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Celebrating our 'radial design' (and the creative mind behind it)

John Galt Day festivities happen Saturday in Market Square

Guelph was not planned out on an unimaginative gridiron pattern. It’s based on a unique radial design. And we have John Galt to thank for that.

On Saturday, most of the thousands expected to turn out for John Galt Day festivities in the heart of the downtown, likely won’t be preoccupied with Galt’s legacy. Instead, they will have their minds on live entertainment, food trucks, kid’s activities one after the other, and the fire-dancer and juggler.

But in Guelph, the August civic holiday is a kind of founder’s day — and Galt is the figurehead.

“It’s the August 1st long weekend, commonly observed across Canada as the Civic Holiday,” said Jen Rafter, Guelph’s cultural program and event coordinator, in an email. “In Ontario, municipalities traditionally celebrate a historical figure important in the founding of their city or community, and John Galt is the individual who gave Guelph its name in 1827.”

A prolific Scottish novelist and poet of some note, Galt wrote over 40 volumes of fiction and poetry from the early 1800s until his death in 1839. His Guelph home was where the River Run Centre now stands. He was noted for being one of the first novelists to examine the industrial revolution.

Galt, Ontario, which was absorbed by nearby Cambridge, was named after him. The John Galt character in the 1957 Ayn Rand novel Atlas Shrugged, is not the same man.

As the superintendent of The Canada Company in London, England, Galt had some sway over the plan to build an agricultural centre in Upper Canada, envisioning a town that would foster the grown of farming. And so began Guelph. The city’s agricultural roots remain very deep.

Galt is a central figure in Guelph’s history, Rafter indicated, and John Galt Day is one of the largest city-run celebrations of the calendar.  

She said the 1979 bronze bust of Galt by John Miecznikowski that occupies a place of honour in Market Square, has an inscription that speaks of Galt’s enduring legacy. The last line of the inscription reads: “This progressive community stands as a monument to his efforts and ingenuity.”

“We credit Galt for our community’s radial design — which was quite different than other cities of its time, and we celebrate his enthusiasm, entrepreneurial spirit and unique vision for the design of our city,” Rafter said. “As a successful novelist, dramatist, Galt gave us a cultural outlook from the beginning. He tells the story of Guelph’s beginnings in his autobiography, stating his belief that it is a city 'fated with a high destiny,' and as a Guelphite myself, I would have to agree.”

Celebrating this heritage is part of the festivities, as is the celebration of what Guelph has become, Rafter indicated.

“We are incredibly lucky to have a facility like Guelph Civic Museum to help us connect with our past, and if citizens are interested, the full texts of many of Galt’s novels and other published works can be found in the University of Guelph’s collection,” she added.

Holding the major community celebration in Market Square, the “front porch” of Guelph City Hall, enhances the city’s “liveability and connectedness,” Rafter added. Tying in the vibrant and active Guelph Farmer’s Market adds to the events overall sense of community.

Farmer’s market vendors will extend out onto Wilson Street, which will be closed along with Carden Street for the event.  

John Galt Day festivities begin at 10 a.m. Saturday, running until 2 p.m. It is free. Bex in Motion is the fire dancer. Juggler and illusionist Bella Magic will dazzle. Face painter Cleo the Clown will be on hand. There will be lots for kids things to do, including hitting the splash pad.

The event includes four food trucks onsite — The Salted Pig, Breakfast Blues & BBQ, Café du Monde Crêperie, and Sweet Temptations.

Bring an old T-shirt and Jeff Mann of TREAD ON IT! will work with you to print it. And there will be the launch of a project by Lisa Hirmer, the city’s 2016 Artist in Residence.  


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Rob O'Flanagan

About the Author: Rob O'Flanagan

Rob O’Flanagan has been a newspaper reporter, photojournalist and columnist for over twenty years. He has won numerous Ontario Newspaper Awards and a National Newspaper Award.
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