#askacurator: Ward’s in a name?

One of our ongoing features here on the blog is #askacurator, in which we give you the opportunity to pose a question to our amazing curatorial team. The question can be anything Guelph- or museum- related. If you don’t have a specific question, you can also suggest a general topic for us to cover in our blog.

Perhaps you’d like to know more about that old building you walk past on the way to work, or about a famous Guelphite who has always intrigued you. Or perhaps you just want to know more about the work of a curator. It’s all fair game.

After all, Guelph Museums is your museum. We’re here to satisfy your curiosity.

A few weeks ago, @chelseybunsch asked, “do you happen to know why the York/ Victoria area is called “the Ward”? I’ve been wondering for a while.”

Great question. I’ve been wondering that for a while too. I brought this question to our curatorial team and here is what I discovered:

The Ward wasn’t always called The Ward. It has been known as St Patrick’s Ward, East Ward, and Ward One, at different points in its history.

Geographically, The Ward is the area east of the Eramosa River, north of the Speed River, and south of Eramosa Hill. In the early twentieth-century, the industrialist J.W. Lyon offered companies free land in this area as an incentive to settle in Guelph. He then profited by selling the rest of the land to employees of these companies. One of The Ward’s distinguishing features was its mix of residential and commercial buildings.

The tract of land that makes up The Ward is low-lying, and has been prone prone to flooding. It also suffered from sanitation problems in the early twentieth-century. As a consequence of both factors, wealthier citizens typically chose to live on higher ground elsewhere in Guelph. Populated mostly by workers and their families, a strong working-class identity took root and flourished in the neighbourhood.

Here is an aerial photo of the ward taken in the 1940s:

the ward aerial

You are looking at the fork of Neeve and Ontario Streets and the factory is the Guelph Carpet and Worsted Spinning Mills. The section of the mills on Neeve Street is now condos and the section on Ontario Street is the Mill Lofts (also condos).

I’ve been putting off answering the question, and that’s because . . . well, there is no real answer to it.

Over the years, people slowly stopped referring to the area as St. Patrick’s Ward (though some still do), and many began calling it, simply, The Ward. There is no firm date at which the change took place.

But why not call it The Ward? Despite often being overlooked by the rest of the city, the ward’s working class inhabitants are fiercely proud of their neighbourhood and its rich history. For them it is the one and only ward.

Posted by Dawn Owen on November 6, 2014