The early growth of the university unfolded in the late 19th century with the development of one of its founding colleges, the Ontario Agricultural College. One of that campus’ most distinctive early features dating back to 1882 was a large garden (now known as Johnston Green) that was demarcated by a semi-circular laneway that now comprises Alumni Walk, the visitor’s parking lot and road behind the Portico, and what is now Gordon Street (formerly Brock Road).
On this plan showing existing structures in 1964, Johnston Green is the large area bounded by buildings 9 (War Memorial Hall), 8 (Mills Hall), 11 (Johnston Hall), 24 (Massey Hall), 25 (JD Maclachlan Building), and 26 (Reynolds Building). This sizeable area was created by Charles H. Miller of the well-known landscape architecture firm Miller and Yeates of Philadelphia. Influenced by the work of Frederick Law Olmstead (designer of New York’s Central Park), the laneways were tree-lined to make the approach to the administration building that much more dramatic.
Over the latter part of the 19th century and into the early 20th, the campuses of the Ontario Agricultural College, Ontario Veterinary College, and Macdonald Institute continued their development. Between 1901 and 1904 the construction of Massey Hall in the Queen Anne style, Macdonald Institute in the classical revival style and Macdonald Hall in the Gothic revival style—all designed by architect George M. Miller of Toronto—contributed to an increasing number of stately buildings for the growing campuses. He also designed the building housing the current Art Gallery of Guelph, which initially started life as the Macdonald Consolidated School (see building 3 on the plan). Unfortunately, the budget for that structure (completed in 1904) was not robust enough to fund a building of equal grandeur to the others.
Prior to the implementation of the University of Guelph’s 1965 masterplan, the campus had an unfocused pedestrian plan dependent on the existing buildings and roadways. The new plan emphasized a pedestrian-oriented environment that integrated accessible social spaces while maintaining the history and nature of the site. The plan was established with the notion that a university should be an evolving urban complex with streets, open spaces, and buildings forming a unified system.
The development plan called for a central square, Branion Plaza, contained by the University Centre, Arts Building (now McKinnon), the Library, and the Physical Sciences Building (now MacNaughton). Walkways radiated north, south, east, and west from the central space to student residences. The ring roads (not fully realized) managed vehicular traffic around the campus. So much importance was given to the pedestrian realm that all buildings on campus were planned to be within a 10-minute walk from student residences—a feature that remains in current design guidelines.