It was known as 'KP' to inmates and guards, but to Canadians, the Kingston Penitentiary was the maximum security jail home to Canada's nastiest criminals. Its 178-year history saw thousands of offenders incarcerated until 2013, when the Canadian government determined that the buildings were not equipped to handle the challenges of modern technology. It was designated a National Historic Site due to, among other things, "the number of its physical facilities of special architectural merit that survive from the 19th century." The penitentiary was then decommissioned and has been operating as a tourist attraction since 2017.
It was during a non-lockdown Covid breaks last autumn, that I made the trip to Kingston to stroll through the most notorious prison in Canada. The 90-minute tour was conducted by a former prison guard who shared a few stories about criminals who escaped the confines of the jail. Most were found, and most found due to their own stupidity. One convict successfully escaped after fooling two separate Wardens but then came back because he forgot to steal the stash of cash one of the Wardens kept in a safe. Another fellow, after successfully escaping, sent the Warden a letter from his 'safe' house and included the address on the envelope. Police were dispatched and the felon was returned to KP in handcuffs and leg irons.
|Eerie feeling standing where so many felons have stood.|
Construction at the Pen began in 1833 while King William IV reigned over the Commonwealth, which comprised the fledgling Upper and Lower Canada (later the provinces of Quebec and Ontario). The jail was originally one large stone block containing 154 cells in 5 tiers. There were other outbuildings including sheds, stables and separate lodgings for staff, who lived within the gated facility. Back then, the only thing keeping the inmates 'in' and visitors 'out,' was a 12 foot high wooden, picket fence. It was the largest public building in Upper Canada.
In 1835, six inmates were the first to call KP their home. The original cells were 2.4 feet wide, 8 feet deep and 6.7 feet high. A separate cell block housed the female convicts, who laboured as seamstresses. Construction continued as more wings were added containing shops for carpentry, shoemaking, blacksmithing, tailoring and rope making. A permanent hospital was completed in 1849. A central dome, connecting the four cell blocks, was added in 1860. The facility was noted for its architectural beauty.
|One of four cell blocks.|
|The recreation yard.|
|The front entrance.|
|The 'Hub' where guards monitored entrances to each cell block.|
|32 foot limestone walls form the Pen's perimeter|
The Pen was known as Canada's Alcatraz and was notorious for housing the worst-of-the-worst criminals in Canadian history, including killers Paul Bernardo, Russell Williams, Michael Rafferty and Mohammad Shafia. (I have chosen not to disclose their heinous crimes.) These offenders were locked up for 23 hours a day in protective custody in the Lower-H cell range. Jail cells for these men were upgraded with plexiglass shields over the metal bars. Why? Two reasons. To prevent other prisoners from hurling objects into the cells and to prevent the killers from hurling their own human waste at the guards.
Several riots occurred at KP, including the most serious riot in 1971 where inmates held six guards hostage over a period of four days. During this riot, sex offenders were rounded up at The Hub and a mock trial took place with the inmates acting as jurors and executioners. The sex offenders, deemed 'undesirables,' were covered in sheets, shackled to metal chairs and beaten with metal rods by other inmates. Two of these offenders were killed but the guards were not harmed. The majority of these guards, after surviving incarceration by convicts, decided to change careers.
In the years since that riot, many changes were implemented at the jail, including a substance abuse program, family violence prevention program, AAA meetings, and a progressive educational program. A high school diploma was mandatory - inmates without the certificate were placed in classes where they were paid to attend. All inmates earned $6 per day, whether they were in school or 'working' at one of the many trades taught at the jail.
When the Pen shut down for good, a modern maximum-security facility had already been completed in a neighbouring city. The KP convicts were transferred there.
I've always been fascinated with Canadian history and my tour of the infamous Kingston Penitentiary quenched part of that fascination. Would I go back there? No. Sometimes historical places, even those with majestic architecture, are not worthy of a second visit. The horrors within those walls still reverberate in every metal bar of every cell.
But enough of that. I'd rather write about Book 3 of The Twisted Climb series. What happens to Dick after falling/jumping off the dream world cliff with Jayden and Connor? Has Georgia been saved? And Patty - that wicked mother of Jayden's, what is she doing? So much action. So much drama. Stay tuned. If you haven't read The Twisted Climb or book 2, Darkness Descends, you need to check it out now. You won't be disappointed.
Stay safe everyone!
J.C. Kavanagh, author of
The Twisted Climb - Darkness Descends (Book 2)
voted BEST Young Adult Book 2018, Critters Readers Poll and Best YA Book FINALIST at The Word Guild, Canada
The Twisted Climb,
voted BEST Young Adult Book 2016, P&E Readers Poll
Novels for teens, young adults and adults young at heart
Twitter @JCKavanagh1 (Author J.C. Kavanagh)