Protect prison site

Dear Editor:

Thank you for featuring the wonderful summer exhibition at the Art Gallery of Guelph of paintings by Richard Bedwash!

These paintings illustrate not only the importance of art at the Guelph Correctional Centre (GCC), but the early exploration of Indigenous spirituality in the prison system in Guelph and across the country. 

The Native Sons organization at the GCC was immeasurably important in the lives of incarcerated Indigenous men.

The Prison Arts Foundation also presented an annual juried art show which Bedwash himself won in 1977. Along with many trades taught in Guelph, art was encouraged as therapy and recreation. The late Arend Nieuwland, art teacher there, taught art as a way to approach problem solving. Self-worth and identity were reinforced and their work was mounted and shown across the country.

Richard Wilson, also recently deceased, shared the fond memory of his wife, Betty Spry, who was the daughter of the first groundskeeper at the Ontario Reformatory (later the GCC) around 1920.

Her family lived in a tent on the site at first and later moved into the institution’s gatehouse. As a small child, Betty remembered a voice at the door asking “for the footprint of your little girl.” Betty remembered standing on two pieces of paper while her father got down on all fours with a pencil, and traced around each foot. The outlines were handed out the door to the messenger.

A week later, a beautiful pair of little moccasins was delivered to the back door “for your little girl”..The Indigenous inmates who were part of the inmate population there had created them for her in their workshop.

Urban Park Guelph wants to protect this site as a National Urban Park in Wellington County dedicated to ecological and historical knowledge and sharing.

Norah Chaloner,