What to Expect on Your Kingston Penitentiary Tour in 2020

By Jordan Whitehouse

Now that Kingston has been allowed to advance to stage three of Ontario’s reopening plan, some of the city’s most popular attractions are resuming operations — including Kingston Pen Tours (July 23 – October 31).    

But it’s not quite touring as usual at Canada’s oldest and most notorious maximum-security prison, which officially closed in 2013 and opened to the public in 2015

While there are still two tours on offer this year, groups are limited to 15 people for the 1.5-hour standard tour ($35) and 10 people for the 2.5-hour extended tour ($80). There is also screening of visitors upon arrival, physical distancing and face mask requirements, and lots of regular cleaning happening everywhere.    

In other words, basically what people should be used to at this point in many public settings, says Vinnie Rebelo, the manager of Kingston Pen Tours. “I’d be surprised if someone visited and was shocked to see what we’ve done or what we’re asking.”  

Upon Arrival

When you arrive at Kingston Pen’s foreboding north gate, you’ll be met by a staff member behind a plexiglass partition who will check you in if you’ve bought tickets online or direct you to the box office to purchase tickets (preferably via debit or credit) 

You’re encouraged to buy tickets online in advance and arrive no earlier than 15 minutes prior to your booked tour time, says Rebelo

“We also encourage them to bring their own masks and their own hand sanitizer if they wish,” he addsWe have hand sanitizer and soap in bathrooms and in various locations throughout, but people might be more comfortable using their own products.” 

You’ll also be required to self-assess your health before your tour begins and be asked not to visit if there is any possibility that you may have contracted or have come into contact with COVID-19.  

Physical Distancing  

When it’s time to step behind the massive limestone walls to start your tour, remember to put on your face mask and keep two metres between yourself and your fellow group members — unless they’re part of your bubble, of course.   

Once inside, you’ll likely notice ropes, barricades, and dots and painted lines on the ground. Those are there to help you keep your distance from staff, each other, and other groups.   

“Again, we’re all used to seeing this kind of stuff,” says Rebelo. “None of it should be new anyone.” 

And if it is new, not to worry, says RebeloStaff are very cognizant of physical distancing rules, and will be happy to educate you if needed.  

Extra Cleaning

Although Kingston Pen was built over 185 years ago, you may be surprised to see how spotless it isExtensive cleaning protocols have been put in place throughout the site, and washrooms are cleaned even more regularly than normal.  

“We were already doing that cleaning frequently in past years because it was just a good thing to do,” says Rebelo. “But now because the groups will be smaller, it will be even easier to get in there and do all of that cleaning that’s required.” 

Staff are also scrubbing any touch points that might not have been cleaned as extensively in the past, adds Rebelo, including all railings and door handles.    

Most of the entryways are open, however, so you should be able to walk through the facility without having to open or close any doors.  

Tour Details

As for the tours themselves, nothing has really changed from last year, says Rebelo. “If anything, we’ve adjusted the route a little bit in order to accommodate the groups and the sizes, and we’ve deviated the tour routes a little bit to give people more space and room.  

The standard Kingston Pen Tour runs 1.5 hours and takes you to a cell range, the Indigenous Grounds, and the Regional Treatment Centre’s Gymnasium, which features a mural dedicated to the inmates and staff of Kingston Pen. Other stops include the north gate, programs wing, main cell dome, segregation wing, shop dome, metal shop, and recreational yard.  

The 2.5-hour extended tour includes most of the stops on the standard tour and additional ones, including the canvas repair and upholstery workshop, laundry room, main gymnasium, and hospital. You’ll also get to interact more personally with retired service agents and learn even more about the historical, architectural, and criminological context of the penitentiary  

Tours are also available in French and American Sign Language, as well as for those with vision loss or mobility issues.    

For more details and to purchase tickets online, head to kingstonpentour.com