10 Interesting Factoids From Guelph150

There was a bit of controversy today with the Guelph150 banners, one of the entries being labelled taboo because the memory of the crime it references is still fresh in the heads of many Guelphites. But there’s still lots of Guelph History to learn from this interesting and informative Downtown Guelph Business Association promotion, and this is only 10 of them…

Girl Power. In 1994, Lenna Bradburn became the first female municipal police chief in all of Canada when she was promoted to lead the Guelph Police Service, a job she would hold for the next six years. Then in 2000, striking another glass shattering blow for female leadership, Guelph became the first city in Canada where the representative at all three levels of government were woman: Karen Farbridge as mayor, Brenda Chamberlain as MP and Brenda Elliot as MPP.

Rough Decade. For heritage nerds it must have been a tough time living in the Royal City in the 60s. The decade kicked off with the demolition of the old custom’s house in St. George’s Square, then the old Carnegie Library followed it into the building afterlife in 1964, and the Victoria Mill in 1969. In 1970, for the coup de grace, the three-storey stone structure at the corner of Wyndham and Carden that was once the department store owned by D.E. Macdonald Brothers burned down. On the bright side, the Guelph Historical Society got together in 1961, and the Civic Museum opened in its first space, what is now the Farmer’s Market, in 1967.

21 Guelphites Died at Dieppe. As the website says, this was one of the most “tragic and controversial” events in Canada’s illustrious war history. It was bold, ambitious, and might have changed the course of the war… If it hadn’t been a spectacular failure. 5,000 Canadian soldiers got on 23 ships and set course for the German-controlled port to quickly seize the outpost in their own blitzkrieg, raid the command centres for intelligence, and do as much damage as possible as they strategically withdrew. Instead, 2,000 troops were captured, and 900 were killed, including almost 2 dozen Guelph citizens.

Protesting: A Guelph Tradition. Although not on par with some of the protests in Quebec, Guelph had kind of a “conscription crisis” of its own when a group of pacifists gathered at an anti-conscription meeting. This would not stand. A group of civilians and soldiers found the group, led them to the Opera House at the corner of Wyndham and Woolwich, where they were jeered before the scorching rabble. Then the police arrived, and all was well, if well meant taking the pacifists downtown and forcing them to publicly recant their peacenik ways.

Business Genius. In 1906, World Publishing Company owner James Walter Lyon had a brilliant idea to attract more business to Guelph, by giving away a whole bunch of land he owned in the east end to any industry that wanted to set up shop. That’s crazy, how did make money? By selling land to workers to build houses in areas around the new factories and plants forming many different new streets and neighbourhoods in what is now the Ward. The plan worked a little too good because a public health crisis developed due to inadequate sewage, which partially explains why the City takes that kind of stuff so seriously today.

Home of the Cup. Hey men, ever play a sport requiring a jock strap? Thank Guelph Elastic Hosiery who had the brilliant idea in 1927 to add a plastic cup to their product, the “Protex”, for added protection down there. The idea was so successful that by the 50s the cup was the only thing that the company made. The successor business, Protexion Products, still has a plant in Guelph on Speedvale Ave W, but they sadly no longer make the cup for jock straps there.

Electric City. In 1900, the Guelph Light and Power Company replaced the coal oil street lights with electric lamps, which was kind of a source of controversy at the time because of the expense to make the conversion. It’s not the last time Guelph’s energy use and its cost has been an issue in this town.

Iggy Goes Down. One of the first rock bands to play the newly constructed Creelman Plaza on the University of Guelph campus in 1971 was Iggy Pop and the Stooges. The concert came to a swift end when the Headmaster, who’s quarters were just down the street, couldn’t get any sleep due to the loud rock music and called the police. The affair precipitated the establishment of Peter Clark Hall in the University Centre, where numerous rock shows were held without the need to keep school staff up at night.

Secret Agent Man. Remember the name Ken Macalister because he was awesome. A graduate of GCVI that made his way to the University of Toronto, and to Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar who enlisted in the British secret service in World War II. He and a fellow spy were captured behind enemy lines in France in 1943 while trying to rally resistance to Nazi occupation, and ended up being sent to Buchenwald where he and fellow POWs were not given the best of conditions. Macalister and Capt. Frank Pickersgill were executed in September 1944, and were heard to cry “Long live France, long live England, long live Canada.”

Mondex, Baby! Before there was debit, there was Mondex, a noble experiment to build a cashless society right here in Guelph, and the city went Mondex mad! Parking meters were Mondex enabled, so were transit buses, and hundreds of Guelph business happily took on the Mondex machine to process all those many Mondex payments. But you know the old saying about how they couldn’t give them away? Turns out it was true for Mondex cards too as the experiment collapsed due to a lack of support from several of the major banks, and a lack of interest from potential Mondex card users. But the Mondex ads would be on city buses for years to come…

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