Published by Communications and Public Affairs (519) 824-4120, Ext. 56982 or 53338
March 28, 2002
Lecture to explore two sides of Guelph's founding father
The University of Guelph's College of Arts is marking the city's 175th anniversary by hosting a special lecture April 12 on "John Galt and Guelph: A Writer's Imagination and the Creation of the Community."
The illustrated lecture will be presented by University Professor Emeritus Gil Stelter at 7 p.m. in Room 114 of the MacKinnon Building. The free event is open to the public.
Stelter says that Guelph's creative roots can be traced back to Galt, who broke both personal and professional traditions when he founded the city in 1827. A popular literary figure in England and Scotland, Galt is best known in Canada as a colonizer. "John Galt himself always fostered the notion that his literary career was separate from his business career," Stelter said, but there was tension between Galt's two personalities.
"I want to explore the ways in which a writer was ultimately not satisfied with only the 'creative' and wanted to be a part of world affairs," Stelter said. "It is a tension present in literally every academic and is at the heart of the modern intellectual world: Do you do something that is purely artistic or do something that will change things?"
Stelter has written and lectured extensively about Galt, even travelling through Scotland to see Galt's birthplace. "My interest in Galt stems from my interest in urban history and the role of a city in creating a new society." Guelph is an interesting case study, he said. "It was founded in order to stimulate agriculture. Normally, you have settlements first and then eventually cities and towns. Galt believed the process worked the other way."
Galt also had a "radical plan" for the city's design, Stelter said. "It was a departure from the normal grid pattern of most towns. The city had a founding point - where the railroad tracks cross the Speed River - and the streets fan out from that beginning spot both in shape and function. It was a very imaginative plan."
Stelter's lecture will also explore the overall context in which Galt was operating as a colonizer. Back then, Upper Canada was run by a conservative religious establishment that was headquartered at York. Galt was representing a big land company in London. "When Galt came to Canada, the feeling was he did not pay proper respect to the establishment in Toronto, and ultimately these people complained back to London. That was the main reason Galt was fired less than two years after founding Guelph."
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