James Walter Lyon: The Birth of St. Patrick's Ward

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James Walter Lyon: The Birth of St. Patrick's Ward

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James Walter Lyon: From Birth to His Arrival in Guelph

In 1885, Prime Minister Sir John A. MacDonald sold a tract of land which he held in Guelph. Swampy, low lying land, seemingly devoid of value: The sale of this land was the first step in the creation of St. Patrick's Ward. James Walter Lyon was born in Uniondale, Pennsylvania on April 24, 1848. Lyon moved to Michigan at 19 entering the industry in which he was to succeed most profitably: the publishing industry. Lyon began by canvassing for books before he entered into a partnership with his employer. By 1872, a Canadian branch of the company had opened in Guelph, where Lyon met his future wife Lucy Boult whose family built St. George's Church on Woolwich Street.

Entering into the Business World

In 1874, Lyon struck out on his own into the business world launching the World Publishing Company. The name was by no means misleading, as branches were established in world wide from South Africa to Australia and beyond. Lyon had developed immense prestige. In 1876, Queen Victoria accepted the dedication of an atlas which Lyon had been working on in Australia. This atlas ended up generating $3 million. After a brief stint in furniture manufacturing in Buffalo from 1888-1898, Lyon returned his focus to publishing, gaining publication rights to the book "Life of Queen Victoria." Three years later, Queen Victoria died, causing sales to explode. In 1904, Lyon returned to Guelph, gaining status as a British subject.

A Vision for Guelph and the Birth of the Ward

With industries like the Dalyte Electric Company and the Guelph Paper Box Company moving in close to the recently constructed stretch of the Grand Trunk Railroad, Lyon saw potential for industrial development in a stretch of land east of the Speed River. In 1906, Lyon bought 400 acres on both sides of York Street from the Speed and Eramosa Rivers to Victoria Road. Lyon proceeded to secure industrial development in what was to become St. Patrick's Ward by giving 12-16 acres of land free of charge to industries willing to locate in Guelph. This attracted such firms as the International Malleable Iron Company and the Guelph Stove Company both of which had some longevity. This may lead one to wonder how Lyon planned to profit off of this strategy, but Lyon had a plan. Remaining property not being used by industry was subdivided into numerous small plots which were subsequently sold to workers and their families to construct houses. Lyon is often praised for this stage in the development of the Ward, however, not all went according to plan. Plots had been subdivided to such small plots that population density skyrocketed, outpacing the capacity of existing infrastructure and leading to sewage contamination in the Ward's water supply. By 1924, Lyon's process of developing the Ward into an industrial, then mixed industrial / residential area was complete by 1924. Lyon had taken what R. Gilbank describes as a: "...forsaken swampy stretch along York Street..." and in 10 years created a modern industrial neighborhood, equipped with street rail lines and factories employing 2,000 local residents while simultaneously doubling the population of Guelph.

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Items in the James Walter Lyon: The Birth of St. Patrick's Ward Collection

Lyon Park
James Walter Lyon used the land he had purchased, not only for industry, but for parks. Lyon donated the land necessary for the creation of Riverside Park in 1905 which some suspect was a ploy at generating more traffic for Lyon's Guelph Radial…

St. George's Church from across the Speed River
St. George's Church was constructed by the Boult family, which Lyon married into through his marriage to Lucy Boult.

Some Recollections of James Walter Lyon
The first page of a memoir created by James Walter Lyon in 1924.