A treasure in the archives vault at the St. Marys Museum is an old ledger with the title, “Book of By-Laws.” Beginning in early 1855, it records the by-laws enacted by St. Marys’ municipal council.
The first meeting of this council 160 years ago was an extremely significant one. The settlement had grown until it had reached village status and so 1855 was St. Marys’ first year as a municipality distinct from Blanshard Township. Thomas B. Guest presided as the first reeve of the village.
Several important by-laws were enacted at that first meeting. For example, By-law No. 1 appointed municipal officials such as clerk, treasurer, tax collector and auditor. Another by-law was important, partly because it generated funds for the village. It was: “To fix and define the several sums to be paid for Licences for each Tavern-Keeper, Hotel-Keeper, Saloon-Keeper, Temperance Hotel-Keeper, Store-Keeper, Beer Vendor and Auctioneer within the Municipality of the Village of Saint Marys, County of Perth, for the year 1855.” Licences ranged from £7 10s per annum for hotel and saloon-keepers to £3 per annum for a temperance house – a meeting place or hotel that did not sell spirits.
An additional by-law was enacted several meetings later: “To define the accommodations necessary that each Tavern-Keeper should have within the Municipality.” It was required that each establishment “…have six good spare beds, over and above, and in addition to, those required by his family and also good stables, sufficiently large for six span of horses.” Furthermore, no tavern-keeper was to allow “…any idle or loitering person or persons, or any drunken, disorderly person or persons to remain about their premises.” Taverns were inspected and fines levied for infractions.
The village was required by the statutes of Canada West to enact these by-laws. Some establishments, like the one shown in this week’s advertising print, complied easily. The National Hotel, on the southeast corner of Queen and Water Streets, was prestigious and well-established even in 1855. It belonged to local property developer David A. Robertson who served as village reeve in 1857 and 1858. Although not a temperance house, it provided respectable and comfortable accommodation. It was destroyed in a terrible fire in 1896.
Other premises were less orderly. By-laws were needed to try to keep the peace – St. Marys was still in many ways a rough and rowdy pioneer settlement. These taverns were the ones that generated stories. Ken Telfer’s seminar, “Set ’Em Up, Barkeeper,” relates some of the most interesting tales. The presentation, January 15, is full but registrations are now being accepted for a pair of repeat presentations, Thursday evening, Jan. 22, and Thursday evening, Feb. 19 at the St. Marys Museum. Call 519-284-3556 for information.