Standing Room Only for OR Lands Heritage District Open House

It’s probably a good sign if you have to bring more chairs into your open house. Or a bad sign. Maybe though it’s just a reflection of the remarkable interest in the fate of the Ontario Reformatory lands in Guelph’s east end.”It’s a happy thing when we have more people than chairs at these gatherings,” said senior heritage planner Stephen Robinson as the extra chairs started coming into the room at Guelph’s Legion Branch.

Over 50 people came out on Thursday evening to the Royal Canadian Legion Branch #234 – conveniently next to the OR lands – to check out the progress of the consultants from WSP Consulting who are leading the heritage conservation district study of the OR site.

“The purpose of the heritage conservation district, or HDC, is to provide a planning framework to conserve the heritage value of a collection of properties,” said Joel Konrad, one the lead consultants from WSP. “An HCD is a geographically defined area within a municipality that’s noted for its district heritage character. It’s also a planning tool for recognizing and protecting these areas and managing, as well as guiding future changes in the district.”

The big piece of new information at this meeting was the proposed boundaries for the heritage district, and the distinct character areas outlined by WSP. The study area pretty much covered all the land from Watson Parkway in the east to the train tracks in the west, and from York Road to the north and Stone Road in the south. As you will see in the map below, the six character areas identified by WSP informed the potential boundary for the heritage district.

Area A covers the ponds and landscaping along York Road, including Clyde Creek, which is not noted on the map. Much of the old jail building itself takes up Areas B and C, while Area D is notable for the old farms and greenhouses. Area E covers the north eastern end of the property including the Matthews’ farmhouse and the surrounding property, while Area F covers the natural areas in the west end of the site, from the creek to Stone Road, plus the old McQuillan’ Bridge on the south side of Stone.

“The project team will continue with Indigenous nation engagement throughout the entirety of the process and will meet with community and landowner groups. This, and your participation, will be included in the reporting for the heritage conservation district study phase,” Konrad explained about next steps.

“In the plan phase, there are broad general policies that outline things such as the requirement for a heritage impact assessment, should any development application be a part of the heritage conservation district, but it won’t provide granular policies about what should happen where. That’s not the purpose of this,” Konrad added.

The fate of wetlands in the study area, especially the old Jaycees Park, were of particular interest to the attendants, as were the portions of the property that didn’t make it into the proposed boundaries. Some people expressed concern that it was a little early to cut off portions of the east end around Dunlop Drive where there are wetlands that might be important to protect.

“That was a lot of back and forth about that, and, as I said, we’re asking for input from the public because we can go back and forth on inclusion or excluding this property,” Konrad said. “We thought at first we may include it and then we decided to not include it because it was mostly naturalized features and wetlands. As I’m sure many of you can appreciate with this site, in its entirety, there’s a strong interplay between cultural and natural and we’re trying to understand that.”

If you have any thoughts about the heritage conservation district study, you can provide it on the City of Guelph’s “Have Your Say” site. You can also watch the video of the presentation below. (Note: Turn up the volume on your device because the original source sound is somewhat muted.)

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