The Old Don Jail
Known throughout Ontario as the the "Don Jail" the Toronto Jail has housed the some of most notorious criminals in Canadian history. It is located on the Don Jail Roadway, near the intersection of Broadway and Gerrard Street East in Toronto.
The jail opened in 1864 and pre-dates Canadian Confederation. It was designed by renowned architect, William Thomas, who came to Toronto from England in 1843.
Cells in the "old" Don Jail were cramped, measuring only 40 inches wide by 10 feet long and were designed to hold only one prisoner. The capacity at the jail was 275 prisoners. In its hey-day, the "old" Don Jail was one of the finest in the Canada. The prisoners were incarcerated in the cell block 23 hours a day and spent one hour in the exercise yard. Talking was punishable by flogging. The jail included a "Death Row," and 34 men were hanged there.
In the beginning, hangings were open to the public and took place in the courtyard. The jail actually sold tickets to the event. After one badly botched hanging, laws in Canada were changed. In 1869, public hangings were abolished in Canada. It took until 1905 for the gallows at the Don Jail to be moved inside to a converted washroom.
Thirty of the men who were hung in the Don Jail were convicted of murder. Four were convicted of rape. The last execution took place in Canada on December 11, 1962 at the Don Jail.
A new east wing was added to the Don Jail in 1958. It became known as the "new" Don Jail. No criminal in his right mind wanted to be held there. The average stay was 30 to 90 days because this new jail only housed those who were awaiting trial or those waiting for arraignment. Many men plead guilty to crimes to avoid being sent to the Don Jail.
In 2003, the Don Jail was deemed unfit by Justice Richard Schneider. It no longer met the requirements of the Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners that was set by the United Nations.
The Don Jail was officially closed in 2009. It will be forever remembered for its reputation by those who lived in Ontario while it remained open.
The historical "old" Don Jail's beautiful architecture will not be lost. It is to be integrated into a 12 storey hospital that will be run by Bridgepoint Health.
Behind the Old Don Jail was a cemetery that is now known as The Executioner's Graveyard, but that is another story.