Goldie Mill: How Guelph manages parks, heritage and construction

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A cautionary tale in ruins

Spare a thought for Goldie Mill, the imprisoned jewel of Wolfond Park.  It is a romantic ruin that speaks of Guelph’s industrial past.  It was the site of Guelph’s first saw mill, opened in 1827. Early maps clearly show the mill pond in the Speed and today’s topography, with the up and down of the trail and remaining stone walls along the river. Over the years it became a flour mill, a distillery, a tannery and a piggery, intensive uses we can be grateful have been zoned far beyond the residential core of the city.  Goldie Mill is designated by the City of Guelph under the Provincial Heritage Act. You can learn more about its history from the registry of Canada’s Historic Places.

Goldie Mill has been a popular landmark, hired out by the City for weddings and festivals, serving as an outdoor performance space for music and theatre.  Enlightened teachers bring classes here to learn about Guelph’s important industrial history.

It featured modest but tidy gardens that included heritage roses and native species.  It’s a particularly popular spot with finches and sparrows, and their nesting songs are a welcome harbinger of spring.

Over the past decade or so, sink holes began to appear in the paved path at the north end of the mill.  The response was to periodically dump more asphalt into the holes and thus repair the path.

(As an aside, the location of these holes, and their counterparts on the other side of the river, suggest that they are part of the original water channel to drive the mill.  With some imaginative archival engineering, the channel could be daylighted and fitted with a secure steel grate, creating a teaching tool to illustrate the river’s importance to the mill.)

In 2016, the reappearance of the sink holes forced a more thoughtful response from the City and GRCA.  The first and immediate response was to fence off a portion of the mill and path, thus closing a useful trail loop.  In 2017, soils tests were conducted and revealed potential toxins.  The immediate response was to expand the fencing around the mill and further restrict access, including to parks maintenance workers.  In 2018, test results in hand, the City and GRCA devised a plan that would involve capping the toxic soils on the site, as well as doing some repairs to the Mill itself.

According to the City of Guelph’s latest updates this work is to be completed by late summer or early fall 2018, with bookings to resume for spring / summer 2019.  It is now September 2018.  Work has yet to commence, beyond yet another expansion of fencing.

There is one other piece to this: In 2011, demolition of two city properties adjacent to the Baker Street lot was delayed in order to accommodate chimney swifts, migratory birds that are a threatened species.  After careful study, it was determined that the birds could find a new roost in the chimney at Goldie Mill.  The demolition on Wyndham Street was delayed until the birds departed, usually anticipated as late September.

The original announcement for the 2018 work at Goldie Mill would have had heavy equipment on site through late summer into early fall.  Perhaps the delay was for the chimney swifts?

Or perhaps it’s a Guelph approach to problem-solving:  put a fence around it, keep the people out, and, if they ask, tell them ‘we’re working on it.’

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