Guelph, Rome, and the origin of a History Myth

Sketch of John Galt

What do Guelph and Rome have in common?

According to Guelph’s founder, John Galt, both cities are “fated with a high destiny.” And, as is often the case with great cities, both have been “the cause of quarrels.”

Those familiar with Roman mythology know that Romulus killed his brother Remus on the same day he founded Rome. The crime? Remus mocked the wall Romulus was building around the city by leaping over it repeatedly in jest. (Brothers can be so annoying).

But what happened in Guelph to warrant such a comparison?

It all started with Guelph’s naming. Galt chose the name Guelph as a “compliment to the royal family,” the Hanoverians, who were descended from the Guelphs.

But Galt’s bosses, the directors of the Canada Company, objected. They couldn’t envision Galt’s settlement on the Speed River speed growing into a prosperous metropolis, and insisted that the royal tribute be reserved for more advantageously located town. They suggested the name Goderich instead.

A stubborn Galt proceeded with the naming anyway. Later, in an attempt to appease the directors, he used “Goderich” for the name of a town on the shores of Lake Huron.

But the damage was done. The directors were furious at Galt’s defiance. In his autobiography, Galt writes, “from the day that I announced the birth of this metropolis to the directors of the Canada Company, my troubles and vexations began.” These troubles would eventually lead to his dismissal as Secretary of the Canada Company.

Curiously, this incident in Guelph’s history is probably the origin of the myth that the plans for Guelph and Goderich somehow got mixed-up. Though false, it is a myth that has proven resilient, much to the chagrin of local historians and museum curators.

Posted by Dawn Owen on August 12, 2015