Wednesday, November 27, 2013
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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Monday, November 11, 2013
It's time to take you back to school.
Today's class consists of five students, let's take attendance. Ninja IX, Rashomon, Benfoto, Jerm IX, and an exited Johanna, who is on her maiden voyage into urban exploration, are all present.
We creep five deep down the hallway, educating ourselves on the tattered condition of the abandoned high school. Then as if the bell rang, we individually enter our separate classrooms. The clicks of cameras and soft crunching of debris under gently stepping feet are all that can be heard beyond Ninja's soft voice whispering and drawing me closer. She is at the front of the class teaching. Mrs. IX, with her flowing blonde hair and beautiful smile, reciting to me the lesson and diagram on the brain and brain functions still adorning the chalk board. I lean in and kiss her, probably fulfilling some subconscious childhood fantasy.
We have only been inside a mere matter of minutes when the silence breaks. We are staggered, five of us stalking down the long hallway and into the library when the distinct sound of heavy footsteps pounds directly overhead on the second floor. Our eyes widen and all of our senses are heightened simultaneously. In this moment we are mannequins on high alert.
The mannequins come to life, all of us, with the whispered 'is it or is it not security' conversation, which is followed up by 'how are we going to play this' talk. I abandon the group and venture forth alone, exploring in virtual silence, hoping to capture as much as possible before those footsteps can find me. I'm in fast forward stealth mode going in the opposite direction of the footsteps.
I love this feeling. This is exactly how I wanted to spend my 36th birthday.
We were aware that the sales office was about to open in the newly renovated cafeteria at the front of the school, but certainly didn't expect security inside.
Before we continue into the dark hallway before us, lets get our bearings and a feel for where we're at.
The Alderwood Secondary School opened in 1955 and was the first high school constructed in the Alderwood area of the former city of Etobicoke, in Toronto. That same year it was briefly renamed Alderwood High School and then quickly changed again to Alderwood Collegiate Institute. The school's team name was the Alderwood Rangers and their colours were khaki, gold and black. At it's peak, there were 786 students enrolled. The Alderwood Collegiate Institute closed in 1983.
The school was then used briefly to film the CBS children's show the Edison Twins, before being given a second life. It was ceded to the Catholic School board and became Father John Redmond Catholic Secondary School, opening in 1985 with 300 students and 17 staff members. The team name was the Redmond Redhawks and their colours were navy and blue. Father John Redmond Catholic Secondary School moved to a new location in 2006.
The school has sat vacant for the past 7 years, but for a brief period in 2010 when it played studio yet again, this time for Stephen Spielberg's television series Falling Skies.
The land was recently sold to a developer and the sales centre in the cafeteria is now open, as I lurk down the hallway behind it. The school was reincarnated once, but now it's fate is sealed as the demolition is slated to be completed by the spring of 2014 to make way for new residential units.
Freshly awakened from mannequin state, I have splintered off from the group and pushed forward through the debris filled hallways and now find myself alone in a large atrium.
I should turn back to the group, I think to myself whilst reaching out and unassumingly opening a door. And all of a sudden the whole world is a stage.
I quietly skulk back to the group and we continue to explore the ground level in stealth mode, pausing at every single sound one another accidentally make traversing debris.
Ninja and I have splintered off again and are ever so cautiously ascending the stairs to the second floor, getting closer and closer to whoever is up here.
Silence is imperative as the slightest sound would echo through the halls and down to the southeast corner where the footsteps had previously thudded overhead. Getting caught is avoided at all costs, but the mission is to explore the entirety of the school and I'm accomplishing as much of the mission as possible. I'm loving this. Happy Birthday, Ninja whispers to me. And so in silence we explore, the two of us, holding hands and celebrating a happy birthday in stealth mode, heading directly towards the unknown represented by the footsteps.
We lurk and pop in and out of classrooms like actors in a silent film about romance and spies.
It sounds dramatic, and it feels it too, in the moment, but quite honestly, the stakes aren't all that high in this little game we are playing. That is part of the allure of these adventures, the rush. The risks are so minimal in contrast to the rewards. I've yet to be cited with a $65 trespassing ticket, but that is the only real risk. The rewards are endless and even include the joy derived from the risk itself. What draws me to these abandoned buildings is the emptiness within and the lack of what once was. But plain and simple, like an innocent child playing tag with friends, it is unbelievably fun to do this dance with security guards. It's a rush, especially when you just keep winning.
We have all regrouped in the area of the second floor that the footsteps were heard. Whoever it was, they are gone now. So we breathe deep and let our tensed up shoulders down, instantly noticing that the hallway has signs of possible fire damage but the ceiling tiles do not appear smoke damaged or burnt. Rashomon speaks up and informs us all that this was the set of Falling Skies.
Satisfied with a successful mission, we all pack up and exit gracefully in single file.
On the side walk out front, only moments later, the Security guard walks right past us and then re-enters the school, none the wiser.
And on that note, class is dismissed.
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