Guelph's First "Bicycle"

Author: Unknown

Publication Date: 1964

Edited: 2021


From a manuscript written by the late John D. Higinbotham and copied by Mrs. D. B. Shutt for the Publications.

William Balbraith, commonly known as Garibaldi, or 'Garry,' was a blacksmith in the employ of Robert Parker. In 1868, Garry heard that in Toronto some fellow had a machine built with one wheel in front of the other and that he could ride the vehicle. Garry went to Toronto to see it. He happened to be on Queen Street when he saw the chap riding the machine and he stopped him to get a good look at the 'bicycle.' On his return to Guelph, Garry got Jim Steel, who was Parker’s woodworker, to make him two wooden wheels. The front wheel had a diameter of three feet; the rear had a diameter of two and a half feet. These wheels were tied with half inch iron tires. The motive power of the vehicle was from pedals on the front wheel. The post and fork were made from a buggy axle split.

After he had it completed Garry learned to ride it on Dublin Street hill opposite Dr. Torrance’s church. That is the hill on which Central School now stands. In 1870, he brought it to Galt for the Dominion Day Sports in which there were nine wheels entered for a race. The Guelph band went by train with Garry but went on to a tournament in Woodstock. Garry and his bicycle entered the race and won the first prize of $10.00. Later, he went to visit his uncle, Thomas White, at Brachton. He went there by train and rode the machine to his uncle’s farm. His uncle purchased the bicycle from Garry for $15.00 and a cheese.