Who’s Macdonell and Why Does He Get a Street?

It’s been a while since I have written a history post and with Canada Day upon us I figured it was a good time to do so; especially since today is an anniversary with a solid connection to my home town.

Bishop Macdonell (image courtesy Wikipedia Commons)

On this date, July 29th, in 1786 over 500 highlanders left the shores of Scotland for Upper Canada to establish a new settlement in Glengarry County. They were the remains of the Glengarry Fencibles, the last Catholic regiment in Britain at the time. When the regiment was disbanded after the Treaty of Amiens had been signed, their chaplain appealed to the government for a tract of land in Canada where they could settle. That chaplain was one Alexander Macdonell, who accompanied the group to their new home. The following year Macdonell would be ordained and made priest of the parish. It seemed for all the world that his military career was over;  but such was not exactly the case.

In December of 1811, when it became clear that war with the United States was pretty much a done deal, Sir George Prevost wrote to Lord Liverpool, the Colonial Secretary:

I have sent Capt. Macdonell, of the King’s Regiment, into the townships where the Glengarry emigrants are settled in Upper Canada, to ascertain their ability to form a regiment of light infantry. Capt. Macdonell is selected for his zeal, ability and intelligence, with a name and national character acceptable to them, and the same religious persuasion, as they are all Roman Catholics.”1

That captain was not our friend Alexander, but rather bright young fellow named George. However, while George was in Glengarry County he collaborated with Father Macdonell, who proved to be a valuable ally in the formation of the regiment, once again referred to as the Glengarry Fencibles. In return for his efforts Macdonell was once again named the regimental chaplain with the understanding that he would never have to accompany them into battle.

After the war, in 1815, Alexander began his service as a Roman Catholic Bishop at St. Raphael’s Parish. In 1819 he was appointed Vicar Apostolic of Upper Canada, a position that was elevated to a bishopric in 1826, making Alexander Macdonell the first Bishop of Upper Canada.

It was during this time that the Bishop became involved in supporting the work of his friend John Galt, a novelist working for the Canada Company, in establishing new settlements throughout what is now southern Ontario. To express his gratitude for the Bishop’s assistance Galt chose a prime hilltop in the centre of the new settlement of Guelph which he “reserved for the Catholics, in compliment to my friend, Bishop Macdonell, for his advice in the formation of the Company.” It was Galt’s hope that his friend would move the seat of the bishopric to Guelph. The road leading up to the hill was named Macdonell Street and in the autumn of 1827 Bishop Macdonell was one of the first visitors to the “Royal City” (okay, at this point it was more like ‘Royal Village’). The monumental, gothic-style Church of Our Lady Immaculate would subsequently be erected on the hill where it still stands today; undeniably the most prominent landmark in the city.

To pay further tribute to the Bishop, in 1962, Notre Dame Catholic High School and the Loretto Academy for Girls, located on that same hill, were collectively renamed Bishop Macdonell Catholic High School (locally referred to as simply Bishop Mac). The two buildings were joined into one in 1967, and the school was moved to its new location in the south end of the city in 2004. The original building has been demolished.

Church of our Lady Immaculate

Looking up Macdonell Street at the Church of our Lady Immaculate in Guelph

So, there you have it. If you moved to Guelph recently and have wondered who Bishop Macdonell was and why he had a school and a street named after him, now you know.

Why so many people constantly mispronounce Macdonell Street as ‘MacDonald’ however, remains a mystery.

Till next time… Shalom.


1. From Glengarry Light Infantry web site (http://glengarrylightinfantry.ca/index.php)

Another One Rides a Different Bus – part 2

Okay, it’s been a little over a week and I think I can now comment on the changes made to the Guelph Transit system without resorting to knee-jerk epithets and gross indulgences in hyperbole. I’ve taken all the trips I’m likely to take in my day-to-day goings and comings around the city multiple times, and I can now confidently answer the question I declined to answer ten days ago, “How do you like the new bus schedules?”

Simply put: I Don’t!

Why should you care? Well, the vast majority of you probably shouldn’t, but since I intend writing not only to Guelph Transit, but to all of the city councilors and also both Guelph newspapers, this seemed like a good way to kill multiple angry birds with one stone. I’m writing this post and then sending the link to all of the above. But then again, maybe by the time you finish reading this you might care, just a little.


I suppose it would be less annoying if I could somehow see the logic in the changes that have been made; if I could understand why? Based on the promotion, “You’ll be seeing a lot more of us,” it all appears to be about buses coming and going every 15 minutes for part of the day; but personally, I fail to see how that is a great enough advantage over every 20 minutes, all day, to warrant all the other disruptions and inconveniences.

That is of course, unless the goal is not necessarily better service. Let’s look at a few examples from my week on the buses.

Most Overheard Conversation
Passenger: “Hey driver, you went past my stop!”
Driver: “I’m sorry sir but that stop no longer exists. The new one is up here.”
Passenger: “That’s ridiculous. Why would they do that?”
Driver: “I really couldn’t say sir.” [Rips transfer from pad and hands lower portion to passenger] “On the back of this transfer is a phone number you can call to express your complaint and seek some answers.”

Based on the four routes that I will need to travel, it appears that the number of bus stops has been cut by at least a third overall, possibly by as much as half. This does speed up the route but not my door-to-door experience. Saving 5 minutes on the bus trip doesn’t help if I have to take an extra 10 minutes to walk to the bus stop and back.

Limited Industrial Runs

My ride to work in the morning is a little faster I must admit. I arrive at work 10 minutes earlier, which should mean that with the 15 minute peak schedule I could actually catch a later bus than usual, giving me 15 more minutes to get ready, or even 15 minutes more sleep, and still get to work on time. The problem is while the majority of city buses are on the 15 minute peak schedule, the industrial buses are not! They run every half hour.

So, if I take the bus that’s 15 minutes later from my house, I have to wait 15 minutes for the “#21 Hanlon Industrial” bus at the Square, which will actually get me to work 10 minutes late instead of on time. The 15 minute schedule is of no advantage to me whatsoever.

On the other end of my shift is another interesting little quirk. To save money the ‘Industrial’ runs do not run all day. There are three 3-hour periods when there are no industrial buses, simply because there aren’t enough passengers at those times of day. I get that, I really do.

What I don’t get is the timing of the three hour breaks. Our shop is open from 8:30am till 5pm each day. Most days my supervisor is content to be the one to close the shop and let me leave around 4:30 pm. He’s a really decent guy that way. And it’s a good thing too since the last bus before the 3-hour break is at 4:59 pm according to the posted schedule.

Every once in a while however, a couple of times a month, he needs me to close the shop. This means that since we are open till 5pm I likely won’t catch that last bus. So on those occasions I have a 3-hour wait until the next bus drives by the shop, or I have a 3-kilometre hike (according to Google Maps) to get to the closest active bus stop at the corner of Clair & Gosling Gardens.

Have these people never heard of 9-5 jobs? Or does the fact the Guelph Transit office is only open till 4pm mean they figure we all knock off that early? I really don’t understand why the last bus before the break isn’t at 5:30 pm so people who work 9-5 can get home.

My Part-Time Job Situation

Last bus route story, I promise. I have a part-time job as technical director at one of the churches in the south end of the city; an area once commonly known as University Village. Under the old system my ride from home to the church was a little over 40 minutes with 1 transfer down at the square and a brief stop at Stone Rd. Mall. Under the new system I now have 1 transfer at the square, a 2nd transfer at the University, so I can stay on the same route, and that same brief stop at Stone Road Mall, resulting in an average travel time of 50-55 minutes; 10-15 minutes longer depending on the day.

I really don’t understand the need for the transfers at the University, just to stay on the same route! The transfers at the square make sense; I’m changing from one route to another. But at the University, to stay on Route 2A West Loop I have to switch to a different bus because the one I’m on will become 1B. But, even setting that aside with the detour to the UofG my ride is now 10-15 minutes longer to get to the same location. I can live with that I guess, but the route home from there really baffles me.

With the new ‘transfer anywhere’ policy, the best route home should be to take that same route 2A West Loop bus to the west end of the city and then transfer to the #20 Northwest Industrial run and then get off at a stop about a block from home near Willow West Mall. This would be similar to the old system where I took the “Perimeter Bus” to the West End Community Centre, transferred to #23 and got off at that same stop about a block from home.

The problem is, now there is only one little stretch of road that both of these new buses travel along, and there is no mutual bus stop anywhere along that stretch or even near it. In fact, the #20 bus does not and will not stop anywhere along that road. And staying on the 2A takes me nowhere near where I live. This means that going home from church requires going in the other direction on the 2B bus, transferring at the UofG, transferring again downtown and then taking the #11 bus to a stop close to my house.

Here’s the baffling bit. Riding the 2A West Loop bus to that aforementioned non-mutual stretch of road and walking the nearly 2km (Google maps again) to my house is 15-20 minutes faster than riding the other routes around to the stop less than 100 meters from my driveway!

 Does this make sense to anyone?

The Next Bus

Next Bus” is an Internet based service that uses real-time GPS data to predict the arrival times of buses at your selected bus stop. I loved the service! Many people didn’t, though I think that was largely due to not learning how to use it effectively. From my smartphone I would access Next Bus to avoiding waiting too long in the rain, getting to the bus stop mere moments before it arrived. I could even track multiple buses at once, helping me navigate out of the ordinary transfer points that got me to my destination faster. I consider it the best Innovation Guelph Transit ever implemented.

Since the change, however, I can’t trust it. The bus stop near my house only offers predictions for every other bus. The buses at the hour and half-hour register fine, but the extra every-15-minute runs never show on the web page.  And the #21 Hanlon Industrial route has never registered at all. It’s been reading “No Current Prediction Available” since Jan. 1st.

Now I know that Guelph Transit doesn’t run ‘Next Bus’; but the system requires accurate up to date info from the local bus company and it would seem that Guelph Transit just isn’t providing it any longer.

A Final Thought

I could go on but I won’t. From talking to other passengers around town, most people seem to be facing frustrations much like mine. I’m sure there are a few people out there who like the new routes, but I have yet to meet any of them. Guelph Transit claims they will be tweaking the system to iron out the wrinkles but I question whether that’s going to be enough.

Roberta and I got rid of our car back in 2001. Though partially for financial reasons, the main thing for us was we couldn’t justify maintaining a vehicle when the transit system worked well enough, and riding our bicycles throughout the summer made more sense not just for the environment, but for our own health as well.

After 10 days of riding the new bus system I am starting to suspect that Guelph Transit’s main strategy for saving money going forward is giving me new reasons to go out and buy another car.

Like I said at the beginning, I don’t see 15-minute service at peak hours worth the hassle the new system creates. One of the transit workers answering questions downtown yesterday told my wife the old system was rated better than 90% efficient based on a survey of completed transfers downtown. She told her this new system is currently running at 40%. If I understand that correctly, it means that 60% of riders are not getting where they need to be, in order to transfer to the bus they need, to get them where they are going!

Being able to take a bus that doesn’t get you there more often is not an improvement. From my point of view, it seems that not much about this change can be called an improvement by any standard of measurement. I am truly beginning to suspect that improving service was not really the goal. It seems to me that re-jigging the entire system, except for the bus going to the Transit Offices of course, would be a great way to hide the fact that, in reality, service has been severely cut back in order to cut costs. I further suspect that they are hoping that in all the confusion of the new routes, and with the smokescreen of 15 minutes service, no one will notice that we aren’t really getting anywhere faster or more efficiently than before. What we’re really getting is shafted; lesser service to reduce costs while at the same time trying to convince us it’s a step forward.

Conspiracy theory? Maybe. But can anyone give me a better explanation?

Till next time…

Another One Rides a Different Bus

One question I have gotten a lot in the last two days is, “So, how do you like the new bus system?”

After trying to get to the church last night my comment to Roberta when I got home was, “I’m beginning to think that Guelph Transit’s strategy for reducing operating expenses is to give me reasons to buy a car.”

As a staff member at Kortright Presbyterian Church I am disappointed that the bus stop in front of the church is gone and that the shortest route to the church would seem to be a minimum of 10 minutes longer; however, I do realize that there are far more people than me riding the system and some of them may like the changes. We’ll see.

With that in mind, I have decided to withhold detailed comment for a week, by which time I have hopefully gotten a better view has to how the changes affect my various commutes.

In the meantime my Twitter feed with likely provide you with some play-by-play commentary.

First Day out of Das Boot

I know I should have posted this on Saturday, but I’ve been too busy enjoying the freedom. 
Das Boot is History!

I went to see the physio-therapist on Friday and after talking for a while about what my doctor said on Thursday the decision was made to go ahead and loose Das Boot.  She warned me not to over do it, wear really solid footwear, and put the boot back on for a while if I feel the foot getting weary or sore.  Makes sense doesn’t it.

So what’s the first thing you do when your foot is out of a cast for the first time in almost three months?  Go to the Toronto International Bicycle Show of course!

Late Friday night my brother Alex called me and reminded me that the show was on this past weekend.  So Saturday after band rehearsal we headed down to see what there was to see. It was really a great afternoon.  Since both of us have fairly busy schedules we don’t get a lot of time together and so it was definitely good to have the time to spend just talking back and forth, sharing a Tim’s, just hanging together for a while. It’s like the commercial says,

Lunch at Tim Hortons – $10

Tickets to the Bicycle show – $13

Spending time with my brother – Priceless!

That said however, the show itself left me less than fulfilled.  I don’t know where the Toronto show fits on the bicycle equipment manufacturers schedule, but I’m willing to bet it’s a way down the list of “places we have to be”.  I was very disappointed in the low turn out from the big bike and accessories players.  The vast majority of the booths were local bike shops, and while I don’t begrudge them the chance to increase their public face, what I was hoping to see was a showcase of the newest and best innovations in the development of cycling gear. The stuff was there, but you had to worm your way past the bikes they wanted off the shop floor to find it.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that it was a waste of time or money – it wasn’t. There were a few things that really impressed me.  Shimano had a great display, and Thule was very well presented, but there were few other large manufacturers.  The Trek display was just the local dealer with a large rack of bikes.  I should have suspected it when the event was advertised as being sponsored by Shimano.  So basically, it would appear they were able to buy out the show.  They sponsored the BMX demos and the like so I guess they owned it.  At least, it certainly looked that way to me.

The problem is, it’s not just the bike show.  In Toronto, this is increasingly the case with trade shows aimed at the buying public.  It is no longer about building the dream, pushing the envelope, trying to out perform the competition in who can put on the more impressive display.  It’s only about holding the flea market.  Which in and of itself is not a bad thing, but even in this I saw very little that I could not have acquired for a similar price at my local bike shop.

I realize some will accuse me of being over nostalgic here, but I remember going to these kind of shows when I was younger and the understanding was that the purpose was to inspire me to dream.  I would get a chance to see in person all the great stuff I’d only seen in magazines.  I could touch it, feel it, smell it; it was an experience in of of itself going to these shows.  Not so much anymore.  Now the Toronto shows feel more like a trip to a discount mall, only not as appealing.

I will give credit where it is do however; as usual Gears Bike Shop in Mississauga did a great job.  Their display rivaled even that of Shimano.  But most importantly, unlike many other vendors at the show they didn’t have the elitist air about that that seems to permeate cycling culture here in North America.  I’m happy to report they treated this over-weight, hobbling on a crutch to protect my ankle, 50-something with as much respect and dignity as I could hope to be treated anywhere.  In too many of the booths I was greeted with the usual enthusiastic indifference. Not so at Gears, I felt like they were just as interested in helping me as anyone else, and when the subject of my injury came up they even had a few moments for that as well.  Well Done!

Bicycle-Friendly Guelph makes an appearance at the Toronto International Bicycle Show

Bicycle-Friendly Guelph makes an appearance at the Toronto International Bicycle Show

Another thing that I was surprised to see was not only a number of Guelph venders (WIKE Trailers for example) but also the city of Guelph itself, promoting the Royal City as a bicycle friendly place to live.  They had a great display, right at the entrance, decked out with a European style cargo bike, banners, decals, maps, and plenty of information on the initiatives Guelph has in place to promote increased cycling infrastructure. I felt more than just a little proud.

All in all, it was an acceptable afternoon. Alex picked up a few things for his three-wheeled recumbant, I met a friend or two and had a chance to get out and about for the first time in nearly three months. Spring is in the air, and if my achilles tendon continues to cooperate I hope to be on my bike by the end of April.

So keep a good thought and if you have not already done so, click on the banner at right and sponsor either myself or one of the other members of Team Kortright in the Ride to Conquer Cancer.

Experiencing Technical Difficulties

2009 Rayal City Ambassadors Show

2009 R0yal City Ambassadors Show

I’d like to invite you all to one of my favourite events of the year.

Every year about this time The Royal City Ambassadors put on their annual charity show.  The Ambassadors are a men’s chorus and quartet organization that promotes the performance and enjoyment four-part a cappella harmony. The natural, un-encumbered music of the human voice.

This year, as found in the title of this post, the show is called, Experiencing Technical Difficulties.” It’s a great evening of… well, why don’t I let them tell you:

“The Royal City Ambassadors are pleased to be on the stage of River Run to present their 41st annual show.  “Experiencing Technical Difficulties” will delight young and old in the audience as the chorus shares their infectious humour and love of singing.  In addition, the zany antics of this year’s guest quartet CORNERSTONE will complement a great evening!

The Ambassadors are a group of men from all walks of life who love to sing in four-part a cappella harmony.  Every Tuesday evening they gather from Guelph and surrounding communities to enjoy singing, fellowship and fun.  The Guelph Chapter is proud to raise funds annually in support of “Harmonize for Speech”.  These funds assist organizations locally and provincially to assist individuals with speech disorders.”

I’ve attended a number of these shows in the past and have always enjoyed them. None of the men are professional singers, just a bunch of regular guys; bus drivers, computer geeks, accountants, and the like, who really enjoy getting together just to sing.  And they do it very well.

The show includes not just great comedy and great songs by the chorus and it’s member quartets, but specials guests “The Cornerstones” and a late addition, the Centennial Concert Choir.

But most importantly, the show supports a very worthy cause. As mentioned above the Ambassadors sing to raise money for Harmonize for Speech, an organization that provides much needed support for those who suffer from speech disorders.  This can happen for a variety of reasons from birth defects to stroke.  They as their motto says, “We Sing That They Shall Speak.”

So if you’re going to be in the Guelph area on March 27th or 28th, follow the link below to the River Run box office and grab a few tickets for the show.  use the email link to have a member of the Ambassadors arrange to get the tickets to you.  You be glad you did!

Until next time…  Sing!

Click here to Purshase Tickets from the River Run

Click here to Get Tickets from an Ambassador