Under the Act of Incorporation (9 Vic. c. 75, s. 42) Hamilton City Council was permitted to pass legislation relating to a wide range of subjects including: the opening and maintenance of streets, sidewalks, and public places; the appointment and duties of civic officers; assessments; the establishment and regulation of a Police Department; the construction of buildings; and taxation. Normally drafted by committees of Council or, later, by the Board of Control, by-laws went through three readings, the first and second at one meeting and the third at the next meeting. If passed, they were signed by the Mayor and then were legally admissable.
The increasing number and complexity of the by-laws passed reflect the evolution of municipal government in Hamilton in terms of both size and functions. For example, in 1850 nine by-laws were passed by Council, in 1900 45, in 1950 181, and in 1972 there were 505 by-laws passed. Until 1975 by-laws were published in local newspapers before they received third reading. After this date by-laws were printed and distributed to city councillors and interested members of the public by the City Clerk; they were not published in newspapers unless specifically ordered by the Mayor or Council.
In 1852, 1869 and 1887 city by-laws were revised and consolidated with by-law amendments inserted in the appropriate places. Consolidated by-laws are not considered legally admissable. In 1899 and 1910 the by-laws were revised. Separate printed, indexed volumes contain the revisions for 1869, 1887, 1899 f and 1910. By-law schedules are included in the 1899 and 1910 Revised By-laws. The schedules list chronologically, from the date of Hamilton's incorporation until 1899 and 1910, the number, series, and title of the by-law, the date it passed final reading in Council and was signed, and whether the by-law is in force, has been repealed, or is effete.
RG2 consists of the original, numbered by-laws passed by City Council and signed by the Mayor. Each by-law is filed separately according to its series (or after 1966 its year) and number. A few by-law files also contain petitions from ratepayers concerning the proposed legislation.
The City Clerk's Department has organized the by-laws into five series. These series do not wholly correspond to those recorded in the schedule found in the Revised By-laws.
By-laws 1-159, 1 February 1847-2 March 1858.
By-laws 160-295, 3 March 1858-29 March 1869
This series also contains six Special Series By-laws passed between 12 May 1873 and 10 November 1873 (denoted by "NS", New Series). It is unclear why this Special Series was begun and then abandoned.
By-laws 1-1017, 26 April 1869-12 August 1899
By-laws 1-10,941, 11 September 1899-51 December 1965
By-laws 66-1- January 1966-
In this series, the system of consecutive numbering was modified. The first two figures of the by-law are the last two digits in the year, then there is a dash and each year's by-laws are numbered consecutively beginning at one. F or example, By-law 72-13 is the thirteenth by-law passed in 1972.
Along with City Council minutes, the by-laws are an important first source for researchers to examine, precisely because they deal with all aspects of municipal government -- everything from personnel matters to local improvements. Consequently, they provide an essential supplement to the material found in the other record groups. A study of the by-laws themselves enables an examination of the legislative and policy history of Hamilton City Council. The original, signed by-laws of City Council are held by the City Clerk's Department. Municipal by-laws were incorporated into City Council minutes according to the date that they passed third reading and were signed. Therefore it is generally unnecessary to refer to the original by-laws. Both the City Clerk's Department and Local History & Archives at the Hamilton Public Library hold volumes of the Revised By-laws.