Thursday, April 30, 2009

Council Plays Musical City Halls

In a night filled with pomp, circumstance and some delightful little snack foods, the doors were officially closed on the building that’s acted as City Hall since 1857 while City Council walked casually down the road to their new digs at 1 Carden St. A full house of councillors and mayors, past and present, as well as the regular round-up of politicos, reporters and city staff, bid adieu to the building now destined to become the next local branch of Provincial court. The evening was all about celebrating the old and ushering in the new, as the long in development building, through ceremony, became the official home base for the City of Guelph
First was the decommissioning of the old Council Chamber, a room that’s seen God knows how many decisions concerning the City of Guelph reached in over 150 years of service. Of the old building, Mayor Karen Farbridge said that in the chamber over the years, “people have come together in earnest to make this city a better place.” One of those people was Norman Jary, who spent 37 years on council; 15 of those as Mayor. Jary was in attendance and reminisced about his time remembering all the ribbon cutting he did over the years and time Pierre Trudeau visited Guelph and going to meet him at the train station amidst a ravenous crowd of Trudeau-maniacs. Jary recalled that it was the first time as a public servant that he was afraid for his person.

Not to be outdone, Guelph’s first mayor, John Smith (processing the human form of re-enactor Vince Wall), talked about laying the cornerstone of the then New City Hall in 1856 and his other contributions to the city. Wall’s bombastic performance was great, especially since he usually plays the part in the much more intimate setting of Guelph Museum’s Spirit Walk. Some interesting factoids about Smith: he was the founder of the Wellington Advertiser, Guelph’s first newspaper; he pushed for gravel roads to make travel easier and less muddy; and he literally read the Riot Act and called in the military to quell civil disobedience during the Orange Riots.

With “John Smith” having said his piece, it was time to bang the gavel for the last time in the old Chamber. Mayor Farbridge called for a recess and reconstitution as everyone left the building and headed one door over. A piper led Wall as Smith with Farbridge, present council and special guests behind, walking up Carden Street and into the new City Hall building. The new horseshoe, which is probably big enough to house two rooms of comparable size to the old chamber, awaited council with its wood panelling and state of the art finishings. The good news? The gallery section is also larger, which will come in handy to better accommodate those especially contentious council meetings and protestors.

Once everyone was settled in the new Chamber, it was time for the presentation of the pins. The special pins, which feature the City’s coat of arms, blue and green colours and co-ordinating stones of sapphire and emerald, where given to all members of council that were in attendance. The evening concluded with the unveiling of a restored picture of Elvie Lowell, the first female ever to sit on city council. From her place of honour in the new City Hall, the portrait of Councillor Lowell will observe, perhaps, the next 150 years of Guelph history. For pictures from the evening, and other assorted Guelph political news, head over to

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