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Mayor, MP and MPP pen letter saying they don't support urban park 'at this time'

MP Longfield previously supported plan for the former Ontario Reformatory lands, but withdrew it last month
20210210 Guelph Reformatory city pic
Former Ontario Reformatory on York Road. Photo from City of Guelph report.

The city’s three top elected officials don’t necessarily object to a proposal to turn the former Ontario Reformatory into an urban national park, but they don’t support it “at this time.”

That’s the mantra coming from Mayor Cam Guthrie, MPP Mike Schreiner and MP Lloyd Longfield as proponents step up community efforts to build momentum for the idea.

“I think it’s important I hold my support until more information comes forward in regards to any other public use that might be necessary there,” Guthrie explained of his hesitation to stand behind the urban park proposal. “If there are other public uses that are appropriate for that site, I think it’s important that those be examined and considered first before this type of initiative.”

Schreiner and Longfield offered similar explanations when asked about the stance they presented in a joint letter to Urban Park Guelph, a coalition of local groups and individuals calling for the York Road property to be declared a national urban park.

If Parks Canada officials select the site as part of the plan to create a network of 15 national urban parks across the country, proponents see it as a way to preserve the historic reformatory property, advance Indigenous reconciliation and maintain public accessibility.

“I think the reformatory lands are important public land that should be used for a public purpose that promotes the public good,” Schreiner said. “I know there could be more than one public use for the reformatory land and so I believe at this time it’s premature for me to endorse any one proposal.”

Asked what other public uses are being considered for the property, Schreiner said he couldn’t comment on them but referenced the land potentially being used to meet “other public needs.” 

“The hospital needs 60 acres and there’s not a lot of sites around Guelph that have 60 acres,” Longfield added, noting he’s not directly involved in the search for a new spot for an expanded or second hospital in the city – that’s a matter for the province. 

The former reformatory lands are owned by the province. With efforts to prepare the property for sale underway, its future is uncertain. It’s recently come to light that Infrastructure Ontario, which manages real estate assets for the province, had city staff sign non-disclosure agreements which restrict their ability to talk about the site, even with city council.

Non-disclosure agreements are a standard requirement of provincial property sale processes, an Infrastructure Ontario spokesperson told GuelphToday.

CAO Scott Stewart acknowledged last month the city has “some parkland interest” in the site.

Last June, Longfield wrote a letter of support for the national urban park project in Guelph, but he withdrew that support last month.

“As a community that is devoted to conservation and environmental advocacy, Guelph would be an ideal community to host a national urban park,” Longfield wrote in his initial letter. “As a natural location for exploring, discovering and educational opportunities along the 401 corridor, it would be a wonderful place for families and individuals to enhance their quality of life.”

However, now he says it’s too early for him to get behind it – something he would only consider doing if there is “broad consensus from all possible partners,” including the city and provincial governments, as well as Indigenous communities.

Besides that, he doesn’t like the Guelph group’s chances of obtaining national urban park status for the reformatory lands.

“Each province and territory is potentially going to get one more national urban park in the next 10 years. We’ve got two in southern Ontario. There’s none in northern Ontario,” he said. “For Guelph to get one when Windsor has one and Toronto has one … I’m trying to set some expectations on that.”


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Richard Vivian

About the Author: Richard Vivian

Richard Vivian is an award-winning journalist and longtime Guelph resident. He joined the GuelphToday team as assistant editor in 2020, largely covering municipal matters and general assignment duties
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