Safeguarding "The Frog Pond": London West and the Resistance to Municipal Amalgamation 1883-1897 [1]

By Stott, Greg | Urban History Review, October 2000 | Go to article overview

Safeguarding "The Frog Pond": London West and the Resistance to Municipal Amalgamation 1883-1897 [1]


Stott, Greg, Urban History Review


Abstract

The London, Ontario, suburb of London West (1874 to 1897) provides an example of a community that strove to maintain its municipal autonomy. Composed of independent wage earners, artisans, and small-business owners, London West cultivated a sense of identity separate from that of its neighbouring city. While a devastating flood in 1883 devalued property and greatly soured relations between the village and London, it buttressed community unity in London West. The flood similarly caused the villagers to insist upon the maintenance of certain controls in order to assure the security of their property and families in their negotiations with the city for amalgamation. After several protracted periods of discussions, the village tenaciously held out against the city until 1897, when ratepayers had little alternative but to accept London's less than satisfactory conditions. While the ultimate decision to join the city in 1897 was based more upon the village's dismal financial situation, London West's protracted resi stance to municipal amalgamation indicates that nineteenth-century suburbs in Ontario were complex communities in their own right and not simply undifferentiated adjuncts that craved amalgamation with their urban neighbours.

Resume

London West, petite agglomeration de la peripherie de London (Ontario) entre 1874 et 1897, offre l'example d'une communaute qui a lutte pour conserver son autonomie. Le village, peuple principalement de salaries independants d'artisans et de proprietaires depetites entreprises, tenait a conserver une identite distincte par rapport a la ville voisine. Si l'inondation devastatrice de 1883 a d'une part provoque la devaluation des proprietes et a contribue dans une large mesure a la degradation des relations entre le village et London, elle a d'autre part renforce l'unite de la communaute de London West. L'inondation a egalement pousse les villageois insister, lors des discussions avec la ville propos d'une eventuelle fusion, pour conserver certains controles afin de pouvoir assurer la securite de leurs proprietes et de leurs familles. Les discussions n'en finissaient plus. Les villageois ont tenu bon jusqu'en 1897, moment ou les conditions etaient devenues a ce point degradees que les contribuables ont du ceder, forces d'accepter les conditions peu avantageuses edictees par London. La decision ultime de se joindre la ville en 1897 a ete principalement prise en raison de la lamentable situation financiere du village. On peut deduire de la longue resistance de London West a la fusion municipale que loin d'etre des extensions sans identite propre reclamant a grands cris la fusion avec les villes voisines, les banlieues du [XIX.sup.e] siecle en Ontario etaient de veritables communautes.

As the 1880s progressed, the Village of London West seemed to fall short of its auspicious yet optimistic motto, Per angusta ad augusta ("Through narrow things to great things.") [2] There had undeniably been many perplexing "narrow" matters that had taxed the morale and internal fiscal responsibilities of the corporation since its incorporation in 1874. Chief among them had been a catastrophic flood of 1883, which more than any other event altered the village's development and security. To be certain, nature had dealt London West a vicious blow, and the resulting financial woes would have taxed even the most resourceful and bustling community. Yet unlike other communities of comparable size, London West had to contend with the very near and very real presence of an infinitely more populous, powerful and, aggressive neighbour, the City of London.

The very existence of London West was, and had always been, dependant upon the proximity of its larger neighbour and namesake. The inhabitants of London West relied upon London as a source of employment and as an important marketplace. [3] Despite London's vital role in sustaining the prosperity of London West, the city was also seen as a potential adversary, threatening the political independence and integrity of the village. …

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