1850’s Guelph, a town on the frontier

The rutted roads through pioneer,
spokes from Galt’s hub for twenty year,
free bred wily entrepreneur
who branched out wild without a fear.

Frederick George was no voyeur
and from farmer to land owner
along the Speed he did succeed.
No enterprise did he demur.

Four hundred yards he did so seed:
Mills, foundry, piggery and he’d
more: tannery, distillery!
With a power dam warranteed.

So Fred, covered ancillary,
booted, baconed and whiskelry
was a gentleman profiteer
and could marry Miss Hilary.


I used a chain rhyme like that used so well by Robert Frost in ‘Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening’ to poetize an early development magnate in the founding days of the royal city. Inspired from ‘The Annals of the Town of Guelph’ by C. Acton Burrows. I do have a poetic license and so am allowed by law to take the liberty to ‘create’ a fictional Miss Hillary at the end. Which was good since I didn’t want to have to make up another rhyme for ‘distillery’. But, and here I’m being so frank I approach a rash honesty, a pleasing argument could be made that it’s just ’cause I like whiskelry.


Peter Butchart’s Party

Mr. Peter Butchart, so ill fated to be
a Scotsman marooned as a La Guayra settler,
was married to a labourer’s child, Elspeth Livie
May 3rd, 1821. He was trained as a tailor
and, like many, not suited to carving out
a life in the shallow soils of coastal mountain
so they switched from C to C Company about
and eventually arrived hopeful in Guelph certain
of a chance for better health and prospect.
But now onto April of the year 1829
where my history and this poem does intersect.
After their long debt was paid condign
Peter wanted to celebrate in some style
he’d sold ten suits in as many a week
and to the Priory, brooking no denial,
applied to Jas Benham for how to sneak
through the rationing at the Company store.
Jas was amenable to be hale and hearty
and let on, quiet aside, that he did adore
the idea of Butchart’s celebratory party.
So on that warm Spring day, the seventh of April
Peter agreed to invite his partner and witness
and so ordered flour from MacDonell Gristmill
showing Jas’ slip to the clerk, Mr. Dennis.
Then thirty-seven and a half pounds of pig
from the butcher for pick up on the 13th.
Easter Sunday, then, was on Neeve St. so big
despite a grey sky and light rain beneath.
Peter, Elspeth, other La Guayra friends and the children
celebrated a serendipitous great and good fortune
for their long migrations did finally wend
to where their toil was desired and opportune.

Inspired by a short blurb found in an old copy of a newspaper clipping in the Guelph Library:

Allowance to Peter Butchart for April 13th, witnessed by Jas. Benham on the 7th day of April, 1829.
12-1/2 lbs. flour at 3d/lb. cost: 3s, 1-1/2d
37-1/2 lbs. Pork at 7-1/2d/lb. cost: 1£ 1s 5d

This blog posting:


and other research. I’ve tried to put forth the facts with only some slight embellishment.

Apostle of Ontario

Father Alexander Macdonnell in the clearance Year of the Sheep
was first Catholic chaplin in the British Forces though that leap
hadn’t succeeded since reformation he’d been named same
so when his flock, evicted by a false Highland Chief of same name
(who chose to be a leader of wooly sheep rather than Scotsmen)
our Alexander shook the dust off and to Glasgow went when
he learned he could guide his from Glengarry Scotland
to Glengarry County on the lip of Upper Canada away from England.
There were only two other priests in that vast area, neither trailblazer,
one quit and the other stayed close to present day Windsor.
Father Alex did roam throughout the territory and returned to duty
as Chaplin again in the World of 1812 and the Fencibles of his county.
He became Vicar Apostolic of Upper Canada and then became Bishop
and founded churches and schools far as he could canoe, walk or gallop
and could preach, man, even in the Church of a friend Presbyterian
so misers would empty their pockets for this Catholic oratorian.

All this I consider as I sip tapped cider
below the hill given by Galt to this man’s cause
on the Guelph street named for the tireless builder
and think here’s a man worthy of gusty applause.


The Eramosa Bridge getting rebuilt, 1852

A warm summer day it was when Miss J. Thorp,
visiting her friend Miss E. Clarke,
drank root beer in an iced mug
up upon the Clarke’s widow’s walk.

They watched the daring men jump
and wrestle huge screws as they assembled
the new iron bridge over the Speed.
The men were closely supervised by none other than Mr. John Watt
a very handsome man, if there ever was one, with his long moustaches.

Everyone knew that Breakneck Bridge had been due
to be replaced for years.
Dr. Clarke had apparently said that £700 was a reasonable sum.
The girls had a hard time imagining that much money
or what they could, breathless, buy with it.
But there were holes clear through in places
and it was hard to get the horses to slow down after Eramosa Hill.
Emilia Thurtell had a large bruise
from when their trap had suddenly stopped
as their filly had broken her leg there in the Fall.
But Elizabeth and Jane, both whispering,
were sure Emilia was too much of a complainer.

As the root beer diminished in their mugs
the chatter turned to how the construction could interfere
with the ice in the channel.
Would the wood supports be gone by the next winter?
Elizabeth said her brother thought so.
Jane hoped so.
It wasn’t where the chaperoned skating occurred of course.
That was downriver where it was wider by the Priory.
They liked to tie on their skates sitting back to back
on the stump and using the fence to hold them up.
But in the narrows on this side of Eramosa was where the boys
preferred to play hockey.
And smoke!

A sudden gust came up the river
and brought a heron winging overhead
long wings out
languidly flapping below the tree tops
but over the highest iron arch
and unconcerned with the enterprise below.
As if it didn’t care.
But the girls watched, silent, for only a moment.
Mr. Watt, his silver watch out, yelled ‘Lunch’ to the men
and, spell broken, the girls’ banter began again.

Canada Day Events

Guelph has a very active Rotary club who put on many activities and, I presume, do a lot of charity work around town. But their website this year for their big Canada Day Activities event got me laughing yesterday. I wanted to find something that was fun for my kids so I went to their site. Here are the ‘activities’ you get:

  • Carousel Rides
  • Train Rides
  • Pony Rides
  • Petting Zoo filled with Goats, Lambs and Bunnies who await love and interactive feeding.
  • Mid Way has something for Everyone – Cotton Candy to Thrilling Rides!
  • Inflatable Bouncing Games for the Kiddies offer the Giraffe, Castle and Gigantic Slide.
  • Fireworks
  • Duck Races
  • Children’s Play Zone: Children 6 and under a variety of activities
  • Rotary Information Tent
  • ATM Machine

Again I applaud our Rotarians for what they do (although my kids were in that too old and not old enough range and so didn’t want to go the park with me this year… again) but still, it’s a sad thing when an ATM becomes an activity. Especially when the ‘machine’ is repeated. What’s with that anyway? ATM stands for Automated Teller Machine… why tack on another machine?