Kingston Penitentiary: What’s New in 2021

By Emily Coppella

Kingston Pen Tours have opened for the 2021 season, and if you think you’ve seen all that “the Pen” has to offer, you might want to think again. Kingston Penitentiary (KP) has expanded their offering from the Standard and Extended tours to include two new experiences: the Architectural Tour and Film Tour.

When visiting, keep in mind that KP has implemented a variety of safety guidelines. Guest numbers are limited, so it’s recommended that you book your visit ahead of time online. Guests will also have to self-assess their health, keep a physical distance of two metres from others, and wear face masks while indoors. Plan to arrive no earlier than 15 minutes before your scheduled tour time and come prepared for possible weather conditions as some of these tours take place outdoors.

Read on to discover what makes these updated experiences KP is offering in its sixth season so captivating.

Kingston Pen Standard Tour

Prepare to be taken back in time as you wander through Canada’s oldest penitentiary. Your knowledgeable and approachable tour guide will lead you through what was one of the world’s most notorious, maximum-security prisons. You’ll be treated to first-hand accounts and stories from former KP prison guards along the way. Their knowledge and decades of experience at this iconic institution truly makes this tour come alive. You can listen to stories about what it was like to enter the “range” – the hallways lined with cells – or take up watch from the Dome, a heavily fortified control centre built in the mid 1800s to link KP’s four main cell blocks together.

Between pitstops where you’ll listen to former staff members, you’ll stroll through various buildings – each with unique histories that your guide will highlight. Be prepared to hear a little bit about everything. From visitation protocols to the three different inmate riots (1932, 1954, and 1971), you’ll hear a variety of incredible stories as you tour a site dating back to the 1830s.


If you’re looking for a tour that captures some building history, escape stories, and an overview of the life of a prisoner or guard at KP, this is the tour for you. Feel free to come with questions because your tour guide will be more than happy to answer or direct you to another resource.

Kingston Pen Architectural Tour


If you want a more “foundational” approach to the history of Kingston Pen, embark on the Architectural tour where you’ll get lost in buildings predating Canada’s confederation in 1867. Your guide will lead you around and inside the limestone buildings – 80% of which were built by prisoners – to spaces you won’t get to see on the standard tour. This tour focuses more on the Pen’s architectural history than prison life or escape stories. You won’t miss the major highlights of the standard tour though, as much of the Pen’s history is linked to the physical structure itself, such as the destruction that occurred during the three riots.

You’ll discover exactly how KP fits the Classical Revival style of architecture. With a helpful viewbook you can also follow along with original design plans and take a closer look at the stylistic details you might miss on a standard tour. Did you know that the North Gate at the front of the Pen was built in a way that ensures sunlight never shines directly on it?


By diving into the history of KP’s buildings you’ll also learn about the religious foundations of the prison’s design as well as the design philosophy that was thought to promote “healthy” values in inmates. Get ready to be captivated by centuries-old, smooth limestone and the craft used in prison labour. This tour has been constructed as a great standalone experience – but you can also use it to build on what you learn at the other tours.


Kingston Pen Film Tour 

Get your popcorn ready because this is one show you don’t want to miss. While big movie buffs will enjoy this experience, it’s a showstopper for anyone intrigued by the filmmaking process. Your guide will highlight iconic productions that have been made at the Pen by taking you to exact locations and showing you those spaces mirrored in movie, tv show, and music video clips along the way. You’ll be let in on the filming secrets behind well-known productions such as Titans, Alias Grace, and Murdoch Mysteries while learning about some more obscure productions for your next movie night too.


While KP’s grounds continue to be star-studded today, this tour also explores the broader history of Canadian and Kingston filmmaking. Did you know that Dan Aykroyd is often spotted at Springer Market Square? You’ll also learn more about the various roles and departments in the film industry. Have you ever watched a movie where an actor was holding a cup of coffee and after one shot it suddenly disappeared? That’s the script supervisor’s job: to ensure continuity on film. These tidbits of information about filmmaking – including a peek at CGI and how KP has been transformed for historical accuracy – add a fascinating element to this walking tour.


Expect to come away from this tour with a greater appreciation for the filmmaking process. Two weeks of filming on location can translate to only eight seconds on screen. You might also get a sneak peek at some “working” production sets on site. If you think just because you’ve seen the standard tour you’ve “seen it all,” you might be pleasantly surprised by this offering. It pulls back the curtain even more on the unique history and potential future of Kingston Pen.


Prepare for these tours by wearing walking shoes that are appropriate for uneven and outdoor spaces, as well as any clothing suitable for predicted weather conditions. There are chairs available at most of the stops along the tour.

While Kingston Pen tours have been missed, the long wait will be more than worth it once you attend one (or more) of these experiences. Whether you’ve checked out KP many times or you’re a first-time visitor, each tour will allow you to experience the Pen in a unique way. No matter which tour you choose, you’ll be exploring the exterior and interior of what was once one of the world’s oldest prisons in continuous use. For more information on planning your visit and ticket purchases, visit the Kingston Pen website.