Address Delivered By WM. Stevenson In 1877

Author: Unknown

Publication Date: 1967

Edited: 2021


Guelph during 50 years, what a comprehensive subject, and what a short time to describe it – 15 minutes, a little over three years a minute; nothing but the merest outline of a few of the most prominent events in our history can be stated – not dwelt upon.

The first tree was cut down with imposing ceremonies, not forgetting the flask of whiskey, on the site of the now 'Royal City' on St. George’s Day, April 23rd, 1827. The stump was fenced around by Major Strickland in 1828, the top being leveled and planed, the cardinal points of the compass were chiseled thereon, and a sun dial placed upon it, which served many years as the Town Clock (that is, when the sun shone). This stump stood as a memorial of the town until about the year 1843, when it gradually disappeared from decay.

The first streets cleared were Market Square, Waterloo Road and Gordon Street. The Priory was built by Mr. Galt and finished by him in 1828, and remains to this day, a proof of the taste and skill of the first settlers.

Guelph has been from the very first alive to the importance of educational advantages. As early as 1828, Mr. Galt stipulated that half the price of a number of the first building lots sold should be set apart for the endowment and maintenance of a school, The Canada Company were to advance funds to build the house and recoup themselves as lots were paid for. A small schoolhouse was built near where the G.T.P.S. now stands.

The Market House was one of the first buildings erected, a cottage roof supported by 12 sets of double posts of squared timber, and surmounted by a flagstaff, from which the British flag floated on gala days.

The 25th of August, 1827, was remembered as one of the most pleasant in the early days in Guelph. Christopher Keough was united in holy wedlock to the fair Kitty Kelly, a blushing and somewhat reluctant bride. That was the first marriage, while Letitia Brown had the honour of being Guelph’s first born child. A deed of 50 acres of land was given her as a token thereof; while Thomas H. Lynch, who still lives, was the first male born.

In 1828, the first bridge over the Speed, near Allen’s Mill, was built, and... [sic] the latter part of that year. In 1829, other streets were cleared, including Wyndham as far as the Woolwich junction. The first tavern of... [sic] pretentions was built by Robert Elders, near the one now occupied by the Royal Hotel. Thomas and Patrick Keating built another on the site of the present hotel. Mr. Keating, adjoining this, opened a general store, which was also the post office, as Mr. Keating was the first regular appointed postmaster.

In 1832, Mr. Buchanan, British Consul of New York, visited the Village of Guelph, and made an after-dinner speech in which he prophesied that Guelph would become one of the principal cities of Upper Canada.

In 1832, the work of church building commenced in earnest. In laying out the plan of the town, a piece of land at the head of Macdonell Street was plotted to the Roman Catholics; one on St. George’s Square to the Episcopalians; a piece on the Market Square, where the City Hall now stands; the Presbyterians and the Methodists secured a lot on  the corner of... [sic] and Norfolk Streets. The Rev. A. Palmer was the first incumbent of the Episcopal; Rev. Father Campion of the Roman Catholic; Rev. Mr. Smith the Presbytarian; and the Rev. N. Nankeville of the Methodist Church honour to those early Ministers of Christ, some of whose parishes were from Hamilton to Owen Sound. In 1832, St. George’s Church was commenced, as well as the Wesleyan Church in 1834.


In the year 1833, the first Court of Request was held. The Court consisted of eight Commissioners. Mr. A. A. Baker, still living, was one of the number, who held office until the Court was abolished. Only one suit was before the first Court, while at the second there were 22 cases.

The year 1837 opened threateningly to Canada. Guelph, as now, was loyal to the core, and furnished a contingent eager to support the old flag.

In 1841, the brick building, now known as the Fountain House, was rented as a Court House, and was for a time used for that purpose. In this year the Wellington district Agricultural Society was formed, with headquarters in Guelph.

In 1843, the new jail was finished. The first man confined therein was James Lindsay. The criminal business for the year was very light, though for several succeeding years it was heavy.

I believe in 1845 the Advertiser newspaper was started, which wielded a large amount of influence on the side of morals and good judgment from the outset.

In 1846, a flour mill was built by Drs. Orton and Clark, which was afterwards burned. It was a large frame structure with six runs of stones.

In 1847, the Guelph Herald was bought out by Mr. Austin. Mr. Pirie, a man of liberal education, was invited to assume editorial control. From the first he stamped upon it his own impress – a staunch advocate of conservative principles and a strong advocate of the temperance cause to the time of his death in 1870.

Guelph has always been known as a town sympathetic and liberal. In 1848, when great distress was felt in Ireland through the prevalence of the 'potato rot', an appeal was made, and through only a village small in numbers, 400 pounds, or nearly $2,000, was subscribed and sent to relieve the distress of that suffering people.

In 1849, the Wellington Mills, which had been burned down, were rebuilt of stone by Dr. Clark, and it was in this year that the cholera visited of our province, and though it did not become epidemic in Guelph, there were a few cases which proved fatal.

In 1851, Guelph assumed the status of a Town, with five councillors. Modesty almost prevents my giving their names. However, they were Messrs. S. Smith, Thorp, Carroll, Hubbarb and Stevenson. James Hough, Esq., was the first Clerk and Treasurer, which office he filled honourably until appointed Deputy Clerk of the Crown.

This year St. George’s Church was found to be a small, and the vestry resolved to build a larger one of stone, at a cost of 2,500 pounds – perhaps the most important work of the year was the proposition of the Town Council to take stock in the Toronto and Guelph Railway to the amount of 25,000 pounds, and though the town was alarmed at the news, and thought the Council mad, it was really the first step to rapid improvement, and the creation of one of the finest markets in the Dominion. The Grand Trunk Company afterwards assumed the stock, so that we got the road without helping to bear the cost. It very well could have  have been said the same regarding the Galt and Guelph Railway stock, which was for years a heavy burden.




Guelph has ever been able to stand up for her rights and to protect her own interests. In 1852, an advertisement was published by the Canada Company, offering for sale that part of the Market Square below the railway. Guelph stood up for her rights, the case went to Chancery, with judgment given in favour of the Town to hold the land in question, as a marketplace or for such purpose as might be lawful, forever. Early this year steps were taken to secure telegraphic communication with other cities and towns, which was crowned with success.

In 1854, the publication of the Mercury was commenced by G.M. Keeling, who had formerly had control of the Advertiser.

In October of 1854, about a dozen of the best stores on Wyndham and Macdonell Streets were burned down, causing a loss of many thousand dollars. About this time the town limits were enlarged, much to the disgust of those parties included in the new limits.

At this time a movement originated in London, England, which was to extend to wherever the English tongue was spoken, that was to raise a fund, known as the 'Patriotic Fund' – which was to grant aid to the widows and orphans and others who had suffered in the Crimean War. Guelph, at the rate struck, was expected to raise 300 pounds – she did more, and over 450 pounds were soon raised for that purpose, and at a time when money was scarcer than it is now. The following was clipped from a newspaper of that time:


“The only community in which there appears to be any enthusiasm about the Patriotic Fund is the little Town of Guelph. There they seem to be proudly conscious that there is no disgrace in poverty honestly come by. The rich have given of their abundance, and the poor of their penury, and the scores who have placed their published names opposite sums of sevenpence half penny are worthy of all praise, and will no case lose their reward. Nobly right, royally done, Men of Guelph. We devoutly wish there was something of the same spirit in other places we know of."

This year the Board of School Trustees appointed a committee to make enquiries about a site on which to erect a central school to accommodate the fast-increasing school population. No definite action, however, was taken in the matter until the year 1855, when a large and very influential meeting was held in the Court House to consider the question. It was decided to purchase the lots on which the building now stands. Up to this time the Wesleyan Methodists worshipped God in a frame structure, which had become altogether too small, and during the Winter of 1854 to 1855, strenuous efforts were made to raise subscriptions for the erection of a stone church on the corner of Cork and Norfolk. John McLean, formerly in the employ of the Hudson Bay Company, laid the corner stone. The estimated cost was 2,400 pounds. This Church has been several times improved and enlarged, and the original cost was trebled. It was opened for Divine Worship in March of 1856. During the early part of this year the Baptists erected a neat frame Church on Norfolk Street, in which they worshipped until they moved to their beautiful church on the Woolwich Road.

1855. At the close of this year great interest was manifested in the incorporation of Guelph as a Town. Up to this time Guelph had only ranked as a Town in Schedule B of the Municipal Act and was called a Town only by virtue of its being the seat of the County Buildings. But in 1856, Guelph assumed the status of Town proper, it was divided into wards, and the first election under the new regime took place. This was very hotly contested. In December 1855, negotiations were entered into between the Council and the Trustees of St. Andrew’s Church which resulted in the Town purchasing the land from that body on which the present Market House now stands. On Wednesday, the 30th of January of this year, the first train which ever passed over the railroad between Toronto and Guelph made its appearance at the bridge near Allen’s Mill, causing great excitement amongst the inhabitants. It was formally opened some time afterwards, when about 200 gentlemen left Toronto and arrived in Guelph about three o’clock, and on the Monday following the train commenced to run regularly between Toronto and Guelph.


It was during this year that one of those disgraceful scenes was witness in Guelph which now, thanks to growing intelligence of the citizens, is only a memory. Constables were called out, the Riot Act was read by the Mayor John Smith, Esq. Things, however, quieted down, good counsel prevailed, and no lives were lost. On January 1st , 1857, Guelph was appointed a Port of Engry, and on May 10th of that year the Chapel intended for the Evangelical Union was opened. Sermons were preached by the Rev. Mr. Peden of Hamilton.

In October, the Bank of Montreal was finished – and a gas company was formed, and measures taken to have the streets lighted with gas.

In 1859, the new stone Church of St. Andrew was finished. The Rev. John Hogg, of precious memory, was its first pastor. The opening services were conducted by the Rev. Mr. Gibson of Galt and Mr. McDonnell of Fergus.

An offer was made this year by Dr. Clark and Mr. Brown to purchase the site of St. George’s Church in the Square, which was not accepted at the time, but the sale was afterwards consummated by the Church Wardens and Dr. Clark; the site on which the new fountain now stands.

In May 1860, an Act received the Royal sanction for the consolidation of the debt of the Town. Guelph was indebted to the Municipal Loan Fund at that time $80,000, and on ordinary Debentures of $48,132, besides a large number of other debts. Guelph has nearly paid her Municipal Loan Fund indebtedness – and is one of the few towns and cities which has met all her liabilities in regard to that fund as they have become due. Two more years and we are free from that debt.

September the 12th was a red-letter day for Guelph, being honoured by a visit from the Prince of Wales, and the Governor-General, the Duke of Newcastle, General Williams the 'Hero of Kars', and other notables. The Market Square and Wyndham Street was gaily decorated, and a grand amphitheatre capable of accommodating 600 persons was filled to its utmost capacity. Royal salutes were fired – speeches were made, addresses were presented, over 500 school children took part in the congratulations, bands played “God Save the Queen” and “Rule Britannia”. In the evening, the Town Council gave a ball in the Hall, which was attended by the elite of the town.

In the fall, the Victoria Mills, owned by Mr. Presant, was totally consumed by fire.

In 1860, the census of the town was taken, with the following results: Males, 2547; Females, 2583; Total, 5130.

In 1862, the pulpit of Knox Church became vacant by the translation of Mr. McVicar to Montreal. A call was presented to the Rev. Mr. Ball, who entered upon his duties February 5th.

On September 25th, Guelph was honoured by a visit from Lord Monck, and during this year 164 pounds were collected and forwarded to London to help alleviate the distress of the Lancashire cotton operatives.

On Sunday, October 4, 1864, the ceremony of laying the cornerstone of the Roman Catholic Church of St. Bartholomew was performed. His Honour the Right Rev. John Farrell blessed and laid the first stone of the Church. The Primitive Methodist Church was opened for worship on February 12th and on June 8th a disastrous fire occurred when the People’s Mills, with nearly all their contents, were consumed by fire entailing a loss of about $30,000, and but a small insurance.

In 1865, the senior girls’ school was built, and in 1867 the Drill Shed was erected at a cost of about $2,000.

About this time, a large amount of business coming before the Police Court, it became desirable that a Police Magistrate should be appointed. Several names were suggested, and a very wise choice made in the person of Thos. Saunders, Esq., who still occupies the position with great benefit to the city.




Under the Municipal Act of 1866, Guelph became entitled to elect a Mayor, a Reeve and two Deputy Reeves by a direct vote of the people. Previous to this time there had been a Reeve and only one Deputy Reeve, who had been appointed by the Council.

On the 16th of May the cornerstone of the new Congregational Church was laid by the Rev. Dr. Lillie, with a number of celebrities assisting on the occasion. Estimated cost $7,000, Mr. Raymond and Mr. Goldie being amongst the most liberal donors.

In 1868, a division occurring in Knox Church, 114 members in good standing withdrew, and a communion roll was made up, and the congregation of Chalmers church was declared to be constituted and a Board of Managers appointed. On Monday, October 19, the ceremony of laying the cornerstone of the new Knox Church was performed by Dr. Ormiston, the Pastor and other ministers taking part.

What had been in former times anticipated, now became a real fact. A gas company was organized with a capital of $30,000, and gas was first used in 1871.

In this year a part of the Roman Catholic Glebe was purchased, for the purpose of holding Agricultural Exhibitions. The Central Exhibition was thus instituted. The first one held was a great success, $8000 was offered in prizes – 7000 entries were made, and 15,000 persons entered the grounds on the second day.


On May 7th, the cornerstone of the new Baptist Church on Woolwich Street was laid by the Rev. Dr. Davidson and others assisting.

On May 23rd the laying of the cornerstone of St. George’s Church took place; the cost of the beautiful building was $29,998.60.

In 1872, hospital accommodation received serious attention – a public meeting was called, a piece of land was purchased, the present handsome and commodious building was erected as a General Hospital, reflecting great credit on its projectors and a joy to the afflicted, and especially the afflicted poor.

In 1873, the government purchased the Moreton Lodge and Farm, took possession of the property, and converted it into a Model Farm and School of Agriculture.

On July 1, 1874, the cornerstone of the new Methodist Church on Dublin Street was laid by James Hough, Esq.; in October the new Baptist Church was opened; and in November of the same year the Rev. Canon Dixon was inducted into the Rectory of St. George’s Church, by the Venerable Archdeacon McMurray.

During this year building operations were livelier than at any other period in the history of Guelph, the value being little short of a quarter of a million dollars, the new Town Hall and the Central School being included in this year’s operations. The new Catholic Church was commenced this year, at which Bishop Crinnon of Hamilton officiated.

Our time is up. Recent events you must call up in your own memory. Guelph, as a city with its 16 aldermen; Guelph, with its free library, the first in the Dominion; Guelph, with its Scott Act in perspective. This sketch is imperfect, but I think you will all agree that for its size, Guelph stands first in the Dominion – first in morals, witness the splendid Churches and excellent police supervision – first in loyalty, always a strong and ardent attachment to the Person and Throne of her Majesty, the Queen – first in works of patriotism and benevolence, witness its readiness to lend a helping hand in times of calamity and distress, at home or abroad, by furnishing funds to help the needy – first in education, behold our Central, High, and Public Schools – first in deeds of mercy and love, see our hospitals in which the suffering find a home, kind nursing and skilful medical attendance free of charge.

May Guelph still prosper – her ministry be more faithful – her citizens more united, and her destiny all that could be desired.