Lately, we’ve had several researchers at the City of Edmonton Archives asking about chickens. You never know what you’ll be dealing with from one day to the next at the Archives. People are interested in knowing when it became illegal to keep chickens within City limits.
As it involves bylaws, this is a more complicated question than you may think. As legal documents, bylaws are kept in perpetuity. Current bylaws are at the Office of the City Clerk and repealed bylaws are at the Archives. Old bylaws can still impact the present, for example, I once helped a researcher with a condo problem find repealed bylaws from the time her building was built so she could use them to have her issue grandfathered.
Some bylaws are written, serve their purpose and then are replaced. Other bylaws relate to a matter that changes over time as society does, or perhaps the writers didn’t anticipate a loophole or conflict. These bylaws are subject to amendments and consolidation. An example I’ve mentioned previously is store closing hours where a moral issue came up against the need for flexibility as work hours changed. Chickens, as both an animal control and public health matter, fall into this category as well.
The earliest bylaw I found relating to chickens is from 1917 (No. 30-1917), it was created to control stray animals. It states “No person shall suffer or permit any horse, mule, bull, steer, cow, goat, sheep, swine or poultry to run at large, or pigeons to fly at large within the limits of the City of Edmonton.” It also established a pound, a pound keeper and a fee system (10c plus feed costs to free impounded poultry). I was pleased to see that it also mandated “good and sufficient food, water and shelter.”
There was a 1921 petition to the City asking for an exception to this bylaw for poultry during the winter months, arguing that no one would mind “inasmuch that between these dates no damage can arise to gardens, or from such poultry being at large.” The City’s response, that they would not amend the bylaw because “the matter being one of considerable difficulty in meeting the varying views of different districts,” is interesting. I think it shows the diverse mix of urban and rural areas within City limits at the time. It’s also a hint on how strongly people can feel about the issue. This is also seen in complaints sent to the City, for example the petition below. Despite the vivid descriptions, the Medical Officer of Health found the property acceptable and reported that there were no grounds for action.
The next bylaw I found is from 1953 (No. 1501 “A Bylaw prohibiting the keeping of poultry within the City except where specified”). It allows the keeping of chickens with a permit, issued by the Medical Officer of the Local Board of Health. The premises had to be maintained “in a clean, sanitary and inoffensive condition satisfactory to the said Medical Officer” or permits would be revoked.
I didn’t find anything else until a general public health bylaw in 1980 (No. 5825). This bylaw repealed the 1953 permit bylaw and included a section making it unlawful to harbour “any live poultry or fowl.”
So, it looks like the 1953 bylaw stood until it was repealed in 1980 and therefore until 1980 it was possible to get a permit to keep chickens within City limits.
There is one mystery I haven’t solved yet. In a couple of inspection reports there are references to the number of chickens being kept, specifically that there was no cause for complaint because there were less than the 24 birds allowed by the bylaw. I haven’t found a bylaw specifying the number of chickens allowed. It was probably in either an animal control or public health bylaw amendment. There are so many of them it would take a lot of time to check them all.
I was surprised that the chicken ban was as late as 1980. Do you remember having chickens in Edmonton? Please comment if you have any chicken stories!