Guelph was founded on St. George’s Day, April 23rd, 1827 with the ceremonial felling of a large maple tree. Guelph is considered to be one of the first planned towns in Canada and was chosen as the headquarters of a British development firm known as the “Canada Company”. The location was picked by the Company’s Superintendent in Canada, a popular Scottish novelist named John Galt who designed the town to attract settlers to it and to the surrounding countryside.
Galt’s plan was quite imaginative, based on a series of streets radiating from a focal point at the Speed River, and resembles a European city centre, complete with squares, broad main streets and narrow side streets, resulting in a variety of block sizes and shapes. Galt chose the name “Guelph” for the new town because it was one of the family names of the British royal family, and it had apparently never been used as a place name before. Hence the current use of the term “The Royal City” for Guelph.
Despite John Galt’s grandiose plans, Guelph did not grow beyond village size until the Grand Trunk Railroad reached it from Toronto in 1856. After this time, many of Guelph’s prominent buildings were erected, a number of which were designed by high profile Toronto-based architects, but most of which were the product of a talented group of local architects, builders and stone carvers who effectively used Guelph’s locally quarried, warm-hued limestone which today gives a visual unity to the older parts of the City.
The Coat of Arms
Guelph was founded on April 23, 1827, and officially became a town on January 1, 1856. The Town Council adopted a crest in readiness for Guelph’s proclamation as a city of April 23, 1879.
The original coat of arms was unique. On the left side was an axeman standing beside a tree stump, representing John Galt’s ceremonial felling of a mighty tree to create Guelph. On the right side, Britannia, with gown, helmet and shield, represented Guelph’s links with the United Kingdom. She held a cornucopia containing the bounty of the rich soil of Guelph. In the centre, as Guelph’s arms, was a shield with the symbolic white running horse of Hanover, the ancient principality in Germany where the Guelph royal connections go back 1,000 years. On top, again representing Guelph’s link with the British Royal family, was the supposed Guelphic crown with a lion on it. The inscription was in Latin and read “Fides, Professio, Fidelitas.”
For nearly 100 years the coat of arms was used extensively and considered handsome and historically correct. However, it was “unofficial” and known to be flawed from a heraldic point of view.
Guelph celebrated its Sesquicentennial (150th anniversary) in 1977. To commemorate the occasion it was decided to redesign Guelph’s official arms and crest.
Well-known artist, Eric Barth, a graduate of Heidelberg University in Germany, agreed to do the design work. He was assisted by a panel of local historians, organized by the Sesquicentennial Committee chaired by Guelph journalist Verne McIlwraith.
It was discovered that the original coat of arms had a number of errors. The lion and the crown were incorrect. The cornucopia was at such an angle that nothing would stay in it. The white horse was not of the distinctive Hanoverian breed. The axeman was said to be “too effeminate” for a Canadian city. The Latin inscription needed to be translated in English as “Faith, Fidelity and Progress.”
Barth corrected the inaccuracies and redrew the coat of arms, being careful to retain the century-old general basis and outline. Colours were updated to take advantage of new printing procedures. The project was sent to the College of Arms and Heraldry in London, England, for approval and registration.
On December 15, 1977, the Duke of Norfolk, as Earl Marshal and Hereditary Marshal, gave his warrant authorizing the granting and assigning to Guelph of the proposed Armorial Ensigns.
In London, England, on May 8, 1978, the Kings of Arms – Garter, Clarenceux and Norroy and Ulster – signed and sealed the document, with its ancient language according to the Laws of Arms. The document was in the name of William Gordon Hall, “Gentleman”, City Clerk of the City of Guelph. English clerks sent it to him at City Hall. The public register of the Canadian Heraldic Authority at Rideau Hall, Ottawa, was also given a copy of the record.
Guelph, at last, had its official, registered and heraldically correct, armorial bearings (the centre part) and supports (the two human figures at the side). Total cost was under $4,000, all the local work having been done on a volunteer basis.
In the arms and the argent (silvery-white) horse had been given the busy tail and distinctive head of the Hanoverian breed. The crowns were changed to be the Ancient design in gules (red). As a special local touch the lion, wearing an ancient crown, was shown resting his forepaw upon the haft of an axe.
Britannia became an anonymous “female figure proper” losing her shield but gaining a trident. Her “sinister” (or left) hand held the cornucopia which was properly resting on the grassy mount at the base of the new design.
The axeman was no longer even an attempt at looking like John Galt. He was now a sturdy man in the fashion of the 1820s with open shirt, breeches, boots and cut-away tail coat, and with his axe embedded in a felled tree trunk.
The official design was put into use in 1978 as the City’s Seal and on civic documents and notices. The design was considered so attractive that immediate plans were made to use the shield, or arms, as Guelph’s own distinctive heraldic flag.
Kennedy’s, the flag-making firm in Erin, Ontario, assisted with the design. First efforts were not satisfactory as the running white horse proved difficult to get into correct perspective. “It looks like a lizard” was an initial criticism. Flag-makers quickly overcame the problems. They produced the correct heraldic colours for the white horse on its green background, with the ancient red crowns. The name of the City of Guelph was used instead of the city’s motto.
A similar version of the shield was produced as the logo for official city vehicles. The name of the corporation was put in Royal Blue in a circle around the shield.
Royal City in the headlines
Guelph may be Canada’s fastest City. The Speed River running club is among the most successful in the country. Boasting around 150 members, the club also offers children’s and high-school-age programs. Read the article in the Globe and Mail (September 25, 2011)
Guelph ranked number one in MSN’s report on Canada’s next most livable cities. “Vancouver and Toronto may be Canada’s two highest priced cities, but there are other places to live that rank high in livability… when it comes to raising kids, breathing relatively fresh air, buying a home, and walking happily around the streets, there are small cities and towns across the country that would rank high if you conducted your own informal survey.” (January 24, 2011)
Guelph was named Canada’s Most Caring Community by Maclean’s Magazine. The Royal City is the volunteer capital of Canada because 69.7 per cent of its population volunteers. (August 28, 2008)
Guelph’s St. Patrick’s Ward, was the only Canadian location to make This Old House 2009 Editor’s picks for the best old house neighbourhoods
Guelph was ranked among the top ten places to live in Canada for four out of five demographic categories – university graduates, mid-career professionals, families with children and retirees by Richard Florida, the director of the Martin Prosperity Institute at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management in his book Who’s Your City? (2009)
The Canadian Council on Learning (CCL), ranked Guelph fourth among 4,716 Canadian cities in their Composite Learning Index, an annual measure that gauges learning conditions needed to foster social and economic well-being. (2009)
Statistics Canada named Guelph Canada’s safest city (2009). In 2010, Guelph ranked lowest on the nation’s crime severity index for the fourth year in a row.
Facts about Guelph
- Guelph was named after the British Royal Family. King George the IV, the monarch at the time of Guelph’s founding, was from the Guelph lineage, a German family.
- Guelph was the home of North America’s first cable TV system. Ted Metcalf created McLean Hunter Television and their first broadcast was Queen Elizabeth’s Coronation in 1953.
- Guelph’s police force had Canada’s first municipal motorcycle patrol. Chief Ted Lamb brought back an army motorcycle he used during the First World War. Motorcycles were faster and more efficient than walking.
- Guelph’s police force was the first to have two-way car radios.
- Guelph City Council set up Canada’s first city manager system. The system’s creator, John McVicar, later became the secretary of the League of American Municipalities.
- Guelph city planners conceived a way to easily convert units into condominiums. Chicago was so impressed with the system they used it as a model for their city and it has since become a North American standard.
- Guelph had one of Canada’s first militia units of gunners in 1866.
- Guelph was home to Canada’s first army cadet corps and the year of its founding became part of their name – the 1882 Wellington.
- Tim Ryan, the inventor of Five Pin Bowling, was a Guelph resident.
- GCVI had Canada’s first high school lunch cafeteria.
- Guelph is the first and only municipality in the British Commonwealth to own its own railway line. The line is a 16 mile link to the Guelph Junction Railroad and the CPR. Guelph still owns it today.
- The jock strap was invented here… created by Guelph Elastic Hosiery (now Protexion Industries) in the 1920s. The company held a contest to name the product and jock strap was the winning name. The prize was five dollars.
- 1460 CJOY was the first Canadian radio station to have a call-in talk show.
- The wire coat hanger was invented here in the 1920s, probably by Steele’s Wire Spring Company.
- The Ontario Veterinary College is the oldest school of its kind in the Western hemisphere (founded in 1862).
- Colonel John McCrae, who wrote the poem “In Flanders Fields” was born and raised in Guelph.
- Riverside Park was named by priest William Carroll who was the winner of a contest to name the new park in 1905.
- P.T. Barnum’s circus came to Guelph in 1879.
- Sir John A Macdonald owned 50 acres of land in St. Patrick’s Ward in 1854.
- Baker Street was named after Wellington District’s first inspector of weights and measures – Alfred Baker – who was a Guelph resident.
- Until 1868, horses were used to operate the Mercury’s printing press. In 1868 a steam engine was installed to operate the presses.
- The number “64″ on the cap of Sleeman Cream Ale bottles is the page number of the recipe from the book belonging to the great grandfather who started the company in 1832.
- Led by potato breeder Dr. Gary Johnston, a research team at the University of Guelph created the Yukon Gold, the first Canadian-bred potato to be marketed and promoted by name. It received a Canadian license in 1980.
- The HMCS Guelph was commissioned into the Royal Canadian Navy on 9 May 1944. This Flower Class corvette worked as an escort between Halifax and several U.S. ports before conducting escort duties between St. John’s, Newfoundland and Belfast, Northern Ireland. HMCS Guelph was awarded battle honours for Atlantic 1944-45. At the end of the war, she was paid off in June 1945 and sold in October 1945 to a private firm. She was last noted in Lloyd’s Register for 1964-1965 as Burfin, a name she had borne since 1956.
Thanks to the Guelph Museum for providing these interesting facts.
City by numbers
61,900 customers @ Service Guelph
6,300,000 passengers @ Guelph Transit
53,983 customers @ Court Services
6105 calls for service @ Fire Service
116,000 patrons @ River Run Centre
28,000 elementary students @ River Run Centre
225,000 patrons @ Sleeman Centre
43,352 tonnes of residential waste collected
20,745 tonnes of residential waste diverted
16.6 billion litres water treated
5,500 calls for service @ By-law Compliance
80 facilities maintained @ Corporate Maintenance
18,800 visitors @ Guelph Civic Museum
16,900 calls for service @ EMS
2,000,000 library books circulated @ Guelph Public Library
108 Parks maintained
57 km of trails maintained
1,032 inspections of playgrounds
139 weddings 576 km of roads & 679 km of sidewalk maintained
If you’re interested in learning more about Guelph’s history, the following web sites will be of interest to you:
- Guelph Historical Society- researches and studies the history of the city of Guelph. In addition to info on Guelph’s history, you’ll find Society programming and a list of available publications concerning the City of Guelph.
- Guelph Museums – here you’ll find information on exhibits and events, collections and programs at Guelph Museum and McCrae House.
- Guelph Public Library – has an online database of historical images and a local history section.
- Wikipedia – has information about Guelph’s history, sports teams, demographics, miscellaneous facts and more.