Often referred to as the ‘prison capital’ of Canada, Kingston is home to 7 different prisons and institutions. One of the most notorious of these seven is the now shut down Kingston Penitentiary often referred to as KP or Kingston Penn. When we visited Kingston in the summer, we got the chance to visit the penitentiary and to learn all about the history of the prison. Tours are available throughout much of the year and brings visitors inside the walls of this infamous penitentiary. For this blog post I’ll be sharing with you a few photos from our visit here as well as some information if ever you’re looking into exploring the penitentiary for yourself.
History of the Penitentiary
Formerly operating under the name Provincial Penitentiary, the prison opened its doors on June 1st, 1835 and was considered to be a maximum security prison housing dangerous criminals convicted of crimes ranging from robbery and assault to rape and murder. The penitentiary was in business for over 150 years and soon became one of the oldest prisons in use in the world and was also known to house some of the most notorious inmates in the country. Not only were there infamous male inmates, there were also separate areas at the penitentiary used to house the women and children inmates accused of committing their own crimes. The penitentiary also saw its fair share of action during its 178 years of operation which included both inmate escapes and violent riots. The worst riot and one that was highly talked about during the tour was the riot of the 1970’s. Close to 500 inmates rioted and took over the prison for a total of four days due to lack of recreational time and resulted in large portions of the prison being destroyed, six prison guards were taken hostage, 11 inmates were badly injured, and two prisoners were killed. Due to the riots, the infamous inmates, and the escape attempts, Kingston Penn quickly got the attention of people around the country which led to the prison often being referred to as the Alcatraz of Canada. On the 30th of September 2013, the Kingston Penitentiary officially closed its doors after close to 180 years of operation mainly due to the cost of upkeeping the prison. At the time of it’s closure, the prison held between 300 and 500 inmates who were all transferred to different facilities, mainly to Millhaven, which is another prison located about 30 minutes away from Kingston. Today the prison is recognized as a Natural Historic Site of Canada and since opening up to the public, has attracted hundreds upon hundreds of tourists from around the country each year.
Starting in 2016 after three years of being shut down, the Kingston Penitentiary re-opened its doors but this time it was for those wanting to get a glimpse of the prison rather than for convicted criminals. Tours started that year and were met with huge success with over 60,000 people reported to have gone on the tour which generated about $5 million in revenue. Because of this success and the high demand of these tours, a tip if you are planning on making the trip to the Kingston Penn, is to buy your tickets ahead of time as they are available on a first come first serve basis and tend to sell out quickly. The penitentiary offers guided tours between the beginning of May up until the end of October and are offered basically every day of the week. Times and days may vary however depending on the season and the time of the year so be to sure to refer to the schedule on the website beforehand. There are two different types of tours available and include the standard 90 minute tour as well as a premium tour which lasts for two and a half hours. Prices also depend on the type of tour that you chose to do with the standard tour being $35 per person and the premium tour being $55 per person. The tour around the penitentiary consists of being brought around the grounds of the prison to different areas including the inside of the cells, visitation area, workshop, recreation yard, among other areas. Visitors will also get the chance to learn about the history of the prison as well as hear testimonies from former employees of the penitentiary. For the premium tour, visitors will be brought around to the same areas as the standard tour along with a few other exclusive areas such as the school and the hospital. For those driving to the prison it should also be noted that there is a large parking area available beside the Kingston Penn free of charge for your convenience.
The Kingston Penitentiary is probably one of the more popular tourist attractions in Kingston but also for good reason. This was one of our last major activities planned for our trip here and though I found the price to be a bit steep, it was worth every penny. Touring through the penitentiary really opens up your eyes to a whole different way of life that you may not have been previously familiar with and to not only learn about the prison from our tour guide but also from former employees of Kingston Penn, really made the experience even better. I would highly recommend checking this place out if ever you’re in the area and I’m already excited to go back one day and do the premium tour to go even further into the prison. Also be sure to check out the Penitentiary Museum found right across the street from KP to learn more in depth about some of the inmates that called this place home, as well as to see some exhibits of items taken from the penitentiary.
For more information or to plan your own trip here, be sure to check out the Kingston Penitentiary website for all of the details.