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Guelph City Hall

59, Carden Street, Guelph, Ontario, N1H, Canada

Formally Recognized: 1988/05/18

View of northeast central facade without clock tower that was removed in 1961 - c.2005; OHT, 2005
View of front facade and entrance - c.2005
View of east side of market pavillion and town hall showing 1875 addition on back -1896; Guelph Public Library
View of east side of market and town hall - 1896
View of facade showing second clock tower added in 1865 and heightened in 1870 - c.1920; Archives of Ontario
View from northeast of main facade - 1920

Other Name(s)

Guelph City Hall
Guelph Market House
Guelph Town Hall

Links and documents

Construction Date(s)

1856/01/01 to 1857/01/01

Listed on the Canadian Register: 2007/11/05

Statement of Significance

Description of Historic Place

The building at 59 Carden Street, commonly known as The Guelph City Hall, is situated at the northeast corner of Carden and Wyndham Streets in downtown Guelph. The two-storey Italianate building was designed by the renowned Canadian architect William Thomas. Its symmetrical classicism combined with rugged surfaces and forceful massing establishes a strong architectural and municipal presence.

The exterior of the main building, the exterior of a smaller Annex structure and the surrounding grounds are protected by an Ontario Heritage Trust conservation easement. The property is also designated by the City of Guelph under Part IV of the Ontario Heritage Act (By-law No.1978-9820).

Heritage Value

The Guelph City Hall faces a small plaza that was originally part of a central town square that functioned as an outdoor market and community gathering place. The generous area permitted the 1875 wing and additional related structures. Much of the surrounding space remains and befits the function, scale and grandeur of the City Hall. The square is conveniently located to both rail lines and the downtown commercial area. The site and structure remain as a focal point of the downtown community.

The Guelph City Hall is significant for its associations with the early development of Guelph, the construction of public buildings in Ontario and the renowned Canadian architect William Thomas. 1856 was an auspicious year for Guelph with the arrival of the Grand Trunk Railway from Toronto and the incorporation of the village to a town. Although the Baldwin Act of 1849 had transferred civic duties from appointed magistrates to ratepayers and their chosen officials, responsibilities increased further with incorporation. Municipalities soon demanded significant public structures to reflect growing municipal services and civic pride. One of the first matters considered by the newly elected Guelph town council and Mayor John Smith was the provision of a combined town hall-marketplace. Towns and cities in Upper Canada often followed the British precedent where markets were combined with town halls. The designs of William Thomas of Toronto were selected from 18 national submissions. Although Thomas had been chiefly known for his ecclesiastical work during his own lifetime he is best remembered today for his public buildings such as Toronto's St. Lawrence Hall (1845-50), Don Jail (1857-64) and the Guelph Town Hall-Market House. The builders of the hall were able to use local, quarried dolomite limestone or “Guelph stone” for the masonry. The town continued to grow and a new wing was built behind Thomas' original building in 1875. The town hall made the transition to city hall in 1879 when Guelph became a city.

The majority of William Thomas' designs for public buildings, executed during his later years, exhibit an Italianate style that had its roots in early nineteenth century England. These buildings, including the Guelph City Hall eventually would become hallmarks of Thomas' work. They follow a highly symmetrical Palladian formula that is comprised of a projecting central frontispiece surmounted by a triangular pediment with adjoining wings. The balanced two-storey façade of the Guelph City Hall has three bays on each wing and on its central frontispiece. The architect utilized heavy rustication and banding on the building to produce a dramatic interplay of shadow and light. A heavily bracketed cornice and low, sweeping balustrade help to balance the central, second level coffered window with projecting balcony that functions as the focal point on the façade. This Palladian window is unique in Thomas' oeuvre but the three agraffes on the main level are emblematic of his personal style. Thomas originally placed a distinctive carved keystone portrayal of Zeus over the main entrance. A River God personifies the local Speed River on the east wing central lower level window and a bull's head adorns the window that was originally the west wing entrance to the market. The market and shambles occupied the majority of the ground floor that was treated by the architect as a high basement. Thomas placed a central, squat round clock tower on the roof that was replaced twice during subsequent years. Unfortunately these taller versions altered Thomas' thoughtful proportions and projected from the roof line at a rather obtrusive height. The tower was removed altogether in 1961. The 1875-76 addition to the back southwest elevation is more in keeping with the essence of Thomas' design.

Source: Conservation Easement Files, Ontario Heritage Trust

Character-Defining Elements

Character defining elements that contribute to the heritage value of the Guelph City Hall include its:
- original location at the head of the town square
- location on a site that is convenient to both the railroad station to the southwest and the commercial district of Wyndham Street to the northeast
- location close to the fire hall or Annex building (1865) to the southeast that served as a fire hall until the 1890's
- generous site that permitted the addition of the 1865 Annex and the 1875 wing
- immediate surroundings that are relatively free of plantings, similar to European treatments of plaza settings
- location within the large town square site that accommodates and complements the elegant grandeur and size of the building
- representation as a symbol of Guelph's growth and confidence in its future
- association with the nineteenth century development of municipal administration in Ontario
- association with similar municipal buildings in Ontario that incorporated agricultural markets, police and fire operations into their design and function
- utilization of local building materials
- association with the renowned Canadian architect William Thomas
- 19th century Italianate design of the hall that is derived from the palazzo style
- building design that follows a symmetrical Palladian formula that was typical in Thomas' public buildings of the period
- structure that is an example of Thomas' later work completed shortly before his death in 1860
- heavy rustication and banding that create textural effects which produce an interplay of dark and light and also help to create a strong sense of massing
- low-pitched roof with heavily bracketed cornice and pediment that surmount the facade
- triangular pediments above the second storey round-headed windows and the cast iron balcony that are representative of the Regency style
- coffered Palladian window over the entrance that is unique in Thomas' work
- slightly projecting balcony that visually supports the coffered window and hangs over the main entrance
- horizontal banding that denotes the lower and upper floors
- three central keystones that decorate the central lower windows on each section of the facade that are characteristic to Thomas' work
- sweeping set of stone steps and balustrades that frame the main entrance on the northwest facade and balance the coffered window and balcony above




Recognition Authority

Ontario Heritage Trust

Recognition Statute

Ontario Heritage Act

Recognition Type

Ontario Heritage Foundation Easement

Recognition Date


Historical Information

Significant Date(s)

1870/01/01 to 1870/01/01
1993/01/01 to 1993/01/01
1961/01/01 to 1961/01/01
1978/01/01 to 1978/01/01
1988/01/01 to 1988/01/01
1865/01/01 to 1865/01/01
1875/01/01 to 1875/01/01

Theme - Category and Type

Governing Canada
Government and Institutions

Function - Category and Type



Civic Space

Architect / Designer

William Thomas



Additional Information

Location of Supporting Documentation

Conservation Easement Files 10 Adelaide Street east Toronto, Ontario

Cross-Reference to Collection

Fed/Prov/Terr Identifier




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