Top 5 Historical Sites in Guelph
Let’s flip through the pages of Guelph’s history and discover the top 5 historical sites in the city!
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5. Guelph Town Lattice Covered Bridge
The covered bridge is a centuries old concept made of wood, but it is a dying breed, having been phased out starting in the mid nineteenth-century for cheaper, more plentiful, and in some cases sturdier material.
Indeed, many sources suggest that only one covered bridge stands in Ontario: the West Montrose Covered Bridge in the Waterloo Region, which was built around 1880. But those sources are wrong; another such bridge stands a half hour drive east, right in the heart of Guelph: the Guelph Town Lattice Covered Bridge.
It’s a beautiful structure, spanning the confluence of the Speed and Eramosa Rivers in York Road Park. But although it was built by hand with over 300 timberframers using a nineteenth-century design, it was also built in 1992… So, while it is historic, it’s perhaps not quite as historical as the other entries.
Nonetheless, it’s a fascinating site, and worth a visit!
4. Old City Hall
This beautiful, Renaissance Revival style hall served as Guelph’s city hall all the way to 2009, even though it was completed before Canadian Confederation. William Thomas designed the building (he’s quite a famous architect in Canada, with iconic projects like Toronto’s St.
Lawrence Hall and Brock’s Monument in Queenston Heights), and construction took place between 1856 and 1857. Over the years, it’s served as a central feature of Guelph; it boasted a thriving market nearby; the Ontario Winter Fair Building stood right beside it; and World War II troops were housed inside.
Impressively, despite being classified as a National Historic Site of Canada, and also having protection under the Ontario Heritage Act, it still serves a vital function: it’s currently the Provincial Offences Court! If you’re ever downtown, definitely check it out.
3. McCrae House
Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, MD is one of Canada’s most famous poets, and he was born and raised in Guelph. He served overseas during WWI, and during the Second Battle of Ypres, he wrote “In Flanders Fields:” a war poem whose legacy still looms large.
McCrae House is a small cottage made of limestone; the McCrae family lived here between 1870 and 1873, during which time John was born. It’s currently a gallery and museum, with information and artefacts from John McCrae’s life, as well as depictions of life during that bygone era.
It’s a great place to visit, whether you’re World War I buff, a fan of local history, or just looking to get the most of the city. It’s located at 108 Water Street, and is open Tuesday through Sunday, from 1-5pm.
2. Locomotive 6167
Located near downtown Guelph, right by Guelph Central Station (which is itself a historic site – built in 1911 and currently recognized as a Heritage Railway Station) is a sleek black locomotive: Locomotive 6167. This locomotive, built in 1940, was used by CN during World War II to move troops and supplies in and out of Moncton, New Brunswick and various eastern ports.
It crashed head on with Locomotive 6166 in 1943, causing several deaths and even more injuries, but because World War II was still raging on over in Europe, CN simply repaired it and put it back into service.
Locomotive 6167 went on to serve as a ‘pleasure train,’ moving tourists all around Ontario in the early 1960s – it became known as Canada’s ‘most photographed locomotive.’ CN gave Locomotive 6167 to Guelph in 1967, for Canada’s Centennial celebrations, and a team of City officials and railway enthusiasts restored it so that in 2014 it could move to its current location.
While you can’t go inside currently, you can certainly marvel at the exterior of a locomotive that led quite an interesting life!
1. Basilica of Our Lady Immaculate
The skyline of downtown Guelph is dominated and defined by one stunning building: the Basilica of Our Lady Immaculate. And it has been this way for well over a century. Indeed, the history of the Basilica of Our Lady Immaculate is, by some measures, about as old as the history of Guelph itself.
John Galt, along with his rascally companion William ‘Tiger’ Dunlop, founded Guelph in 1827 (you can read all about Guelph’s history, and its present day, in our article on it here). Shortly after, he set aside a prominent hill in the centre of town for the future construction of a Catholic church.
The first Catholics in Guelph were primarily Irish and quite poor, and so it was not until 1835 that they were able to erect a small, wooden church on the hill. They dedicated it to St.
Patrick, and it was the first painted structure in Guelph; unfortunately, it burned down in 1844. It was replaced two years later by a new, stone structure, dedicated by Guelph’s first resident pastor as St.
The important year for us is 1874, when concrete plans were put in place for a new church, and Joseph Connolly, an Irish-Canadian architect who designed churches prolifically, was chosen to lead the project. Construction commenced in 1877, and by 1926, the job was finally done: the murals were complete, the iconic towers stood side by side, and Guelph could marvel at the resplendent new building.
What made the Church of Our Lady significant was that it was as magnificent as many old European churches constructed by kings and nobles, this church was built by the poor Guelph residents’ sacrifice and dedication.
Indeed, someone quite high up took notice: after several million dollars were spent on renovations, starting in 2007, church officials sent a package of photos and historical details to the Vatican. Word came back from Pope Francis: the Church of Our Lady was now to be called the Basilica of Our Lady.
Minor basilicas (under the modern definition) are Catholic churches designated by the Pope as singularly special and significant (there are currently only 25 in all of Canada), so it’s quite an honour (another famous minor basilica, for example, is Sagrada Familia in Barcelona).
So that beautiful building that dominates the Guelph skyline isn’t just something pretty to look at – it’s also got quite a history!
Written by Will Kummer