History

River Run being built

Our story has its roots in the founding of Guelph

Guelph’s signature performing arts centre overlooks the picturesque Speed River in the City’s historic downtown core near the site where Guelph was founded.

River Run Centre was conceived and built by the people of Guelph for the benefit of the community and designed to serve as a premier stage for concerts, musicals, plays, dance, family shows and much more. Hundreds of volunteers and donors were involved in bringing the dream to reality.

Volunteers continue to play a vital role as ushers, ticket takers, hosts and tour guides. We salute their generous spirit and for creating the vibrant and warm atmosphere that makes River Run so special.

River Run Centre is owned and operated by the City of Guelph.

Our Beginnings…and Destiny

John Galt felled a tree to commemorate the founding of Guelph near this spot on the Speed River on April 23, 1827. “As a novelist, dramatist and poet, Galt gave us a cultural outlook from the beginning. He dwelt not only on the necessities of life but on elements that nourish and enrich the mind and heart. For over 180 years the people of Guelph have acted on his principles and continue to do so.” – Gloria Dent, Guelph.

In 1882 the Speed Skating Rink opened on the site of River Run Centre where fancy dress carnivals and balls were regular fare. In later years the Speed Skating Rink was used as a warehouse, and in 1991 the building was destroyed by fire. Stones from the front of the building were kept for reconstruction of a façade in the parkland in front of River Run. Four years later, in 1995, construction of the new performing arts centre began. River Run officially opened on October 4, 1997.

Speed Skating Rink Burning

*Photo of burning building, courtesy of Don Coulman

Our History Illuminated

A dramatic copper art installation at the main entrance captures the spirit of the River Run site with luminous, multilayered images. Created by Guelph artist Peter Johnston, Passages traces the history of the land along the Speed River, going back to the Attawadaron, the aboriginal people who lived here before European settlement. John Galt’s portrait and excerpts from Galt’s journal dramatize Guelph’s founding in 1827. Railway tracks, scale-model cars, the first town plan and an aerial view of the Church of Our Lady represent different facets of the city’s history.

Our Panoramic View

From the main lobby, the Canada Company Hall, an inviting scene unfolds: terraces, a walking path, trees, a rolling lawn sloping down to the Speed River, and a spacious river lookout. The dignified limestone façade of the Speed Skating Rink, which stood on this site for more than 100 years, is incorporated into this idyllic landscape, named John Galt Park. The pathway along the river is part of the Trans Canada Trail system.

Canada Company Hall honours the visionary founder of Guelph, John Galt, who established the city in the name of the Canada Company. Charter members of the new Canada Company contributed generously to the River Run Centre, built on the site of Guelph’s beginnings. A spectacular wall of glass in Canada Company Hall provides guests with a panoramic vista of the river and passers-by a view of the festivities within.

A Community Effort

River Run Centre was built with funding from the City of Guelph, Government of Ontario, Government of Canada, and from more than 1,400 companies, foundations and individuals. Major contributions from local companies led to the naming of several spaces within the facility, including duMaurier Theatre (now Main Stage), Co-operators Hall and Sleeman Atrium. Under the leadership of Douglas Bridge, a group of Guelph developers, professional people and private citizens pledge $500,000 to ensure that the centre be named for the community. River Run Centre was named through a public competition that attracted 2,260 entries. Stephen Norton of Guelph won the naming competition. The Centre opened its doors to the public April 23, 1997 with five days of open house tours. More than 400 volunteers led 8,000 visitors through the building.