Activists, conservationists pushing for heritage designation on former Guelph prison

Heritage activists are pushing for a heritage designation to protect the former Ontario Reformatory in Guelph. (Heather Senoran/CTV Kitchener)

The site where a former prison in Guelph sits will soon be up for sale, but the local activists and conservationists are pushing the city for a heritage designation for the old reformatory.

The Ontario Reformatory was built in 1910 on 1,000 acres of land and was known as the Guelph Correctional Centre until it closed in 2001.

“It was built by the prisoners. They quarried their own stone to build their own prison,” said Brian Skerrett, chair of Heritage Guelph.

The province owns the majority of the land, while the rest of it is city-owned and privately owned.

Under the city's recommendation for heritage designation, buildings like the prison would be protected.

“We want to endorse that but it doesn’t go far enough,” said Skerrett.

There about 40 buildings on site.

The City of Guelph wants to save eight. Heritage Guelph thinks all 40 should be protected until they can be further examined.

Heritage Guelph is lobbying for what would be considered a category five designation, which is the next level up from what the city is proposing.

“Basically puts an umbrella over everything and allows the examination prior to distraction,” said Skerrett.

The environmental conservation organization, Yorklands Green Hub, agrees with Heritage Guelph.

The non-profit group is particularly focused on protecting the front 70 acres. The trails in the area are open to the public and frequented often, especially during the pandemic, according to the group.

“If you look at the area, the field, the rivers, the ponds, the walls, they all interact to create the views and vistas,” said David Alton with Yorklands Green Hub.

The group said they will continue to fight to save the area.

“We are currently working with the Coalition to Protect the Ontario Reformatory Lands to encourage members of the community to delegate at the June 14 meeting,” said Alton.

City council will vote at a June 14 council meeting after hearing from delegates including Yorklands Green Hub and Heritage Guelph. The city said if it is approved, there's still a long process before anything is final.

“Residents and interested stakeholders could submit any issues that they have with the designation. Following that we would bring a bylaw forward to council if there are no objections,” said Melissa Aldunate, the Manager of Policy Planning and Urban Design with the City of Guelph.

“Infrastructure Ontario (IO) manages the former Guelph Correctional Centre property on behalf of the government. It is not currently for sale, but in the early stages of required due diligence. This includes working with the City of Guelph regarding the heritage attributes of the property," Jeff Given, a spokesperson for Infrastructure Ontario, said in an email.