Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Abandonment Issues: Ontario Reformatory / Guelph Correctional Centre

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

click here to check out all of jerm & ninja IX's ABANDONMENT ISSUES

28 comments:

Anonymous said...

Good job!

JAKAE ONER said...

I hate to say this but those tables are legit ,,, would love to have one in the crib with the slide out stool ...... Keep this up you KILLLLLLED IT with your "gunslinger sideshots" wit tha Eyefone!

Andrew Gregg said...

This is a great site. Can I ask when you took the Guelph prison photos? I want to shoot part of a documentary in an abandoned prison. I grew up near Guelph, so I had my eye on the old jail there. Don Jail is completely prettified and they still want $5000/day to shoot there. If Guelph still looks the way it look in your photos I want to try and strike a deal to get a day of filming in there. Me--Andrew Gregg: andrewgregg@rogers.com. Any info greatly appreciated.

Anonymous said...

This is a prime example of the Government waste going on. This was a fine well working correctional center. It has stood the test of time for those serving time. They could have kept it going. Every thing has and could have been built there. At one point they were making bunk beds for the CSC (federal system)when they were changing to two inmates per cell.Also prefab wall units to construct new jails.

Dave McGregor said...

Great article.

As it happens, my late Grandfather was a former "tenant" at O.R.G. and wrote a poem which provides some very interesting insight on the history of the institution behind closed doors. He was sent to O.R.G. in the middle of the Depression for stealing. I've added the poem below.



Castle in the Sky

Over the hills off highway seven,

There is a castle, this side of heaven.

Was this place really meant to be?

A prison that is named O.R.G.


I wake each morn in hate and scorn,

A blue denim suit, that must be worn,

Amidst the rumbles and the keepers roar,

I wonder why that one last score.



The history of this institution,

Was heralded as society’s contribution.

Life behind bars is not a fate,

For it’s not too late to rehabilitate.



The fish ponds were built in sweat and toil,

While the farm gang, cultivated the land and soil.

The bull gang had over two hundred men,

This was the saga, a way back when.



The tower had mysteries to unfold,

Of the greatest escape, that was never told.

While down in the tunnel you heard a blast,

The King of Swing was beating an ass.



This was the epic of days gone by,

When boys became men, no time to cry.

“You may break my back”, they would say,

“But not my heart; we’re here to stay.”


George Harry McGregor

Tessla Bomberry said...

I just checked this place out today, I really wanted to get close and check things out, but there were people there? There were 3-4 cars at the front of the building and I saw a man in suit going into the building, (very businessmen-looking). There was also a man in a security uniform who came to greet him. However, near the back of the property there was a huge parking lot with tons of cars there: and the small building at the front of the property says "better beef office" or something. Has this building been transformed to suit other needs or is it still abandoned and stuff? Because it didn't seem that way today. There were also people with their dogs walking them around the big main lawn... Kinda lost the creepy-vibe for me.

Anonymous said...

Interesting and retrospective. It seems like a damned shame this place ended up this way. In it's day it was a busy place with no "stallers". You worked, on a farm, a workshop, maintenance, cleaners, whatever. Inmates were fed pretty well as I recall, three times a day with a giant cookie and tea between evening "jug-up" and lights out. Tobacco was issued each week with a choice no less, Export, Player's or Daily Mail. rolling papers an issue Zippo clone that used to be fueled with gasoline dispensed from an oil can. Clothing was all manufactured on site. Denim pants, shirts and smocks. Jojos were a blanket type wool coat for winter. decent boots for work and if you were lucky slippers. Guards were pretty decent bunch of guys and as long as you respected them, they'd do the same for you. CJOY would blast you out of the rack in the morning and carry on again after dinner and all weekend. Weekends could seem too long if you didn't work them. Didn't like your job? No problem, you could go to the workboard in the morning and ask for something else. Camp Henry near Elmvale was an alternative if you were down to your short time. No locks, bars or fences there. Just don't go beyond the black and white triangle signs around the perimeter. Like I said, sad to see the old place decay. I learned to be a decent individual inside "P.O. Box 600"

Anonymous said...

I was an inmate in Guelph Reformatory for 18 months in 1963-1964.I was 16 years old.I was sent there from Kenora,Ontario.A group of us were transported to various jails in south-eastern Ontario in what was called the "chain gang".We were handcuffed to another person and a chain was attached to several sets of handcuffs so there would be 10-12 people secured to each chain.We were then loaded on the Canadian Pacific passenger train that used to run through Kenora.The other passengers would stop and stare at us.If one of us wanted to use the bathroom we all had to go and maneuver through the aisle and take turns using the facilities.
The chain made stops for a week or two at Port Arthur and Sudbury where we dropped people off and picked up others.We eventually got to Toronto and we were dispersed by bus to our final destinations-in my case it was Guelph Reformatory.
Thank you,Dan G

Anonymous said...

I also did time there. In 1972, 1977-78 (on the ghost chain) did a bit and got parole, 83-84 another bit and parole. I worked two times at the Beef Centre.
In 84 I decided to finally go straight, got a pardon eventually, and now married to CSC physiologist.
ORG or GCC had a positive effect on my life and I am sorry to see it closed. It did what it was intended to do, closing it because inmates can not be electronically monitored is a piss poor excuse.

Bernard Wolf said...

Yep, I was there for 10 months in 1967. Don't let the word 'reformatory'fool you as it was a tough scary place for a 'wiffle'. Wheels like Tony General and Ray Miracle, Blackie and their 'sweet kids'.. don't wear your front teeth if you still have them. I worked in the Staff Cafeteria cooking for the guards.. about as good a job as you could have, seven days a week and all you could eat!

Anonymous said...

This joint looks like a hotel in comparison to KP in Kingston. Not even close, more like a reform school. Unless you been there, you don't know.

Michael Wassilyn said...

i did time there and loved the cleanliness of this institution,and the way it was set up really encouraged one to dream and count the time until the day of being set free

Wayne Rhebergen said...

I did time there in 83 84 nice clean place.

alwaysdanny said...

My ex was a career criminal and grew up there...he found it easier on the inside. He tried to rehabilitate but ended up in Kingston pen. Diane Lyndon

alwaysdanny said...

My ex was the cleaner there. He took pride in those shiny floors. He spent a lot of his youth there. He never could adjust to life on the outside for very long.

shawn jacobson said...

Where could I find out the history of previous guards there? I grandfather was a guard at the reformatory. He's in really ailing health. Would like to find out what his service record was.( due to his health he can't respond back to me)

Anonymous said...

you can call me "A HAMILTON NORTH ENDER "...,IM BOBBY BUTSON I did my first bit in Guelph O.R.1973 /74, AND A SHORT ONE IN 75 when Kingfish...a native con , stabbed a copper on the grounds crew to escape...he did not make it.i was 16 yrs old when i got there...tough joint...alot of guys thought they were Wheels...just older cons preying on the young an intimidated.I GOT IN THE KITCHEN CREW...whatched over by a couple LOBO;S FROM WINDSOR...GOOD GUYS...CONS, TREATED THE REST OF US CONS WITH RESPECT...BUT DO YOUR JOB ..WAS THE ONLY FIRM RULE. I WONT SAY THEIR LAST NAMES.. Fist names..Marty K..and Danny B. i ended up in millhaven via Collins bay...let me tell you something..I NEVER MET a COPPER THERE or any jail, county bucket or pen ,(unless they were luggin for us cons) THAT WAS NOT AN EVIL SADISTIC, WORSE THAN MOST CONS...MUTHERFUCKER...AND ANY HARD CORE CON THAT HAS EVER BEEN BRUTALIZED BY MOST GUARDS HE EVER HAD TO DEAL WITH IN THE CRIMINAL JUSTICE,will NEVER have a kind word to say about any jail/OR COPPER.. he was ever held against his will by and kept from his family...so go ahead...post your grandpappy;s name on a jail, convict stories website...what are you all? Proud your relatives brutalized the vulnerable inmates they had the opportunity to mentally damage these cons for the rest of their lives? use your head Lad who , requested info on his grandpa the Guelph o.r.guard ,Convicts have long memories....

Anonymous said...

bobby Butson, thank you for your candid response to earlier comments. It is well taken by a long time resident of Guelph. There has been many stories that have come out of the O.R.'s history and leave us with bad memories.

Anonymous said...

hello,this is Bobby Butson..thank you for the ANONYMOUS recognition post ...in response to my memories recollection of my time in Guelph O.R.i was a little concerned at the words my fingers typed out on my keyboard when i looked up...but..those words were real...from inside of me...it is what it was...and the truth...so..i let those words of mine be posted...Because somebody to had to say it..yknow?i know guys that grew up with me in o,t.s....training school for juveniles who could not handle adult time ...and hung themselves...or gave into the vultures...in the adult joints. i still miss them to this day...and feel sad for them and their families. but ...jail is hell ...thats all...we as ex inmates ,just have to put it behind us ...and forget...and find peace in our lives...good luck ...to you all...

Anonymous said...

this is Bobby Butson..from Hamilton..my wife interrupted my last entry...to Finnish my comments of my last post.i did not mean all former O.T.S. or others that entered Guelph O.R. were weak. the others the bigger portion of the population, ...me included...the defiant..the stubborn...the fighters...either big in stature ..or just assertive and no bullshitin around kinda guys..either struggled through the O.R. ...OR FOUGHT THEIR WAY THROUGH...some like me ...just had an i dont give a fxxk attitude,and ended up in the kinda place they put our kind...MILLBROOK But all of our HELL, started in GUELPH ,O.R..IM still a bit loco., fast to temper, but im also 59 yrs old. i still have a sharp memorie, for the names of the worst coppers i encountered in the justice system, as an adult...and a juvenile. i say try to find peace, but i,m no counselor, or poster boy... i still have anger in my heart. I have mostly good days...some bad. But i,m free, and i try to laugh about what i survived...it made me who i am, but if i had good parents, and grew up earlier in life...maybe i could have found the peace and stability i have now ...sooner in life,so to all you who have made it to 60 yrs old...i hope you have better days ahead than those of our youth in hell holes like THE GUELPH O.R AND MILLBROOK O.R.Keep in mind, i,m not a big dude, never was, just a stubborn, defiant trouble making kid, in the system...who was lucky enough to survive through it all...and so can anybody who never stops trying to make a better life for themselves..and i do take a little bit if satisfaction when places like these close...they finally tore down MILLBROOK TOO... GOOD LUCK TO YOU ALL who survived these places..

Anonymous said...

I also did time in GCC,back in 1989-1990-1991. I have to say,GCC was a tough place to do time. But I was glad the days were filled with work. I learned plenty during my stay,some good,some bad. I do have to agree with Bobby Butson on most of what he said,he summed it up excellently.
From what I understand about the place now,it's used as as a training facility for opp/co's. Weird how sometimes I'd like to go there and take a tour.

Anonymous said...

To the guy who's GRANDPA was a Guelph O.R. GUARD ....he is too old and sick to talk now days?to bad ...so sad...karma a bitch eh? maybe its time you just tie a rope around his ankles and drag him down a gravel road hooked up to the bumper of your car eh?

Anonymous said...

that last post was past anger that has never been healed and forgotten and insensitive and unnecessary...i still to this day ...speak with anger before i think...clearly still very damaged over all i have been through in the criminal justice system...i apologies for my evil post...

Bobby Butson said...

Bobby Butson...from Hamilton...the post of oct 5.2016..i may as well own it...i posted it...you people who oversee and allow us ex inmates of these joints to post our thoughts...without ignoring some that may be distasteful...from your point ..i thank you...for allowing us to be heard...as i said before...alot of us ex inmates are still damaged and angry...some heal..some never do..me included..

Anonymous said...

Same here 1971-72.

Bobby Butson said...

From Bobby Butson...I still hate all jail coppers..ex coppers...their family's..and even their dogs...which is how they all treated us inmates of these facilities..city jails...reformatories and penitentiary's...even city police gun down citizens..even the mentally handicapped...with dum dum bullets....which are illegal to use in world warfare...and the S.I.U....98% of the time clears the police of criminal charges...the criminal justice system is infected with injustice and criminality by the very people sworn to honor it and protect the weak, vulnerable,ill, aged, and law abiding of citizens...as well as the reformed...equally...the THIN BLUE LINE of the police code...is nothing more than CRIMINAL COPS ...aiding and abetting EACH OTHER IN THEIR OWN CRIMINAL BEHAVIOR ...the police are NOT somebody you raise your children to RESPECT...you raise your children ...to FEAR them...and listen to their parents as the ultimate guidance in life...and their OWN FAMILIES....my opinion...is over for today...

Anonymous said...

I landed at GCC in November, 88 after doing 6 months dead time in Barton Street. I was there on a deuce less for stealing several Lamborghinis and some other high end cars in Oakville. I ended up doing the whole 16 months on that bit and all of it here at GCC. I was sent to work in the kitchen and was in the C2 Dormitory range when the summer of 89 riot happened. What a night that was! C2 and C3 ranges were completely destroyed. I was one of the few inmates from those ranges that wasn't transferred out after the riot. Later, I applied for the Beef Center and got in. I moved up to C4 and did my last 8 months amputating the rear right leg off of 800ish cows a day. The gate cracked for me in February 1990 and I took all the money that I made and saved in the Beef Center and moved out to BC, where I still have a home. I live in Costa Rica now and was just sitting here watching the toucans in the tree above our pool and telling my girlfriend about my bad boy days back in Ontario. I was showing her pictures online of the jails I was in and saw this post and though that I would comment on it. Interestingly, I haven't seen or talked to even one of the hundreds of guys that I did time with in GCC since leaving there 27 years ago. Some of those guys were there with me for more than a year and it was actually hard to say goodbye to a few of them when I left. Similar to soldiers, we formed our bonds with each other during extremely difficult circumstances and we got each other through those days when we were shaking it the roughest. I know that we all put ourselves there and I have no need or want for any sympathy for any pain and loss that we went through during our incarceration. I'm just reflecting out loud about a fairly profound social experience in my life.
Oh well, the sun is low now and the ocean is sparkling gold. It's time to grab another cerveza and take a long, smug swig from it as I remember those other truly horrific people that I also met in jail. Guys that I met on the 5th floor in Barton Street that were up on murder beefs and that are, to this day, still in the Penn. Those are men for who's continued incarceration makes my beer on this here patio so especially rewarding. How far I am now from those very dark days.

the streets experience said...

Hey, if anyone has any stories or further information on this facility can you please contact me at Macintyre.sean@live.ca. especially the person who posted this i have a few questions i hope you can answer for me. thank you for your time in advanced.