Old Don Jail – Toronto’s Intimidating & Imposing Prison on the Hill

Posted:

2019 - Looking northeast towards the Old Don Jail, now Hennick Bridgeport Hospital Administration Building
2019 – Looking northeast towards the Old Don Jail, now Hennick Bridgeport Hospital Administration Building

The Old Don Jail, today the Hennick Bridgepoint Hospital Administration Building, is located at ‪550 Gerrard St E‬ (at Broadview Ave) in the North Riverdale neighbourhood of Toronto.

Scadding Family Homestead

In 1856, the City of Toronto purchased the northern half of the Scadding family property. The 119 acres of land were bounded by Gerrard St E, the Don River, a line south of Danforth Ave and Broadview Ave. Then just beyond the City limits, the property was purchased to establish a hospice, industrial farm and a jail.

Construction Delays

Taking five years to build, the Don Jail opened in 1864. Construction was delayed due to the death of head architect William Thomas in 1860 and a significant fire in 1862. The imposing structure was, at the time, located on a hill just outside the city limits. The Renaissance Revival-style building was designed to look intimidating. Mr Thomas also designed other Toronto landmarks, including St Michael’s Cathedral Basilica and St Lawrence Hall.

The Architecture and Life at the Old Don Jail

April 1973 - The Don Jail
April 1973 – The Don Jail (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 124, File 3, Item ID 13)

The 4-storey centre block is flanked by 3.5-storey east and west wings. Some of the brick and stone structures’ features include iron, wood and stone trim, a hipped roof, gables and an arched entrance flanked by banded columns. The tall entrance doors with Father Time above cast its gaze down, daunting those that passed beneath.

The jail, Toronto’s fourth, attempted to provide an appropriate setting that embodied the progressive ideas of prison reform. Some of the original 180 cells only measured 1×3 m or 3×10 ft, and since the cells had no plumbing, a bucket was supplied for bathroom use. The governor’s quarters were later converted to cells bringing the total number of cells to 220. Overcrowding was often an issue at the jail.

The walls around the yard were towering, 5.5 m or 18 ft high. Inmates worked a farm behind the prison, now Riverdale Park East. Two 20-minute visits were permitted each week.

In 1962, the last two people executed in Canada were Ronald Turpin and Arthur Lucas. They were hanged at the Old Don Jail. Over the years, there had been over 70 executions at its gallows.

In 1973, the older portion of the Don Jail received heritage status and was closed four years later.

Haunted Tales

The notorious building is said to be haunted by many ghosts. They include those who have been executed, murdered or committed suicide. One such spirit is that of a female inmate who hanged herself in her cell in the late 1800s when the west wing of the jail was for women prisoners. It’s rumoured that her unfriendly apparition has been seen in the central rotunda. Click for more haunted tales.

Hennick Bridgepoint Hospital

2021 - Looking northeast from Gerrard St E towards the Bridgepoint Active Healthcare and the Old Don Jail
2021 – Looking northeast from Gerrard St E towards the Bridgepoint Active Healthcare and the Old Don Jail

Today, the administrative offices for Hennick Bridgepoint Hospital now occupy the space of the historic Old Don Jail. Visitors can find many plaques detailing the site’s history when walking around the significant property.

Did You Know?

  • York’s first jail was located on the south side of King St E, between Toronto and Victoria St, from 1798 to 1824. It’s on the site of the present-day King Edward Hotel.
  • From 1824 until 1840, the second jail was located on the northeast corner of King St E and Toronto St.
  • Toronto’s third jail was on the south side of Front St E between Berkeley and Parliament Sts from 1840 to 1860s.
  • In the 19th century, the word “jail” was spelled the British way, “gaol.” They are both pronounced “jail.”
  • The Scadding family were early settlers of York. The Scadding Cabin is the oldest known structure in Toronto.
  • In 1958, the east wing, known as the Metropolitan Toronto Jail, was added. This section of the jail housed inmates until 2013. It was demolished by the following year, and today is green space.
  • In 1973, the older portion of the Don Jail received heritage status.
  • In 2007, the skeletal remains of 15 people interred behind the Old Don Jail were unearthed. They were those of prisoners sent to the jail’s gallows.

Old Don Jail Photos

1949 or 1950 - Looking northeast towards the centre block and the entrance of the Don Jail located at ‪550 Gerrard St E‬ and Broadview Ave in the Riverdale neighbourhood of Toronto
1949 or 1950 – Looking northeast towards the centre block and the entrance of the Don Jail located at ‪550 Gerrard St E‬ and Broadview Ave in the Riverdale neighbourhood of Toronto (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244, Item 1152)
2019 - Looking northeast towards the Old Don Jail, now Hennick Bridgeport Hospital Administration Building
2019 – Looking northeast towards the Old Don Jail, now Hennick Bridgeport Hospital Administration Building
September 11, 1923 – Looking northeast with the Don Jail in the distance
September 11, 1923 – Looking northeast with the Don Jail in the distance (City of Toronto Archives, Series 372, Sub Series 70, Item 133)
2022 - Looking north towards the Old Don Jail
2022 – Looking north towards the Old Don Jail
September 19, 1923 - An aerial view looking northeast towards the construction of the Gerrard Street Bridge. Notice the Don Jail in the upper right background
September 19, 1923 – An aerial view looking northeast towards the construction of the Gerrard Street Bridge. Notice the Don Jail in the upper right background (City of Toronto Archives, Series 372, Sub Series 27, Item 430)
2022 - Looking southwest towards the Hennick Bridgepoint Hospital and the back of the Old Don Jail, which today is the hospital's administration building
2022 – Looking southwest towards the Hennick Bridgepoint Hospital and the back of the Old Don Jail, which today is the hospital’s administration building
November 20, 1923 – Looking east from the Gerrard St E Bridge with the Don Jail on the left in the distance
November 20, 1923 – Looking east from the Gerrard St E Bridge with the Don Jail on the left in the distance (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 16, Series 71, Item 2779)
February 25, 2024 - Looking east from the Gerrard Street Bridge with the Old Don Jail on the left
February 25, 2024 – Looking east from the Gerrard Street Bridge with the Old Don Jail on the left
2020 - Centre block and entrance of the Old Don Jail, now Bridgepoint Active Healthcare administrative offices
2020 – Centre block and entrance of the Old Don Jail, now Bridgepoint Active Healthcare administrative offices
May 4, - 1915 - The Don Jail with "Toronto Gaol" sign
May 4, – 1915 – The Don Jail with “Toronto Gaol” sign (City of Toronto Archives, Series 372, Sub Series 58, Item 449)
2022 - Looking northeast towards the front of the Old Don Jail, which today is the hospital's administration building
2022 – Looking northeast towards the front of the Old Don Jail, which today is the hospital’s administration building
November 4, 1951 – Don Jail at Night
November 4, 1951 – Don Jail at Night (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1266, Item 145216)‬‬
2022 - Looking northeast towards the Hennick Bridgepoint Hospital at 1 Bridgepoint Dr, and the Old Don Jail at 550 Gerrard St E
2022 – Looking northeast towards the Hennick Bridgepoint Hospital at 1 Bridgepoint Dr, and the Old Don Jail at 550 Gerrard St E
September 8, 1952 - Mayor Allan Lamport enters the Don Jail after a jailbreak
September 8, 1952 – Mayor Allan Lamport enters the Don Jail after a jailbreak (City of Toronto Archives, Globe and Mail Fonds, Fonds 1266, Item 148252)
2021 - Father Time keystone over the entrance of the Old Don Jail
2021 – Father Time keystone over the entrance of the Old Don Jail
September 17, 1952 - The Boyd Gang being escorted to City Hall from the Don Jail
September 17, 1952 – The Boyd Gang being escorted to City Hall from the Don Jail (City of Toronto Archives, Globe and Mail Fonds, Fonds 1266, Item 148365)
September 18, 1952  - Replacing a door with a steel gate after a jailbreak at the Don Jail
September 18, 1952 – Replacing a door with a steel gate after a jailbreak at the Don Jail (City of Toronto Archives, Globe and Mail Fonds, Fonds 1266, Item 148379)
2022 - Bars on the windows at the Old Don Jail
2022 – Bars on the windows at the Old Don Jail
September 18, 1952  - Mervin Noble installs bars after a jailbreak at the Don Jail
September 18, 1952 – Mervin Noble installs bars after a jailbreak at the Don Jail (City of Toronto Archives, Globe and Mail Fonds, Fonds 1266, Item 148380)
2021 - Bars on a window at the Old Don Jail
2021 – Bars on a window at the Old Don Jail
2020 – The front entrance of the Old Don Jail
2020 – The front entrance of the Old Don Jail
2022 - Looking southwest towards the back of the Old Don Jail
2022 – Looking southwest towards the back of the Old Don Jail
September 18, 1952 - Major John Foote inspecting a cell door after a jailbreak at the Don Jail
September 18, 1952 – Major John Foote inspecting a cell door after a jailbreak at the Don Jail (City of Toronto Archives, Globe and Mail Fonds, Fonds 1266, Item 148381)
2022 - Top of the rotunda, along with the skylights and barred windows at the Old Don Jail
2022 – Top of the rotunda, along with the skylights and barred windows at the Old Don Jail
September 18, 1952  - A cell at the Don Jail
September 18, 1952 – A cell at the Don Jail (City of Toronto Archives, Globe and Mail Fonds, Fonds 1266, Item 148383)
2022 - Bars on a window of the Old Don Jail
2022 – Bars on a window of the Old Don Jail
2020 - Looking southwest towards the back of the Old Don Jail
2020 – Looking southwest towards the back of the Old Don Jail
September 17, 1952 - Back of the Don Jail
September 17, 1952 – Back of the Don Jail (City of Toronto Archives, Globe and Mail Fonds, Fonds 1266, Item 148378)
2021 - Looking southwest towards the back of the Old Don Jail
2021 – Looking southwest towards the back of the Old Don Jail
April 1973 - The Don Jail
April 1973 – The Don Jail (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 124, File 3, Item ID 13)
2021 - Looking northeast from Gerrard St E towards the Bridgepoint Active Healthcare and the Old Don Jail
2021 – Looking northeast from Gerrard St E towards the Bridgepoint Active Healthcare and the Old Don Jail
October 30, 2008 - Police officer Peter Spurling on police horse Kingston at the Don Jail
October 30, 2008 – Police officer Peter Spurling on police horse Kingston at the Don Jail (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 540, Item 222)
2021 – From left to right are the Old Don Jail, St John's Presbyterian Church (with the tower), the Governor's House and the Gatekeeper's House
2021 – From left to right are the Old Don Jail, St John’s Presbyterian Church (with the tower), the Governor’s House and the Gatekeeper’s House
2023 - Father Time keystone over the entrance of the Old Don Jail
2023 – Father Time keystone over the entrance of the Old Don Jail
2022 – The back of the Old Don Jail
2022 – The back of the Old Don Jail
2019 – The Old Don Jail, now Hennick Bridgeport Hospital Administration Building
2019 – The Old Don Jail, now Hennick Bridgeport Hospital Administration Building
April 2009 -  Looking northwest from Broadview Ave and Jack Layton Way towards the east wing of the Old Don Jail, known as the Metropolitan Toronto Jail. This portion of the jail was constructed in 1958 and housed inmates until 2013. It was demolished by the following year, and today is green space
April 2009 – Looking northwest from Broadview Ave and Jack Layton Way towards the east wing of the Old Don Jail, known as the Metropolitan Toronto Jail. This portion of the jail was constructed in 1958 and housed inmates until 2013. It was demolished by the following year, and today is green space (Google Maps)
2023 - The heritage plaque reads:

The Don Jail
1859-1865

“The Don Jail is one of Toronto's most important mid-nineteenth-century public buildings. Located on a hill then outside City boundaries, it was constructed with exacting craftsmanship according to the plans of William Thomas, Toronto architect and designer of other landmarks such as the St. Lawrence Hall and St. Michael's Cathedral. Even though some cells measured only 1 by 3 metres, the Don Jail embodied progressive ideas of penal reform. It was once the largest prison of its kind in North America, and included a farm (now largely Riverdale Park) worked by prisoners. The building's Renaissance Revival style made the jail appear suitably intimidating. Seventy executions took place at its gallows including the last in Canada on December 11, 1962. After 113 years, the Don Jail building was closed as a prison in 1977 - the east wing, completed in 1958, continued to serve as a Toronto jail. This plaque was erected with the support of the Riverdale Historical Society.”

Designated under the Ontario Heritage Act, 2000 
Heritage Toronto 2006
2023 – The heritage plaque reads:

The Don Jail
1859-1865

“The Don Jail is one of Toronto’s most important mid-nineteenth-century public buildings. Located on a hill then outside City boundaries, it was constructed with exacting craftsmanship according to the plans of William Thomas, Toronto architect and designer of other landmarks such as the St. Lawrence Hall and St. Michael’s Cathedral. Even though some cells measured only 1 by 3 metres, the Don Jail embodied progressive ideas of penal reform. It was once the largest prison of its kind in North America, and included a farm (now largely Riverdale Park) worked by prisoners. The building’s Renaissance Revival style made the jail appear suitably intimidating. Seventy executions took place at its gallows including the last in Canada on December 11, 1962. After 113 years, the Don Jail building was closed as a prison in 1977 – the east wing, completed in 1958, continued to serve as a Toronto jail. This plaque was erected with the support of the Riverdale Historical Society.”

Designated under the Ontario Heritage Act, 2000
Heritage Toronto 2006 2006
2021 – The Governor's House at the old Don Jail was built in 1888
2021 – The Governor’s House at the old Don Jail was built in 1888
2021 - Looking northwest towards the Governor's House and the Old Don Jail
2021 – Looking northwest towards the Governor’s House and the Old Don Jail
2020 – The Governor's House, built in 1888 located at 550 Gerrard St E in Hubbard Park. Hubbard Park in Toronto honours William Peyton Hubbard, who was the city's first elected black politician. Mr Hubbard was born to parents who escaped slavery in America on the Underground Railroad. He was elected as an alderman in 1894 and later served as acting mayor
2020 – The Governor’s House, built in 1888 located at 550 Gerrard St E . Hubbard Park in Toronto honours William Peyton Hubbard, who was the city’s first elected black politician. Mr Hubbard was born to parents who escaped slavery in America on the Underground Railroad. He was elected as an alderman in 1894 and later served as acting mayor
2023 - The heritage plaque reads:

Governor's House 1888

" From 1888 until 1968, this was the residence of the Don Jail's governor (chief administrator). Until this house was finished, the governor lived in an apartment in the central administration block of the jail. Designed by architect Mancel Wilmot, this house features a shallow pitched roof with a front-facing gable and double-height bay window that are typical of Toronto's late-19th-century residential architecture."

Produced with the Riverdale Historical Society 
Designated under the Ontario Heritage Act, 2000 
Heritage Toronto 2013
2023 – The heritage plaque reads:

Governor’s House 1888

“From 1888 until 1968, this was the residence of the Don Jail’s governor (chief administrator). Until this house was finished, the governor lived in an apartment in the central administration block of the jail. Designed by architect Mancel Wilmot, this house features a shallow pitched roof with a front-facing gable and double-height bay window that are typical of Toronto’s late-19th-century residential architecture.”

Produced with the Riverdale Historical Society
Designated under the Ontario Heritage Act, 2000
Heritage Toronto 2013
2021 - The Gate Keeper's House and the Old Don Jail
2021 – The Gate Keeper’s House and the Old Don Jail
2021 – The Gatekeeper's House at the old Don Jail was built in 1865
2021 – The Gatekeeper’s House at the old Don Jail was built in 1865
2023 - The heritage plaque reads: Gatekeeper's House 1865 "Following the opening of the Don Jail in 1864, this building accommodated the jail's gatekeeper and, later, its deputy governor. It features a mansard roof with dormers on the west façade." Produced with the Riverdale Historical Society Designated under the Ontario Heritage Act, 2000 Heritage Toronto 2013
2023 – The heritage plaque reads:

Gatekeeper’s House 1865

“Following the opening of the Don Jail in 1864, this building accommodated the jail’s gatekeeper and, later, its deputy governor. It features a mansard roof with dormers on the west façade.”

Produced with the Riverdale Historical Society
Designated under the Ontario Heritage Act, 2000
Heritage Toronto 2013
1885 - Demolition of Toronto's third jail (1840 to 1860), once located on the south side of Front St E between Berkeley St and Parliament St
1885 – Demolition of Toronto’s third jail (1840 to 1860), once located on the south side of Front St E between Berkeley St and Parliament St (Toronto Public Library R-4522)
Between 1840 to 1860 - Sketch of Toronto's third jail (1840 to 1860), once located on the south side of Front St E between Berkeley St and Parliament St
Between 1840 to 1860 – Sketch of Toronto’s third jail (1840 to 1860), once located on the south side of Front St E between Berkeley St and Parliament St (Toronto Public Library R-4518)
January 21, 2024 - The heritage plaque reads:

On This Site

"Be of good courage boys. I am not ashamed of anything I've done, I trust in God, and I'm going to die like a man." - - Samuel Lount.


 "On April 24, 1824 the cornerstone of York's second jail was laid on this site. In the aftermath of the Rebellion of 1837 close to ten thousand people stood on this spot to bear witness as Samuel Lount and Peter Matthews, two of William Lyon Mackenzie's most loyal supporters, were hanged on April 12, 1838 on gallows adjacent to the jail. By 1840 a new prison, the Home District Gaol, was set to open on Berkeley Street and the old jail was to be incorporated into the York Chambers Building which stood until 1956. The last hangings in Toronto were at the Don Jail in 1962."

A Bruce Bell History Project 2003
Donated by Standard Life Assurance of Canada
The plaque is located at the southeast corner of Toronto St and Court St
January 21, 2024 – The heritage plaque reads:

On This Site

“Be of good courage boys. I am not ashamed of anything I’ve done, I trust in God, and I’m going to die like a man.” – – Samuel Lount.

“On April 24, 1824 the cornerstone of York’s second jail was laid on this site. In the aftermath of the Rebellion of 1837 close to ten thousand people stood on this spot to bear witness as Samuel Lount and Peter Matthews, two of William Lyon Mackenzie’s most loyal supporters, were hanged on April 12, 1838 on gallows adjacent to the jail. By 1840 a new prison, the Home District Gaol, was set to open on Berkeley Street and the old jail was to be incorporated into the York Chambers Building which stood until 1956. The last hangings in Toronto were at the Don Jail in 1962.”

A Bruce Bell History Project 2003
Donated by Standard Life Assurance of Canada
The plaque is located at the southeast corner of Toronto St and Court St
1835 - Sketch of Toronto's second jail (1824 to 1840), once located on the northeast corner of King St E and Toronto St
1835 – Sketch of Toronto’s second jail (1824 to 1840), once located on the northeast corner of King St E and Toronto St (Toronto Public Library R-269)
Between 1800 and 1824 - Sketch of York's first jail (1798 to mid-1820s) at the southwest corner of King St E and Leader Lane
Between 1800 and 1824 – Sketch of York’s first jail (1798 to mid-1820s) at the southwest corner of King St E and Leader Lane (Landmarks of Toronto Volume 1 by J Ross Robertson)
2023 - The heritage plaque reads: 

On This Site, York's First Jail 

"In 1798, the Town of York (now Toronto) erected its first jail and hanging yard on this site. Also known as 'the old log gaol,' it was still standing when York opened a newer jail in 1827 (demolished 1960) on the NE corner of King and Toronto Streets. The first person to be executed here was John Sullivan on October 11, 1798, convicted of stealing a forged note worth about one dollar."

This plaque was donated by Le Royal Meridien King Edward Hotel
A Bruce Bell History Project 2005 
The plaque is located at the southwest corner of King St W and Leader Lane
2023 – The heritage plaque reads:

On This Site, York’s First Jail

“In 1798, the Town of York (now Toronto) erected its first jail and hanging yard on this site. Also known as ‘the old log gaol,’ it was still standing when York opened a newer jail in 1827 (demolished 1960) on the NE corner of King and Toronto Streets. The first person to be executed here was John Sullivan on October 11, 1798, convicted of stealing a forged note worth about one dollar.”

This plaque was donated by Le Royal Meridien King Edward Hotel
A Bruce Bell History Project 2005
The plaque is located at the southwest corner of King St W and Leader Lane
SOURCE

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Stay Connected

24,073FollowersFollow
103FollowersFollow
8,850FollowersFollow