Self Guided Hike on the Former Ontario Reformatory Lands, by the Guelph Hiking Trail Club

Bill Mungall created an online self guided hike with 10 points of interest for the May 10th Two Rivers Festival. Distance is 6km and difficulty level of 2. Enjoy this trail at your leisure.

Park at the Trailhead of the Radial Line Trail on Victoria Rd, just south of the bridge over the Eramosa River. (If insufficient space, use the parking area for Eramosa River Park on opposite side of the bridge and river.)

Follow COVID-19 guidelines of no carpooling with others to get to trailhead and keep your distance when passing other hikers

Stop 1 Radial Line Trailhead: this 37 km trail runs from here to connect to the Bruce Trail at Limehouse.  It was created in 1972 by the Guelph Hiking Trail Club. The lands you are entering were purchased by the Ontario Government in 1909 as part of the Ontario Reformatory, which opened two years later. Proceed some 500 metres along the gravel laneway until you reach a path on your left. Follow it down to the railway, and walk alongside the tracks just a few metres until you reach the edge of the bridge.

Stop 2 Guelph Junction Railway – this is the longest municipally owned railway in North America, opening in 1888 to link to the CPR mainline at Campbellville. Aside from the fine view of the Eramosa River, note the steel cantilevers on the right side of the bridge. These were recently built as a part of a reconstruction of the trestle, to accommodate a fully accessible City multiuse path. Retrace your steps to the main trail, then cross it and walk up a narrow gravel lane (with a U of G sign) that curves to the left.  When this path reaches a gravel lane, (but only on weekends… turn right and walk up the hill to the building at the top.) Otherwise, turn left and continue along the gravel lane . Turn left at the first path.

Stop 3 Guelph Turfgrass Institute – this building was designed by the late Karl Briestensky and opened in 1993. If you walk around to the north side of the building for the splendid view, you can see that he aligned it with the towers of the Church of Our Lady. The GTI is moving into the U of G Arboretum later this year, as the Province has already sold all the land east of Victoria for development….so have a good look about…this landscape is about to radically change! Retrace your steps back down the hill, and go past the path on your left that you had taken.  Take the next path on your left, and descend the hill.

Stop 4 – Speedwell Station -  walk across the main trail and just a few metres past the railway. On your left is the site of a train station (no evidence remains) that served to embark injured soldiers down a road and over a bridge, in and out of the Reformatory from 1917-21, when it served as Speedwell Veterans Hospital.  Go a few steps further, and turn right onto the orange blazed trail.

Stop 5 – Great Views over the Eramosa – take the first path on your left, to walk out to the middle of an abandoned railway bridge over the Eramosa, which once served the Reformatory slaughterhouse on the opposite side of the river. Retrace your steps to the orange trail and turn left. In just a few metres, turn right onto a path leads into an underpass beneath the tracks and follow it up a rough hillside to cliffs. 

Stop 6 – Guelph’s Own Escarpment – this overhanging cliff is the Guelph Formation, gouged out just 13,000 years ago by surging floodwaters from the retreating glaciers to the east.  This huge “pro-glacial” river was known as The Guelph Spillway, Southern Ontario’s largest.   It lines the Eramosa valley upstream well beyond Rockwood and downstream to below Cambridge. Retrace your steps, and turn right onto the orange Radial Line trail. This trail runs along the bed of the Toronto Suburban electric train line (1917-31) which featured self-propelled passenger cars capable of 140 kph! As you approach Stone Rd, turn left to stay with the orange trail, go under the bridge, and take a sharp left immediately after onto the old bridge.

Stop 7 – Bow String Bridge – built in 1916, this is one of the few survivors of dozens of similar bridges built in Wellington County by Carlo Mattaini, a Fergus engineer, (and former Italian army officer, who resigned his commission and immigrated to Canada after seeing both sides commit atrocities during the 1896 Italian/Ethiopian war.) When the City rebuilt Stone Road in the nineties, it re-routed the road so as to preserve this bridge. Cross the bridge and turn left onto the blue blazed “The O.R.” Sidetrail and go under the bridge. Follow the blue blazes to turn left and then turn right into a large quarry.

Stop 8 – The Earth Science ANSI – designated by the Province as an “Area of Natural and Scientific Interest”, the quarry and 20 acres of surrounding land were bought by the City from the Province to save it from development, and to create a future park.  The quarry was excavated by Reformatory  prisoners for gravel to build The King’s Highways in the 1920s. Resume walking on the blue blazed trail, noting the fine views over the river.

Stop 9 – Cargill Slaughterhouse -  Eastern Canada’s largest, up to 10,000 cattle per week are processed at this facility, which began in the 1920s when operated by the Reformatory and staffed by prisoners.

Stop 10 – Reformatory Ponds – were dug in the 20s and 30s by the most miscreant of prisoners who were assigned to a week’s hard labour. On reaching a gushing pipe and a stream on the left, turn left to cross the stream on the stepping stones and continue along the blue trail. The trail turns away from the Eramosa to run alongside Clythe Creek and then emerges onto a parking lot. Turn left onto York Road. Turn left onto Victoria to return to your vehicle.


Guelph Hiking Trail Club is a charitable organization Registration#11894 9395

PO Box 1, Guelph, ON, N1H 6J6 


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