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Prison CP - July 1952

Toronto Daily Star, 7 July 1952

Toss 'Rat' in Flaming Kitchen

One Word From Guelph Head Stops Riot Tear Gas Couldn't

By Gwyn Thomas
Star staff Correspondent


Guelph, July 7 -- Weeks of seething discontent erupted into a full-scale riot at the Ontario reformatory here Saturday night. Today the buildings on the 1,000-acre prison are in partial ruins with damage estimates running from a half to a million dollars.

Patterned after recent uprisings in US prisons, with two guards held as hostages, the riot was the biggest in Ontario penal history.

An estimated 600 of the 931 inmates participated, although not all of them of their own volition. One prisoner, who gave signs of bolting a mob, was picked up and hurled it into the flaming kitchen. They were ready to "roast him alive as an example of what rats would get," guards said.

Hundreds of shots fired

Officials said damage is almost unbelievably heavy. Three guards received minor injuries, one prisoner whose name was withheld was removed to hospital with a back injury and hundreds of shots were fired, all of these apparently as warnings but some of them narrowly missing the rioting mobs in the corridors.

Upward of a half-dozen prisoners are believed to have escaped, possibly more. There is no way of telling until 400 of the rioters who held out in courtyards until 6 am have been returned and the jail records checked, officials said.

Last night more police, armed with axe handles, were brought into the wrecked jail. After many hours of quiet, the rioters became restless. Officials said they sensed more trouble.

Fought off gang in tunnel

Three guards have fought off a gang of screaming men who made their way along a tunnel that leads to the steam plant which generates the reformatory's power. They were bent on turning off the water supply which would have blown the boilers and taken part of the building in to the air, prison officials said.

A great deal of the damage was done by sledgehammers and crowbars which the men secured from the store-room in the same section as the steam plant. With these, they smashed locks off practically all the cells, battered down radiators weighing a quarter-ton, smashed the kitchen plumbing, their own plumbing and grill work.

Guards said the shouting, cursing mobs moved in all sections of the dormitories and cell blocks weaving their weapons, looking for a particular guards whom they vowed to kill. But outside of perhaps 50 of them, they made no move to escape from the smashed-out windows.

Rioters defied teargas, water

The guards were outnumbered 30-to-1 but they went in swinging as knives, chunks of concrete, iron pipes, canned goods and even bowling pins were flung at their heads. Tons of water from three high-pressure fire hoses, blasts of riot guns that exploded enough tear gas to fell 50 people with one shot, failed to accomplish what one command from Superintendent Gerald Wright did at 6am Sunday.

With the second-floor roof ringed with rifle-carrying guards and Ontario Provincial police who came from as far as Peterboro and Chatham on a riot call, Supt. Wright called on the men to surrender.

Just as quickly as they had started it and "like a bunch of repenting boys," they immediately obeyed the order to walk to the centre of the compound and clasp their hands behind their necks.

Hurled tear gas back at guards

This was surrender. Wright issued the order in such a way, they had a choice of doing it or not. But every last one of them moved into a circle in an unbelievably obedient way, considering that minutes before some of them, wearing gas masks stolen from the store-room, were hurling gushing tear gas bombs back on the roof has as fast as riot guns were pumping them out.


Hand weapons to guard

When they stood for a minute with their hands behind their heads, Supt Wright, who was flanked by Major John Foote, V.C., hero of Dieppe and Minister of reform institutions, and Col. G. Hedley Basher, his deputy, then gave the second command. It ordered that all their weapons, which included long butcher knives, pipes, crowbars, saws and various other metal objects, be piled to the side and then handed to a guard reaching his hand through a window.

The third order was to tidy up the mess in the courtyard.


The jeering and hurling of concrete and canned goods at guards, police and newspapermen on the roof ceased at the surrender command.

Kept some knives

But later it was evident that all of the knives hadn't been handed in. The piles of canned foodstuffs, which had been thrown into the courtyard for the siege, were raided from time to time by breakfast-seeking prisoners. The knives were used to open these.


Critical of new system

The so-called "new system" came in for criticism from most of the guards who decried the "molly-coddling" of the prisoners.

"It commenced two years ago when this new program started," said one guard. "These fellows have been getting away with murder. They know they can do anything they want without fear of punishment. For $200 a month we have to take all the abuse."

Another guard said that some of the most violent rioters were 16 and 17-year-old youths in the reformatory under the training school course. They were brought to Guelph from training centres because of their high escape rate and failure to accept discipline.

"Discipline not carried out"

One of the university students on a grant in his social studies work, Murray Gaw, Toronto, said discipline has not been carried out as it should. "I had a feeling in the short time I have been here that something was going to happen, but we just didn't know when it would break open."

There was no fear among the prisoners of breaking rules. "They have been making a farce of the staff," he said. "I felt that unless there were some changes that this would be the culmination."


Superintendent Wright said scrapbooks on the lengthy Jackson siege which was claimed as a victory by the prisoners were kept among the inmates. There had also been mention by one prisoner of a penologist's report on the trouble in which he had sided with the rioters.

Most of the inmates of the reformatory are 21 and under and many of them repeaters, some in for the third time, the superintendent declared.

Toronto Daily Star, 7 July 1952

Molly-coddling, No Strap, Cause Of Riot - Guards

By Pat McNenly
Star Staff Correspondent


Guelph, July 7 -- John Foote's "Ontario plan" for more humanitarian treatment of reformatory inmates is to blame for Saturday night's riot here, Ontario reform institution guards said today.

In off-the-record talks the guards said the reform institutions minister's "molly-coddling" of the inmates paved the way for Saturday's four-hour, $1,000,000 destruction spree.

Removal of the threat of the strap -- now applied only when sanctioned personally by the minister -- has ended effective discipline here, the guards claim.

Under Major Foote's new plan, the guards are on the defensive and are liable to be reported on by the inmates.

As a result, these sources claim, inmates were daily becoming more insubordinate until previous to Saturday all the solitary cells were filled by unruly inmates.

Saturday's outbreak came as no surprise. It is understood the new superintendent, Gerald Wright, warned Major Foote trouble was brewing.

There were no burning issues apparently among the inmates to ignite Saturday night's reign of destruction.

Causes, according to inmates, seemed to depend on the individual's pet beef. Some say it was sparked by refusal of showers to an abattoir work party; others blame Saturday night's fish patties; while to others the conduct of guards was responsible.

48 hours of almost constant duty by guards watching for further outbreaks of violence have laid bare another weakness in Major Foote's set-up. Some guards who had worked a shift before the riot now have worked 46 of the last 48 hours.


No decision has been reached yet on what form the investigation will take. After the Burwash riot of 1947, a commission was set up under a University of Toronto professor to inquire into grievances of the prisoners. Colonel Hedley Basher, now deputy minister of the reform institutions department, was a member of that committee.

Toronto Daily Star, 8 July 1952

Rioters Will Be Punished

"Sheer Vandalism" -- Frost

The riot at Guelph is not going to be approached with any silly sentimentalism, Premier Frost said today.

"There has to be retribution, punishment, and a careful investigation is now taking place by the Department of reform institutions, the staff, and others called in," he said, following a talk with Hon. John Foote, Minister of reform institutions.

The Premier described the rioting as "a sheer act of vandalism. It was an abuse of the freedom allowed, an act of treachery and a violation of decency. They destroyed the very things given them for reform by people who desire a reform institution rather than a common jail."

The premier said the institution was a model of its kind on the continent. "There is every opportunity for reform. They have fine surroundings and the best facilities for recreation and sport. I think that there are a lot of people in this province who would like to be able to obtain the kind of food they get. My wife and I searched for lamb chops the very night of the riot and couldn't obtain them, yet these men are said to have thrown lamb chops on the floor."

Toronto Daily Star, 8 July 1952

Screams, Groans Are Heard

Deny Leaders Punished



The smack of axe handles against cement made one rooftop guard remark: "It sounds like a herd of cows going through. All they are doing is taking some of those ringleaders down to the cells."

A group of prisoners leaped to the mesh-covered windows and raised a din as inmates went by. A group, who apparently were through with rioting, began to order the noise-makers to be quiet. An hour later the same group managed to stave off another demonstration when more of the ringleaders were taken to the cells.

At midnight last night, the ringleaders could still be heard yelling and screaming in their cells and kicking the bars.


Col. Hedley Basher, deputy minister of reform institutions, today described as "a pure fabrication" the report the ringleaders were roughed up by guards.

"I was there and I saw it all," he declared. "No one touched any of the inmates and no one tried to," he said.

Blames "Young Punks"

He blamed the trouble on a number of "young punks."

"Guelph was never built as an institution for dangerous criminals," he pointed out. "Its sole purpose was for rehabilitation and consequently had a minimum of security measures."


Toronto Daily Star, 8 July 1952

Inmates in prison yard

HEAT TAKES ITS TOLL of hungry, sweltering prisoners in the sun-scorched yard of the Ontario reformatory at Guelph as five men can be seen collapsed on the ground in circles at right. Prison guards keep about 300 covered while inside the damaged building carpenters and plumbers set about repairing the place. Another riot nearly broke out last night as rumor spread that screams and groans issuing from inside the institution were coming from the ringleaders who had surrendered yesterday. As the leaders ran down corridor, thud of paddle could be heard as guards roared at men to "stand up", "get moving", and to "hurry it up." "It sounded like a herd of cows," a guard said.

Toronto Daily Star, 15 July 1952

Charge 121 Men In Guelph Riots

Won't Riot Again For A Long Time, Basher Predicts

Guelph, July 15 (CP) -- "I do not believe that the inmates of the Ontario reformatory will riot again for a long time," Colonel Hedley Basher, deputy minister of reform institutions, said today.

Colonel Basher reported that the 121 active leaders and followers in the reformatory riots of July 5 and 6 have been named to stand trial on various charges of violence in connection with the disturbances.

The deputy minister said that every inmate had been carefully screened and those believed to have either organised the riot or had any active part will face charges.

Toronto Daily Star, 29 July 1952

Strap 50 Riot Ringleaders, Move Them To Nipissing

Ship Ringleaders of Guelph Riot to Jail in North

by Gwyn Thomas

Fifty ringleaders of the recent riots in Guelph reformatory were whisked from the jail in two buses during the weekend and are now in Nipissing district jail, it was learned today.

It was learned each of the 50 had been strapped before they were transferred. This was the punishment for their part in the prison riot.

Officials said they will be kept in Nipissing for an "indefinite" period, likely till their sentences are completed.

The movement was carried out in secrecy. Shackled together, the men were loaded on the buses which were heavily guarded all through the trip by Ontario provincial police and prison staff.

None of the prisoners knew of the impending transfer until they were gathered and marched to the buses.

Decision to transfer the ringleaders sustained claims of psychologists that hardened criminals, who should be in Kingston, were allowed to mingle with the youthful prisoners.

blob Many thanks to "Diogenes" for all the research on this page.

["Diogenes" adds: Guelph Reformatory was where, three years later, Roger Caron, the Author of "Go-Boy", received two paddlings whilst secured in "the frame". It is reasonable to assume that, like Caron, the fifty ringleaders of the riot were secured in "the frame" or "machine", and paddled across the bare buttocks with a heavy leather strap. In his book, Caron describes the straps at Guelph as "so thick and coarse as to barely sag".]

blob For more on CP in Canadian prisons, see feature article The Canadian Prison Strap.

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