York District Lands Project – A Memorial Park

I am a property owner in the City of Guelph. I have been a Police Officer for 10 years, and a Correctional Officer for 22 years. I worked at the Guelph Correctional Centre for 17 years, and now work at the Maplehurst Correctional Complex in Milton.I had attended the previous Spring meeting at 1 Stone Road regarding the Jail Lands on York Road, and since then have had a Letter to the Editor run in the Guelph Mercury newspaper on 25 April 2007. I have emailed the Mayor, and all the City Councillors, the three members of the AuthentiCity Consulting Company who were at the spring meeting, and the Constituency Office of local MPP Liz Sandals.

To date, I have received responses from three Councillors, and MPP Liz Sandals.

The redevelopment plans of the Jails Lands are progressing along with a lot of work from the City, Province, Consulting Company, and interested parties. There are many possibilities for the use of the land, and a lot of wishes by stakeholders.

What I am interested in seeing, as part of these new uses of the Jail Lands, is a small piece of the land being set aside and made into a City Park, with a few benches, and a plaque recognizing the Correctional Officers, who were Ontario Peace Officers killed in the Line of Duty, over the years at the Reformatory. Carpenter John Leybourne was killed there in 1912, leaving a wife and five children. Assistant Superintendent Norman Agnew was killed there in 1921, leaving a wife of six months. There are others that still require research.

Since the Ontario Reformatory, Guelph was built; many Correctional Officers and support staff had spent nearly 50,000 working years there. They carried out the sentences issued by Judges across Ontario for almost 100 years. There were generations of families who spent their working lives within the walls and on the grounds of this facility. Although Capital Punishment was carried out at County and District Gaols in the Province, until its abolition, Corporal Punishment was issued at the Reformatory.

This land saw Canada’s biggest prison for many years, a rehabilitation facility for returning World War 1 soldiers called Speedwell, and a model prison farm operation visited by people as far back as the 1920’s. The Reformatory was at one time a self-sufficient prison, that is unheard of today. Many memories were made on these lands for a lot of people who still live in this City. Many of these retirees and family members on occasion revisit the place they spent their working life.

These were the lands that provided an income for hundreds of Officers and staff to buy homes, raise and feed families, buy cars, and furnish those homes. Family members belonged to Guelph churches, clubs and organizations. Their kids went to the schools in the City, played in the sports leagues, and worked the part time jobs. There were even second generations that worked at the Reformatory. A lot of pay cheques were spent supporting the City of Guelph, and the many businesses that operated around the City. There were also the millions of dollars spent on goods and services in the operation of the Reformatory.

Efforts to save some of the Reformatory buildings are also underway. Such an idea of using one of these buildings as a museum would create additional tourism to the City. Such museums created from old prisons around the world have generated substantial money for the tourism industry. Currently there is no Ontario Provincial Corrections Museum in the Province. The Kingston Penitentiary Museum was opened in the former Warden’s home in Kingston, and the displays are all geared to the history of the Federal Prison system. Each year this Kingston Museum has been open, the attendance numbers have increased.

The old Huron County Gaol and Governor’s House in Goderich are National Historic buildings, and are a museum. The museum is operated by the Huron County Museum. It displays the operation of one of the 55 County and District Gaols that once operated in Ontario before 1968. The Province took over all of these facilities in 1968. Many of these gaols have been decommissioned. Some have been torn down, but more have become County museums and archives. A few have become privately owned and house businesses.

The old Lanark County, Peterborough County, Middlesex County, District of Parry Sound, Victoria County, Stormont, Dundas and Glengarry County, United Counties of Prescott and Russell, and Dufferin County Gaols and Court Houses, and the Industrial Farm, Burwash located south of Sudbury on Highway 69, all have Provincial historical plaques erected. The Ontario Reformatory, Guelph deserves some attention too. There are those around who would like to write the history here out of existence, and that would be a sad statement of our society. I have some info about Ontario Gaols on my web site : www.canadiancorrections.com

Currently there are more than enough artifacts from the Reformatory and the old Wellington Detention Centre to furnish any size museum that might be developed in one of the Jail Lands historic buildings, and in connection with the Guelph Civic Museum. Old style uniforms worn back to the 1940’s, photographs, badges and patches, the horse carriage from the early 1900’s used by the Superintendent to ride around the fields and orchards, items and pictures from the Reformatory fire department, the many movies made there such as Mrs. Souffel starring Mel Gibson in 1984, ‘Go Boy’, a book written about the Reformatory by former inmate and Governor General Literary Award winning author Roger Caron, and many more items have survived. Retired Correctional Officer Nick Brouwer has also written a book about the Reformatory that has never been published. The book is some 300 pages, and includes newspaper articles, photos, and inside stories from the O.R.

There are many people around Guelph who also have items, and are looking for a significant place to donate them. There is also another large stash of Ontario Corrections artifacts sitting in a storeroom at the Kingston Museum looking for a home. The Kingston Penitentiary Museum curator, Dave St. Onge would likely be happy to have the space back.

The prison industries that operated at the Reformatory were extensive. There were the barns housing the cattle, and horses, the piggery, the Tailor Shops, the Woolen Mills, the Carpenters Shop, the Dairy, the Abattoir, the fruit orchards and Cannery, the Upholstery Shop, the Greenhouses, the Mechanics Shop, the Brick Shop, the Small Engines Shop, the Paint Shop, the Autobody Shop, the Stonemason and Gardeners, the Shops that made brooms, and repaired shoes, and the Implement Sheds that houses the farm equipment, tractors and wagons used in the production of the large number of field crops.

Does anybody remember back in the 50s and 60s when you would go to the corner store for an ice cream cone, the ice cream came in a cylinder shape and the wrapper was peeled off and put in the cone? That ice cream was made at this Reformatory.

Many can ignore the significance of these lands over the past 100 years to this City, and the memories that were generated, but the Ontario Reformatory, Guelph was the biggest thing around this City for almost 100 years.        SR