Salem and Lot 18 assessment values caused political stir in 1930

From the time Elora was incorporated as a village in 1858, the relationship of that municipality to its neighbours in the unincorporated hamlet of Salem and in Lot 18, immediately to the north of Elora in Nichol Township, has been one of contention.


In 1858, when Elora gained village status, there seemed every possibility that Salem would soon become an incorporated village on its own. For various reasons Salem did not grow as people had expected. By 1880 it was clearly in decline.

By the late 19th century both Salem and Lot 18 became attractive to those seeking less expensive housing, and especially lower taxes, than those in Elora. People could save a little money there while living close to the amenities and shopping available in Elora.

At various times after 1880 there were attempts by Elora council to annex the areas, sometimes only Lot 18, and sometimes Salem as well. Elora council believed that they were indirectly subsidizing the areas to the north but receiving nothing from them in the way of taxes.

Each year Elora and Nichol had to hammer out an agreement for the fire protection provided by Elora. After 1910, when Elora negotiated a connection with the Ontario Hydro system, the village council wanted to annex Salem and Lot 18 to provide a bigger population base, which would have given the village a much better rate.

By then Salem and especially Lot 18 were populated to a large extent by retired farmers, who were a particularly tight-fisted class of people. They fought tooth and nail all efforts to bring their property into Elora. Most of them claimed they had no intention of hooking up to electrical service. A few claimed that cost would be too much for them, but quite a few argued that electricity and other amenities provided by Elora were totally foreign to their rural values.

It was an absurd position to take. Everyone realized that the residents making the statement were simply cheap, and were quite content to enjoy as much as they could from Elora without paying a nickel for it.

The issue of annexation came to a head yet again at the beginning of 1930. This time it was not electrical service or fire protection, but school taxes. At the first council meeting of the year Alex Keith appeared before council, armed with a petition signed by a majority of the farmers living in Union School Section 5, which was the Salem School.

The gist of their complaint was that they were paying nine mils in school taxes, while ratepayers in other nearby school sections paid between three and five mils. The reason, they claimed, was that assessments in Salem and Lot 18 were shamelessly low, and consequently the tax burden fell on the farmers.

About a dozen people came to the council meeting to express their support for Keith and the petition, but an equal number of Salem and Lot 18 were there as well to defend the status quo. After a discussion of the assessment rates, the discussion degenerated into an exchange of personal remarks.

Keith and his supporters had pages of figures to defend their position. Ivan French, the assessor for Lot 18 and Salem, tried his best to defend his figures. There was merit in his argument that Salem had been in decline for decades, and that property values were very low there.

The situation in Lot 18, though, was different. There had been a slow but steady increase in the number of houses there over the previous generation, most built by retired farmers, and many of those houses were as good and substantial as anything in Elora. They were assessed at a small fraction of their actual worth. One petitioner pointed out that most Lot 18 residents paid less in property taxes than they paid in telephone fees.

The Lot 18 residents at the meeting pointed out that there was only a small handful of children from their area attending school, and therefore they should not be assessed for the full amount of the school tax.

They threatened that if their assessments were increased they would petition to be annexed to Elora. That would mean higher taxes for them, but they would gain other municipal advantages, including lower electrical rates. Some of these people were the same ones who had fought an initiative by Elora to annex the area a decade earlier, based on the fact that they would pay higher taxes.

The discussion ended when clerk Sem Wissler wrote out a motion to refer the matter to the assessor “to consider his position under the law.” It was an ambiguous motion, and everyone in the room knew that assessor Ivan French was unlikely to do anything after he had so vigorously defended his actions. French was, incidentally, a resident himself of Lot 18, but no one pointed out that he might have a conflict in his actions and statements.

What became most evident during the meeting was the divide between active farmers and retired ones. Many were members of the same families. It made for interesting dynamics during the meeting, and probably meant there were a few heated arguments over dinner tables before and after the meeting.

During the discussion it was evident that the majority of the council sympathized with the farmers and their petition. The exception was Nate Korman, a resident of Salem. He and clerk Wissler consistently backed the arguments of the Lot 18 and Salem residents.

Ivan French stated that were he to raise assessments in Lot 18, “every resident would appeal,” and if they lost they would petition for annexation to Elora, with the loss of all tax revenue to the township.

Council eventually passed the motion written out by Wissler, though its sentiments went against the arguments they had made during the evening.

That effectively kicked the matter forward a few months, until the Court of Revision meeting in May, when residents could appeal their assessments.

Assessor French asked council for some guidance in the meantime, as he prepared the assessment list for 1930. Councillors, though, would say nothing more, leaving French to his own judgment about whether to raise or alter assessments in Lot 18 and Salem so that they would be sustained at the Court of Revision.

In the end the issue fizzled out, at least for that year. French made modest increases to the most blatant examples of under-assessment. The united fronts put on by both the farmers and the Lot 18 residents broke down. No movement for annexation appeared, and Elora refused to get involved after being rebuffed a couple of times over the previous generation.

The issue of better services for Lot 18 and Salem did not go away.

During the next half century it emerged again over educational issues and the extension of municipal services, especially in the late 1940s, when Elora began the installation of its municipal system, and in the 1990s, with the extension of Elora’s sewage system.

All in all, the differences between Elora and its adjoining neighbourhoods show the absurdity of postponing better services for residents. Those services ultimately must be installed, as standards improve and development becomes more intensified.

Delaying them only raises the costs and stirs animosity, as the case of Lot 18 certainly proves.





Stephen Thorning