Points of Interest > Don Jail

Designed by architect William Thomas in the Renaissance Revival style, the Don Jail was the largest prison in North America when it opened in 1864. With its central rotunda and designated spaces for education and inspection, the jail's design reflected the progressive ideals of mid-nineteenth century penal reform. Located outside the city limits at the time of its construction, the jail facilities included a farm where inmates grew potatoes, peas, and other crops. Among the jail's first prisoners were participants in the Fenian Raids of the 1860s.

don jail
Don Jail, c.1949. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244, Item 1152

In the early 1940s, members of the infamous Boyd Gang of bank robbers escaped from the jail on two separate occasions (and were in both cases recaptured). The story of the Boyd Gang's escape was the subject of the first news report on the CBC English television network, anchored by Lorne Greene. See a video clip from that broadcast at: CBC Archives.

The Don Jail was also the site of Canada's last hangings. On 11 December 1962, Ronald Turpin and Arthur Lucas were the last of the 70 men hanged at the prison before capital punishment was abolished in Canada.

Newer facilities were constructed on an adjacent site in the 1950s, and the original Don Jail closed in 1977. In March 2002 both the historic and the newer jail were sold to the Riverdale Hospital (now Bridgepoint Health Centre); the 1864 building will be retained as part of the Health Centre's development plans. The Don Jail remains one of the few pre-Confederation buildings that are still intact in Toronto. [2]

Text: Jennifer Bonnell


Sewell, John. "The Benefits of Local Jailing." Eye Weekly, February 17, 2005. http://www.eye.net/eye/issue/issue_02.17.05/city/citystate.html

City of Toronto By-law No. 410-2000, July 6, 2000. "To designate the property at 550 Gerrard Street East (Don Jail) as being of architectural and historical value or interest." www.toronto.ca/legdocs/bylaws/2000/law0410.pdf

"Gang's second jailbreak becomes CBC's first TV news story." The CBC Digital Archives Website. Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. Last updated: 24 Jan. 2003. archives.cbc.ca/society/crime_justice/topics/543/ [Accessed 26 March 2009.]




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