Author: Debra Nash-Chambers

Publication Date: 2011

Edited: 2022



Historic Guelph Multicultural Festival V50P4

Multicultural Festival.

(Photo courtesy of Meghan Maxted).


The description of Guelph, Ontario posted on the City website in the fall of 2011, proudly advertises that the Royal City has a lot to offer current residents and newcomers. The profile states that Guelph is:


"A vibrant community of 118,000 people, Guelph is ranked among the top ten places to live in Canada. The city is located in one of the strongest economic regions in the country - just 100 kilometres west of Toronto, just east of Kitchener-Waterloo. Guelph is rich in culture, architecture, parks, and riverside green spaces. In 2009, Guelph was also named one of the country's smartest communities, its safest city, and Canada's volunteer capital."1


Additionally, the University of Guelph, one of the community's leading employers has been ranked as one of the country's top comprehensive universities for the past decade. Currently, 15,000 full-time and 1,700 part-time students are registered. Since its founding in 1964, the international appeal and the expansion of the University have been among the forces that have made Guelph far more global in its population make-up over the past 50 years.


By 2001, 10.5 percent of the city's population listed themselves as belonging to a visible minority and there were indications that the faith-base of Guelph was also in transition as Buddhism became the largest non-Christian faith over the past decade.2, 3 Guelph has had a very small visible minority component to its population since the 1850s and 1860s when freed slaves settled in town and later established the British Methodist Episcopal Church on Essex Street. By the twentieth century, a few Chinese businessmen had established laundries in town. However, despite the periodic spikes in German, Italian, and Dutch immigration to Guelph prior to 1961, and the post-1961 immigrations of newcomers from Eastern Europe, Asia, the Middle East, Africa, and Latin America, Guelph remains a community with strong British roots. However, early in the twenty-first century, it is a far less demographically insular community than it was at the turn of the twentieth century.



The first decennial census in 1861 extolled the rapid growth, and the Britishness of the fledgling community since its founding in 1827 by John Galt on behalf of the Canada Company. In that year, Guelph reached a total population of 5,076, of which 41.3 percent were English Protestant; 15.4 percent were Scottish Presbyterian; 14.7 percent were Irish Protestants; and 1.3 percent were Irish Roman Catholic. A mere 8.2 percent of the population, regardless of religious affiliation, were born in British North America. The handful of Black residents made up a visible minority presence of less than one percent of population.4


The immigration of those with British heritage was a product of active Canada Company recruitment and the growth strategies that Canada Company Supervisor John Galt relied on to develop the community on lands acquired by his employers in the frontier of the Guelph Block. The settlement grew and prospered in spite of economic ups and downs over the first three decades of development. The rich resource potential and rising topography of the site of the Guelph settlement figured largely into Galt's ambition to establish a planned community in the Guelph Block. By 1856, Guelph was an incorporated town and the county seat of Wellington County. Guelph became an important regional market centre for farm yields and livestock. Even though a third of the lands in the county were poorly drained, most could still be under-cultivation - particularly the lands in the immediate vicinity of the Guelph settlement.5 Here, the potential farmland was so good that the Canada Company demanded steep prices per acre at a time when free land was still available in Upper Canada.6 Town lots in Guelph sold for the remarkable sum of 40 pounds sterling.7 Galt envisioned a bustling business centre that would attract newcomers with skills and capital to invest. By 1840, the settlement was a growing commercial hub and home to a wide range of skilled tradesmen. Guelphites welcomed nascent resource-based industrial growth and prospered as the town became an important agricultural market centre.


There was far more than agricultural potential for growing wheat and other grains in the vicinity of the settlement site chosen by Galt. Guelph was located at the junction of the Speed and Eramosa Rivers. The mill seat potential of the two rivers spurred the development of successful gristmills and sawmills. Additionally, the townsite and its hinterland had a vast stone reserve for quarrying. It held an abundance of the amber-hued, dolomite limestone for quarrying and construction. The stone was a popular local building material through most of the nineteenth century, and it gave the burgeoning regional market centre a distinctive streetscape. The watershed boasted creeks and springs that would sustain population growth, milling, and a brewing industry into the next century. This resource base, its geographic location, and local investment in transportation made Guelph a key distribution, wholesale, and retail centre by the mid-nineteenth century. After linking Guelph to markets in Shade's Mill in Galt, Ontario, and Hamilton by the 1850s, civic bonusing schemes and private investment brought branch lines of the Grand Trunk and the Great Western railways to Guelph in the 1850s. Like John Galt in Guelph's early years, later civic leaders actively recruited tradesmen and investors to diversify the local economy throughout the nineteenth century. Guelph continued its role as a wholesale and retail hub while manufacturing expanded and diversified.


The ethnic dimensions of the community were also derived from Galt's foresight. The known economic potential of the locale, the dramatic natural beauty of the environment, and the importance of church land grants in his promotion of the community - all of these factors helped Galt and later Canada Company officials attract English, Scottish, and Irish settlers with capital or skilled trades to the area. Free land grants were provided on rising ground for the Church of England, the Presbyterian Church, and the Roman Catholic Church. Due to his friendship with Bishop Alexander Macdonnell, Galt chose a, "Beautiful central hill," for the Catholic Church glebe.8 Guelph's Catholic Hill would dominate the skyline for generations to come and the succession of larger and more substantial churches, the Loretto Convent, Rectory, and Catholic schools would adorn the precipice to the west of the business district. After a fire, the wooden St. Peter's Church was replaced by a stone St. Bartholomew's Church, which was eventually encapsulated during the construction of the magnificent Church of Our Lady which sits on the hill today. Census returns indicate that 23 percent of the town's inhabitants were Roman Catholic by 1861, and like their co-religionists in contemporary Hamilton and Toronto they were the second most prominent religious denomination.9


To attract monied British Protestants and those with the skills needed to build and diversify the economy of Guelph, two church glebes on less dramatic sites were offered. The Presbyterians built the original St. Andrew's Church, known as the 'Scotch Church,' on the southern fringe of Market Square, where it remained until the site was sold to build City Hall in 1855.10 The new St. Andrew's Church was built north of the central business district at the corner of Norfolk and Suffolk streets. Scottish migration to Guelph was ongoing, and in the decades to follow Knox Presbyterian, Chalmers, and the United Presbyterian Church were built in and near the central core of the town.


Built in 1833, the original St. George's Church was renovated and expanded until the St. George's Square site would not meet the size requirements of the congregation. The location on Wyndham Street was abandoned so that the old St. George's could be replaced in 1871 by a far grander structure on the banks of the Speed River across from Douglas Street.11 The much smaller St. James the Apostle Church at Paisley and Glasgow Streets would answer the divergent needs of Anglicans in town. By 1861, Guelph had Methodist, Congregationalist, and other Protestant congregations located in the central core of town. In that year, 25 percent of Guelphites were Anglican.12



In 1861, and well into the twentieth century, Guelph was an English town on Canadian soil that was proud of its conceptual link to the Guelph dynasty of the English Royal Family.13 Locals also supported the nationhood of the Dominion of Canada in 1867. However, the community's enduring pattern of ethnicity bound the majority of Guelphites proudly to Queen and Empire. In 1881, 39 percent of residents claimed English heritage.14 After 1871, the immigration of English skilled craftsmen met the labour needs of Guelph's carriage works, distilleries, agricultural implement makers, manufacturers of sewing machines, and organ and piano factories. A set of statistics published in England by Her Majesty's Emigration Commissioners in 1870 advertised that prospective immigrants to Canada were sought to meet the need for 15,000 labourers for railway work, 1,500 mechanics of all kinds, and 6,500 female domestic servants.15 Due to the lure of good wages and a better future, Guelph benefitted from the willingness of mechanics to leave England and start a new life in Canada. Over the late-nineteenth century, more and more English, German, and other Western European workers joined the ranks of working-class families living with most of Guelph's Irish Catholic workers in St. Patrick's Ward.


Historic Guelph Dominion Day Parade V50P9

Dominion Day Parade, 1908.

(Photo courtesy of Guelph Museums, (1986.18.221)).


Despite the influx of non-British workers, the ties to the British Empire, and British traditions persisted. Gloria Dent reflected on the strength of the tie to monarchy and empire as the twentieth century dawned in her assessment of cultural life in Guelph from 1900 to 2000.16 She observed that in March 1900, the community held public celebrations when news reached the city that the British had liberated Ladysmith in South Africa from Boer forces. The mayor declared a half-day civic holiday so businesses and factories could close. Schools held special assemblies, church bells peeled, and at noon a 21-gun salute signaled the start of the celebrations and later at 3 P.M. a quickly organized parade travelled from the Armoury to St. George's Square led by the 30th Battalion Band before festivities continued long into the night.17 Dent submitted that the, "Dominant culture reflected the tastes and proclivities of the majority of residents who were immigrants from the British Isles or their descendants."18 The city was in a similar state of frenzied excitement the following year when the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall came to town for an official visit.


Historic Guelph Duke and Duchess of Cornwall V50P10

Duke and Duchess of Cornwall in Guelph in 1901.

(Photo courtesy of Guelph Museums).


Gloria Dent also made important observations about the role of religious observances in early-twentieth century Guelph. She notes that nearly all Guelphites went to church services and children of all classes attended Sunday school.19 Unlike Guelph a century later, in the late-nineteenth century and early-twentieth century, formal religious observances were a sustained feature of weekly activity. Faith was practiced in the home, but it was also a very public activity. Public religious observance and church attendance were signs of respectability that could influence your social acceptance and creditworthiness. Successful businessmen and entrepreneurs gave time and money to become pillars of the secular leadership of local churches.20 While there were ongoing Protestant-Catholic tensions in town, particularly among those with an Irish birthright, being Irish and Catholic was not an impediment to political or economic success. For the most part, post-Confederation municipal elections were devoid of religious acrimony. Becoming tavern or hotel owners and real estate investment offered upward mobility to Catholics in town. Affluent Catholics were welcomed in leadership roles in civic politics and Catholic institutions achieved acceptance within the community-at-large as the century closed.21 John Harris became Guelph's first Catholic mayor when he was elected in 1874.


Regardless of their individual ethnic roots, Guelph's post-1861 civic leaders sought to advance the growth of the community. In 1879, Guelph became an incorporated city and the civic politicians, entrepreneurs, and professionals in town banded together to offer joint stock schemes and tax deferrals in their campaigns designed to draw new industries to Guelph. By 1890, Guelph was an industrial city with an economy dominated by mills, foundries, and factories. However, by the 1880s, Guelph had not fulfilled the scale of industrial growth that was anticipated at mid-century.


In 1901, the industrial base was tied largely to agriculture and ironworks and since 1881 had expanded in scope and employment opportunities. Between 1881 and 1901, the population rose from 9,890 to 11,496. Skilled labour remained an important feature of the work force but unlike in the 1840s, 1850s and 1860s, when a paucity of work for the unskilled Irish moderated Irish Catholic immigration to the town, Guelph's manufacturers had more and more employment for unskilled workers, as they became increasingly mechanized. Carpet and textile mills like Armstrong McCrae and Company, the Knitting Mills of Francis Smith and Clark, and Thompson's Carpet Works, were among the employers who offered employment for less skilled workers. Industrial employers who still required skilled tradesmen after the 1860s included the Bell Organ Company, the Raymond Sewing Machine Company and its early competitor, Osburn and Wilkie (later the Guelph Sewing Machine Company), the J. B. Armstrong Company (a carriage works), Gowdy's Agricultural Works, and the Crowe Iron Foundry.


In 1890, Guelph was two decades away from the more sustained demand for semi-skilled and unskilled workers that would begin with the second important wave of large-scale industrial development. In the mid-twentieth century, rapid industrial growth would renew this demand and trigger an increase in the size of industrial work forces.22 ln 1907, most manufacturers had less than 100 employees, but a few factories reached the threshold of 200 or more employees by the 1890s. Leo Johnson notes that the 1893 Guelph City Directory identifies the Raymond Sewing Machine Company, the Bell Organ and Piano Factory, and The Woolen Mills of McCrae and Company as manufacturers that exceeded the threshold of a 100 workers.23


The entries in Guelph's census and assessment rolls in 1861, 1877, and 1881 indicate that prior to larger scale factory production in the 1880s and 1890s, most Guelphites lived near their place of employment.24 These enumerations reveal that mill workers lived within walking distance of mills, stone masons, and quarrymen resided reasonably close to the town's quarries, clerks, and shopkeepers lived in neighbourhoods ringing the business core of town, and iron workers lived within walking distance of the concentration of metal trades in the centre of town. In 1894, entrepreneur and factory owner, George Sleeman, unveiled a proposed street railway system and in September 1895, it would change the residency patterns of the pedestrian city of the mid-nineteenth century. He built the line as an investment and as a means of getting his workers to his Silver Creek Brewery facilities on the western edge of town. Streetcars provided affordable, reliable, rapid transportation for those employed by Sleeman and other manufacturers who implemented shift work. Blue-collar workers were able to live farther from work and avoid the escalating cost of rents and home ownership near the city centre.



By 1901, the population of Guelph had risen to 11,497 and continued to grow to 15,175 in 1911. Sustained employment was a critical issue if Guelph was to continue to grow. The pre-World War I initiative to create a major industrial corridor in the south-east end of Guelph was heralded as a way of expanding employment opportunities for the Canadian, European, and British workers who resided in these neighbourhoods. Besides increasing local employment, the new growth was calculated to stimulate residential land sales, particularly on the lands amassed by investor J. W. Lyon, who had profited from his career in publishing. His Guelph-based World Publishing Company was very successful, and he subsequently invested heavily in real estate in the south-eastern regions of the city. He expedited the community's desire to finally reach the level of industrialization once envisioned for the 1880s. Lyon offered factory developers 120-acre parcels of free land to the total of eight land grants if industrialists located in the east end.25 Lyon planned to reap profits from selling the surrounding residential land. The efforts of Lyon and other boosters helped to attract 16 new businesses to the city by 1914.26 By attracting heavy industry like the Guelph Stove Company and the International Malleable Iron, Lyon contributed to Guelph's first sustained demand for semi-skilled and unskilled workers as promised publicly. Workers' homes surrounded these new industries, and the mounting sanitary problems of the increasingly congested east-end were further complicated by the new pollution associated with heavy industry. Both increased industrialization and a shift in the source of immigration to Guelph affected the streetscape of St. Patrick's Ward.


Historic Guelph Quen St. V50P14

Queen Street, 1911.

(Photo courtesy of Guelph Museums, 1986.18.33)).


In 1911, 18 percent of Guelphites were actually born in England, but second and third generation Guelphites of British ancestry were determined to celebrate their English heritage.27 As the community entered World War I, British heritage was an asset in recruitment in Guelph. The war complicated the lives of residents whose heritage was traced to areas within the boundaries of the Austro-Hungarian Empire - the enemy side in the war. Many Germans and Austrians lost their employment as they were no longer trusted by their British and Canadian co-workers. Until 1915, when Italy declared its allegiance to Britain and her allies, local Italian workers were suspect, too.


By 1911, just 2.3 percent of the town's 11,497 people were of Italian origin and this number would rise to 3.2 percent ten years later at a time when 87 percent of the population still claimed British roots and dominated the cultural orientation of the community.28 Most Italian immigrants came first as temporary workers accompanied by other males from San Giorgio, Italy.29 With long-term employment prospects in Guelph improved, they began to establish permanent homes with their wives and families largely in St. Patrick's Ward where Irish Catholics also sought low-cost housing and a buffer from the local antipathy of the previous century. Some Italians came to Guelph when employment in the coal fields of Cape Breton or their manual work for rail lines ended.30 In 1908, seven Italian males who resided in town applied for Canadian citizenship and 22 became naturalized citizens.31 Like the small number of Jewish families drawn to Guelph by 1901, Italian residents faced hostility.32 Before all emigration to Canada from Italy ended temporarily in 1939, Italian sojourners and immigrants began to establish their own community within the larger community. 


Historic Guelph Guelph Pipe Band V50P15

Guelph Pipe Band Exhibition Park for V. E. Day, 1945.

(Photo courtesy of Guelph Museums).


Prior to the outbreak of the World War II, social, economic, and political discrimination against non-Anglo-Saxon ethnic groups was pervasive throughout Canada. Race and religion complicated perceptions of ethnic and visible minorities. By World War I, a growing resistance to further emigration from Asia heightened fear of so-called 'dangerous foreigners' as newspapers, politicians, and Asian-exclusion organizations sensationalized the link between the Chinese community and the opium trade (the importation of opium was legal in Canada until the introduction of legislation in 1908 and 1911).33 By the mid-1920s, Chinese emigration to Canada was halted until after World War II. Compared to Asians, Blacks, Jews, Central Europeans, and Southern Europeans, those ethnically linked to Northern and Central Europe faced the least hostility. It is not surprising that residential clusters of immigrants with similar nationality formed in cities. In Guelph, Italians formed an insular community in St. Patrick's Ward that aided in the preservation of their cultural identity and provided a buffer against outside hostility. Today, Italian heritage is commonplace in Guelph and celebrated by non-Italians. The Annual Festa Italiano held at the Italian Canadian Club on Fergusson Street just celebrated its 18th year and draws crowds from across Guelph's ethnic groups and beyond the city. By the 1930s, a 'Little Italy' of sorts was emerging, and it would be fed by post-World War II emigration from Italy, although a variety of other ethnic groups resided in and around distinctively Italian streets. In the 1930s, Valeriote's Groceteria and Veroni's bakery were two of the local Italian businesses serving Guelph's Italian residents close to their employment and homes, but by mid-century, the community was served by a wider variety of retail businesses, restaurants, agencies, and trades shops, where English was not required to shop or do business.34, 35 Early on, initiatives related to self-sufficiency created distinctive streetscapes where Italians resided. According to Pat Bowley,


"Houses and businesses built in St. Patrick's Ward by Italian-Canadian immigrants were unique in Guelph. Many homes were large to accommodate nuclear and extended families as well as boarders. Vegetable gardens were everywhere; small livestock and poultry often shared the backyard; grape arbours were common."36


The over-crowding, lack of amenities, and pollution of the east-end would be gradually addressed by City Council in the 1920s. Despite the arrival of Italian residents, most residents of the area had British heritage from 1901 to 1941. By 1910, most of the uptown old stone churches, Catholic or Protestant, had mission churches and Sunday schools in St. Patrick's Ward, where they were in competition for the souls of recent immigrants and the working class residents who were predominate in the area increasingly know locally as 'The Ward.'37 St. Paul's Presbyterian Church, St. Peter's Anglican Church, Paisley Memorial United Church, and Sacred Heart Catholic Church met the religious needs of 'The Ward' by 1930.


National events and economic cycles shaped the life experiences of the residents of The Ward, and of Guelphites at-large. World War I drew men away from local industry to meet the manpower needs of the war effort overseas, leaving mothers, sisters, and wives to struggle to preserve the family and survive economically in the absence of the major breadwinner. Regardless of ethnic identity, businesses in Guelph slowed dramatically as unemployment and a lack of public relief complicated the lives of many Guelphites during the Great Depression of the 1930s. Connections between some members of the Italian community in Guelph to bootlegging and organized crimeand Italy's support for Germany and the Axis powers during World War II fed hostility toward local Italian families.38


Italian and German residents of Guelph who had become naturalized British subjects after 1922 were finger-printed, photographed, and registered as 'enemy aliens' by the local police force at the behest of the federal government. These registered Guelphites were required to report to the police station monthly so their whereabouts could be tracked for the duration of the war. Several males of Italian heritage were interned during the war as enemy aliens.39 However, in the 1950s, Italians were once again encouraged to emigrate to Canada and Italian immigration to Guelph increased dramatically. Most settled in The Ward (known as Ward One today) where factory expansion, employment, and lower cost housing swelled the population of the area. Terry Crowley notes that as, "A good portion of the terrain in Ward One is low lying, wealthier residents sought higher ground," north of Elizabeth Street leaving cheaper, more marginalized land available for working class housing in and near the flood plain within this ward.40


The greater density of industrial and residential development in the south-east end of Guelph and the central business district was not repeated throughout Guelph. The visual appeal of the town's site and the economic potential of the hinterland were utilized in marketing strategies for the community long after 1900. In 1926, Guelph was a test market community and advertisers noted that the natural beauty of Guelph with its treed hills and river valleys helped make the community, "A good place to live and a good place to work."41 Most residential areas had nearby parkland and treelined streets. One aspect of urban development that made Guelph environmentally-friendly was the preservation of the tree canopy and the development of parkland. These circumstances were not purely altruistic as some parkland supported business enterprises, as well as sport and recreation. The early parks left Guelph a strong green legacy. Additionally, the hilly topography stalled the spread of residential growth until the automobile age so that by 1957 Guelph's topography still boasted treed slopes in slowly developed areas. The central business district and most streets were graced by tree-lined boulevards. Even the new post-WWII neighbourhoods incorporated parks and residential gardens as more and more 1950s bungalows and storey-and-a-half houses filled the streets on the fringes of the city that had once been devoted to farmland, estate properties, and church glebes.


Historic Guelph Aerial View of Guelph V50P18

Aerial View of Guelph, circa 1945.

(Photo courtesy of Guelph Museums, (1981.32.1)).


The two decades from 1941 to 1961 were tremendously important precursors to population diversification and industrial growth over the past 50 years. Rapid industrial diversification, post-war programs to resettle displaced persons from Europe in Canada, and renewed emigration from Britain to Canada shaped the socioeconomic contours of Guelph. Census returns for 1941 indicate that 18,438 of the overall population of 23,273 enumerated Guelphites still identified as British in origin. Of this number, 9,676, or 79.2 percent, declared themselves to be of English heritage with 17.6 recorded as Irish and 19.6 listed as Scottish. Those of Italian ancestry accounted for 5.6 percent of the overall population and 2.7 percent were of French national origin. A mere .08 percent of the population was Jewish.42 However, in 1949 local Jewish families replaced the house at Dublin and Surrey streets they had purchased for worship in 1925 with a new synagogue named Beth Isaiah.43


The 1940s and 1950s were years of rapid population growth, as Guelph faced the postwar baby boom that forced St. Joseph's Hospital and the Guelph General Hospital to expand access to pediatric medicine and maternity needs. Both the public and separate school systems faced overcrowding and the need to build schools in rapidly developing new neighbourhoods. Changes to Canada's immigration laws provided further incentive for local spatial and demographic changes. Although there were limited quotas for immigration from India, Pakistan, and Ceylon in 1951, Canada's early post-war immigration policies were focused on reuniting military families and welcoming displaced persons from Europe. Education and needed employment skills were also deciding factors. From 1945 to 1947, attention was focused on bringing some 50,000 war brides to Canada. In 1947, plans were made for large-scale European immigration and the acceptance of those who were healthy, of good character, and meeting the skills needed by Canada's economy. Those from Britain, Ireland, and France were still preferred as new Canadians and Black immigrants were screened out of the process as had been the case for the balance of the century. In 1947, restrictions on immigration from China that had been in effect since the 1923 Asian Exclusion Act were lifted, but this did not have a tremendous short-term effect on local demographic trends. The 1961 Census returns for Guelph register just 22 residents of Chinese origin. German immigrants were welcome as of 1950 as were Italian immigrants. Between 1951 and 1957, Guelph's Italian community became an increasingly visible percentage of the population in The Ward.44 Between 1941 and 1961, the percentage of Guelphites with Italian heritage more than doubled from 2.2 percent to 4.8 percent.45 Like other newcomers, they found ready employment in the construction trades and Guelph's expanding manufacturing sector.


Many local businesses experienced prosperity and expansion by 1961. New businesses swelled the manufacturing and retail sectors in Guelph. The streets surrounding St. George's Square were the retail heart of the city. Downtown stores and restaurants benefitted from increasing customer demand and drew customers from Guelph as well as out-of-town customers from rural areas near Guelph and smaller towns north of the city.46 By the early 1960s, ten bus routes drew shoppers and commuters into the Downtown.47 Many were transported to the manufacturing firms that experienced post-war growth. These included prewar firms E. I. Birnbaum, Hart Products, and Leland Electric.48 Steve Thorning's study of twentieth-century economic growth in Guelph highlights the years 1952 to 1954 as particularly important time of economic growth. In fact in 1952 alone, eight new firms added 1,500 jobs.49 In the fifties, important local manufacturing employers included W. C. Woods, Rennie Industries, Guelph Yarns, James R. Kearney, Oregon Chain Saws, FOSECO, Sheepbridge Engineering, Valeriote Electronics, Biltmore Hats, Lancashire Felt, Federal Wire and Cable, Crowe Foundry, Northern Rubber, and Canadian General Electric. Thorning notes that Canadian General Electric had already employed 1,000 workers in 1953.50



The lure of employment, immigration trends, and the Baby Boom helped to swell Guelph's population to 41,767 by 1961. By 1971, Guelph's population reached 60,000. Between 1946 and 1972, 3.5 million immigrants came to Canada, and the elimination of race-based screening in the late 1960s set the stage for increased immigration from Asia, the Middle East, and Africa over the next five decades.51 Changes in government policy were influenced by improved legal protections against discrimination in Canada. The process began with the philosophical stance against racism and discrimination of the Canadian Bill of Rights in 1960. However, the sentiments of the Bill of Rights were not fully enshrined in Canadian law until the 1982 Canadian Constitution and Charter of Freedoms outlawed discrimination based on race, national origin, gender, religion or creed, thereby making Canada a welcoming destination for immigrants and refugees. Several years earlier, the 1976 Immigration Act made it easier for families to reunite via sponsored immigration. Immigration to Canada from Asia, the Middle East, and Africa increased after 1970. From the 1980s, the ability to apply for immigration or refugee status from across the globe made the application processes more equitable.


By 1996, eight percent of Guelph's population belonged to visible minorities and this number rose to ten percent by 2007.52 In Canada as a whole, 15 percent of the population belonged to this category by 2010.53 At the turn of the twenty-first-century, those of Chinese heritage became the third largest immigrant group in Canada after residents of English or French ancestry.54 The total population of Guelph climbed from 41,767 in 1961 to 105,240 in 1996. The demographic significance of Guelphites with Chinese ethnic heritage rose from 22 persons in 1961 to 1,655 in 1996 to 3,1.45 in 2001.55 The 2007 Census returns for Guelph note that Buddhism was the leading non-Christian religion in Guelph followed by the Muslim, Hindu, Sikku, and Jewish faiths. The last three faiths had demographic representation that was roughly half of the first two faiths listed. Christians of all denominations made up 74.1 percent of the population, and those with no religious affiliation accounted for 20.5 percent of Guelphites.56


By 1990, key sources of growth in the visible minority population of Guelph were Asia, Central and South America, the Caribbean and Bermuda, and Africa. The visible minority population of Guelph in 1996 totaled 8,340 residents with relevant census groups identified as South Asian (1,945), Chinese (1,655), South-East Asian (1,220), Black (1,145), Filipino (800), Arab/West Asia (495), Latin American (290), Japanese (170), Korean (130), and Other (495).57 In that year, most Guelphites were born in Ontario and 5,500 hailed from the United Kingdom. The British ethnic connection continued.58 The population of Guelph increased 10.7 percent by 2001. and 81.8 percent of the population cited English as their mother tongue in the 2001 Census.59 Asian immigrants led the statistics for visible minorities, the number of Black immigrants was fairly stable at 1,455, the number of Arab/West Asian immigrants jumped to 940 residents and those from Latin America more than doubled to 755 persons.60


Historic Guelph Multicultural Festival Parade V50P22

Multicultural Festival Parade.

(Photo courtesy of Meghan Maxted).


In 2011, as in 1961, Guelph is pre-dominantly a Caucasian, English-speaking, Christian city. In addition to the immigration of visible minorities, immigrants from Britain, Ireland, the United States, Italy, Germany, Poland, the Ukraine, Russia, the Netherlands, France, Hungary, and elsewhere around the world have given Guelph its enhanced multicultural character. Even though the community was becoming increasingly secular by the start of this century, many new places of worship were built in the city after 1961. The Roman Catholic, Anglican, Presbyterian, Baptist and United Churches, the Salvation Army, and local Jehovah Witnesses have new places of worship in the suburban neighbourhoods established since World War II.61 Other churches reflected post-1961 trends in immigration from Europe. Immigrants from the Netherlands established Christian Reformed churches and adherents of the Orthodox Catholic Church founded St. Mary's Ukrainian Church of the Mother of God. Local Hindus have yet to establish a religious institution in Guelph. Kalpa Bhadra Buddhist Centre on Cardigan Street serves the needs of local Buddhists. In 1988, the congregation of Guelph's Chinese Alliance Church was founded and offered services in Mandarin, Cantonese, and English.62 After 1990, suburban and evangelical churches thrived in Guelph, while many of the more traditional Downtown churches faced declining congregations as their members age. Lakeside Bible Church had a membership roll of 300 families in 1999.63 While local churches and church-based outreach programs like Sister Christine's Welcome In Drop-In Centre, Chalmers Community Services, and CORE still assist newcomers and marginalized Guelphites; more government-funded assistance is available locally than 50 years ago. For example, a variety of newcomers' services is provided through the government-funded Immigrant Services office at Paisley Road and Imperial Road. They range from coffee groups for women, to English as a Second Language classes, and assistance filling out government paperwork.


The fine international reputation of the University of Guelph has contributed to the cultural diversity of the local population as an increasing number of foreign students have been drawn to the former 'College on the Hill.' With staff and faculty reaching 5,000, it was the largest employer in Guelph in the 1990s.64 At present, the University is the second largest employer in Guelph and the combined enrollment figure for full-time and part-time students in 2011 has exceeded 30,000 students.65 For the past decade, it is has been regarded as one of the top ten educational institutions in the country in the annual ratings of Canadian universities in MacLean's magazine. There were just 2,000 students registered at the institution in 1964 when the Ontario Agricultural College, Ontario Veterinary College, and Macdonald Institute were amalgamated into the University of Guelph. Projected to have 25,000 students within 20 years, it was expected to draw the population to the south-end and irrevocable change the low-density patterns of development south of College Avenue - which it did.66


The greater sprawl of post-1961 Guelph made tremendous changes to the patterns of retail goods and services. In the 1960s, small strip malls or plazas like the Speedvale Plaza in newer neighbourhoods began to compete with the hospitality and retail establishments in the Central Business District (CBD). Further competition for Downtown businesses came from the Willow West Mall (1966) and the Stone Road Mall (1973). In the 1980s, the redevelopment of Quebec Street into the Eaton's Centre failed to stem the tide.67 More recently, its refurbishment and re-opening as Old Quebec Street has been a new attempt to help revitalize the commercial core of the city. However, the retail, financial, and service hegemony of the years prior to 1961 has been lost due to growing competition beyond the city core. In a 2001 Analysis of Development in Mid-20th Century Guelph, Patricia Bowley succinctly sums up the impact of post-1967 suburban development in the following statement:


"The city grew out in all directions, especially to the south, with the consequence that Downtown Guelph has become a shadow of its former self."68


Downtown Guelph is still a financial centre, and it is scheduled to once again become a significant residential area as new condominium and apartment complexes are built in and around the CBD. The Quebec Street Mall, restaurants, and retail shops, however, have strong competition from the growing restaurant and retail districts on the north, west, east and south ends of town - only the far east-end has been left out of this pattern of retail and service sprawl. The development of the city core as a locale for artists' studios and technology-based businesses is likely to continue in the long term.


Since 1961, the industrial sector of the economy has undergone tremendous changes. While the expansion of the industrial sector provided employment for the residents of Guelph and area, it also contributed to the spatial re-configuration of Guelph. Manufacturing development has expanded industrial corridors. on the four edges of town. The industrial profile of Guelph has also changed over the past 50 years. In the sixties and seventies large employers such as Canadian General Electric, Imperial Tobacco, Pirelli Cable, and Bucyrus Erie expanded. At the same time, new industries took root and became leading manufacturers, such as Thorning Allis Chalmers (1963), Linamar (1966), and International Telephone and Telegraph, known locally as ITT (1968). Of the three, Linamar has had the greatest impact on the local economy over the last five decades. By 1990, the company operated 15 plants and employed 3,500 workers.69 Today it is the leading employer in Guelph, and it has rebounded from the recent recession. Closed since 1937, Sleeman Brewery was re-established in 1988, and has been very successful.70 By 2006, 24.5 percent of Guelph employment was in manufacturing and the city had 345 manufacturers.71 The industrial sector produces transportation equipment, machinery and fabricated metal, as well as wood, electrical, and chemical products.72 While Hammond Manufacturing and many other key post-sixties employers are still in operation, other important late-twentieth century employers like W. C. Woods. Imperial Tobacco, Rennie Industries, Biltmore Hats, and Canadian General Electric are closed now. The global competition for markets and the lower cost of production outside Canada has complicated the sustainability of local manufacturing.


With a more diverse population of roughly 118,000, Guelph is much larger and more multicultural than it was 50 years ago. Each June, a large dynamic Multicultural Festival celebrates the diverse cultural roots of Guelphites and draws thousands of attendees. Recently, Guelph was ranked as the safest place to live in Canada and the volunteer capital of Canada.73 Regardless of the socioeconomic disparity present in most urban communities, national rankings indicate that there is a good overall quality of life in the city. In fact, despite the recent recession, the City website indicates that unemployment is relatively low. The Guelph Mercury reported that in September 2011, the local unemployment rate was 4.3 percent at a time that the national rate hovers around seven percent.74 Guelph's population is expected to experience dramatic growth by 2031. Current demographic patterns indicate that 20 years from now, Guelph will be an increasingly global city.



  1. Description of the city on the City of Guelph website,
  2. Calculated from totals for the Guelph Census Tract of the 2001 Census of Canada. In that year, 12,380 were identified as members of a visible minority.
  3. Gilbert Stelter, "Guelph, Ontario", Canadian Encyclopedia Online,
  4. Calculated from the 1861 manuscript census returns for Guelph, Canada West. See Debra L. Nash-Chambers, "Guelph, Canada West in 1861: Family, Residence and Wealth in a Frontier Commercial City," (MA Thesis, Department of History, University of Guelph, 1981), p. 106.
  5. "Industrial Analysis of the City of Guelph," (typescript document), City of Guelph, 1963, p. 33. Archival Collection, Guelph Civic Museums, Guelph, Ontario. 
  6. Leo A. Johnson, History of Guelph, 1827-1927. (Guelph, Ontario: Guelph Historical Society, 1977),p. 128. Farm lots sold for $2.00 cash or a fifth down and $2.50 an acre on credit.
  7. Ibid.
  8. John Galt, Autobiography of John Galt, II (London: Cochrane and McCrone, 1833), p. 62.
  9. Nash-Chambers (MA), 1981, 98.
  10. Ross Irwin. "Guelph Market Square", Historic Guelph, The Royal City, XXXIV (1994-1995): p. 26.
  11. For information on St. George's Anglican Church in the nineteenth century, see Gerald. J. Storm. "Arthur Palmer: Founder and First Rector of St. George's Anglican Church Guelph," Historic Guelph, The Royal City, XXV (1986): p. 50-67.
  12. Anglicans reach 25 percent in 1861. See Nash-Chambers (MA), 1981, 98.
  13. Ibid, Chapter 3, passim.
  14. Debra L. Nash-Chambers, "Two Steps Forward and One Step Back? The Impact of Industrialization on Community and Family in a Small Industrial City: Guelph, Ontario, 1861-1881," (Ph.D. thesis, University of Guelph, 1988), p. 94.
  15. Harvey J. Philpot, Guide to the Canadian Dominion, (London: Edward Stanford, 1871), p. 132. McLaughlin Library, University of Guelph.
  16. Gloria Dent, "Cultural Life in Twentieth Century Guelph," in Guelph: Perspectives on a Century of Change, 1900-2000, ed. Dawn Matheson and Rosemary Anderson, (Guelph, Ontario: Guelph Historical Society, 2000), p. 8-9.
  17. lbid, 8.
  18. lbid, 9.
  19. Ibid.
  20. Johnson, Chapters V and X, passim.
  21. See Shawn Day, "The Keepers' Trade: Skills, Attributes and the Pursuit of the Hotel Trade in Late 19th-Century Guelph," (MA thesis, University of Guelph, 2004).
  22. See Steve Thorning's observations in "Doing Business in Guelph", in Guelph: Perspectives on a Century of Change, ed. Dawn Matheson and Rosemary Anderson, (Guelph, Ontario: Guelph Historical Society, 2000), p. 145-178.
  23. Johnson, 298.
  24. From my quantitative analysis based on household and neighbourhood reconstruction using the 1861, 1871, and 1881 manuscript census and assessment rolls for Guelph. Also see Nash-Chambers, Ph.D. thesis, Chapter Three, passim.
  25. Johnson, 297.
  26. Ibid, 297-299 and Thorning, 152-154.
  27. See Dent pages 8 and 9 and the published 1911 Census returns for Guelph.
  28. Calculated from the published 1911 and 1921 Census returns for Guelph.
  29. Typescript, 2006. Records of Imelda Gazzola Porcellato, Italian Vice-Consul, Waterloo-Wellington Region, Vice-Consulate, Fergusson Street, Guelph, Ontario.
  30. Ibid.
  31. Ibid.
  32. There are 33 professed Hebrews in the 1901 Census.
  33. Dent, "Cultural Life in Twentieth Century Guelph," 10. Dent notes that Catherine Carstairs, Jailed for Possession: Illegal Drug Use, Regulation and Power in Canada, 1920-1961, (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2006), p. 17-21.
  34. Pat Bowley. "The Italian Community in St. Patrick's Ward, Guelph, Ontario, 1900-1939," Historic Gueþh, The Royal City, XXXIII (1994): p. 60.
  35. See Terry Crowley, Ward One Guelph: A Walking Tour from the Eramosa River to the Bluff(?), Guelph Arts Council Walking Tour Booklets, Six Illustrations by Robin Baird Lewis, (Guelph Ontario: Guelph Arts Council, 2010), passim.
  36. Bowley, "The Italian Community," 61.
  37. Guelph's All Peoples' Mission offered educational, re-settlement, and employment assistance to residents and new immigrants. The Catholic, Presbyterian, Anglican, and Methodist faiths all had missions to serve the spiritual needs of the residents of St. Patrick's Ward prior to 1911. They provided church services, Sunday schools, and limited assistance in addressing socio-economic needs. A good overview of the faith groups starting missions and churches in this ward is provided by Gloria Dent Cultural Life in Twentieth Century Guelph, (Guelph, Ontario: Log Cabin Press, 2010), p. 49-51.
  38. Local bootlegging and ties to organized crime are discussed in Sgt. Doug Pflug, ed., Fingerprints Through Time: A History of the Guelph Police Force.
  39. Bowley, "The Italian Community," 67.
  40. Crowley, 2.
  41. Market Data for Guelph, "The Trial Market City," pamphlet published by the Canadian Business Research Bureau, 1926, p. 2. Archival Collection of the Guelph Civic Museums, Guelph, Ontario.
  42. Calculated from the published 1941 Census returns for Guelph.
  43. Dent, 51.
  44. Dent, 58.
  45. Bowley, "The Italian Community," 67.
  46. Patricia Bowley, "Downtown Guelph in the Mid-20th Century: A Victim of Geography," Historic Guelph, The Royal City, XI (2001): p. 37.
  47. Ibid.
  48. Thorning, 168.
  49. Ibid.
  50. Ibid, 171.
  51. See Canada, "Immigration," Canadian Encyclopedia Online.
  52. Calculated from the 1996 and 2001 published Census for Guelph, Ontario. S3 Op. citation.
  53. Ibid.
  54. Figures taken for the 1961, 1996, and 2001 published Census for Guelph, Ontario. The Census did not list First Nations, Métis, or Inuit Canadians as visible minorities. In 1961, the populations from these groups were negligible within the demographic profile for Guelph. In 2001, the enumerated Guelphites included 1,810 whose ethnicity was listed as North American Indian and 325 who were "Registered Status Indians."
  55. Profile calculated from the 2001 Census returns for Guelph, Ontario.
  56. See the totals for visible minorities published in the 1990 Census returns for Guelph.
  57. Ibid.
  58. Ibid.
  59. Ibid.
  60. Gilbert Stelter, "Building and Guelph's Character," in Guelph: Perspectives on a Century of Change, ed. Dawn Matheson and Rosemary Anderson, (Guelph, Ontario: Guelph Historical Society, 2000), p. 208.
  61. Dent, 71.
  62. Ibid, 70.
  63. Thorning, 176.
  64. Profile based on 2006 Census statistics for Guelph, Ontario. CBC Canadavotes. 2008. http/www.cbc.calnews/canadavotes/riding/134.
  65. Bowley, "Downtown Guelph," 39.
  66. See "Norm Jary at Guelph's Helm," Housing Ontario, Vol. 24, no. 1 January/February 1980), p. 3. 68.
  67. Op. citation, 41.
  68. Thorning, 176.
  69. Thorning, 177.
  70. CBC,
  71. Stelter, "Guelph," Canadian Encyclopedia Online.
  72. From the City of Guelph website, October 1, 2011.
  73. Rob O'Flanagan, "Guelph Unemployment Rate drops, Mayor credits local businesses for helping to create jobs, diversified economy," Guelph Mercury, October 18, 2011, p. A1.