Author: Ross W. Irwin
Publication Date: 2005
A century ago, Queen Victoria's Birthday (commemorated on May 24 beginning in 1845) and Dominion Day (July 1) were the two most widely celebrated occasions for merrymaking in Guelph. The latter date, the anniversary of Confederation, was first made a holiday in 1868. There have been several other days widely celebrated in Guelph over the years, notably the Glorious Twelfth (of July) parade with speeches by members of the Loyal Orange Lodge. St. Andrew's Day was observed November 30 to commemorate the patron saint of Scotland; and to a lesser degree in Guelph St. David's Day was celebrated, the anniversary of the death of the patron saint of Wales. The Caledonian Society and St. Patrick's Society were also part of the parades in the city before 1920.
Guelph's founder John Galt selected St. George's Day, April 23, 1827 (then a public holiday in England) to formally fell a large maple tree and name the future town. Work on clearing the town-site progressed so rapidly that he decided there should be some official recognition of the accomplishments and fixed on the birthday of King William IV (August 12, 1827) for the occasion. Since it was on a Sunday that year, the celebration was held the next day, which Galt declared a local public holiday. More than five-hundred strangers arrived in Guelph for the festivities. An ox was roasted whole for dinner and carried into the new market building where it was carved - and unfortunately found to be rather raw. Toasts were drunk to the Royal Family and a small band from York provided entertainment. The firing of a wooden cannon caught everyone by surprise and the evening actually ended in a riot!
25TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE FOUNDING, 1852 (pop. 1,800)
The 25th Anniversary of Guelph passed with no note of any event in the local newspapers. It was probably too close to the founding to seem important. Guelph had just acquired police village status but called itself a town. The April 1852 meeting of the Town Council made no mention of the anniversary but dwelled on a bylaw defining 'Temperance Drinks,' and authorized the erection of a wall around the old Burial Ground.
CONFEDERATION, 1867 (pop. 5,300)
The Confederation of the Provinces became effective on July 1, 1867. The following year the event was declared a national public holiday and was frequently referred to as Natal Day where they, "Celebrated in good style." It was noted:
"The first anniversary of the birthday of the New Dominion passed over Guelph quietly. If no demonstration were made in its honour, it was not because there was a lack of loyalty or notice found in the inhabitants but simply because no person had taken the initiative in getting up a popular display."
The air temperature was a torrid 95 degrees, in the shade. Nonetheless, the 30th Wellington Regiment put on a band concert. In subsequent years, Dominion Day featured ball games by the Maple Leaf Bail Club and a regatta on Allan's Millpond.
50TH ANNIVERSARY JUBILEE YEAR, 1877 (pop. 9,500)
This anniversary of the founding of Guelph left us three lasting reminders in the form of publications. The most notable of these was the publication in April 1877 of The Annals of the Town of Guelph, a 170-page book describing the town from its founding to 1877. It was authored by C. Acton Burrows, Editor of the Guelph Herald, with an introduction by Mayor F. J. Chadwick and sold for 75 cents. Robert Thompson wrote a pamphlet A Brief Sketch of the Early History of Guelph, which was published by the Guelph Mercury. It also, "Described the origin of the town and listed the first and second-year settlers." In March, the impressive Illustrated Historical Atlas of the County of Wellington was published for subscribers.
In that era the national societies - St. George's, St. Andrew's, St. Patrick's and the Caledonian - were well represented in Guelph, and organized as most important events. The St. George's Society held a planning meeting on January 25, 1877 for a dinner at the town hall on April 23rd. On March 27th, a public meeting of citizens was called to plan the Jubilee celebration, and George Elliot was made chairman. Town council belatedly (April 12th) authorized a grant toward the expenses. According to the Guelph Mercury,
"The celebration by its inhabitants was in all respects befitting the event, and of such a character as to embrace all classes of the community. The day was a beautiful one - such as we seldom have in early spring. From an early hour, people from the country began to arrive, and by ten o'clock the streets were alive with a moving mass of humanity, all bent on having a day's genuine enjoyment."
Events began at 9:00 A.M., with a royal salute by the Wellington Field Battery. school children were regaled at the Drill Hall, and members of town council wore white rosettes. Athletic games on the Market Square began at 10:00 A.M. and at noon the Guelph Rifles shot a 'feu-de-joie,' which was followed by the ringing of most bells in the town. The Civic procession from the town hall was very long, taking 20 minutes to pass a point. It included Reeve George Hood and Mayor F. B. Chadwick. Sir A. T. Galt, son of John Galt, had been invited but could not come; however, his elder brother, the Hon. Mr. Justice Galt, spoke in his stead. (He had first come to Guelph in 1828.) Thomas Lynch the first male child born in Guelph, carried the Royal Standard. Carriages carried old settlers, two of whom had actually cut the first maple tree in 1827. The militia and fire department paraded as well as local fraternal societies - St. George's (300), St Patrick's (250), the Caledonian (250), St. Andrew's (250), and the St. Patrick's Society's band from Hamilton. Addresses from the Town Hall balcony were made by the Mayor, Justice Galt, and others. "After the speeches the 'sons of Auld Scotia' repaired to the large hall in the Masonic Hall and amused themselves by dancing reels and strathspeys to the music of the pipers."
In the afternoon, a baseball game between the Maple Leaf Ball Club (professional) and the Maple Leaf Club (amateur) was held near the Great Western Railway. A rifle match took place at the butts and there was lunch for the guests. The St. George's Society held their grand dinner (which cost $1.25) in the Town Hall. That evening there was a general illumination of business places and fireworks by Prof. Hand on Market Square. On Sunday, there were special sermons in the churches. To top it off, Prime Minister Alexander Mackenzie visited Guelph a few months later, on July 7th.
GUELPH BECOMES A CITY, 1879 (pop. 10,000)
On April 23, 1879, Guelph was inaugurated as the ninth city in Ontario. The most notable lasting contribution of the event is the May 9th issue of Canadian Illustrated News, which shows views of the important buildings and scenes in the city. More than two hundred copies of the newspaper were sold at the City Bookstore and a second supply was ordered by Day's Bookstore.
Planning for the event was led by the town council, who budgeted $500 for the celebration. Wyndham Street and its stores were the glory of Guelph, so it was scraped, cleaned and watered for the big day. Many came by train, and it was estimated 10,000 took part overall. The day began with the firing of a royal salute from the 32-PDR garrison gun situated on the Dundas Road hill, and then subsequent ringing of the bells in the city, and the sounding of factory steam whistles.
School children were regaled in the Drill Hall - 1,200 public, 400 separate and 150 high school pupils, each being given an orange, apple and bun. The sports day had many events, mostly races and jumps. There was even a ten-mile walking event which was completed in one hour and 44 minutes. A lengthy parade included ten bands, the military, and many fire departments, mayors from several towns and cities, Boards of Education, and National Societies. Forty-five mounted butchers, three-abreast, wore white trousers and hats with red bands. Walter Cook, who weighed 350 pounds, rode on Sleeman's monster cask of lager beer! Many other companies also took part in the parade.
Speeches were declaimed from the balcony over the front door of the town hall, and Mayor Howard read the Act of Incorporation stating that:
"By the authority of the Act of Parliament just read I do now declare the municipality of Guelph to be incorporated as the City of Guelph. I do further declare that the said city shall hereinafter be known as the Royal City."
The Berlin (Kitchener) band took first prize in the Band competition for $250 in prizes, and Prof. Hand's display of fireworks was witnessed by 13,000 people. The event closed with a monster bonfire in the Market Square. Two days later, James Whiting was the first child born in the new city of Guelph, on April 25th.
The Governor General, the Marquis of Lorne, and Princess Louise had declined an invitation to attend the celebrations but visited the new city on September 17th to open the Central Exhibition.
60TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE FOUNDING, 1887 (pop. 10,000)
"The Diamond Jubilee of the founding of the city passed quietly." There was, however, a great celebration on June 22nd, the occasion of Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee. The headline of the Guelph Mercury read, "The City Does the Queen Honor." The City band gave a concert at the Trafalgar Square bandstand. There was also a procession of lodges and firemen followed by a concert in City Hall. It should be noted that while Guelph's official birthday was April 23rd, the population preferred to celebrate in better weather on Civic Holiday, the first Monday in August.
75TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE FOUNDING, 1902 (pop. 12,000)
This anniversary year left us as a permanent historical reminder, the Anniversary Edition of the Guelph Daily Herald, published August 9th of that year. "The celebrations of our 75th anniversary did not come out so badly after all." (Guelph Mercury, April 24, 1902.)
"The 75th anniversary of the founding of the city, while not celebrated with a mighty flourish of trumpets, was rendered noteworthy in a quieter way by special exercises by the pupils of the Collegiate Institute and public schools of Guelph."
These special exercises were patriotic choruses, and there were addresses by prominent citizens. The Guelph Mercury suggested such a program be held in the schools every year and concluded with, "If we keep this up, we shall have a memorial of John Galt yet."
(Note: It was not until October 5, 1979, that a statue of John Galt, born at Irvine, Scotland, on May 2, 1779, was erected and dedicated in front of our city hall. The work was commissioned by the John Galt Memorial Trust Fund Committee, chaired by Peter Anderson and works manager, Pirelli Cables. The statute was created by John Miecznikowski and unveiled on the 100th birthday of Guelph becoming a city.)
On April 24th of the 75th anniversary year, the Sons of St. George, 'Merrie England' held their annual banquet and concluded by singing God Save the King, The Maple Leaf Forever and the school "yell"!
100TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE FOUNDING, 1927 (pop. 20,000)
The lasting reminder of this important milestone in the history of Guelph is the Wednesday, June 20, 1927, edition of The Guelph Evening Mercury and Advertiser (132 pages) which recorded events in Guelph from its founding. This issue was also created to recognize the Diamond Jubilee of the founding of the Guelph Evening Mercury, July 22, 1867.
On May 22nd of the previous year, a Centennial Committee was established to plan the celebration. A highlight was an imposing floral arch on Wyndham Street at the railway overpass. City Hall and downtown stores were also decorated with flags and bunting. Although the anniversary was celebrated on April 23rd with a choir and school children singing in front of city half the main events were held during Civic Holiday week in August, when a spectacular illuminated arch was erected in St. George's Square. The event began with a 'Go to Church' Sunday. On the Monday, there was a historical pageant in the evening with a cast of 500 people and a 200-voice choir. Tuesday was 'visitors' day, and the balance of the week was dedicated to various sports. The main feature was Old Home Week held from August 1st to 6th, which included an enormous parade. The Guelph War Memorial was unveiled Sunday, July 3rd, with Major General J. H. MacBrien as the principal speaker, and the Honour Roll for World War I was published in the Guelph Mercury.
125TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE FOUNDING, 1952 (pop. 28,000)
The Guelph Mercury lamented that, "Guelph to let occasion slip" and, "It is the first quarter century that has not seen a celebration since 1877." City council did not promote a celebration, but they did renovate the town hall clock and approved a new seal for the city.
100 YEARS OF CONFEDERATION, 1967
Guelph Historical Society dedicated the John Galt Garden at the south-east end of Riverside Park on April 23, 1967, a project which had been in the works for the past four years. On Dominion Day, namely, July 1, 1967, the Rotary Club organized a huge one-hour parade which included a float of the Wellington County Historical Society. City Hall was decorated with flags and the 11th Field Regiment fired a 100-gun salute at York Road Park. The city declared parking to be free! The celebrations were chaired by Vern Mcllwraith, well-known Guelph Mercury columnist, and President of the Guelph Historical Society.
150TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE FOUNDING, 1977 (pop. 70,000)
The lasting reminder of this historic milestone was the publication by the Guelph Historical Society of the History of Guelph, 1827-1927, by Leo A. Johnson. The project had been initiated in 1973 by Ruth Pollard, then President of the Guelph Historical Society. Robert A. Stewart also published his two-volume works, A Picture History of Guelph," 1827 - 1977, as a personal centennial project. Donald E. Coulman published, Guelph - Take a Look at Us, another fascinating review of Guelph's pictorial history. The Guelph Mercury's annual issue was entitled, 150 years of Progress (March 5, 1977). It was during this year that the city adopted a revised Coat of Arms.
The Guelph Mercury headline of April 23rd was "Happy Birthday Guelph." Telegrams of congratulation were received from the Queen and letters of congratulation from Premier William Davis and others. As usual, anniversary services were held in St. Andrew's and other churches. It rained, unfortunately, on the Hon. Pauline McGibbon, Lieutenant Governor, who planted trees in the Guelph Historical Society John Galt Garden. The 11th Field Regiment also fired a 15-gun salute along the Speed River near the Ukrainian Catholic Church.
Homecoming week began July 4th when special sesquicentennial souvenir dollars were issued, Allan's Mill Park was dedicated, and G.C.V.I. held a huge reunion for 1,500 alumni, with a dinner and ball at the University of Guelph. The 97-float parade took two-and-one-half hours to pass the onlookers. The festivities concluded with the visit of the Governor General, the Hon. Jules Leger, on Sept. 13th. Once again, Verne Mcllwraith chaired this very special anniversary.
175TH ANNIVERSARY, 2002 (pop. 110,000)
Specifically with this anniversary in mind, the Guelph Historical Society published a book of lasting significance: Guelph: Perspectives on a Century of Change, 1900 - 2000, by multiple authors. Guelph Mercury writer Hilary Stead also produced Guelph, A People's Heritage, in 2000.
A special Founders' Day celebration was held at River Run Centre and the Guelph Historical Society organized a tree-planting ceremony in John Galt Garden. The floral clock in Riverside Park was the center of attention. As usual, the Guelph Civic Museum sponsored several relevant exhibits.
Celebrations in Guelph are enthusiastically supported by the population as exhibited in recent times at the annual Santa Claus parades. Leadership from 1877 to 1902, however, depended on active fraternal organizations, and in recent years, the participation of the Kiwanis and Rotary service clubs. City Council has never given other than token support to special anniversary functions. The next quarter century celebration will be in 2027. Who will organize it? What activities will be featured?
C. Acton Burrows, The Annals of the Town of Guelph, Guelph Herald, 1877, 170 pp.
Robert Thompson, A Brief Sketch of the Early History of Guelph. Guelph Mercury Steam Printing House, 1877.
William Walker and C.F. Miles, Illustrated Historical Atlas of the County of Wellington, Toronto, 1877.
Canadian Illustrated News, Montreal, May 8, 1879.
Guelph Daily Herald, "Anniversary Issue", August 9, 1902.
Guelph Evening Mercury and Advertiser, " Anniversary Edition,"June 20, 1927, 732 pp.
Leo A. Johnson, History of Guelph, 1827-1927, Guelph Historical Society, 1977, 389 pp.
Robert A. Stewart, A Picture History of Guelph, 1827-1977, 2 volumes, 1977,
Guelph Mercury, 150 Years of Progress, March 5, 1977.
Donald E. Coulman, Guelph - Take a Look at Us, 1977.
Guelph Historical Society, Guelph: Perspectives on a Century of Changes, 1900-2000, 277 pp.
Hilary Stead, Guelph, A People's Heritage, City of Guelph, 2002, 60 pp.
Guelph Tribune, "Guelph, 175 years in the Making," Spring 2002, 98 pp.
- Ancaster Gore Gazette, April 14, 1827.
- William W. Evans, City of Guelph Directory, 1882-1883, p. 75-76, Guelph 1883.
- Guelph Evening Mercury, July 1, 1868.
- Guelph Daily Mercury and Advertiser, April 24, 1877.
- Guelph Weekly Herald, May 7, 1879.
- Guelph Daily Mercury, June 23, 1887.
- Guelph Daily Mercury, April 24, 1902.
- Guelph Daily Mercury, April 24, 1902.
- Guelph Evening Mercury, July 20, 1927, 114 p.
- Guelph Evening Mercury, July 4, 1927.
- Guelph Daily Mercury, July 2, 1952.
- Guelph Daily Mercury, July 2, 1967.