Peeling Back the Petrie: Iconic Downtown Landmark is Coming Back to Life

When Tyrcathlen Partners developer Kirk Roberts bought the landmark downtown Petrie Building in 2015, he knew very well that a heritage restoration would bring a unique set of challenges.  It’s not his first rodeo (The Boarding House Arts and the Granary Building) and he clearly sees both personal, cultural and financial benefit in the restoration of unique heritage structures.   Roberts sees potential where others see dust and mud.  According to Roberts, “risk is part of the equation” in downtown, but the benefits far outweigh the challenges.  But for each challenge (such as easements, building codes, importing specialty products from France), there are also moments of discovery and accomplishment. For example, discovering the original 1909 signature of the wallpaper hanger on the wall of the third floor, or finding the opening of the original domed entrance to the main floor.


Kirk Roberts of Tyrcathlen Partners explains how the patina of the original stamped galvanized metal facade elements will be enhanced using six layers of a traditional linseed oil-based treatment called Le Tonkinois.

The Petrie Building is singularly unique.  It was built in 1882 by Alexander Bain Petrie, a pharmacist and inventor.  The designation of the building under the Ontario Heritage Act speaks to its rare and rich history:  the galvanized iron facade, the Petrie family, the ceiling heights, the Masonic “secret” rooms, and more.

Read about the history of the Petrie Building and its unique features here.

As the Petrie Building transformation get ready to be revealed in the coming months, Roberts was eager to show off the incredible architectural treasures found inside, and to promote how this building plays a key role in the identity of downtown Guelph.  He recently hosted a tour for members of Council and economic development and tourism staff as part of the lead up to Doors Open on Founders Weekend April 21 to 23, 2017.

During the tour, the brothers of Brothers Brewing Co. were busy building fixtures and furnishings using architectural salvage from the building.  Several years ago, while looking across the street at the derelict Petrie facade from a table at Van Gogh’s, they began to dream about opening a business in the very space they now occupy.  They refer to downtown Guelph as “our land of opportunity.”  Today, the brewing vats are installed and the bar — including a foot rail made from the old gas pipes — is almost ready for patrons to enjoy a pint.

Enjoy the tour …

Brothers Brewing

Brothers Asa and Colton Proveau, along with business partner Michael Bevan, call Guelph their “land of opportunity” and can’t wait to open their new brewing facility in downtown Guelph.


Original tin ceiling panels have been incorporated into the design of the handmade furnishings, including the bar (below) and brew keg taps.


Original gas pipes have been repurposed as the foot rail of the new bar at Brothers Ale House.


Brothers Ale House is taking shape and is set to open in May 2017.


Brothers Brewing equipment is installed and ready to go.


Elements of the original third floor were rediscovered as each layer was removed during restoration.  Wallpaper revealed the signature of the paperhanger in 1909.


On the third floor, door openings are original and wallpaper is still intact.


Twenty (20) foot ceilings make full use of the impressive windows at the front of the building.


Original crown and cove moldings are being restored.


The doorway entrance to the former Masonic Lodge meeting space is being opened up and restored using restoration arts specialists.


The large window opening at the back of the building reveals remnants of the original Western Hotel (on Macdonell) from the 1840s, which is still connected to the newer Petrie Building, built in 1882.


Ward 5 Hero: Lt. Col. John McCrae


Today is a fitting day to honour one of Guelph’s most celebrated hometown heroes — Lt. Col. John McCrae, physician, soldier, artist, scholar and poet.  As we honour our veterans across the world, the words of McCrae’s poem “In Flanders Fields”echo in the background.  The image of the poppy is an international symbol of remembrance as a result of McCrae’s words, written on the back of a battlefield ambulance in 1915.

McCrae was born on Water Street in Ward 5 in 1872, the second son of Col. David McCrae and Janet McCrae.  The McCrae family were already well-established in Guelph.  John’s grandparents, Thomas and Jane(t) McCrae lived on the outskirts of Guelph at Janefield, a stone farmhouse still standing on College Avenue West.  He attended Central Public School and Guelph Collegiate Institute, before heading off to the University of Toronto to pursue post-secondary studies.

McCrae had a solid military background training with the Guelph 11th Field regiment and served in the artillery during the Second Boer War.  During World War 1 he served as a surgeon, and while stationed with the No. 3 Canadian General Hospital in Boulogne, he contracted pneumonia and died January 28, 1918.

McCrae is more than just a Ward 5 hero, he is Canada’s hero and his powerful words remain immortal around the world a century after they were written.


Ward 5 Hero: Ajay Heble

After 23 years as artistic director of the Guelph Jazz Festival, Ward 5 resident Ajay Heble figuratively hung up his signature beret and passed the torch on this aspect of his life.  As founder of the award-winning festival, and in his role as the founding director of the International Institute for Critical Studies in Improvisation (IICSI) at the University of Guelph, Heble has put Guelph on the map as a destination for the world’s best jazz musicians and social research on improvisation.


Ajay Heble, Founding Director of the Guelph Jazz Festival.  Image from 

The Guelph Jazz Festival is a three-time recipient of the Lieutenant Governor’s Award of the Arts, and winner of the Premier’s Award for Excellence in the Arts.   Starting an annual music festival is not just about the music — it also requires leadership to motivate and mobilize and team of volunteers, marketing, business entrepreneurship, grant-writing and an ear for “inspired and provocative” musical talent.   Under Heble’s direction, the Jazz Festival has attracted some of the world’s best to our city and has “delighted aficionados from around the world with his innovative and daring programming”.

Heble is also an accomplished musician in his own right, which he shared at a closing concert on the final day of the 2016 festival.  Thankfully, his vision is deeply embedded in the Jazz Festival culture and will be felt well beyond his “retirement”.   For his contributions to the arts and academic excellence, we are proud to highlight  Ajay Heble as this week’s Ward 5 Hero.

Ward 5 Hero: Sya Van Geest


Go, go, go!   This week’s Ward 5 hero never stops.  She is a local champion of arts, social justice, literacy, education, environment, international health, and one of heck of a storyteller, and “heaven knows what else”, according to her nominator.

In her leadership role with the Guelph GoGo Grandmothers, she works to raise awareness and fundraise for the African Grandmothers Campaign of the Stephen Lewis Foundation.  The Foundation is focused on providing resources to fight HIV and AIDS in Africa.

Van Geest is also an animated storyteller, who puts her talents to use during “Tea ‘N’ Tales”, a popular weekly summer event at the Guelph Enabling Gardens.   The event is a nine-year collaborative project between the Enabling Gardens and the Guelph Guild of Storytellers.  The Guelph Enabling Garden is designed to be accessible to all and is used for education, sensory rehabilitation and multi-generational events.

Van Geest has a long record of activism.   After a distinguished career as a teacher-librarian, curriculum consultant and educator with the Peel District School Board, she received a distinguished service award for her “outstanding contribution to the libraries of Ontario.”  After retirement she was actively involved in People for Education and the Guelph Citizens for Public Education, advocating for a strong publicly-funded library system.

In 2007, Van Geest received the YMCA-YWCA Women of Distinction Award for Voluntary Community Service.  We are so proud that Sya is a resident of Ward 5, but her passionate energy and legacy of activism goes well beyond Ward 5 boundaries.  Her impact is felt throughout Guelph, all the way to villages in Africa where lives are being saved as a result of funds raised by Guelph GoGo Grandmothers.   Truly a Ward 5 hero….


Ward 5 Heroes: the 2016 OV Team

As the first week of classes get underway, we pay homage the University of Guelph Orientation Volunteers, affectionately know as OVs (oh-vees). What are OVs? They are a curious species over one thousand strong, with a life-expectancy of only one week, sporting red t-shirts, and super-human strength and stamina.


Each year, OVs volunteer their last long weekend of the summer to the task of moving new students into residence, orientation to campus, orientation to Guelph and to becoming a new Gryphon.  It’s not all fun and games.  The first day is a grueling long day of carrying boxes and computers and mini-fridges up many flights of stairs, directing traffic and answering questions.  When they are not leading orientation activities and events during the remainder of the week, they are choreographing and practicing the OV Boogie, a gift of showmanship to entertain the new incoming first year class.

Check out this last year’s OV Boogie.

Without OVs, the University of Guelph campus move-in would simply not be possible.  Most universities in Ontario move their students on to campus over several days, but Guelph is known for its well-planned and well-executed move-in experience on the first Saturday of September.  This positive experience is not forgotten the following year, when this year’s new Gryphons pick up the torch and volunteer to be the next generation of OVs.

For their volunteer commitment and enthusiastic spirit, this week’s Ward 5 Heroes are the University of Guelph 2016 Orientation Volunteers!

What I Did On My Summer Vacation….

During the month of August, Council takes a short hiatus to allow both staff and councillors the opportunity to enjoy a break.  But rest assured, there is no such thing as a traditional “vacation” in the life of a city councillor.  The daily constituency work – inquiries, emails, calls, re: city issues, problems, ideas – are part of the job all year long.

Today is the first day of school for thousands of Guelph children and youth.  It’s also the first new “Committee of the Whole” meeting of Council.  Typically, the first day of school is a time for sharing what we did on our summer vacation, before heading straight into math homework.

We are hitting the books fast — our first Committee meeting today has an agenda that includes budget variance reports, by-law reviews, stormwater funding, water efficiency and ranked ballot electoral reform.

But before we jump in head first, let’s reflect on what we did on our summer vacation…

Some councillors used the time for professional development work.  In early August, my ward mate Cathy Downer was added to the Board of Directors of the Association of Municipalities of Ontario at their annual conference.  Other Council colleagues travelled and picked up best practices from around the world in city building, community engagement and cultural economic development. Councillor Salisbury travelled solo across the country, through the prairies and mountains and everywhere in between. Councillor Allt shared aspects of his travels in the UK through social media that directly relate to local issues such as renewable energy, transit and planning, and the importance of the local brewing and malting economy.

Me? I stayed close to home, but have come away with summer wisdom that has informed and inspired a renewed focus for me in my role on Council in the year ahead, as follows:

  • Went to Blue Jays game:  
    • What I learned:  regular, reliable and higher frequency local and inter-regional transit is essential to Guelph’s future economy and mitigating the effects of climate change exacerbated by reliance on the automobile.  Our primary focus should be on trains to take pressure off the 401 GTA road corridor.
  • Tended my Community Garden plot:
    • What I learned:  we need more community gardens throughout the city!  It’s not all about the planting and harvesting of food — community gardens also change traditional land use patterns, enhance neighbourhood engagement and teach the next generation resiliency and stewardship skills.  Local food production isn’t trendy, it’s the future.

One of Guelph many community garden sites on public land.

  • Biked and hiked local trails: 
    • What I learned:  how fortunate Guelph is to have the Arboretum, the Royal Rec Trail and the Speed and Eramosa rivers.  I was also reminded how many gaps and broken links we have in our system, and the need for additional resources to address trail deficiencies if we are truly serious about active transportation.
  • Attended the Hip concert broadcast in Market Square
    • What I learned:  we need more community building events like this that draw people into the Square.  The buzz was palpable, and it wasn’t really all about the Hip.  Many of those I talked to were energized by being drawn together into a public space on a summer night.  The music was secondary.
  • Hillside Festival, Art on the Street and PorchFest:
    • What I learned:   Music, art, dance, film, etc. festivals ebb and flow like all ventures. Supporting the arts is a community responsibility.  Not merely through grant funding, but through attendance.  It’s good for the economy…and even better for the soul.

Local musicians Sam Boer and Anita Gazzola share their talents at the first annual Junction PorchFest.

  • Played Pokemon Go:
    • What I learned:   Public art and public space are underutilized and underappreciated.  I first observed larger-than-average gatherings of people at McCrae House, the Garbasaurus sculpture in Royal City Park, Market Square, and other public art installations in late July.  My son enlightened me what was happening and downloaded the app for me (purely for research purposes of course).  It was an fascinating experiment in people-watching and listening.  I overheard youth (and grown-ups too) commenting that they had never noticed these places before.
  • Attended 9th Annual Kirking Service:
    • What I learned:  Our cultural and architectural heritage are an integral part of our city identity. Guelph is unique. We were founded by a novelist-entrepreneur, on the traditional territory of the Attawandaron people, with a world-class university, two rivers and an environmental conscience.  We are not like everyone else.  We must actively work to preserve what is special about our city.

James Gordon (Ward 2) sports a family heirloom kilt, with June Hofland (Ward 3), Leanne Piper (Ward 5), and Phil Allt. (Ward 3), at 9th Annual Kirking Event.

Returning to Council work today, I am confident that my summer non-vacation has served me well….




Ward 5 Hero: Peter Gow

It’s time for a little #TBT twist on our weekly Ward 5 hero!   There have been many individuals throughout Guelph’s history who have shaped our city — and Ward 5 in particular.  One of those individuals was Peter Gow.  This week’s Ward 5 hero was born in Johnstone, Scotland in 1818.


Gow arrived in Guelph around 1850, acquiring land on the south side of the Speed River where he built a mill and a tannery.  It was the first industrial complex in what would later become Ward 5, which opened up the land for rapid residential development to house workers for his mills, quarries for building stone, estate lots, and access to agricultural land to support the growing city population.  He built a wooden bridge across the river where the mill pond was constructed, which was later replaced by the stone one-lane bridge still present today, known as Gow’s Bridge.

Gow was active in local politics, serving on the school board, town council and served as a reeve and mayor.  In 1867, the year of Confederation, he was Guelph’s first Member of Parliament, and was re-elected in 1871 and 1875 to serve the riding of Wellington South.  He was the first Provincial Secretary and Registrar of Ontario.  Most significantly, during the time of this provincial appointment in 1872, the Government of Ontario chose Guelph as the site of the new Ontario Agricultural College.  The presence of the University of Guelph is a key feature of Ward 5 today.

Gow died in Guelph in 1886.  His presence in Ward 5 is still felt today, which makes him a worthy Ward 5 hero.


Gow’s Mill and Bridge, prior to 1890.  Image from McCord Museum (M991.9.2.164), Quebec.