The trip was a Thousand Islands boat cruise from Rockport to Heart Island and Boldt Castle. However, we caught up with an equally impressive experience with the Kingston Penitentiary Tour. Not far from our hotel (Ambassador Hotel & Conference Centre) in Kingston, Ontario sat the infamous and historic Kingston Maximum Security Penitentiary. The institute closed down in 2013 and is now open to the public for guided tours.
The price is steep but worth every penny. It’s $35 for anyone six years of age or older and the tour lasts 90 minutes. Along the way, you are informed and entertained by actual staff from when the prison was active. My only wish is that there was more of this interaction – I could sit for hours listening to these folks talk about a life very few of us even get a remote glimpse of. I thought it would be even more enhanced to have some reformed inmates have a chance to tell their story.
For full-size, high resolution versions of any of the photos in the image gallery below, simply click on the individual pictures. See below for descriptions of each image in the gallery, along with more detailed information on the Kingston Penitentiary, the tour itself and Kingston, Ontario.
Kingston Penitentiary Image Gallery
(From left to right, top to bottom.)
- Image from the main square with the main cell dome to the left.
- The recreation yard – Lake Ontario is just beyond the back fence.
- View of the prison with the indigenous grounds in the foreground.
- A typical prison cell.
- Empty shell of what was the metal shop.
- Inside the main cell dome.
- View from just inside the front entrance.
- Conjugal visit apartments.
- Warden’s house, across from the main entrance – site of the Correctional Services of Canada Museum.
Kingston Penitentiary History
The Kingston Penitentiary opened on June 1, 1835 and closed September 30, 2013. The maximum security prison had a capacity for 564 convicts. In 1990, the jail was designated a National Historic Site of Canada.
The prison was strategically located on the shores of Lake Ontario and was, at one point, one of nine penitentiaries in the Kingston area. In 1971, there was a four day riot that changed the penitentiary forever. Over the four days of occupation by the inmates, two prisoners were killed and there was much destruction to the building.
Kingston Penitentiary Tour
For the standard Kingston Penitentiary Tour, the price is $35 for anyone six years old and over. The tour lasts 90 minutes, running from May to the end of October. Tours start at 8:30 in the morning and end at sunset, running in 15 minute intervals.
Areas to see in the standard tour include fully furnished cells, the indigenous grounds, the regional treatment centre, muster area (visitation area), the main cell dome, the segregation/dissociation wing, shop dome/metal shop and the outside of the conjugal visit apartments.
The premium tour is $55 per person and lasts 2.5 hours. These tours run just twice daily and provide access to rooms and entire buildings that the standard tour does not offer. In these tours, groups are small at ten individuals for a better, more in depth experience.
Kingston, Ontario was established in 1673 as Fort Cataraqui (later named Fort Frontenac). Kingston was incorporated as a city in 1846. The current population is 120,000 with 161,000 in the metro area. The city is in Frontenac County.
Located at the head of the St. Lawrence River and the eastern tip of Lake Ontario, Kingston is an educational centre. Queen’s University was established in 1841 with the Royal Military College of Canada coming a bit later in 1876. St. Lawrence College was founed in 1967.
Kingston is located 263 kilometres east of Toronto, along the Highway 401 corridor. The city is 287 KM west of Montreal, Quebec and 196 KM south of Ottawa, Canada’s capital city.
Kingston, Ontario Downtown Video