Author: Ross W. Irwin

Publication Date: 2005

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A century ago, Queen Victoria's Birthday (commemorated on) day 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 Confederatiory 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 Guelplu St. David's Day, 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 yeaç the celebration was held the next day, which Galt declared a local pubtic holiday. More than 500 strangers arrived in Guelph for the festivities. An ox was roasted whole for dinner and carried into the new mar- ket 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, population 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, population 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 háa táten the initiativeÌn getting up a popular diìplay." The airìemperature was a torrid 95 degrees, in the shade. Nonetheless, the 30th Wellington Regiment put on a band concert. In subsequent years Dominionbay featured ball games by the Maple Leaf Bail Club and a regatta on Allan's millpond.


50th ANNIVERSARY JUBILEE YEAR, 1877, popalation 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 Guetph, a 170- page book describing the town from its founding to 1877. It was authored by C. Acton Burrows, Editor of the Guelph Herøld, with an introduction by Mayor F. J. Chadwick and sold for 75¢. Robert Thompson wrote a pamphlet A Brief Sketch of the Early History of Guelph which was published by the Guetph Mercury. It also"describäd the ori- gin of the town and listed the first and second year settlers. In March the impressive lllustrsted Historical Atlas of the County of Weilington 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 Guelplu and organized.most important events. The St. George's Society held a plan- llngrneetingon january 25, 1877 for a dinner ai the town hall on April 23. On March 27 a public meeting of citizens was called to planìhe Jubilee celebratiory and George Elliot was made chairman. Town council belatedly (April 12) 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 spiing. From an early hour people from the country began to arrive, ãnd by ten o'clock the streetä 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 Driil Hall and members of town council wore whife rosettes. Athletic games on the Market Square began at 10:00 a.m. and at noon the Guelph Rifles shot u "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 set- tlers, 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 lateq, on July 7th.


GUELPH BECOMES A CITY 1879, population 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 9 issue of Cønndínn Illustrated Nezus which shows views of the important build- ings and scenes in the city. More than 200 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 trairy 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 Educatiory 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 lateq, James Whiting was the first child born in the new city of Guelph, on April 25.

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 17 to open the Central Exhibition.


60th ANNIVERSARY OF THE FOUNDING, 1887, population 10,000

"The Diamond Jubilee of the founding of the city passed quietly." There was, howeve¡, a great celebration on fune 22, 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 23, the population preferred to celebrate in better weather on Civic Holiday, the first Monday in August.


75th ANNIVERSARY OF THE FOUNDING,1902, population 12,000

This anniversary year left us as a permanent historical remindeq, the Anniversary Edition of the Guelph Daily Herald, published August 9 of that year. "The celebrations of our 75th anniversary did not come out so badly after all." (Guelph Mercury, April24,1902) "The 75th anniversary of the founding of the city, while not celebrated with a mighty flourish of trumpets, was rendered noteworthy in a quieter wayby 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 Oct. 5, 1979, that a statue of John Galt, born at Irvine, Scotland, llday 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 Andersory works manager, Pirelli Cables. The statute was created by John Miecznikowski and unveiled on the 100th birthday of Guelph becoming a city.)

On Apr. 24th of the 75th anniversary yea1, 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, population 20,000

The lasting reminder of this important milestone in the history of Guelph is the Wednesday, June 20, 1927, edition of The Guelph Euening Mercury and Aduertiser (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 Eaening Mercury, July 22,1867.

On May 22 of the previous yeat, a Centennial Committee was established to plan the celebration. A highlight was an imposing floral arch on Wyndham St. at the railway overpass. City Hall and downtown stores were also decorated with flags and bunting. Although the anniversary was celebrated on April 23 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 1 to 6, which included an enormous parade. The Guelph War Memorial was unveiled Sunday, July 3, with Major General J.H. MacBrien as the principal speakeç and the Honour Roll for World War I was published inthe Guelph Mercury.


125th ANNIVERSARY OF THE FOUNDING,1952, population 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 '1,877." City council did not promote a celebration but they did renovate the town hall clock and approved a new seal for the city.



Guelph Historical Society dedicated the john Galt Garden at the south- east end of Riverside Park on AprÌl 23, 1,967 , a project which had been in the works for the past four years. On Dominion Day, Jvly 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, population 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. RoberfA. Stewart also published his two-volume works " A Picture ifistory of Guelph," 7827 - 1977 as a personal centennial project. Donald E. Coulman published "Gueþh - Take a-Look at Us," another fascinating review of Guêlph's pic- torial history. The Guelph Mercury annual issue was entitled "1-50 years of Progress" (Mar. 5, 1977). It was during this year that the city adopted a revised Coat of Arms.

The Guelph, Mercury headline of April 23 was "Happy Birthday Guelph." Telegrams of congratulation were received from the eueen 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 Governo¡, 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 4 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. 13. Once again, Verne Mcllwraith chaired this very special anniverÀary.


175th ANNIVERSARY 2002, population 110,000

Specifically with this anniversary in mind, the Guelph Historical Society published a book of lasting significance: Guelph: Perspectiaes on ø Century of Change, 1900 - 2000, by multiple authors. Guelph Mercury writer Hilary Stead also produced Guelph, APeople'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 wai the centie of attention. As usual, the Guelph Civic Museum sponsored several relevant exhibits.



Celebrations in Guelph are enthusiastically supported by the populatior¡ as exhibited in recent times at the annual santa Claus parades. Leãdership Írom 1877 to 1902, howeve4, depended on active fraiernal organizations, and in recent years the participation of the Kiwanis and Roiary service clubs. City Council has never given other than token support to special anniversary functions. The next quarter century celebrãtìon will be in 2027. Who will organize it? What activities will be featured?



John Galt, The Autobiography of John Galt. "The Founding of Guelph", Vol.2, pp. 51-55. Key & Biddle, Philadelphia, 1883.
C. Acton Burrows, The Annals of the Town of Guelph, Guelph Herald, 1877, 170 pp.
Robert Thompsory 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, 732pp.
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. Coulmary, Guelph - Take a Look at Us, 1977.
Guelph Historical Society, Guelph: Perspectiaes on a Century of Changes, 1900-2000, 277 pp.
Hilary Stead, Guelph, A People's Heritage, City of Guelph, 2002, 60 pp

Guelph Mercury Special Edition, March 26, 2002, "175 and Growing Up", 48 pp.
Guelph Tribune, "Guelph, 175 years in the Making," Spring 2002, 98 pp.



  1. Ancaster Gore Gazette, April 14, 1827.
  2. William W. Evans, City of Guelph Directory, 1882-83, pp. 75-76, Guelph 1883.
  3. Guelph Evening Mercury, July 1, 1868.
  4. Guelph DaiIy Mercury and Aduertiser, April 24,1877
  5. Guelph Weekly HeraId, May 7, 1879.
  6. Guelph Daily Mercury, June 23, 1887.
  7. Guelph Daily Mercury, April 24, 1902.
  8. Guelph Daily Mercury, Aptil 24, 1902.
  9. Guelph Evening Mercury , July 20, 1927 , 114 pp .
  10. Guelph Evening Mercury, July 4, 1927
  11. Guelph Daily Mercury, July 2, 1952.
  12. Guelph Daily Mercury, July 2, 1967.