Ontario Reformatory, 785 York Rd

On September 25, 1911, the Ontario Reformatory opened on 1000 acres of farmland along the Eramosa River. Chosen because of its fertile land, the site had a good water supply and plentiful supply of limestone in an operating quarry. Provincial Secretary William Hanna decided to reform the prison system by creating a program of humane treatment and useful work within extensive grounds and sympathetic architecture.  He wanted to use incarceration to reform young men rather than to punish criminal behaviour.  The rural countryside outside Guelph was an ideal site for this new type of prison, a place where inmates could have the opportunity to get back to the land and learn useful skills by working on the farm and in industrial shops. He hired Toronto architect John Lyle to design the buildings and grounds.  The first 14 prisoners and two guards lived in one of the old farmhouses on the original property and set to work constructing the prison buildings around them. The main administration building, built 1911 – 1915 in the Beaux Arts style, had an imposing tower and entrance. 

The original cell blocks had three floors with 13 cells on each floor.  All were built by prisoners with limestone quarried from the jail property.  One wing, the Ontario Hospital, housed the criminally insane, while the other held the Reformatory cells for inmates serving less than two years for lighter crimes such as forgery, fighting or liquor offenses.  Over the years, more cells were added to form quadrangles around recreation areas, long with classrooms, dining rooms, kitchens and a hospital wing.  Below it all was a system of tunnels, a contained internal loop system with passages to provide alternative access and observation points for staff.

Doors Open Guelph has received many requests for tours of the interior of the Administration Building and cells since 2009 when 2000 visitors lined up to see the inside.

This virtual tour will give you an inside view of this compelling heritage building.

Thank you to our 2021 Doors Open Sponsors:

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