In this post I will be talking about an interesting puzzle concerning the origin and use of some fascinating government records that were recently transferred to us here in the Peel Archives. The records are at times physically interesting, but what they represent is also really intriguing!
Regular readers of our blog will know that I always look forward to ingests of “glorious government records,” and I have not been disappointed as of late! Recently a box labelled “P10-Subdivisions” arrived at the Archives from the Region of Peel’s inactive record centre. Normally boxes tied to this P10 record classification contain registered plans of subdivision (example) kept on file by the Regional Planning department, but what I found in the box was something arguably more interesting, and perplexing!
The box contained sequentially coded project files, created and maintained by the Public Utilities Commission (or “PUC”) of the Township of Toronto (in operation 1955-1967) and its successor, the PUC of the Town of Mississauga (in operation 1968-1973).
But what, you may ask, is a PUC? A Public Utility Commission is a special body, created by a municipal council under authority of the Provincial Public Utilities Act, having responsibility for the provision of one or more public utilities within the municipality, i.e. water, natural gas, and/or electrical power. (The first such Act was passed by Ontario in 1913, c. 41 3-4 Geo V.)
The Township of Toronto PUC was authorized by Township by-law no. 1782, but could only be officially created if approved by the electors via a question on an election ballot. This assent was sought and given, and the Commission started its work in January 1955.
This specific PUC was responsible for the construction, control, and management of the “water works” system in the Township of Toronto – i.e. the mechanical infrastructure required to move both fresh and waste water throughout the area, including all pipes, reservoirs, pumphouses, water towers, etc. The Commission consisted of five elected members (one of which was the Reeve of the Township) as well as professional staff, including a manager, engineers, and a treasurer.
The PUC files that arrived at my office are a mixture of textual records and technical drawings, and serve to document numerous PUC projects, predominantly the municipal “servicing” of new subdivisions in the then Township of Toronto and subsequent Town of Mississauga (i.e. the installation and operation of water mains and sanitary sewers required to support the new buildings/communities). However, there are also files concerning the erection of a PUC works pump house and the outfitting of a PUC office, among other interesting things.
All of this said, you might fairly ask why was I so confused by the arrival of these records, i.e. what makes them “mysterious?” I would respond to that question with one of my own: why would records created, collected, and used by Township of Toronto and Town of Mississauga waterworks staff be found as part of a Region of Peel records transfer, as opposed to a transfer directly from the City of Mississauga (the municipal successor to the Township/Town)?
Readers of this blog may recall that I have previously dealt with a similar provenance puzzle when confronted with seemingly errant City of Brampton road inspection reports. The same “diplomatics” tools I used then were deployed here, and I think I have successfully solved this tantalizing records mystery!
One very important clue in this case are the age of the files, with them dating from 1961 to 1978, predominantly 1969 to 1974. Students of Peel’s history will recognize that 1974 is very significant in our local history, being the year that the Regional Municipality of Peel replaced the dissolved County of Peel.
Most tellingly, in 1974 the newly created Regional government was made responsible for the construction and maintenance of water mains and sanitary sewer lines in the Peel area (with Mississauga, Brampton, and Caledon retaining responsibility for storm sewers).
So, the presence of these records in the Region’s custody is actually tangible evidence of the transition of responsibility for the municipal water service from the Town of Mississauga PUC to the Region of Peel! Indeed, further investigation revealed that a small number of the files contain post-1974 Regional memos referencing the earlier Mississauga PUC projects.
My hypothesis is that these records were brought into the care of the Region by Arthur Kennedy when he took over operation of the Regional waterworks system in 1974, having previously helmed the Township of Toronto and Town of Mississauga PUCs. He and his staff would have kept the files for reference purposes, with them eventually becoming inactive records before being offered to the Archives.
These records might represent the first group in a larger series of subdivision servicing files that we will need to consider for retention here in the Archives, especially given the massive growth and development of the Peel area over the past 50 years. To be honest, I am not convinced that all such files will be worthy of archival retention. However, I believe the age of these particular files, documenting as they do the specific changeover of responsibility for a vital municipal service, means that they are worth saving.
Moreover, while some of the files are routine in nature, with repetitious tender documents and inspection reports tied to a discrete property, they still offer wider insight into the role and operation of the PUC at that time. And even some of the rote material is of possible interest, shedding light on PUC forms, processes, and watermain design work in the Mississauga area.
Finally, these records nicely complement other PUC files that already exist as part of other government fonds in our care, including:
- Various PUC series in the Township of Toronto fonds
- Mississauga Public Utilities Commission records, 1937-1973 (RG04.S15)
- Streetsville Public Utilities Commission records, 1914-1973 (RG01.S13)
- Brampton Water Commission records, 1872-1973 (RG05.S18)
Here is but one of the gorgeous plans that can be found in the Brampton Water Commission series:
As a related aside, how often do you look down at the ground while walking around outside? I do this a fair bit, enjoying checking out the dates on sewer grates and maintenance cover – I am always on the lookout for remnants from the past, the older the better! (In fact, one of my former colleagues from the City of Toronto Archives, Patrick Cummins, is a skilled and prolific photographer, and among other things, he has documented a wide range of maintenance covers in the City of Toronto).
In my Mississauga neighbourhood (Meadowvale West), the oldest examples I have found actually bridge the water works administrative timelines as outlined in the records discussed above; I have found examples of sewer hardware installed by the Town of Mississauga and subsequently by the Region of Peel.
The oldest Mississauga-specific covers I have personally seen are from 1972, located at the Riverwood Conservancy:
And here are some neat Brampton examples (courtesy of Regional Archivist Jim Leonard):
I suspect that there are older examples to be found throughout Peel – if you happen to find any on your travels, I hope that you will let us know! We might have PUC or other records here that could, if one was keen, place that interesting artifact in its wider municipal water services context.
Thus ends the case of the mysterious Mississauga PUC records! Such tantalizing records and the often fascinating questions they raise are one reason why being a government archivist is so much fun!
Kyle Neill, Senior Archivist
 An Act to establish The Regional Municipality of Peel, sections 77(3) and 77(8)