Don Jail

Don Jail

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The current Don Jail building

The current Don Jail building

Canadian Prisons
Don Jail
Location: Toronto, Ontario
Status: Operational
Classification: Short Term (Remand)
Capacity: 550
Opened: 1858 (current facility completed in 1865 with later additions)
Managed by: Province of Ontario

The Toronto Jail (also known by the nickname The Don, or in the media as the The Don Jail for clarity) is a provincial jail for remanded offenders in the city of Toronto, Ontario, Canada. It is located in the Riverdale neighbourhood on Gerrard Street East near its intersection with Broadview Avenue. It gets its nickname for the nearby Don River. A likely reason for the popular use of the “Don” nickname is that this jail was the fourth to be known as the Toronto Jail.

The Toronto Jail was built between 1862 and 1865 (predating Canadian Confederation by two years) with most of the current jail facilities being built in the 1950s, although a jail has stood on the site since 1858. Designed by architect William Thomas in 1852, its distinctive façade in the Italianate style with a pedimented central pavilion and vermiculated columns flanking the main entrance portico is one of the architectural treasures of the city and one of very few pre-Confederation (1867) structures that remains intact in Toronto. For example, it is over thirty years older than Toronto’s Romanesque Old City Hall.

However, owing to its sturdy construction, its interior has gone largely unchanged in the last fifty years as renovations would be both difficult and expensive, even in an empty facility. As such, it is considered badly outdated as a prison facility. Originally constructed to house 275 prisoners, its “rated capacity” is now 550, and its average prisoner load is about 620. In addition, as a “short-term” jail, it was not designed with adequate visitor facilities, exercise areas, telephones, lawyer meeting rooms, showers, or even laundry facilities. However, the average stay is 30-90 days, and many prisoners are kept there for months. Many attempts have been made to close it as politicians, international human rights organizations, prisoner advocate groups and even prison guards have decried its overcrowding and inadequate facilities. However, despite several attempts to close the facility, it remains open primarily to deal with the large number of remand prisoners awaiting trial. It is often overburdened by a large number of arrested persons awaiting arraignment.

The original Don Jail building, now out of service

The original Don Jail building, now out of service

Courts have taken judicial notice of the deplorable conditions in “The Don” and judge Richard Schneider set a precedent of crediting persons serving time in the facility awaiting trial with three days for every day spent in the facility. The judge noted that the prison no longer met the minimum standards set by the United Nations. These conditions were also brought to light by a controversial article in the Toronto Star in which a reporter was smuggled into the prison by a sympathetic Member of Provincial Parliament, Dave Levac, MPP. Mr. Levac faced censure for bringing in the reporter, although as an MPP he had a right to free access to the facility.

It should be noted that the prison is only for remand prisoners, and it does not hold any persons actually found guilty of an offence.

The jail was the subject of the first ever television news report on the CBC Television English network when the Boyd Gang, a notorious group of bank robbers, broke out of the facility for the second time. The news anchor was future Bonanza star, Lorne Greene.

Before capital punishment was abolished in Canada, the Don was the site of a number of hangings. Starting with the execution of John Boyd in January 1908, hangings at the Don took place in an indoor chamber, which was a converted washroom, at the northeast corner of the old building. Previously, condemned men had been hanged on an outdoor scaffold in the jail yard. The indoor facility was seen as an improvement because outdoor executions were quasi-public – at the hanging of Fred Lee Rice in 1905, crowds had lined surrounding rooftops to see something of the spectacle – and because the condemned didn’t have to walk as far.

The best-known Canadian hangmen, such as John Radclive, Arthur Ellis and Camille Blanchard, hanged men at the Don at various times. The Toronto-based hangman Samuel Edwards, who worked during the Depression, carried out his first execution at the Don, in July, 1931.

26 men were hanged on the Don’s indoor gallows. The jail saw three double hangings: Roy Hotrum and William McFadden in August, 1921; Leonard Jackson and Steven Suchan in December, 1952; Ronald Turpin and Arthur Lucas on 11 December 1962. Turpin and Lucas had each been convicted in separate murder cases, and their executions were Canada’s last.

The jail is currently owned by Bridgepoint Health, which are retrofitting it to become part of the hospital. During the renovations human remains were found as part of an archaelogical assesment.

For the movie Cocktail (1988), starring Tom Cruise and Bryan Brown, the rotunda in the old section of the jail was redressed as an upscale New York nightclub.

Last Escape 1989


8 Responses

  1. I can’t say I miss it. I remember going to visit my Uncle Freddy (my Mom’s brother) It must have had some kind of impact on me. Who would have known that I would one day work there. I loved hearing all the stories about the old Don Jail and being able to tour it.
    What I do miss is working for Gerrard House (half way house) and all the great guys I met.
    I sure wouldn’t be the women I am today if it wasn’t for my experiences as a corrections officer.

  2. I am looking to volunteer at the Don. I have a correction worker diploma and have done my placement at the Don. Please advise if there are any volunteer positions open or otherwise. Thank you.


    Ann Gordon

  3. I was the youngest prisoner to escape from that rat hole in 1974 I was 16 then man time flys.

  4. As a first child, I was born in Montreal, Quebec in 1946, and named Y. Angela M. Stadnyk. A year later in Toronto my sister Leilani L.G. was born. We lived in the ‘Governor’s Mansion’ across the street from The Don Jail. My father John Stanley Stadnyk was a male nurse at the jail. I remember my mother handing me a bagged lunch which I walked across the street to hand to him. There was an iron door with a moveable window slot and my father once peered down from. My mother was named Mary Korotash from Manitoba. Then a brother John Richard (Dickie) and sister Constance Pamela D. Born in Winnipeg followed. The details of my father’s life and family were hidden from us. I am looking for information and my life reads as a tragic novel, all but true.

  5. anyone who knows Jimmy Benko write to

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