public research and archives area are all part of the new facility.

All three levels of government were on hand to mark the occasion – as this was truly a collaborative project, with $6 million coming from the province and feds, $700K from local fundraising, and the remaining cost from the City of Guelph. An expanded museum need was first identified in 2004, and through the efforts of the community (along with serendipitous timing) the former Loretto Convent met all of the museum’s needs. Saving a pre-Confederation landmark building (in itself an artifact) was the perfect marriage of purpose and place.

On a personal note, my favourite part of the restoration was the retention of the solid stone “privies” located steps from the chapel on the outside of the building, nestled into the slope of Catholic Hill. History is about people, places and events. Buildings are the glue that links all three — the physical remnants that endure through multiple generations and keep the stories alive. The nuns’ privies tell a story of their own, built during a time before indoor plumbing and a reminder of a pious way of life long gone…

For museum hours, go to http//guelph.ca/museum.

Guelph Museum Privies

Guelph Museum Privies

Farmer’s Market at its Best Today

Guelph’s community spirit was alive and well at the Farmer’s Market today!  Thank you to all the vendors who set up shop and to the many, many regular and new customers who came out to support them.  Over 2,600 people came out between  7 am and 12 noon to show their Market spirit! 

The City Hall venue was bustling with the sound of music, chatter and excitement.   Market Square and City Hall are the roots of the market experience in Guelph, so the change of scenery was a “homecoming” of sorts.  Although the relocation of the market came about through less-than-ideal circumstances, today’s event was a testament to how our community comes together when the going gets tough.

City staff, under the leadership of Derek McCaughan, Ann Pappert and Mayor Farbridge, have been working non-stop this week to troubleshoot every minor detail to bring the market to life in the halls of City Hall.  THANK YOU!!!

See you all again next week!


The Market Returns to MARKET SQUARE

It will be a different kind of Farmer’s Market in Guelph this Saturday! Please come out and show your support for our Farmer’s Market vendors!

Dedicated city staff have been working non-stop to prepare alternate space for the temporarily displaced Market.    City Hall (galleria and main floor meeting rooms) will become home to the Farmer’s Market until roof repairs allow for re-occupancy of the regular market building. In response to feedback from vendors, earlier reports that meat and produce vendors would be outdoors has changed — they will now be housed inside City Hall.

The City of Guelph media release follows:

Most Farmers’ Market vendors to be accommodated within City Hall

City finds a better alternative in response to vendor feedback yesterday.

GUELPH, ON, December 9, 2010 – Most Farmers’ Market vendors—including many meat and all produce vendors—will be able to sell their products in City Hall while roof repairs are undertaken to the market building at the corner of Gordon Street and Waterloo Avenue.

This update comes after more work by City staff to keep the market under one roof and accommodate as many vendors as possible during a temporary shut-down of the market building, and after the City announced Tuesday it would accommodate craft vendors within City Hall and produce vendors in the Wilson Street parking lot.

“Yesterday afternoon the Wellington Dufferin Guelph Public Health Unit confirmed that meat vendors can sell from within City Hall as long as they meet certain requirements,” says Derek McCaughan, the City’s Executive Director, Operations & Transit. “This means we’ll be able to accommodate many meat vendors and all produce vendors within City Hall rather than excluding them or having them sell from the Wilson Street parking lot.”

Raw meat vendors will still be able to come to market and sell their product provided it’s frozen or pre-packaged, which would make it compliant with health regulations. “This was well-received by some of the market’s meat vendors,” said McCaughan.

To accommodate more than 70 vendors, the City is making all of its ground floor meeting rooms available, along with the lobby of City Hall.

The City only learned of the extent of the risk associated with continuing to operate the Farmers’ Market from its original building last Wednesday, creating an urgent need to relocate the market. City staff has been working diligently ever since to find a solution that would allow the market to continue to operate in an alternate location.

The Guelph Farmers’ Market will be open and operating from within City Hall every Saturday beginning this week until repairs to the market building’s roof are complete.

The City continues to liaise with market vendors to inform them of changing information and provide details about the transition.

Repairs to the market building’s roof are expected to take eight to ten weeks.

– 30 –


Derek McCaughan

Executive Director

Operations and Transit

T 519-822-1260 x 2018

E derek.mccaughan@guelph.ca