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Trillium grant helps environmental group build on a foundation of reformation (20 photos)

In this Grounded feature we take a walk around the grounds of the former Ontario Reformatory and talk with Amy Barnes from Yorklands Green Hub about plans to preserve a section for environmental research

The Ontario Reformatory, later renamed the Guelph Correctional Centre, on York Road was once the site of an experiment in criminal reformation, whereby inmates were given productive work and taught a variety of skills that were transferable to civilian jobs after they served their time. 

One of the jobs was landscape maintenance and over six decades the Reformatory Bull Gang, as they came to be known, transformed the property, redirecting streams, digging (by hand) two miniature lakes, planting trees and gardens as well as constructing fieldstone walls and stairs, scenic bridges and other landscaping features.  

“The prison was built in 1910,” said Amy Barnes, outreach and engagement coordinator for Yorklands Green Hub. “They changed waterways and manipulated the ecosystem and 100 years later we have a new ecosystem. It is a strong one and it is healthy and that is definitely something we love about the site.”  

Protecting that ecosystem is the primary focus of the Yorklands Green Hub nonprofit and they started a campaign in 2013 to have a 30-hectare section of the property made into a nature centre.  

“The province has divided up the Guelph Correctional Centre lands into different parcels,” said Barnes. “The parcel we are interested in is known as Parcel 2 which is labeled a cultural heritage area.” 

The Yorklands Green Hub was recently awarded an Ontario Trillium Foundation seed grant to help with their efforts. 

“The grant is $72,000 and it is what this organization needs to really propel forward,” said Barnes. “This is going to be a huge boost to all the hard work that has been done in the last six years toward our vision and our mission. I can see the momentum building.”

The parcel includes the old superintendent’s house that they hope to restore and use as a demonstration and research centre.

“It has a beautiful stone wall around it and a nice open lawn area,” said Barnes. “The space is a very interesting and diverse ecosystem with a little bit of everything if you will.  There is a little bit of woodland, a mixture of meadows, wetland and Clythe Creek, that runs underneath and comes up here. There are a variety of birds that come and all the natural flora and fauna that really enriches the space.”  

The Yorklands Green Hub hopes to raise the money needed to buy the property from the province and convert the superintendent’s house.  

“I will be working with a small-scale consulting company called Scaled Purpose Inc out of Kitchener and we are going to be working together to come up with a feasibility study and essentially a well thought out plan going forward,” said Barnes. “A lot of stuff has happened. Some within our control and some outside our control to the process of the property and how it is either being divided up or how the sale and process is going to work.”

The group has collected more than 2,500 signatures and received official endorsements from 40 local and provincial groups for their plan.

“Part of our feasibility and our strategy is to be able to show the province all the support we have and all the groups that want to be users or associated with the space,” said Barnes. “Our strength is the community and our strength is also the volunteers that have worked tirelessly on our committees for six years.  This is a volunteer run organization.” 

They are welcoming members of the public to their annual general meeting at 7 p.m. Friday Apr. 24 to share their conclusions and the plan going forward.

“The venue hasn’t been confirmed but people can check our Facebook page and we will be updating,” she said.

“The first part of the meeting will be a public presentation, an update and will also be the Ontario Trillium Foundation recognition. The second half is for members only.  Of course people can sign up onsite if they want to join. Our membership is critical. We are membership funded at this point and it provides ongoing internal programming and support for specialty things that need to be done.  

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