When the Conservative government shuttered 178-year-old Kingston Penitentiary, Canada’s oldest prison, in the fall of 2013, it was briefly opened for two rounds of public tours. Tickets, at $20 each with proceeds to charity, were snapped up quickly and the website selling them crashed under demand. Many people were left disappointed. Unfulfilled curiosity for what lies beyond the 10-metre high, truck-thick stone walls will be satisfied this summer, with the announcement that public tours will resume in late June 2016 and run until the end of October. The tours are possible because the 20-acre complex is mostly empty and disused. While tours may offer a fascinating view of prison conditions, did you know you could have owned a piece of the pen, for a pittance?
Full details of the 2016 KP tour program aren’t yet available. A news release (full document below) issued today (May 13, 2016) notes that this is a co-operative project between the City of Kingston, Corrections Canada and the St. Lawrence Parks Commission, a provincial agency.
“In response to tremendous interest in KP, all three levels of government are working together to temporarily open the site to the public for the 2016 tourism season as part of the City’s larger visioning exercise,” the release states. It’s notable that authorities say the prison is being opened to the public “temporarily,” certainly an attempt to quell anticipation that this is a step toward turning the disused pen into a permanent tourist attraction – an idea that has been promoted since the closing in 2013.
Tickets for the tours will be sold exclusively through a parks commission-operated website and will go on sale in mid June. Tours will be offered six days a week from mid-June to August 31 and on select days September to October.
It appears that the chance to own a piece of KP has passed. When the Harper government announced it would close Kingston Penitentiary, along with the accompanying regional treatment centre and a prison in Quebec, it claimed it would save $120 million annually. Canada’s correctional investigator told me he never understood where those savings would come from. It’s possible that Corrections Canada thought it could earn a few bucks peddling the accoutrements of punishment, particularly given the knowledge that these bits and pieces were once the furnishings of the country’s most vile criminals – Paul Bernardo, Russell Williams, Saul Betesh and many others. It seems there were few buyers, and certainly, none willing to pay big bucks for the guts of Kingston Pen that were put on the block.
Corrections Canada tried to sell, through the government’s surplus goods website, hundreds of plastic bunk/desk units that were installed in many of Kingston Pen’s inmate cells. Screen captures that I’ve saved from the past few years (see them below) show that in the summer of 2015, CSC was still flogging them. Some sold for as little at $1.33 each (note the lot of 57 that sold for $76). Some individual pieces sold for $1.99. It appears that many of them didn’t sell and, as of May 2016, KP furnishings are no longer for sale on the surplus website. It’s unclear what those units would have cost Corrections when they were first installed at KP, but you can bet that it was far more than $1.33 each.
So what will you see if you take a KP public tour? This website, operated by a pair of urban explorers who call themselves Jerm & Ninja, offers terrific photos that were taken during one of the public tours in 2013 and also, clandestine photos taken during a short, unauthorized tour at the south perimeter of the prison.