From limestone penitentiary walls to cinema screens

By Abbey McCauley

The Kingston Penitentiary is Canada’s oldest maximum-security prison, built in 1835 and decommissioned in 2013. Since then, the “Kingston Pen” has been transformed into captivating backdrops for gripping TV shows and creative films. From crime to mystery, history to the distant future, the Kingston Pen is a historic stage where stories come alive. Read on to learn about the movies and TV shows shot at Kingston’s most ominous backdrop.  

The movies and TV shows of the Kingston Penitentiary

Kingston Penitentiary transforming into a scene from Mayor of Kingstown. Footage courtesy of Paramount. Video: Untold Storytelling. 

Mayor of Kingstown 

In 2021, the crime thriller Mayor of Kingstown was shot in the Kingston Pen for three weeks, using the facility to portray the Kingstown prison. The co-creator and executive producer of the series, Hugh Dillion, is originally from Kingston and first found fame as the lead singer for the Headstones. He wanted to bring the series about the business of incarceration to Kingston because of the area’s architecture, geography, and history. Over 150 local background actors were employed to bring the Kingston Pen to life for filming.  

Where to watch: Amazon Prime Video + Paramount, Apple TV (Season 1, episodes 1 – 10) 


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The TV series based on Lee Child’s Jack Reacher novels chose to start the series by filming in Kingston in 2021. The series opens with the main character, Reacher, being arrested and sent to the local jail after arriving in the town of Margrave. The Kingston Pen is set as the local Margrave jail, and the production team filmed for 11 days at the prison. They recruited local background extras with “rough and tough” appearances for the episode.  

Where to watch: Amazon Prime Video, Apple TV (Season 1, episode 1) 

Still shot of Dick Grayson in the prison yard from Titans’ episode 10 of Season 2 at Kingston Penitentiary.

DC’s Titans 

This DC Universe television series has been filmed in the Kingston Pen twice over the years. In 2019, they shot season two, episode 10, showing the main character Dick Grayson become incarcerated at the “Kane County Correctional Facility.” For the episode, they replaced over 80 windows in the Kingston Pen boiler room. They also ran more than 100 metres of fence across the yard to make it look authentic (which they then donated to the Kingston Pen). In 2022, they came back to shoot season four, episodes three and four, for 20 days, where the Kingston Pen was depicted as the fictional “Bludhaven Penitentiary,” while using the basement and workshop dome for asylum scenes.  

Where to watch: Netflix (Season 2, episode 10 and Season 4, episodes 3 and 4) 

“The Butcher’s Knife Cares Not for the Lamb’s Cry” Episode 104. Pictured: Sonequa Martin-Green as First Officer Michael Burnham. Photo Credit: Jan Thijs/CBS © 2017 CBS Interactive. All Rights Reserved.

Star Trek: Discovery  

The world of Star Trek touched down at the Kingston Pen in December of 2019 to shoot the series, Star Trek: Discovery. The show required a scene with ancient step-wells, and the Kingston Pen fit the bill. The double staircase and walkway around the limestone walls of the penitentiary workshop dome was the perfect location for the scene. Local contractors supported the production’s efforts to transform the space into a sci-fi world.  

Where to watch: Prime Video + Paramount, Apple TV (Season 3, episode 11)   

Movie poster for The Lost Symbol
Film poster for Dan Brown’s The Lost Symbol.

Dan Brown’s The Lost Symbol

The Kingston Pen hosted NBC Universal Pictures for the filming of Dan Brown’s The Lost Symbol in 2021. The crew filmed on location for 14 days to capture the scenes for the last episode of season one. The series is a mix of action, adventure, mystery, and thriller, with the main character, Robert Langdon, on the hunt for his mentor when he goes missing. See if you can spot the limestone walls of the Kingston Pen in the background of season one, episode 10.  

Where to watch: Amazon Prime Video + STACKTV (Season 1, episode 10) 

Angel Three

The spy thriller Angel Three was entirely filmed in Kingston in 2022. The film portrays the main character, Sophie, as an agent in East Berlin in the 1980s who needs to guide a witness and a priceless document to the West. The production required the Kingston Pen cells for some scenes, but most of the film was shot in a studio set up inside the Pen by Visual Menace, a local design and fabrication company available to productions shooting in the area. The film was shot for 12 days in the Kingston Pen and used 16 local crew on set.  

Where to watch: coming summer or fall 2023 

“Alias Grace” Day 61/65 Photo Credit: Jan Thijs 2016.

Alias Grace 

Based on the Margaret Atwood novel and actual 19th-century events, this 2017 Canadian miniseries follows Grace Marks, a former domestic servant incarcerated at the Kingston Pen in the 1840s for the murder of her employer and his housekeeper. The Kingston Pen was a backdrop for the prison scenes. Across the street, Canada’s Penitentiary Museum was used as the warden’s house (which is what the building was used for in the 1800s). King Street, the street running in front of the Kingston Pen, was closed for several days while it was transformed to match the mid-1800s setting of the story.  

Where to watch: CBC Gem, Netflix 

Scene from Murdoch Mysteries Season 13, episode 14 shot at the Kingston Penitentiary.

Murdoch Mysteries 

The Kingston Pen gets a few mentions throughout this beloved CBC police procedural series, but in season 13, episode 14, it gets most of the attention. Filmed in September 2019, the plot of “Rigid Silence” has Detective Murdoch and Dr. Ogden visit Kingston to investigate an inmate’s suspicious suicide at Kingston Penitentiary. The episode is centred around the Kingston Pen but also features scenes at Springer Market Square and Kingston City Hall.  

Where to watch: CBC Gem, Apple TV (Season 13, episode 14 and Season 15, episodes 1 and 2) 


To learn more about shows and films shot at the Kingston Pen and other notable Kingston locations, take a self-guided film walking tour around the city.