History of the Site

Old aerial view of the Guelph Correctional Centre site
Old aerial view of the Guelph Correctional Centre site

A second view of the Guelph Correctional Centre site with the building names indicated

The Guelph Correctional centre, earlier known as the Ontario Reformatory, has a long and proud history as a world leader in the move away from incarceration as a form of punishment toward the use of productive work and training as a means to rehabilitate inmates and give them employable skills for life in the community.  The Center also has a long tradition of self-sufficiency, producing nearly everything needed to operate and feed a closed facility on site.

The creation of the “Ontario Reformatory” was a fine example of using innovative ideas to solve the social problems of the province. Over the years the institution was always in the forefront of introducing and adapting new concepts in this regard.  Yorklands Green Hub has adopted this spirit of reform and the heritage of the site as a means of promoting the social and cultural history of the past as a bridge to a future that the next generations can appreciate and learn from.

This site is a gem for the province and our city that will be a fine educational and heritage site.

Historical Timeline of the Ontario Reformatory at Guelph and Guelph Correctional Center

1909–1972 Ontario Reformatory, Guelph

  • 1909 implementation of prison reform proposed by William Hanna, Provincial Secretary for Ontario begins
  • April 1910 construction on dormitories and cell blocks begins by the first inmates and based on designs by John Lyle. Two quarries, a lime plant and a stone crusher are on the property
  • 1911 to 1915, prisoner work parties construct the Beaux Arts style Administration building, the cell blocks, and the landscape that includes ponds and waterways, dry stone walls, stairs, gates, bridges and terraced gardens
  • September 1911 cornerstone for administration building is placed
  • by 1912, 300 inmates at the facility
  • by 1914 the industrial and farm operations are fully operational and fulfilling expectations of the provincial officials
  • by 1916 it is the largest correctional facility in Ontario with 660 inmates
  • 1917 correctional services suspended and institution converted to the Guelph Military Convalescent Hospital
  • by 1919 more than 900 disabled veterans at facility
  • 1921 institution reverts to correctional facilities
  • 1947 a shift towards stricter discipline
  • by late 1940’s inmates produce enough food for all the prisons in Ontario, make blankets, wood and metal products, quarry stone on site, and work on community projects like trails and picnic benches for parks
  • 1950 move back to more liberal rehabilitative approach for prisoners
  • July 1952 full-scale riot leading to introduction of Staff Training School on the property, as well as four Institutional Crisis Intervention Teams
  • by 1962 the Farm includes dairy, piggery, horse, cattle and vegetable farming operations
  • 1962 First Public Exhibition at the Reformatory on September 20-22
  • 1959-1969 recreational services for inmates and that involve community volunteers from service clubs, churches and other public-minded groups
  • 1972 Ministry of Correctional Services discontinues operation of the farm

1972–2002 Privatization of public operations at the Institution by the province starts with the Abattoir

  • late 1980’s AIDS preventative measures and procedures are established
  • by 1980 tile drainage system for the large field adjacent to the lakes is installed
  • 1982 trout-processing and bulk-packaging plant opens
  • 2002 institution is decommissioned
  • 2006 Ontario Realty Corporation completes a comprehensive study of Ontario’s correctional facilities and identifies parts of the former Guelph Correctional Center as having provincially significant heritage property
  • 2016 Infrastructure Ontario begins preparing the property for sale.

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Valeriote Family Film Clip from the 1940s

During much of the 20th century, the former Ontario Reformatory lands that front onto York Road, were manicured lush green lawns laced with waterways that spilled over stone weirs, charming bridges, and endless stone walls and borders. The site was a a popular destination for visitors, who even sent postcards of the grounds to share their experience with friends. They also took pictures – and home movies! Well-known Guelph lawyer John Valeriote, with multigenerational family roots in Guelph, has shared a family film clip from the 1940s, shot in the beautiful gardens along York Road on each side of meandering Clythe Creek. Thank you John Valeriote for generously sharing a piece of history!

House on the Hill by Karl Grottenthaler

Hundred Years of Memories and a New Beginning: A pictorial journal of people and programs that made this institution such an excellent example of a new innovative approach to prison reform

It is with deep gratitude that Yorklands Green Hub acknowledges the generosity of Karl Grottenthaler in sharing with us his important documentation of Guelph’s landmark heritage site at 785 York Road, prior to his death in 2014. Karl was immensely proud of the “House on the Hill” and, as the title of his book infers, fondly hoped that the rich cultural heritage landscape that was created through innovative thinking early in the 20th century would be preserved and thrive in the Guelph Innovation District.

Read the first 12 pages here!

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