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Non-profit raising money in walkathon for future programming at former Ontario Reformatory Lands

'A site with such history and such beautiful nature matters, and that something cool and creative should be done for the community on it,'

A historic site in Guelph is up for sale, and a local non-profit working to keep part of the property accessible to the public is hosting a walkathon to help fund future partnerships and programs.

The Yorklands Green Hub is launching the We Love Yorklands Walkathon throughout the month of April to raise $10,000 in support of future operations of the club, and help secure a partnership with the new owner of the former Ontario Reformatory Lands.

Once a partnership is secured with the new owner, the non-profit hopes to develop a self-sustaining education, demonstration and research hub on the site.

David Alton, the planning and fundraising director of the Yorklands Green Hub, said after years of the property laying unused, the province is now looking to sell the land. 

“There’s so much potential for this space to do something cool for the community,” said Alton.

Built in 1911, the Ontario Reformatory Lands located along York Road in Guelph was the largest operating reformatory in the province.

“It was designed to be self-sufficient,” Alton explains, “They grew their own food, the inmates created ponds that they stocked with fish to provide fish for the reformatory, they had a farm with prize-winning cows, there was a whole complex that was built to be self-sustaining to produce the food and supplies for the reformatory.”

Since it was shut down in 2001, the site has become a major hiking spot for residents.

With the property now up for sale, Alton says their organization is looking to rent out 70 acres in the front of the property from the new owner, so that it can still be used by the public.

“We really wanted to make it loud and clear that a site with such history and such beautiful nature matters, and that something cool and creative should be done for the community on it,” he said.

Being a virtual event, residents can sign up at any point in April and explore the reformatory through six trails, which range from 2km to 11km. 

“The idea is to have increased people explore these different elements, connect with nature, and raise awareness and funds for our kind of vision,” he said about the trails.

With more people exploring outdoor spaces during the pandemic, Alton says this event provides an opportunity to further engage with the space.

“There are lots of people who are engaging with it, but there are lots of people who don’t know to engage with it,” said Alton, “I’m excited for people to get out of their cars and go check out the property and start exploring of it and seeing an important part of our heritage, and it’s an important part of our geographical system.”

Individuals or groups who raise more than $100 for the walkathon will be eligible to receive a cotton shopping bag. The top fundraisers will have a chance to receive a unique piece of artwork donated by a local artist. Artists who donated to the event are Sharon Seibert, Alison Hall and Rosanne Morris.

“The top four fundraisers get their pick of those four,” said Alton.                  

For those with canine friends, they can also register and participate in the walkathon as well. The dog that raises the most money will also be given a prize.

With many conversations taking place in Guelph and across the province, Alton says this is their chance to help tie the city’s past into the present in order for it to be a part of the future.

“This is probably the largest heritage asset in Guelph,” said Alton, “And we’re really encouraging people to reach out to the city and participate in the process and encourage the city to acknowledge and protect as much of the heritage aspect and cultural landscape on the site.”

To register for the We Love Yorklands Walkaton, click here. To learn more about the Yorklands Green Hub check out their website.

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Ariel Deutschmann

About the Author: Ariel Deutschmann

Ariel Deutschmann is a feature writer and reporter who covers community events, businesses, social initiatives, human interest stories and more involving Guelph and Wellington County
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