2015: The Year in Review

Today marks the first full year of office of the current City Council.  The first year of any new council is one of learning, listening and working to find common ground.  The controversy-loving media would have you believe that we spend our time divided and plotting against each other.  In truth, despite a range of political ideologies (which is a normal part of a healthy democracy by the way), Council found common ground on a number of issues and initiatives during the past year.  Here are the top ten accomplishments of 2015 that I am most proud of, in no particular order:

  1.  The Clair-Maltby Secondary Plan is finally underway.  This section of the city is the largest undeveloped land area left within the city limits and contains significant wetlands and groundwater recharge moraine.  We need to get this right.  The CMSP is the first critical step.



Statue of Lt. Col. John McCrae

2.  We collectively celebrated hometown hero Lt. Col. John McCrae and the 100th anniversary of the writing of In Flanders Fields.  A new statue of McCrae was unveiled at the Guelph Civic Museum.  People around the world celebrated with us to mark this bittersweet anniversary.  Here’s a link to the National Film Board video about McCrae’s story.

3.  After almost nine years of policy work, research and an OMB challenge, Guelph now has its very first Heritage Conservation District.  Other municipalities are miles ahead of us in the use of this effective planning tool to protect urban neighbourhoods and heritage character (Ottawa has 18 HDCs).

4.  Guelph gave a thumbs up to the concept of a forward-thinking strategic investment initiative called GEERS (Guelph Energy Efficiency Retrofit Strategy) in 2015, with the intent to enable homeowners to invest in energy efficiency upgrades through community financing.  It’s part of our award-winning Community Energy Initiative.  It’s new, it’s ambitious, but it just might work.  Doing nothing to combat climate change is not an option.


Model of Metalworks, Arthur Street, former mill and industrial site.

5.  The groundbreaking for Metalworks (Fusion Homes), completion of River House and construction of River Mill (TriCar) residential developments have been particularly satisfying this year.  I’m not a huge fan of highrises — architecturally speaking — but these three projects represent investment confidence in our downtown, better use of municipal infrastructure, and a positive transformation of three former brownfield sites.

6.  Guelph maintained its AA+ credit rating in 2015.  That may not sound like much, but it’s been a tough year with unexpected costs (frozen pipes, Urbacon settlement) and a slow economy.  Our solid financial policies, administrative practices and economic outlook are a source of pride.  New business opened and existing businesses expanded within the city, signaling confidence in Guelph’s economic future.

7.  Guelph’s first urban food forest in University Village Park was initiated this past year.  This exciting project signals the beginning of a trend towards building local food security, naturalizing parkland, creative places to play  and rebuilding our urban forest.  Community Gardens expanded in 2015 with a new site at Sunnyacres Park.

8.  This year, the City won national awards in environmental conservation, communications, municipal leadership and community energy.  Receiving external recognition for excellence and leadership means something – it signals that we are doing great things and employ great people who are highly respected by their peers.  We should all be very proud.

9.  Upgrades to the Victoria Road Recreation Centre were approved this year.  This valuable public facility was constructed in 1975 and the investment in energy upgrades, new lighting, new entrance and other improvements are long overdue.

10.  The City of Guelph joined the Blue Dot movement, signing a declaration recognizing the right to clean water, fresh air, safe food and a voice in decision-making that affects our wellbeing.  It’s a symbolic statement that will help to guide our decision-making  on emerging local climate change issues regarding development, waste diversion, urban spaces and water protection.

I see even greater things ahead for 2016 – stay tuned!


Word of the Day: “Makerspace”

The new buzz word in urbanism is “makerspace”.   It follows on the heels of “placemaking”  which is slightly different.  Placemaking focuses on creating a physical built environment that encourages people to congregate, stay and interact within a landscape.   Market Square is a good local example.  Makerspace (aka hackerspace, fablabs) began as shared space where do-it-yourselfers could go to share communal tools, technology and resources.  Local examples include the 3D printer at the Guelph Public Library and the DIYODE Community space.

Makerspace is a concept that is growing and thriving and taking on new meanings. Guelph has been “makerspacing” for years. Innovation Guelph is one of our shining beacons.  IG has been bringing entrepreneurs together and has nurtured over 32 new start up businesses to date.

With all this momentum, what’s next for Guelph?  I am hearing in the community that there is a growing need for more collaborative space downtown — where placemaking meets makerspace.  Since Innovation Guelph and the Chamber of Commerce are already located together in the downtown, we have a unique opportunity to create an innovation precinct in the surrounding area, south of the train tracks, east of Wyndham Street South.

As far back as 2011, a conversation began about creating an information technology hub in the downtown.  At the time, Chamber of Commerce President Lloyd Longfield identified the tech sector as one area where Guelph was building momentum.   Read article here.

Fast forward to 2016.  The City of Waterloo Council recently voted in favour of repurposing a strategic public asset to create makerspace for technology, art and community groups.   See what Waterloo is doing with their old library to drive economic development.

So Guelph, let’s restart the conversation again.  Guelph is a creative place. We are leaders in re-purposing our built heritage for community benefit (Guelph Youth Music Centre, the Boathouse, Guelph Civic Museum, Art Gallery of Guelph).  The private sector knows how to step up to the plate too (Petrie Building, Gummer Building, the Gooderham Worts Granary Building).

What role can the City play to move the conversation forward to expand makerspace for information technology leaders, web entrepreneurs, digital animators, designers, graphic artists, and others?   Let’s talk about how we can leverage local assets — the Drill Hall, 2 Wyndham St. N. and other downtown space.   Political leadership is essential.  I’m ready….




Hey What’s That Old Building?

Have you ever wondered about the origin of the Drill Hall?  The what?  You know, that building across from the Armoury.  The one by the tracks behind the train station.  Yes, it has a name.

The Drill Hall (sometimes referred to as the Drill Shed) was built in 1866 in response to the Fenian raids along the Upper and Lower Canadian borders.  Many historians credit the Fenian threat as a catalyst to unite the provinces to form the Dominion of Canada in 1867.  History buffs can read all about it here.

In order to prepare to defend the nation, the local Guelph militia needed a place to train soldiers.  The site where the Drill Hall now sits was public land offered up for just such a purpose.  A full and engrossing history of the Drill Hall was published in Historic Guelph (2014), the annual publication of the Guelph Historical Society.

Surviving pre-Confederation Drill Halls are extremely rare in Canada.  Many were makeshift temporary structures that simply did not last beyond the 19th century.  Thankfully, Guelph has a long-standing architectural tradition of constructing buildings to last, which has meant that, through adaptive re-use, they are still here today.  The Drill Hall structure and its many subsequent uses tell a fascinating story about Guelph’s military and industrial heritage.

What’s the next chapter for the Drill Hall?  Located in the heart of downtown — next to GO Transit, Innovation Guelph, the Chamber of Commerce, and Market Square —  the possibilities are endless.  The site is currently owned by Metrolinx GO, who acquired the property to create a platform area when daily train service was established in Guelph a few years ago.

Artist studios, performance and jam space, entrepreneurial space, social enterprise space, community use or market space?  Let’s hear YOUR ideas by adding your comments below….