Have you ever been driving down the Hanlon Expressway in Guelph and wondered where the name came from? The answer is: Felix Hanlon. So, who was Felix Hanlon and how did he come to have a major expressway named after him?
Felix Hanlon was born in 1802 in County Monaghan in Ireland. In 1827, seeking adventure and perhaps a better life for himself, Felix became one of the “27 boys” who accompanied John Galt to Guelph, ON. Among these “boys” were other well known “Guelph Names” such as Hewitt, Foster and McQuillan. According to Hanlon family legend, Felix Hanlon was one of the two men with John Galt’s party who assisted Mr. Prior in cutting down the first tree in Guelph. Family stories describe Felix as a strong and adventurous man who worked hard and was a compassionate and fair father to his seven children. Felix Hanlon was a staunch Roman Catholic, a good citizen, and an expert builder and woodsmen.
During his first six years in Guelph, Felix Hanlon worked as a woodsman clearing roads and cutting trees. On February 5th 1833 Hanlon purchased lots 12,13,14,15 and 16 on the 6th concession of Puslinch, containing two hundred and thirty acres of land. The costly fee for this land? Twenty pounds, twelve shillings. For the next ten years, once a year, Felix walked to York (now Toronto) to deposit his payment to the Commission of Crown Lands. Hanlon chose this particular spot to call home mainly because of the creek he found on the property. That same creek is now known in Guelph as Hanlon Creek. Later in life, Felix also purchased lot 17 which was adjacent to his previous holdings. Sometime in the early 1860s, lots 12 and 13 were sold off to Mr. Ramsey who operated a sawmill for several years. Eventually lots 12 and 13 were sold off to several different owners until Mr. Horace Mack established a bird sanctuary on them, now referred to as the Kortright Waterfowl Park.
Since Hanlon bought the land in 1883, three houses have been built on the farm. The first “house” was a shanty, the second was a log house and the third, built in 1879, is a large stone house (presently 35 Niska Road). The barn, which still stands on the property, was built in 1873 by Mr. McLean. Unfortunately, McLean’s brother died tragically while framing the timber for the barn. In the 1860s, Felix traveled back to Ireland to visit with family and returned to Guelph with a willow twig. He planted this twig by the creek at the entrance of the farm. This twig is now a giant willow tree that hangs over Hanlon Creek.
Felix Hanlon was married to Catherine Caraher of Eramosa Township. Sadly, she passed away when she was 36 years old, leaving Felix to raise seven children while also managing a growing farm. Their children were named: Patrick, James, Mary, Catherine, Margaret, Sarah and John.
Another family folklore states that Felix sold lot 12 for a bag of flour and stated that “Trees are plentiful, but flour is scarce”. In the early days of Guelph, grain had to be taken to Dundas to be ground into flour. One evening Felix was returning, on foot, from Dundas when he encountered a pack of wolves. Quickly scrambling up a tree that was at the corner of what are now Stone Rd. and the Hanlon Expressway, Felix dropped his bag of flour. The wolves forced Mr. Hanlon to spend the entire night up the tree while his wife and children were at home listening to the wolves howl. In the morning, the wolves scattered away and Felix was able to return home, sadly without his bag of flour that the wolves had torn apart.
On June 28th 1972, the first stage of the Hanlon Expressway was officially opened. Would Felix Hanlon have ever believed that a major expressway would be named in honour of him? Probably not, but it is a fitting tribute to a humble individual who partook in the creation of the City of Guelph.
Hill, Margaret Wallce. "Felix Hanlon, Pioneer and his family". Historic Guelph The Royal City: Guelph Historical Society. April 1980.