Guelph, ON, is not the largest city in this province. It is also not the smallest. With a population of it continues to grow. While hose prices have soared over the last decade, they still remain lower than those found in nearby Toronto, ON, accounting for the influx of Torontonians and the construction of more housing. While locals may gripe, they still remain proud of a city where, except under certain mayors e.g. Kate Quarrie and Cam Guthrie, the City retains a strong environmentally-friendly stance. Politically, the city continues to vote in like-minded fashion, even sending the province’s first Green Party candidate to the legislature.
What to See in Guelph
However, people who do decide to move to Guelph are there for more than the politics. They are quick to point out the advantages of living there. They are always proud to show visitors points of interest. These are wide-ranging and include architectural structures, educational facilities, and natural wonders. Indeed, visitors coming to Guelph find there is a lot to see and do.
· Basilica of Our Lady Immaculate: Designed by Joseph Connolly, construction began in 1877 behind the existing Catholic Church, St. Bartholomew on Catholic Hill, which looks down on Macdonell Street. Work did not end on this Gothic Revival structure until 1926. With stained glass windows and lofty arches, it is no surprise people admire this building both inside and outside. It was National Historic Site of Canada in 1990 and made a basilica by Pope Francis in 2014
· Guelph Civic Museum: Right next to the Church of Our Lady is the Guelph Civic Museum. It resides in the former Loretto Convent. Be sure to check out the permanent exhibits and the special ones. The Museum has a children’s museum as well as sections devoted to Guelph history.
· McCrae House: Built in 1858, this cottage, constructed of Guelph’s number one early building tool – limestone, was once the town home of the McCrae family. It is now a museum dedicated to the conservation of one of Guelph’s famous sons – Sir John McCrae – writer of the renowned poem “In Flanders Fields.”
After visiting McCrae House, cross the street. The Park is worth enjoying. Do note the walls of stone creating the steep banks at the side of the river. These date from the 1930s when the unemployed were hired to work as part of the local “Relief” Program. Further down is Gow’s Bridge and a dam. The other way is more park and the Covered Bridge. Before heading that way, take the time to look at the architecture on Water Street, including the House of Heads.
· House of Heads: Formally known as the Bell O’Donnell house, this limestone structure was built in late 1858. While McCrae House is famous for who lived there, the House of Heads is better known for the carvings on the building’s exterior made by master Scottish carver, Matthew Bell. He is also responsible for other local carvings, including those for Church of Our Lady.
· Guelph Pedestrian Covered Bridge: This is a relatively new structure built using traditional methods by timber-framers as a summer project in June 1992. It crosses the confluence of the Speed and Eramosa Rivers. The bridge takes you to the Lawn Bowling Club’s cottage and, better still, to The Boathouse. This was once Johnston’s Boathouse. Form here, the Guelph Regatta took place annually. Today, it offers excellent teas, great snacks, and marvelous ice cream cones and scoops. You can also rent a canoe to paddle your way down the river.
· University of Guelph Campus: Perches high on the hill, this University consists of several noteworthy buildings as well as the lovely Johnson Green. Parts of the Campus were built to house the students of Ontario Agricultural College. Females attended courses at Macdonald Hall, where they learned cooking and other domestic arts. The Campus also hosts one of the highest-ranked veterinarian colleges in the world – Ontario Veterinarian College.
· The Arboretum: Tucked away from Guelph’s main university campus is this calm, secluded world. Anyone seeking sanctuary from the stresses of exams or simply wanting to escape the city can find pleasure, calm and quiet here. Created in 1970, the Arboretum – modeled after Harvard University’s Arnold Arboretum, is open to the public. It also offers a variety of small courses and walks and talks.
Take a Walk Downtown
Stroll along Macdonell Street, once famously known as “Whiskey Street”, because of the number of bars it had and still has. Many, under different names, still operate, including the once farmers’ and now student hangout – The Albion Hotel. You can now catch live bands upstairs. Also along the street towards the local bus hub is a small park. Priory Park would bear little notice except for the statue that stands there. This is The Blacksmith Fountain.” It was donated to the city in 1884 by JB Armstrong, who manufactured wagons, carriages, and fancy sleighs just up the road in buildings now occupied by the Cooperators Insurance Company. He also had a branch factory in the United States. It once stood in St. George’s Square in the center of downtown Guelph.
One thing to remember when walking in downtown Guelph is to look up. Many of the city’s Mansard roofs still remain. If you stare skyward, just one store in from the corner of Macdonell and Wyndham, you can see the symbol of an apothecary – an iron mortar and pestle, atop of the Petrie Building. It was built in 1882 by architect John Day and home to pharmacist AB Petrie.
At Guelph’s former City Hall just one street down at Carden Street, you can see on the building’s façade, carved animals. They indicate the former presence of the meat market once held outside these buildings. Today’s Farmers’ Market is just down Wilson, past the ugly new parking structure to Gordon Street. It is housed in the old stables of the Royal Winter Fair.
More Reasons to Visit Guelph
These are but a few of Guelph’s sites and sights. Riverside Park, the grounds of the former Guelph Correctional Centre with its two lakes, the homes along Queen Street, including Wyoming and Gilnockie as well as Ker Cavan on Stuart Street. Guelph is a place where old and new combine – sometimes blending beautifully – the use of the Old Wood’s plant to house the Spring Mill Distillery is one example, or clashing horribly. It is a place to visit and a place to live.
With music festivals such as Hillside and the Guelph Jazz Festival and small bars/clubs abounding, unique, and popular retailers, you can always find something to see do and like in Guelph, ON. If you cannot, you can locate it just up or down the road in Elora, Kitchener, Waterloo, Cambridge, or Toronto.