Come with us and take a tour of the old Ontario Reformatory. Photography is not permitted inside the building. Our tour guide is beyond informative, firing off a non-stop barrage of historical facts and interesting anecdotes...
The Ontario Reformatory was the brainchild of Ontario's Provincial Secretary William Hanna. Convinced that segregating and punishing inmates was not an effective strategy, Hanna believed that society would be better served if attempts were made to reform the provincial inmate population. In 1910, one thousand acres of existing farmland was purchased in Guelph, and inmates were transferred from a Toronto jail. Those first inmates resided in the farmhouses while they began digging the quarry and mining the limestone beneath the drumlin. The location was specifically chosen because of the farm-able scenic land which contained all of the materials that would be needed to construct the prison, including limestone for exterior walls, clay for bricks, and trees for the intricate trim and banisters, as well as it's proximity to two rail lines that would make it easy to transport prisoners and goods.
The original building was designed by prominent Toronto based architect John Lyle. Mr. Lyle was paid by percentage of building costs, which were drastically lower due to the use of prison labour gangs. After a failed lawsuit he was left bankrupt.
The architectural design and surrounding landscape reflected the Reformatory purpose with abundant natural light inside the building, and scenic outdoor spaces featuring gardens and ponds, dry stone fences and areas for productive activities. Originally there was no perimeter fencing. The cell blocks were made up of three floors with 13 cells and a dormitory on each floor. Well behaved general population inmates were housed in the dormitories in groups of 20-22. Prisoners labelled criminally insane were housed in a specific block known as the Ontario Hospital. Guards utilized over a mile of tunnel systems to access various areas within the building. In 1921, a Superintendent's residence was built on the grounds and over time a church, hospital, and large mess hall were also constructed. The mess hall accommodated waves of 250 inmates at a time.
Inmates were assessed upon admission and assigned a prison job. The strongest amongst them were assigned to the bull gang, the workhorses of manual labour. The prisoners built and maintained a large farm, greenhouse, orchard, abattoir, cannery, and many work shops including tailor and machine shops, and woolen mill.
Over the years, prisoners produced license plates, picnic tables, clothing, socks, and windows which were installed in many of the houses in Guelph. They also produced enough baked goods to supply all of the psychiatric institutions in Ontario. The work model of the Reformatory was so successful, it turned a profit of $10,000 to $75,000 per annum.
After the first world war, the reformatory served as the Speedwell Convalescence Hospital for wounded soldiers, housing over 900 veterans in 1919, some in a special tuberculosis ward.
Ontario Reformatory re-opened in 1921. By 1947, it housed the largest prison population in Canada, with 1000 inmates. In 1952, a massive riot broke out, involving 600 prisoners.
Frequent complaints from guards about the frigid temperatures in the cell blocks led to much of the exterior limestone walls being bricked over in the 1960s. In the 1970s, the quarry was closed and the farming was discontinued as the government no longer felt it was important to teach farming skills.
In 1972, the Ontario Reformatory became the Guelph Correctional Centre.
In 2002 with 450 prisoners remaining, the Guelph Correctional Centre was shut down, suffering the same fate as other Provincial Correctional Centres such as Millbrook and Rideau, whose inmates were transferred to newly constructed super jails. Unlike the decay and destruction that befell Millbrook and Rideau, the old Reformatory has been preserved, and as many as 20 of the buildings are to be given heritage status. The lights and heat are still on in the main building and a lone guard sits in the ground floor of the central guard tower watching the live feed cameras of the perimeter fencing and building exteriors. Another guard rides a bike around the property. 24/7. The main building is still used regularly for training correctional officers. The buildings and grounds are so closely monitored that we didn't think we'd ever get a peek inside.
But there we were, taking a tour with no photography permitted. Ninja was feverishly taking notes from the wealth of information being recited by our guide as Tash.0 popped in and out of cells and terapr0 and I did our thing, with tricks up our sleeves.
The tour only touched on a small portion of the main building and none of the grounds or workshops. Hopefully the future will bring new opportunities to explore or tour and photograph this complex more thoroughly. But for now, all of these interior images were taken with my iPhone5, most of them without looking, sneakily holding it discreetly at waist level.
Hopefully we will be recidivists, for if one day another opportunity to explore and photograph the complex more thoroughly arises, we will return to prison yet again.
Co-written by Jerm & Ninja IX.
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