Organization: Architectural Conservancy Ontario - Guelph Wellington Branch
About This Project Idea
For almost one hundred years, a rare landmark stood in downtown Guelph, its upper floors empty and its façade crumbling from neglect. Built in 1882 for druggist Alexander Bain Petrie, the four-storey Petrie Building with its impressive exterior façade of stamped galvanized sheet steel and galvanized zinc, is one of only three buildings still standing in Canada with this style of façade. Important to Guelph but also to the country, in 2014 it was listed among the top ten endangered places by the National Trust of Canada.
The focus of this campaign is the restoration of the building’s unique upper façade. The façade pieces- pineapples and ears of corn, lions and rosettes, ribbons and bows – came from the mail-order catalogue of Bakewell and Mullins in Ohio. The piece de resistance is the iconic mortar and pestle (tools of the day for a pharmacy). Mr. Petrie wanted his building to be the tallest on the street, so he added the stylish ornamentation to its top. The pestle has since mysteriously disappeared, and the mortar filled with 100 years of pigeon poop and bones has been removed for restoration.
All funds raised will be used to replace various sections of the upper façade that have been destroyed, fallen off or lost. The transformation (with the help of Willowbank students), and the amount of work being devoted to it, is stunning. The most detailed (and damaged) sections of ornamentation, made of stamped galvanized zinc, will require the use of historic dies. Only one company remains that manufactures elements like these: WF Norman in Missouri uses dies dating back to 1898 and they are also able to make molds to exactly replicate the Petrie lost elements. Bringing back this beautiful façade from such a decayed state is a labour of love that has involved many community partners, as well as heritage professionals and students, all working together to breathe new life into this previously-neglected gem.
Thanks to many community supporters and partners, the restoration of this landmark building is well underway. Tyrcathlen Partners, a local company very experienced in restoring and repurposing historic buildings, is overseeing the work and creating a wonderful new destination space for downtown Guelph. The main floor will be occupied by two hospitality businesses: Osmow’s Mediterranean Grill, and Brothers Brewing Company & Ale House, a new brewery whose partners were eager to set up shop in Guelph because of the opportunity to be based in this special building. The previously-abandoned upper floors will soon be occupied by local businesses; an advertising agency on the second floor, and a bridal shop on the third and fourth floors.
But the unique top of the Petrie is what sets it apart and draws all eyes. The unique mortar and pestle flanked by curvaceous shells, the looming twin lions, and the eyebrow arches have fascinated locals and visitors over the years. And now it’s time to bring this beautiful sculpture back to its former glory, to resume its place in Guelph’s skyline with pride. In partnership with the Architectural Conservancy of Ontario, the Guelph Historical Society and the Downtown Guelph Business Association, the fundraising campaign is underway. This former eyesore will become a lively hub of commercial activity, serving the residents of Guelph and standing as a shining example of what a community can accomplish when it shares a commitment to keep its history alive.
About this place
When the Petrie building was first constructed in 1882, its street-level space was used as a drugstore, while the second floor served as Mr. Petrie’s office, laboratory, and workshop where he produced his medicines for people and animals, his perfumes and his paints. The third floor was the “inner sanctum” of the International Order of Odd Fellows (complete with peep holes and a one-way door) and was originally only accessible from a grand hall in the adjoining Cutten-Kelly Building. The fourth floor was just an empty limestone box with 20-foot-high ceilings that served Mr. Petrie’s grand design to have the tallest building on the street.
After the Petrie family sold the building in 1920, other drugstores occupied the street level until 1972, and from 1972 to 2015 it was home of the beloved Apollo Restaurant owned by the Agelakos Family (some of whose furniture will have a second life at Brothers Brewing). However, the upper floors remained vacant for almost a century, standing vacant with their original paint, wallpaper and fascinating graffiti.
This fundraising campaign is focused only on the restoration of the building’s unique upper facade, but the story of the building as a whole reminds us of why this building is important to our community; Guelphites love the Petrie Building, and thanks to your support it will stand for generations to come.
This restoration project is special; despite deep damage from exposure and neglect, this iconic building is being transformed into a vital, beautiful downtown hub that showcases its unique façade and creates wonderful new spaces. Tyrcathlen Partners is working tirelessly to ensure that the façade is saved and restored. However, the crowning section of the façade that sits on top of the building and leans out over Wyndham Street is the most exposed to the elements and has suffered badly over the years. Tyrcathlen Partners could remove it entirely and carry on with their business.
But the upper crowning section, the glorious sculpture with its unique details is the community focus in this campaign. The total cost of the restoration project is approximately $100,000. We are now at the stage where the most detailed work needs to be done, and this is why we are asking for your support. Every gift will help ensure that this project gets finished properly and the building reclaims its place of pride in Guelph. Donors of $100+ will be recognized in the lobby of the building. If the prize and funds put us over the top, the extra money will allow more work to be done to protect and restore the lower sections of the unique façade.
The project is nearly there… your help with funding this final piece of the detailed restoration work will help bring this beautiful piece of Canadian history back to life. Together, let’s top off the Petrie!