HAVE YOUR SAY: Folks requested to share tales, connections to Guelph jail lands

The City of Guelph wants to hear from people about their connections to the former Ontario Reformatory and the land around it as part of the process involved in turning the area into a heritage conservation district.

“Stories matter in this process, because stories are integral to heritage,” said Justin Jones, community engagement planner with WSP, the consultants working on the heritage conservation district study for an area commonly referred to as the “jail lands.”

Jones was speaking during a virtual public open house on June 8 to gather feedback from the community and to share information about the study. Approximately 60 people attended the session.

“Our hope now is to get a better understanding of how all of you interact with the site,” said WSP cultural heritage lead Joel Konrad.

The old reformatory is only a part of the study site. The area the consultants are studying takes in a significant portion of what is known as the Guelph Innovation District. It includes the former jail along York Road at the north end, and runs all the way to Stone Road, bounded to the west by the Guelph Junction Railway tracks and to the east by Watson Parkway.

Within the area, the provincially-owned property of the former reformatory — 785 York Rd. — already has an official heritage designation under the Ontario Heritage Act.

Council approved the designation of the property in 2021 in anticipation of its future sale. At the same time, city staff was directed to begin the heritage conservation district (HCD) study.

Konrad explained a HCD is used to recognize and protect areas with special character by identifying and preserving features that are culturally significant.

“They’re also used for managing and guiding future change within a district,” he said.

The Guelph area currently being studied “has a wealth of history,” Konrad said.

While the former reformatory, which opened in 1910, seems a dominant part of the site’s history, the consultant team has also identified some other themes associated with the site, including the pre-contact Indigenous period, land use by early settlers, and its current use for recreation.

Many of the people who have so far submitted input online have commented on the site’s value for recreation.

“This green space needs to be preserved for walking, and getting close to nature in a city setting,” said one person.

“We live very close, and this area is one of our favourites to go for a hike/walk in. It is especially beautiful in the fall when all the wildflowers are in bloom,” said another.

Of those who attended the June 8 meeting, some wanted to know what aspects of the landscape might be preserved, with some asking specifically about the man-made ponds on the site.

“It’s not an easy question to answer,” city senior heritage planner Stephen Robinson told them.

He noted that the ponds, which were created by inmates of the prison, have been identified as heritage attributes, but there may be environmental planning considerations related to those features.

Other people were concerned about the built aspects of the property and how it might be determined what gets salvaged.

In answer to that question, Robinson said there were three criteria used to cultural heritage value: architectural elements, historical or associative value, and contextual value.

The stories and input people share will be important in determining the contextual value, Robinson said.

“The reformatory is not just about the beautiful park-like setting in the front yard,” he said. “There’s a back story there.”

Visit www.haveyoursay.guelph.ca/reformatory-district to provide input for the study and register for updates on the process. There is also a recording of the public meeting on the site.

Further public information sessions and consultation sessions are to take place this summer, with the final study to be presented to council in the fall.

Comments are closed.