Dominion Public Building
Legal description: Part Lot 71, Pt Lot 72, Plan 8
On the Exterior:
- The street façade including all masonry work, window openings and architectural metalwork;
- The side and rear stone facades;
- The stained glass window on the north side yard façade;
- The north and south side yard open spaces including the wrought-iron security fencing;
- The appearance of the two-storey façade from Wyndham Street.
On the Interior:
- The ground floor public room running parallel to Wyndham, including all remaining original plaster, metal and stone finishes;
- The two-storey stair hall and vestibule at the northeast corner, including the original handrail, original metal door detailing and architectural finishes;
It is intended that any non-original features may be returned to their documented original form without requiring City Council permission for an alteration to the designation.
- It was the only significant public building constructed in Guelph during the Depression era
- The building is the only example of “Modern Classicism” in Guelph
The Post Office on Wyndham Street opened for service on July 1st, 1936. It was then known as the “Dominion Public Building” for it housed several federal government functions in addition to that of the post office, including offices for the Department of Agriculture and the R.C.M.P. on the second floor. The name can still be read on the façade even though the letters have long since been removed.
The location of the new government building in 1936 on Wyndham Street finally filled in a long time gap in that street which had been created when the Stewart Lumber Company buildings burned in 1921. Regrettably, moving the post office functions from the old Post Office/Customs House on St. Georges square was one of the factors that lead to that iconic building’s eventual demolition in the 1960’s.
The design of the Dominion Public Building is an excellent example of what can best be described as “Modern Classicism”, a style known as a 20thC variant of Beaux Arts principles which sought to give a fresh interpretation to traditional monumental classicism. The “Dominion Public Building” may well be the only example of this type of building in Guelph, and can be distinguished in the building’s symmetrical design and by its decorative details. The original central entrance bay is flanked by matching end bays rendered in a subtle hierarchy of detail. Tall fluted pilasters connect these major bays and reinforce the classical ordering of the composition. The pilasters provide a series of six two storey window configurations, within which each of the upper and lower windows are divided by a dramatic metal sculptural panel that highlights the experimentation of the style. The sculptural decoration on the façade is very impressive and rare in Guelph.
In general, the building is a particularly successful version of the architectural style which was widely used for government buildings in the 1930’s and 1940’s. There are variants of this building style throughout the country (and the world), in large and small government projects, ranging for the Supreme Court in Ottawa (Ernest Cormier, 1939) and the Postal delivery Building on Bay Street, Toronto (Charles Dolphin, 1941) (now part of the Air Canada Centre), to small branch post offices such as the New Toronto Post Office on Lakeshore and Seventh Street (1937).
The plans were drawn in 1934 by Vaux Chadwich, an architect in Toronto, for the Department of Public Works in Ottawa, where Thomas Fuller and Charles Sutherland were the Chief Architects. The only practicing architect in Guelph at the time, William A. Mahoney, was the supervising architect. The building was constructed by Tope Construction of Hamilton at a cost of $250,000.
The building, especially its exterior, is in very good shape. At some point the main front entrance was closed and probably at the same time, the south entrance was opened and the material reused to infill the centre portico. The interior public space has been modified by partitioning and mechanical systems, however a great deal of the original material appears to survive and could be restored.
The majority of the rest of the building is rough warehouse space. Of historical note is the completely separate, enclosed “observation gallery” – an interconnected catwalk which is hung from the ceiling of the ground and second floor spaces, where mail handling and postage transactions could be observed by the R.C.M.P. and later postal management, without being visible to, or interacting with, the postal workers or the public.