Notice to designate Ontario Reformatory (785 York Road)

Take notice that the Council of the Corporation of the City of Guelph intends to designate the Ontario Reformatory at 785 York Road as a property of cultural heritage value or interest under section 29 Part IV of the Ontario Heritage Act, R.S.O. 1990, Chapter 0.18.

Description of the property

The property is described in Reference Plan 61R-21959 as being Part Lots 1, 2, 3, and 4, Concession 2, Division C and Part Lots 4 and 5, Concession 1, Division C in the City of Guelph.

Statement of Cultural Heritage value or interest

The Guelph Correctional Centre (Guelph Reformatory) is about 90 hectares of property located within the city limits of Guelph and includes a set of buildings constructed in the 1910s and 20s for operations, detention, industrial activities and farming. The property combines ornamental and working landscapes.

The historic buildings consist of a set of interconnected structures comprised of two residences, a two-and-a-half-storey administration building in the Beaux-Arts tradition, two three-storey cell blocks, two three-storey dormitories, a tower and corridor, a kitchen, and two dining halls; a large three-storey industrial workshop constructed of concrete and stone; and a greenhouse complex.

The ornamental landscape fronts York Road and extends from the road to the front of the Administration Building and the detention complex. It is located on gently sloping ground rising up to the centre of the property. The ornamental landscape features man-made ponds and watercourses, parklike grounds, lawns,
mature trees, gardens, stone fences, remnants of gates along York Road, and the main road to the Administration Building. The working landscape includes field patterns to the northeast of the main building complex and the eastern drive extending from York Road.

The Guelph Correctional Centre is one of Canada’s largest and most intact examples of a correctional facility designed specifically to address late-19th- and early-20th century ideas to use incarceration to reform rather than punish criminal behaviour. It is also a good example of of John M. Lyle’s work, one of Canada’s best-known architects and an accomplished practitioner noted for his Beaux-Arts designs. The landscape expresses its purposeful use to support and rehabilitate the prison population. The result of prison activity was a well-organized site with a rich collection of rustic landscape features which added significantly to the function and scenic value of the property.

The Guelph Correctional Centre was designed to fulfill the requirements of a reform program used by the province to reduce recidivism among youthful offenders. The program required extensive facilities for prison work, as well as a series of specialized interior spaces for segregation and programming. The reform ideas were not only expressed in the functional organization of the facility and in its industrial and farming facilities, but also in the architectural treatment of the main buildings in a simple Beaux-Arts for the
exterior treatment. The greenhouse complex (B13465) illustrates most clearly the industrial-scale farming operation that characterized the institution for almost 60 years. The landscape setting of the Guelph Correctional Centre also expresses the reform program of the institution in the organization of its spaces and in the elements constructed by prison labour.

The Guelph Correctional Centre was recognized as a Provincial Heritage Property of Provincial Significance under Part III.1 of the Ontario Heritage Act in June 2008.

Description of heritage attributes

The following elements of the property at 785 York Road should be considered heritage attributes in a designation under Part IV of the Ontario Heritage Act:
• The interconnected historic buildings identified as: Administration Building (B13430); Tower & Main Corridor (B13431); B Cells (B13432); T Dormitory (B13433); C Cells (B13434); C Dormitory (B13435); Library & Canteen (B13441); Large Dining Hall (B13442); Machine Shop Building (B13450); Greenhouse (B13465);
Willowbank Hall (former Engineer’s Residence) (B13498); and Superintendent’s Residence (B13499).
• The organization of the property as a whole into a hierarchy of spaces, with the public grounds at the front, the main detention complex at the centre and support and work areas located behind and to the sides of the main complex.
• The location of the detention area at the top of a hill with open areas and clear sight lines around the main detention complex.
• The consolidation of industrial buildings in one area.
• The public and internal circulation patterns on the property.
• The ornamental grounds of the institution, as seen in its: stone walls, fences, stairs and gates; terraced gardens in the vicinities of the former Superintendent’s Residence and Willowbank Hall; ponds; bridges; watercourses; gateposts along York Road; mature trees planted along roads.
• The functional qualities of the organization of the detention complex that are associated with its correctional use, including: the placement of the Administration Building at the head of the complex; the contained, an internal loop system of basement-level and aboveground passages between buildings, providing alternative access and observation points for staff; the compact, quadrangle arrangement of the main units, in keeping with an educational model; the narrow, linear plan of each unit, providing access to natural light and ventilation; and the few and controlled exterior access points.
• The symmetry of the main detention complex as built in 1911-15.
• The domestic appearance of Willowbank Hall and the former Superintendent’s Residence.
• The graceful, exterior shape of the dormitory blocks (B13433 and B13435), specifically in the use of curved window bays and the large scale of the original window openings of the dormitory blocks.
• The spatial organization of the cell blocks (B13432 and B13434) into single cells located along one side of the corridor, with window openings on both sides of the blocks.
• The aesthetic qualities of the Beaux-Arts tradition, as seen in the original design executed by John Lyle, and evident in the Administration Building in: the bold scale of the cornice; the regular placement of windows; the exterior articulation of the fireplaces at either end of the building; the symmetry of the overall design.
• The Machine Shop Building (B13450), including: its stone exterior; the scale and position of its original openings; surviving original windows and doors constructed by prison labour at Guelph and other provincial correctional centres.
• The Greenhouse (B13465)
• Administration Building original interior features: wood and brick fireplace mantels at both ends of the building; all original wood paneling and trim on walls and ceilings; extant original wood windows and doors; metal and wood central stairway.
• Main Detention Complex (as built in 1911-15) original interior features: cast iron columns in Library, Canteen and Large Dining Hall; interior stairways of concrete and metal pipe railings.
• Superintendent’s Residence original interior features: two brick fireplace mantels and all original wood paneling and trim on walls and ceiling; extant original wood windows and doors.

It is intended that non-original features may be returned to documented earlier designs or to their documented original without requiring Council to amend the designation bylaw.

A more detailed description of the property’s cultural heritage value may be found in staff’s report to City Council dated June 14, 2021 and at

For more information

Stephen Robinson, Senior Heritage Planner
Planning and Building Services
519-822-1260 extension 2496
[email protected]

Objection to proposed designation

Any person may, before 4 p.m. on July 26, 2021, send by registered mail or deliver to the Clerk of the City of Guelph, a notice of objection to this proposed designation, setting out the reason for the objection and all relevant facts. If a notice of objection is received, the Council of the City of Guelph shall refer the matter to
the Ontario Land Tribunal (OLT) for a hearing.

Stephen O’Brien
City Clerk
City of Guelph
1 Carden Street, Guelph ON N1H 3A1
[email protected]

Notice date: June 24, 2021