Breaking Bylaws: 11 wacky bylaws you might not have heard about

Breaking Bylaws: 11 wacky bylaws you might not have heard about
By Melissa Wilson
OpenBlog Toronto
June 5, 2012

With some 180,000 bylaws currently on the books for the City of Toronto, it may seem like the simple act of existing in this city is illegal, and at one point, it might have been. When Toronto amalgamated with the outer boroughs in 1998, it was faced with the task of amalgamating the separate sets of bylaws, too, which it is still sorting through. If you thought the bylaw against having more than two garage sales a year was outrageous, just wait until you see some of these other bylaws that were once, or still are, on the books in the City of Toronto.


According to a bylaw passed in 1963, “no person shall keep or store dynamite, duslin, nitroglycerin, gun-powder, petroleum, gasoline, or naphths, and other dangerous or combustible, inflammable or explosive substances in excess of one hundred gallons if the substance is liquid…and one hundred pounds if the substance is solid…without a permit.” So if you’re currently sitting on 105 pounds of dynamite, you might consider discharging those extra five pounds. We recommend some sort of Acme coyote-launching device.

A bylaw passed in 1890 relating to “public morals” states that “no person shall sell or give any intoxicating drink to any child, apprentice, or servant, without the consent of the parent, master, or legal protector of such child.” Well, of course. It’s just polite manners to ask Mom before you get her 10-year-old hammered.

The same “public morals” document also prohibits swimming in the Don River between six and 10 at night without “proper bathing dress.”


If you think the current bylaw requiring the snow on your front walk shovelled within 24 hours is harsh, consider this: A bylaw from the early 1900s required sidewalks be swept and washed (yes, washed) by 8 a.m. every day.

Your mama always told you spitting was rude, but did she ever throw you in the brig for it? A bylaw passed in 1904 deemed that “No person shall spit upon any public sidewalk, or in any passageway, stairway or entrance.” The fine was $1 or three days in jail, and was later upped to $50, which would be the equivalent of approximately $1,200 today. This bylaw in still in effect, but the fine is a much more reasonable $15 — maybe the reason kids these days are so unruly is that they can’t lose their college funds over spitting.

A bylaw passed in 1890 on the “regulation of the streets, and for the preservation of order therein” stipulates that “foot passengers meeting one another shall pass to the right” and that “three or more persons shall not stand in a group of near to each other on any street or sidewalk in such a manner as to obstruct a free passage for foot passengers.” This bylaw is, unfortunately, no longer in effect.


At one point in Etobicoke there was a bylaw that limited the keeping of pigeons as pets to members of recognized and legitimate “pigeon clubs” and included set hours whereby pigeons could be allowed to fly. This bylaw has clearly disintegrated into pigeon chaos theory.

You think not being able to wash your car in your driveway is bad? There was once a bylaw that prohibited anyone from habitually parking in his or her own driveway. That kind of behaviour was limited to special occasions.

A 1994 bylaw decreed that dandelions must be kept under control, lest the City come in and clean up the blossoms and hand the homeowner a bill for the work. It does seem like this could be a job for an adorable neighbourhood five-year-old.

There was once a bylaw that declared it illegal for pigs to wander south of Lawrence Ave E. in Scarborough. It’s unclear what kind of punishment could be inflicted by the City on swine.


A bylaw was passed in 1927 that is described as being enacted simply to “repeal certain obsolete bylaws,” including an earlier one that prohibited swearing. Well OK. We can get behind that one.

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