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Thousands sign petition to convert century-old prison to urban park in Guelph

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A group in Guelph is calling for the land around an over century-old prison to be converted into an urban park.

In January, Guelph MP Lloyd Longfield introduced a petition to the House of Commons calling on Parks Canada to repurpose the Ontario Reformatory.

The prison was decommissioned in 2001.

“You don’t often get 1,000 acres within a municipality that is open for development,” Longfield told CTV News.

The petition was penned by Urban Park Guelph, bringing in a total of more than 3,000 signatures. The group said building a park on the property would serve many purposes, including a step towards reconciliation with Indigenous peoples.

“Most recently it was reformatory. Prior to that, where did it fit into the Indigenous communities?” Longfield said.

Urban Park Guelph spokesperson P. Brian Skerrett said if the plan is passed, the park will not only be free but will make Guelph a greener space.

“Reforesting, putting indigenous species back, native species,” Skerrett said. “Creating opportunities for Indigenous nations to repopulate species that are important to them.”

Skerrett said the plan would need support from all levels of government. Ownership of the property is currently split between the province and City of Guelph. Last year, city council pushed for parts of the site to receive cultural heritage designation to help preserve the history of the site.

“If there’s any change proposed to the property that would impact any heritage features or character on the site, there is a heritage permit process that a property owner would have to go through,” explained Melissa Aldunate, manager of policy planning and building services for the City of Guelph.

Urban Park Guelph said the proposal has yet to be presented to city council, but has gained support from dozens of local, provincial and national organizations.

“If this park gets established, the opportunities from it are boundless,” Skerrett said.

CTV News reached out to Parks Canada for comment but did not hear back by our deadline.

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