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Decolonizing Guelph’s Founding Story
January 29, 2019 - February 2, 2020
Guelph Museums is in the process of decolonization through the restructuring of our colonialist framework and by collaborating meaningfully with First Nations, Inuit and Métis Peoples. We are committed to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action and we strive to initiate dialogues and create safe spaces for truth telling. These guiding principles inform all that we do at Guelph Museums.
In the 1850s and 1860s, provincial and university-based museums were created across Upper Canada; however, after Confederation in 1867, the government began to recognize the value of national collections in encouraging exploration and resource development—effectively tools of colonization. During this period the National Museums of Canada were established including the National Museum of Man (1856), the National Gallery of Canada (1880), and the Canadian Museum of Nature (1905), among others.
Canada’s centennial in 1967 significantly increased public interest in Canadian heritage and was a pivotal moment in the growth of the museum sector. In 1968, the National Museums Act and the National Museums of Canada Corporation focused on strengthening the role of all Canadian museums and establishing the government’s intentions for their future management and funding.
It was in this milieu that the Guelph Civic Museum was created to preserve and share this city’s local history. Since then, Guelph’s founding story has been told through the narrative of the Canada Company, a colonization company that was chartered in 1825 and remained in operation until it sold its last parcel of land in the 1950s. Founded by John Galt (1779–1839), who became its first Superintendent, the Canada Company was responsible for colonizing over two million acres of land on the shores of Lake Huron, which became known as the Huron Tract. Galt arrived in Upper Canada in 1825, founded the towns of Guelph and Goderich in 1827, built a road between these “instant cities” in 1828, and was recalled to Britain by May of 1829.
This version of our founding story implied that Galt and the Canada Company settled a vast and unpopulated wilderness and negated, by omission, the rich history of the Original Peoples who have lived on these lands for millennia, as well as the atrocities enacted upon them by the same mechanisms of colonization that led to the establishment of our city and of this museum.