GCC Historical Background By Jeremy Warson
Former Guelph Correctional Centre – Historical Background
The former Guelph Correctional Centre was constructed in the 1910s on a large property assembled by the Province of Ontario for that purpose. It was known as the Ontario Reformatory, Guelph. The initial building program, consisting of a complex of buildings for administration, accommodation, medical treatment, recreation, dining, industrial activity and farm production, was directed by W. L. Hanna, Provincial Secretary. Hanna was committed to creating a correctional facility and program that could reduce the rate of recidivism and improve the likelihood that the convicted would eventually become contributing members of society. His reformist ideals were not restricted to corrections; Hanna was also a leading force in the building of the Whitby psychiatric hospital beginning in 1913 where he hoped that a similar program of humane treatment, useful work, extensive grounds, sympathetic architecture and attentive staff would create an environment conducive to treatment and cure.
In 1911 Hanna engaged John M. Lyle, a talented Ontario architect, to design the buildings at Guelph. The relationship between Lyle and his client was tense, almost from the outset, especially over the question of fees. Lyle was forced to pull himself away from the project within a couple of years, as Hanna questioned his designs and, over the objections of Lyle, chose to use provincial staff for key design jobs, including the organization of the grounds, the design of a bridge (demolished) and the plans for houses, barns and stables. By 1915, James Govan, who worked as an architect in the Department of Provincial Secretary rather than in the Department of Public Works, was responsible for new buildings and for changes to older ones. Govan’s plans included the 1915 design of Willow Bank Hall (B13498), a gatehouse which bears strong similarity to Govan’s designs for the Whitby hospital buildings. From that point onwards, the design of the Guelph Reformatory buildings was clearly in the hands of provincial staff and the planning of the grounds was shared by reformatory managers and staff of the Ontario Agricultural College at Guelph. The construction and craftsmanship, however, represents the work of prisoners.
Guelph’s reform origins are clearly visible. The entrance gates and the park-like areas along York Road are part of the landscape’s formal presentation zone. The principle that prisoners should make meaningful contributions to the community and support themselves while at prison is evident in the scale of the prison’s farm, the park-like grounds of the entrance zone, and its institutional and industrial buildings. The large property is no longer used for farming but the open fields and parts of its orchards remain. The entrance gate, the domestic architecture of the gatehouse, and the initial presentation of a park in place of prison walls communicates the reform message of Guelph, especially in contrast to institutions constructed in prior periods. The main complex of buildings – used for housing prisoners and providing prison services – is composed of a set of structures constructed as part of the original building program that was interrupted by World War One and by additions and changes to those buildings after 1920. The older buildings, with their modern neoclassical styling and their scale, bear only a slight resemblance to penal institutions constructed in the same period. The single architectural element of the administration building that speaks directly to the correctional purpose of the structure is the heavy rusticated masonry of the main entrance, which can be compared to the main entrance of the Don Jail. The surrounding fields bear witness to the role of farming in the prison’s history and to the institution’s close connection to the Ontario Agricultural College (now the University of Guelph) located on adjacent property. The industrial buildings at the back of the main complex illustrate the institution’s long-standing program of using industrial work to provide both financial support to the institution and work to the prisoners. Throughout the property the work of prison labour is evident in pathways, stone walls and garden features.
The Guelph Correctional Centre has value in understanding Guelph’s history. The selection of the city for the location of the jail confirmed Guelph’s position in Ontario’s heartland. Over time, the correctional facility became a major employer and its grounds became a larger part of the city’s recreational fabric. The use of the grounds for casual recreational activities, such as picnics, seems surprising today, due to the way in which correctional facilities are usually secured from the general public. In the case of Guelph, however, the program to beautify and improve the grounds for the community was intrinsic to the ideas that informed the founding of the institution.
The former Guelph Correctional Centre was built in the 1910s in the District of York. Settled in the 1830s, the District was still rural at the turn of the century. The reformatory’s land was assembled from what had been seven farm properties and a few smaller residential lots in 1877.
The portion of the property west and south of the Eramosa Branch of the Speed River in the north half of Lot 12, Concession 1 was owned by two individuals, H. J. Saunders and P. McQuillan. Their residences were oriented to Victoria Road South and were located outside the western limits of the Guelph Correctional Centre property. The portion of the property in the south half of Lot 3 of Concession 1 west of the Eramosa Branch of the Speed River was owned by J. McQuillan. The residence for that farmstead was oriented to Stone Road East and was outside the western limits of the subject property.
The portion of the Guelph Correctional Centre property in Lot 3 of Concession 2 in 1877 was owned by three individuals. Most of that lot as well as the portion of the property in the south half of the adjacent Lot 4 of Concession 1 to the east was owned by a D. Allan. The Allan residence was in the south half of Lot 4, outside the current limits of the Guelph Correctional Centre property. Two small residential lots were located at the north end of Lot 3 Concession 2 in 1877, within the current limits of the subject property; their owners were identified as D. G. and Farr, respectively. If structures were present on those lots in 1877, therefore, they were probably later destroyed by quarrying.
Finally, the portion of the subject property in the north half of Lot 4 of Concession 2 in 1877 was owned by H. Matthews; no structure was depicted for the 100-acre Matthews property.
Some changes in land ownership occurred between the third quarter of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century. By 1906 the small portion of the subject property south and west of the Eramosa Branch of the Speed River in the Lot 12 of Concession 1 was owned by two individuals: Arnold Saunders; and Michael Walsh. Their residences were located well west of the current western limits of the Guelph Correctional Centre property.
The portion of the subject property west of the Eramosa Branch of the Speed River in the south half of Lot 3 of Concession 1 in 1906 was part of the farmstead of Arthur and Bernard McQuillan; their residence was in the south half of Lot 10 of Concession 1, well west of the current western limits of the Guelph Correctional Centre property.
Land ownership in the north half of Lot 3 of Concession 2 in 1906 was more complex. Within the current limits of the Guelph Correctional Centre, most of the portion of that lot was owned by a Miss Tena (sp?) and a William Farr; they owned 88 acres. The north-central part and northwest corner of Lot 3 were divided into three small parcels; of these, the easternmost (numbered 3) had a mapped structure. That structure would have been located on the south side of York Street somewhere near the current York Road entrance into the Guelph Correctional Centre.
The portion of the subject property in Lot 4 of Concessions 1 and 2 in 1906 was owned by Charles and George Matthews. They are shown as owning all 200 acres, and their property included the present site of the Guelph Correctional Centre building complex.
The May 1921 plan of the Ontario Reformatory, Guelph, now the Guelph Correctional Centre, illustrates the extent to which the property was transformed for the creation of the institution. Fields are fenced and several structures described as stone houses are scattered through the property, some with associated barns. Most if not all of these probably represent the farm houses and farm buildings from the farmers discussed above; none of the buildings are extant on the property today.
At the turn of the 20th century, the Central Prison, Toronto (1873-1915) was the only correctional facility in the Province to which provincial prisoners were transferred to serve prison terms. It was used for men sentenced to incarceration for a period of two months to two years. Prisoners were confined to small cells, forced to wear striped clothing, and punished by extreme measures. While the existence of some industrial shops in the prison provided a limited amount of work, there was little to keep prisoners occupied and nobody left the prison with new skills or an increased capacity to lead a productive life. While some prisoners were given the opportunity to work for private employers, they were often forced to work under contracts that turned the prison into a sweat shop.
In the early 1900s, Theodore Chamberlain, the Province’s Inspector of Prisons and Public Charities, tried to persuade the government to change its philosophy regarding the role of prisons. “We must get away from the old idea that we have to lock some persons up merely to punish them. Punishment, of course, has its place in penal administration, but reformation should be regarded as the chief idea prompting every sentence.” For the inspector, reformation was founded on three pillars – probation, indeterminate sentences and work. Probation gave prisoners the opportunity to prove their worthiness to re-enter civil life in advance of completing a full prison term, while indeterminate sentences allowed authorities to keep prisoners in custody if the prisoners exhibited behavior indicating that they were likely to re-offend. Work was believed to prevent idleness, to give prisoners a sense of personal responsibility, to reduce the cost of institutionalization and to educate. This was reflected in the Inspector’s words following a visit in 1907 to industrial prison farms in Boston and Cleveland:
the City of Toronto, instead of erecting a new gaol or spending much more money on the present antiquated structure, now forty years old, should have an Industrial farm and thus inaugurate in Ontario what has elsewhere proved to be a rational and successful method of dealing with short term prisoners. According to the last report of the United States Commissioner of Labor, gaol labor reaches its highest per cent of efficiency in farming and road-making. These out-of-door employments are much better for the prisoners, especially the chronic inebriates, and such a farm could be made largely self-sustaining.
With the appointment of reformist William John Hanna, a Conservative MPP, as Provincial Secretary and Registrar General for the Province of Ontario in 1905, the stage was set for change in Ontario’s prisons. As provincial secretary, Hanna was responsible for the administration of public charities, prisons, asylums, health, child welfare, statistics, corporate registration and liquor regulation. Early in his political life he had expressed concern about the condition of Ontario’s prisons. In the position of provincial secretary, he had the means and authority to act. In 1907 he and his staff began planning a new facility at Guelph which would incorporate new ideas about the role of prisons.
The reformist intentions of the Guelph Reformatory are evident in the facility’s architecture and landscape. In contrast to other county and provincial jail facilities in the province and in most of Canada, it was designed to segregate inmates on the basis of behavior, as well as on their potential for committing dangerous acts. The program behind the architecture and landscape was based on a theory that outdoor work, especially farming, and industrial work, would improve the behavior of prisoners and reduce the overall cost of institutions to taxpayers. Reformers hoped that regular, scheduled labour would reduce the monotony of prison life, teach practical skills, instill pride and reduce opportunities for negative social interaction. The most important principle of the Reformatory, however, was the emphasis placed on separating youthful offenders from adult criminals with a pattern of recidivism.
In spite of all of the attempts at reform, however, the history of the Guelph Reformatory reveals the immense challenges faced by the Province in using a single institutional setting under severe financial constraints to address the behavior of a wide range of individuals. From the outset, over-crowding in Ontario’s jails forced authorities to send youth, adults, the criminally insane, dangerous individuals and inmates with contagious diseases, such as tuberculosis, to the Guelph Reformatory. Almost 15 years passed, for instance, before criminally insane inmates were finally moved to Penetanguishene in 1932. For the entire history of the Guelph institution, superintendents were frustrated by the requirement to accept all types of prisoners, including those who would not or could not work, within a physical environment designed for other purposes. In particular, the mixing of juveniles and adults remained a problem until the opening of the nearby Wellington Detention Centre in the 1950s.
At the beginning of the institution’s history, however, optimism about the capacity of an institutional setting to reform criminal behaviour was evident. In February 1909 Provincial Secretary W.L. Hanna approached John Mackintosh Lyle, an architect from Toronto, to provide advice regarding the desired building program and costs of a new Ontario prison. Distinguished Canadian architect and urban planner John M. Lyle was born in Belfast on November 13, 1872. The son of a Presbyterian minister, Lyle had an early interest in art and a strong aptitude for drawing. By the age of 17 he had decided to pursue a career in architecture, choosing to move to the United States in 1891 to begin his formal education at the Yale School of Fine Arts in Connecticut. The curriculum of the school’s architecture program was influenced by the École des Beaux Arts in Paris, which underscored the importance of a strong technical approach and a formal design approach for architecture. After only a year in Connecticut Lyle moved to Paris where he completed his architectural training at the renowned École des Beaux Arts in 1896. Lyle left Paris for New York in 1896, where he worked for large architectural offices, gaining necessary and valuable real-world experience before setting up his own architectural firm in 1902.
Although Lyle began his career in New York, his most significant work was realized following his return to Canada in 1906. Although only working on his own for a short period of time, and newly established in Toronto, Lyle was offered substantial commissions. Most notable of this early flourish of work were a number of banks across Canada, including the Bank of Nova Scotia in Ottawa. Also of note, Lyle designed the Royal Alexandra Theatre in Toronto and Pickering College within the first two years of his Toronto début.
Projects such as the Guelph Reformatory embodied the imposing scale and style that characterized much of Lyle’s work throughout his career. Undoubtedly, his Beaux-Arts training and experience in both the United States and France provided Lyle with the inspiration and means to design building on such a grand scale, both in regard to sheer size and aesthetic quality. Throughout his career Lyle was a proponent of Beaux-Arts ideals and was a member of the Society of Beaux-Arts until his death in December 1945.
Upon hiring, Hanna told Lyle that the department had “not yet decided exactly what was wanted, or whether the job would be brick or cement, that it would be built somewhere within ten or fifteen miles of Toronto.” The initial conversation started with a discussion about fees, a subject that continued to dog Lyle throughout his involvement with the project. Lyle was also instructed to visit prison sites in the United States, including Mansfield, NY, Elmira, OH, Cleveland, OH and Bridgewater, NY.
Lyle managed to reach an agreement with the Province regarding his fees and reported back to the provincial secretary. Lyle became almost completely absorbed by the project, inspired by the reform intentions of Hanna and by the scale of the building program. He provided advice on everything from the mechanics of heating to the construction and maintenance of roads.
The correspondence between Lyle and Hanna suggests, however, that Hanna intended to play a major role in every aspect of the reformatory’s design and construction. Hanna, for instance, insisted on contacting American wardens about cell sizes himself, even though he had sent Lyle to visit individual institutions. Then when Lyle proposed a cell size, Hanna changed it. One of the most substantial interventions by Hanna, however, concerned the heating of cells. Lyle proposed that each cell be heated by forced air; Hanna disagreed and argued that it would be sufficient to heat the hallway through steam radiators and leave the doors between blocks open for ventilation. He reminded Lyle that Guelph would be able to keep its interior doors open because its “prisoners are not at all the same desperate class that is to be found say in the Penitentiary at Kingston or in other prisons where men are serving long-term sentences and have, therefore, the motive always impelling them to break away.” Hanna advised Lyle, who was already an accomplished architect, that the design of cells would “have a bearing on heating and ventilation” and on the cost of the project. In response, Lyle expressed the opinion that Hanna’s heating proposal was impractical due to the climate and to the internal arrangement of the building with small cells on one side of a corridor. As constructed, the cells were never heated. This was only remedied in the 1970s, at which time it became necessary to insulate the buildings from the outside and re-clad stucco walls with brick.
In February 1910, while Lyle was still considering the design for an institution to be located near Toronto, the Province purchased 800 acres of land near the Ontario Agricultural College in Guelph. The decision was strategic, as well as political. Not only did the two provincial properties consolidate provincial investments in one area, the Reformatory intended from the outset to exploit the expertise of the College with regards to both agriculture and horticulture.
By April 1910, Lyle was working on the site plans, which called for the buildings to face “due North.” The architect recognized the plateau would not be flat enough for a large complex of buildings so he advised that filling and leveling would be required. He also requested that the railway spur line into the site be carried through to its final track “behind the trade shops and in front of the power house.” Lyle was still working on the final plans for the main buildings and was hoping to meet Hanna to discuss materials. The architect was under pressure to produce cost estimates for options, but he wanted to know more about the Province’s intentions regarding materials.
In February 1910 Lyle prepared an estimate for the construction of 21 permanent buildings, road works and temporary buildings, including: two dormitories, a main administration buildings, a central administration wing, cell blocks, dining rooms, kitchens, a bath house, a superintendent’s residence, workshops, a chapel, a school and gymnasium, a hospital, an isolation hospital, a criminally insane building, a mortuary, walls and gates, tunnels and ducts, mechanical and service buildings, and a water supply system. Beginning in April 1910, Lyle began to supervise the construction of the temporary buildings while working on drawings for permanent ones.
Lyle also proposed in a letter to Hanna that the full accounting of his fees would only take place at the end of the project and that, in his own words and underscored in his letter, that he “would leave the question of the total cost of the buildings [ie. the value of the prison labour], the amount on which my final Commission would be based – in the hands of the Government – trusting to their fairness in the adjustment of this final commission.”
The first prisoners were transferred from the Central Prison in Toronto to Guelph, where they lived in farm houses on the property and in temporary wood frame dormitories. From the outset, the Guelph Reformatory was intended to reform the least dangerous inmates in the system by making them perform useful and physically demanding work in fields and factories. The work began as soon as the land was chosen, with the use of prison labour to prepare the site and erect temporary buildings. Within a few years, prisoners were constructing permanent structures, including the industrial buildings where prisoners would learn a trade and increase the level of self-sufficiency of the institution. The work extended to the park-like grounds. Here the superintendent was particularly proud of the labour involved in draining the swamp, to “provide hard labour and team inmates to work” while also having “an inestimable reformative effect and civic asset value.” At the peak of the institution’s work era, inmates were employed in the abattoir, wood-working shop, woolen mill, tailor shop and mattress factory, in addition to working in the institution’s laundry and on its farm.
As originally constructed, the Guelph Reformatory consisted of two main groups of buildings. The first group was composed of a series of interconnected structures used for administration, cell blocks, dormitories, kitchens, dining areas and medical services. These structures were arranged in a modified cruciform plan with the administration building at the head, the dormitory wings at the sides and the service buildings at the rear. The second group of buildings was used for trades and for operations. The structures included a laundry, powerhouse, woolen mill, cannery and stores.
The most important activity at Guelph, however, was farming. In 1912 The Farmer’s Advocate extolled the Provincial Reformatory as the “greatest” of all provincial farms, including all of the asylum farms. It was described as a “farm complete within itself” where everything was accomplished with prison labour. The farming operations of all institutions, including Guelph, were managed by S.E. Todd, a graduate of the Ontario Agricultural College. The institution’s massive dairy barn, which burned in the 1960s, was traditional in design, but its concrete foundation and ground floor featured the pilasters that tied all of the early buildings together on the property.
By the summer of 1915, construction of buildings was advanced enough to permit the transfer of prisoners from the Central Prison in Toronto. When the last prisoners were moved, the Central Prison was closed and the property sold making the Guelph Reformatory the largest provincially-operated correctional facility. However, corrections services were suspended until 1917, when the property was transferred to the Military Hospitals Commission for use as a vocational training centre for returned soldiers. The prisoners from Guelph were transferred to the Industrial Farm at Burwash (near Sudbury) where, according to the Inspector of Prisons and Public Charities, “the reformative influences are at least equally as good as those at Guelph. As a result, though the Ontario Reformatory is for the present closed, the good work will still continue."
Despite the change in its use, improvement to the site continued into the early 1920s. In co-operation with the Military Hospitals Commission, the Provincial Secretary’s Department constructed: a large greenhouse (B13465; Figure 14); horse barn (not extant); foreman’s house (not extant); dormitory for Teamsters (not extant); and housing for the staff’s families (not extant).
The facility was officially known as the Guelph Military Convalescent Hospital, but was named ‘Speedwell’ by its residents – mostly soldiers from southwestern Ontario. At Speedwell, disabled soldiers received therapy while others received training in agriculture, woodworking and motor mechanics. Soldiers were required to wear their uniforms and the military command structure remained in place. Hospital staff had either served overseas or with the military stationed in Guelph. This included doctors and 18 nurses. In 1920, the nurses, staged an illegal two-day strike, to protest their colleague’s dismissal.
The military hospital functioned at the Guelph Reformatory until 1921. In January of that year, 80 hand-picked prisoners from the Burwash Industrial Farm as well as some original staff members were transferred to Guelph and the reformatory was again in operation.
Guelph’s most intensive period of development occurred before World War One; the period from 1946 to 1967 was marked by an increased emphasis on the segregation of types of inmates and a general expansion in facilities as part of a province-wide program to institute correctional reform proposals. With the opening of new facilities elsewhere in the province, including the construction of a training school for juvenile offenders on the a corner of the Guelph Prison Farm, overcrowding at Guelph was reduced and specialized services, such as counseling and better health care facilities, were introduced.
At an administrative level, the Province created the new Department of Reform Institutions in 1946, replacing the Reformatories and Prisons Branch of the Department of the Provincial Secretary. At a policy level, the newly formed Department in 1946 created the Ontario Plan, an operational strategy for penal reform. In the Plan, the Department undertook a “moral responsibility” for rehabilitating the offender. The Plan emphasized vocational training, not simply work, and modern industrial farms to support rehabilitation. Farms would permit greater classification and segregation of prisoners and alleviate overcrowding at county and district jails. In order to implement the new vocational training and treatment programs, the Department divided provincial facilities for the first time into three institutional types: minimum security, medium security and maximum security. Industrial farms, including Guelph Prison Farm, were designated as minimum security facilities.
Guelph had long served as a model for correctional facilities focused on prisoner rehabilitation in place of punishment. Its large scale, its emphasis on a work program, its large fields and its location on rich soil allowed it to the lead the way in the Department’s push towards a rehabilitation agenda.
The physical changes required to allow Guelph to meet the expectations of the Ontario Plan were minimal. The industrial buildings were expanded, a new abattoir was built, and a new dairy barn replaced the original structure that had been destroyed by fire. A new hospital (B13440) was opened in 1951 to replace small wards installed within the dormitories and the tower block.
In 1947, the Department, through the Prison Farm’s superintendent, reported that:
The Ontario Reformatory, Guelph, in buildings, equipment, etc., is the largest prison plant in Canada. It has a farm of nearly 1,000 acres, which by the work of the prisoners has been developed from rough unprofitable land into a highly productive area, and its landscape gardens, ponds and streams are admired by thousands. In doing this many hundreds of young prisoners have learned to work, and the change that has occurred in the landscape there is paralleled by a similar change in the lives of many of them. This farm, like the other institutions farms, has a pure-bred accredited dairy herd of high quality. For more than twenty years, it has supplied daily the milk needed by two to four other public institutions. It has a piggery with several hundred hogs. Its large green house produces flowering plants for the gardens and custodial buildings, vegetable plants for the extensive acreage of vegetables, and hothouse food for kitchens. Its industries are hives of activity. The woollen mill produces blankets, cloth and socks; the tailor shop- clothing; the machine shop-beds, pails, garbage cans, model dishes and other metal requirements, large and small; the canning factory-canned fruits and vegetables, jams, jellies, marmalades; the abattoir-fresh and cured meats. All the products of those industries go for institutional use. The motor marker factory produces all the markers used on cars, trucks, busses, etc., licensed in Ontario. In valuating these products no charge is made for the prison labour involved in their manufacture or processing. They are sold practically at cost to the other institutions and thus at a material saving to those institutions. Even so, the annual revenue is approximately one-half million dollars."
1968 to the Present: Provincial Control
In 1968, the government took over responsibility for the administration of all justice facilities (city and county jails, courthouses, registry offices) in the province. The Province created the Department of Correctional Services in 1968 to undertake the new responsibilities. Among the new initiatives, the government began to scale back farming operations at its correctional facilities because it had lost its value as training for inmate rehabilitation. In 1971, the terms “reformatory” and “industrial farm” were replaced with “correctional centre”. This was followed by a programming change in 1972, when the government announced that most farming operations at correctional centres throughout the province would be discontinued. This resulted in the elimination of the major portion of farming operations at Guelph, Burwash, Burtch, Roseau, Monteith, and Thunder Bay Correctional Centres."
Built in an era of correctional optimism, when it was believed that incarceration could be a means to improving the behaviour of prisoners, the Guelph Correctional Centre’s design was at odds with the efficiency model of the current program. The cost of maintaining so much land and so many buildings, many of which were difficult to adapt to new correctional programs, and an increased emphasis on technology over human surveillance led the Government of Ontario to recommend the closure of the Guelph Correctional Centre. It was fully decommissioned in 2001.
 Thirty-Ninth Annual Report of the Inspector of Prisons and Public Charities upon the Common Gaols of the Province of Ontario being for the year ending 30th September 1906. Toronto: The King's Printer, 1907, p. 7.
 Fortieth Annual Report of the Inspector of Prisons and Public Charities upon the Common Gaols of the Province of Ontario being for the year ending 30th September 1907. Toronto: The King's Printer, 1908, p. 13.
 Sixty-third Annual Report of the Inspector of Prisons and Public Charities upon the Prisons and Reformatories of the Province of Ontario being for the year ending 31st October 1930. Toronto: The King's Printer, 1931, p. 5.
 Fiftieth Annual Report of the Inspector of Prisons and Public Charities upon the Prisons and Reformatories of the Province of Ontario being for the year ending 31st October 1917. Toronto: The King's Printer, 1918, p. 51.