The battle over backyard chickens that hatched in 1980s Toronto

In 1983, The National was reporting on an issue that left some Torontonians "crying fowl," as anchor Knowlton Nash put it.

Debate pitted urban farmers against their neighbours

Toronto's debate over backyard chickens goes back as far as 1983. 2:21

It should be as true in Toronto as it would be anywhere — that good fences make good neighbours.

A backyard chicken is seen at the Toronto home of Joanne Kates in 1983. (The National/CBC Archives)

But in Canada's largest city, it seems that has long depended on whether the fencing in question surrounded a chicken coop.

In 1983, The National was reporting on an issue that left some Torontonians "crying fowl," as anchor Knowlton Nash put it.

It was the issue of whether or not residents should be allowed to keep chickens in their backyards.

"There have been complaints that many of Toronto's so-called backyard farmettes are too noisy and too smelly, that farms — not cities — are the place for farm creatures," reporter Dan Bjarnason told viewers, when explaining the situation on The National on May 2, 1983.

Kids 'get a big kick' out of chickens

Joanne Kates said her immediate neighbours didn't have problems with the coop full of chickens hanging out in her backyard.

Joanne Kates is seen attending to her backyard chicken coop in Toronto in the spring of 1983. (The National/CBC Archives)

"On that side, the neighbours have kids and their kids get a big kick out of my chickens and the parents like that," said Kates, who was a keeper of chickens in addition to her day job of being a reviewer of restaurants for The Globe and Mail.

"On that side, the neighbours are older people from Europe and it reminds them of their past, which they miss."

Indeed, her neighbour Joe Gill was supportive of the situation.

"We like chickens," said Gill, who told CBC News he was once a farmer himself. "Them, they didn't bother us."

There were other residents of Toronto who didn't find that having egg-producing neighbours was all it was cracked up to be.

'An invasion of rats'

Josephine Godlewski told CBC that living next to a chicken coop also meant they began living near some other unwanted neighbours.

Toronto resident Josephine Godlewski told CBC that living next to a person who was raising chickens in their backyard was not a desirable situation. (The National/CBC Archives)

"More and more rats, like an invasion of rats," Godlewski said. "And [the] flies, they eat you alive."

There was enough clucking about the chicken issue, in fact, that city councillors spent an entire morning debating the issue.

"The chickens had too few friends and too many enemies," said Bjarnason. "The vote went against the fowl."

But Bjarnason noted that the related bylaw banning backyard chickens still had to be written and then passed into law before the chickens really had to go.

Three months later, the Toronto Star reported that city council had passed the bylaw, which banned Torontonians from keeping live farm animals — including chickens. The bylaw was to come in effect on Sept. 1, 1983, according to the report.

Decades later, the debate over backyard chickens continues to hatch over and over again.

A multi-year pilot project is currently in progress in Toronto that allows residents in selected city wards to have up to four hens per household.


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