5 Reasons to Visit the Kingston Pen in 2019

By Lexy Correa

Opened in 1835, the Kingston Penitentiary was the first of its kind in Canada. The birthplace of Corrections Canada (predating Confederation), Canada’s oldest and most notorious maximum security prison will once again open its door for tours in 2019. Here are 5 reasons to experience a tour (if you haven’t already!):

1. First-Hand Accounts

One of the most compelling features of these tours are the first-hand accounts from retired correctional officers and staff. Stationed at key locations along your route, former correctional officers (along with a knowledgeable guide) paint a vivid picture of daily prison life. Officially closing its doors in 2013, you’ll wander the halls and imagine what it was like for prisoners who resided here only a handful of years ago.

When asked about what sticks out the most during his time at the Kingston Pen, former guard Pat Boudreau answered, “It’s remembering how staff responded when there were troubles. We became such a cohesive family. And it doesn’t matter who’s in trouble, it doesn’t matter if it’s a guard or a nurse or a shop instructor. When there’s somebody in need – we have to try to get them home. Getting them home to their families, that was our number one priority.”

Read More: Inside Kingston Pen with Former Guard Pat Boudreau

2. Architecture and Design

Constructed from 1833-34, the Kingston Penitentiary is an impressive example of architecture and design. Vaulted, brick-laid ceilings and exposed limestone are remarkable to see. Some key locations you’ll visit on the standard tour include the muster area (visitation and correspondence area), north gate, G-Range (cell range), the main cell dome, a metal shop, recreational yard, and more.

Did you know Kingston Penitentiary’s location was chosen after Hugh Thompson (editor of the Upper Canada Herald) wrote to the government in 1826, recommending that a penitentiary be built in his rapidly growing town of Kingston? They eventually listened, buying 100 acres two miles beyond the town’s western border, which was considered far enough from the population but close enough to conduct business. They also chose the location because it combined “the advantages of perfect salubrity, ready access to the water, and abundant quantities of fine limestone.”

Read More: 7 Things You (Probably) Didn’t Know About Kingston Pen

3. Filming at The Pen

Did you know the Kingston Penitentiary once housed Grace Marks, who was the inspiration for Margaret Atwood’s novel Alias Grace? Netflix’s adaptation of the novel was filmed in the Kingston Penitentiary and made ample use of the surrounding grounds (including King Street and the Warden’s House across the street). It’s also been said that Superman II (1980) once had a location scout at the Pen too!

4. Accessibility & New Tours

When asked about changes to tours in 2019, Venicio Rebelo, Manager of Kingston Pen Tours shared, “We’re continuing our work to provide more accessible tours for those with hearing loss, limited vision and sight loss as well as limited mobility”. A great factor promoting inclusivity: companions accompanying a visitor with a disability will be permitted complimentary admission when their assistance is necessary.

In addition to accessible tours this year, Kingston Pen will be offering group tours, Kingston Resident Specials, French, and other language tours. In the summer months of July and August, there will be more tours offered daily (first tour goes out at 8:40am, last tour begins at 7pm). Learn more about tours offered.

Read More: Behind the Iron Bars: Exploring Kingston Penitentiary

5. Canadian History

Just a hop, skip, and a jump away, you’ll find Canada’s Penitentiary Museum (also located inside the former Warden’s residence of the prison!). Visitors are often surprised at the complexity of a penitentiary environment. It’s not just about crime and punishment. You’ll learn about the forward-thinking entertainment and art programs introduced in the 1950s as you wander through eight display rooms at your own pace.

In the summer months, the museum is staffed by retired Officer Volunteers whose first-hand experiences currently date back to 1960! This is the perfect spot to visit for that extra bit of insight before or after your tour. (Entry by donation)

Read More: Kingston is the New Black: Touring the Kingston Pen

You can purchase your Kingston Pen tickets for their 2019 season here!