The Pound-keeper and the 'Pig Nuisance'

There was a time when animals freely roamed the streets of Stratford. Over time, it became necessary to create the position of pound-keeper. As the population grew, animals began to obstruct the flow of traffic, potentially injuring citizens and themselves, causing property damage and creating health hazards.

In 1854, a bylaw was enacted in Stratford to hire a pound-keeper and, by 1859, one was enacted to deal with “Preventing pigs running at large.” Although one can clearly see in the very early image of Stratford’s town hall (Collection of the Stratford-Perth Archives), cows still were allowed to roam the streets. In 1859, Stratford felt they did not have need of a pound-keeper and, “under the new Municipal Act, there was ample provision made for redress to any person suffering damage from animals running at large within the municipality.”

That all changed the following year, when a pound-keeper was hired in May, although it sounds as though he wasn’t up to the job. We read in the Daily Beacon of July 1860:

“Pig Nuisance – A town correspondent writes us to call the attention of our ‘Town Fathers’ to the ‘Pig Nuisance.’ Swarms of these animals now infest the town, and since our accomplished pound-keeper has seemingly ‘absquatulated (left abruptly),’ seem to have been ‘presented with the freedom of the town,’ and are levying ‘black mail’ on the gardens of those whose fences are not ‘pig tight.’ He says that if it is consistent with the dignity of our town constable to enforce the town By Laws with regard to the nuisance, he might materially help to put an end to such a state of things.”

In 1956, Tom Orr told a story of Stratford in 1856: “Rain turned the winding main road into mire. The mud seemed almost human in its determination to harass anyone brave enough to venture forth. Wagons stuck fast; crossing the street was a major operation. Planks were stretched across corners, but as there were no sidewalks except possibly for a boardwalk on the north side of Ontario Street, the traveler was in trouble as soon as he stepped off the scaffold.” Add to this pretty picture: “Livestock wandered the streets freely, a cause for both annoyance and amusement. Owners of livery stables who found their supply of fodder rifled by unscrupulous cattle beasts were apt to become irate, but even they had to admit that the sight of cows, reeling down the main street, drunk on the refuse from the flour mills, was almost enough to atone for their losses.”

In the 1930s, Mrs. S. A. Walker reminisced about her time in Stratford in the 1870s. She told her story to the Beacon Herald: “It was so easy to see ghosts at that early age. There were no street lights at that time, and I remember when a party of young folk were going home from a party in the old town hall, and of course we had to find our way home as best we could. Just as we got to the corner of Front and Shakespeare … we got a scare. The place was supposed to be haunted and we stumbled over something white lying on the sidewalk. Of course, every person screamed and ran, and then some braver than the rest went back and found that it was a big white cow taking its rest for the night.”

Early on, bylaws were created to keep livestock and all modes of transportation off the sidewalks. Given the fact that, as early as 1860, there were complaints about the upkeep of sidewalks, it only makes sense that heavy beasts and conveyances be kept off them. In 1860, a correspondent for the Daily Beacon wrote: “Our local contemporary very properly calls the attention of the Corporation to the disgraceful state of the side-walks in town. The subject is one of importance, as the limbs and even the lives of pedestrians are endangered by the existence of such man-traps.” The owner of the “ghost” cow must not have been aware of the bylaws.

One funny bylaw in Mitchell that’s a head-scratcher today states: “That any person or persons being the owner of a Stallion and exposing said animal either by himself or his hired Groom or other person in an indecent manner in any public place within the Corporation shall incur the penalty in section 89 of this By-Law.” Indecent exposure by a stallion, drunken cattle, “swarms” of swine — the things our ancestors had to put up with! source: Stratford-Perth Archives

City of Stratford Flashback Friday series created by Mike Beitz, Corporate Communications Lead, highlighting some of Stratford’s more interesting or unusual by-laws over the past 150 years.

On September 21, 1867, Stratford passed a by-law that prohibited animals running in the streets.

By-law 119 reads:

“For the restraining the running at large of horses, cattle, sheep and other animals.

Be it enacted by the Municipal Council of the Corporation of the Town of Stratford as follows:

1st All bulls, horses, boar pigs, hogs, rams and sheep found running at large may be impounded and the owners thereof shall be subject to a fine of $2 for each offence to be recovered on oath of one credible witness in addition to any claim for damages.

Geese and other poultry found running at large and doing damage could also be impounded, but there were exceptions for certain animals in the by-law:

“… cows, oxen, stags and all others embraced in that designation are allowed to run at large (if not breachy).

Note: Breachy is defined as “apt to break fences or be wild.”