Councillor Leanne Piper, a member of the organizing committee for John Galt Day, gave the following interesting address at the opening of festivities:
Why Do We Celebrate John Galt?
Yesterday morning, during a multi-denominational Kirking Ceremony at St. Georges, Dr. Kevin James from the University of Guelph described a bit about John Galt – the man. He was described as a poet, novelist, adventurer, colonizer, debtor, entrepreneur, among other things.
He also noted that Galt was only in Canada for less than 4 years, was relieved of his duties as Superintendent of the Canada Company and when he returned to England, sent to debtor’s prison.
Why then, over 180 years later, do we celebrate this man?
Because during those 3 years, Galt set a vision in motion. When the Province of Ontario declared the first Monday in August as “Civic Holiday’ many municipalities did not act on their power to give a name to it. Some simply called it Founder’s Day. Others, like Toronto and Ottawa have their Simcoe Day and their Colonel By Day. Some towns had founders who simply built a mill and prospered. Some towns were founded as strategic military sites or trading posts. Some towns grew up around agricultural settlements or mining or forestry sites.
But our little town was destined to be more. Guelph was destined for greatness because one man had an ambitious vision – in his own autobiography he wrote that he founded Guelph “with an eye for the futurity of the magnitude of these parts”.
We are standing at the spot where that vision began.
Did Galt achieve this vision? Can the Guelph of today even remotely compared to the Guelph that Galt foretold?
In the past year, Guelph has received many distinctions —
- Guelph ranked MOST CARING city in Canada.
- Guelph ranked SAFEST CITY in Canada.
- Guelph ranked FOURTH SMARTEST city in Canada.
- Guelph is an internationally recognized centre of excellence in agriculture and bio-technology.
- Guelph is home to world class musicians, music festivals and writers.
Considering Galt’s vision, are these merely coincidences?
MOST CARING – Galt’s administration of the Canada Company was ridiculed by its investors – he offered shelter to new settlers, he allowed them pay off their land on credit, he offered a new home to the penniless La Guayra settlers, a displaced and starving group of Scots and he wrote poetry and political satire that called for a socially just society.
SAFEST – Galt was a man of order and temperance (unlike his sidekick). During a civic celebration in 1828, he appointed Guelph’s first constable Thomas Brown to keep the peace – constable pro tem – and today Guelph has the distinction of having the second oldest police force in Canada, the first motorcycle officer, the first two-way radio system, the first vehicle safety inspection program and first female police chief.
SMARTEST – Galt insisted on the construction of a school house in its first year, and required an education fee as part of land costs for lots sold in Guelph so that children could be educated for free – well before Egerton Ryerson or the birth of public education in Canada.
AGRICULTURE – University of Guelph, OVC, Research Park, GPI, MarS, Ontario Agri-Centre, OMAFRA, Etc.
MUSIC & LITERATURE Galt wrote in 1833 in his account of Guelph’s thriving culture that the town boasted “several harpes and piano-fortes” – remarkable for a backwoods frontier settlement
Today we boast the Edward Johnson Music Festival, Hillside Festival, Jazz Festival, GYMC, Dance Festival, Film Festival, and acclaimed artists, writers, poets and musicians, including those performing here today.
So John Galt’s vision did come true. Not only that, but it continues to thrive and grow and is worth celebrating.
I want to thank the National Gallery of Scotland – flag – and Provost of Irvine Robert Rae – and to all of you for coming to celebrate our remarkable founding father.