The Priory

Black and white painting. Log building sitting amongst trees, river in foreground, court house Gaol and buildings to the right.

The Priory, circa 1840. Guelph Museums 1973.48.35

The Priory was the first permanent structure built in Guelph. Designed by John Galt, the building served as living quarters for the Canada Company, civic chambers, and the first post office. It was named for Charles Prior, who supervised its construction. After Galt was recalled to England in 1829, the Priory became a private residence, passing to several owners.

The Priory was located on the north side of present-day Woolwich Street, facing John Galt Park. When the Grand Trunk Railway arrived in Guelph in 1856 and the Guelph Junction Railway in 1888, the Priory became a passenger station with an idyllic view of the Speed River.

In 1904, Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) constructed a rail line between Guelph and Goderich. CPR proposed to raze the old Priory building in order to build a new station. The proposal was met with great debate until former Mayor George Sleeman (1880–1882, 1905–1906) purchased the Priory. In 1911, it was partly dismantled and only the main section was relocated.

Between 1911 and 1926, the Priory building was not kept warm or dry, caught fire four times (suspected arson), and deteriorated to near collapse. On May 4, 1926, the Priory was demolished, with the intent that a model of the building would be constructed from salvaged materials.

A model of the Priory was mounted on a float in Guelph’s centennial parade on August 1, 1927. Today, this model is housed in Guelph Museums’ collection. Around 1960, a scale model of the Priory was displayed on the corner of Quebec, Yarmouth, and Norfolk streets. A larger scale model was installed in Riverside Park in 1965, where it still stands.

Posted by Dawn Owen on March 23, 2020

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