Don Jail

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Don Jail
New Don Jail.jpg
The "New Jail" adjoined to the original Don Jail building
Location Toronto, Ontario
Security class Short Term (Remand)
Capacity 550
Opened 1864/1958
Closed 1977/2014
Managed by Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services

The Toronto Jail (more commonly known as The Don, or The Don Jail) 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 from the nearby Don River. One reason for the popular use of "The Don" nickname is that this jail was the third or fourth to be known as the Toronto Jail. The Toronto Central Prison was also colloquially known as the Toronto Jail, as were the King Street Gaols. Ironically, The Don is the only jail to have been officially designated the Toronto Jail, yet has rarely been referred to as such outside official circles. The original Don Gaol building closed in 1977 and is now owned by Bridgepoint Health which has begun renovation of the building as a new administration building scheduled to open in spring 2013.[1] The adjoining Toronto Jail building (also known as the east wing) remained operational until a new facility, the Toronto South Detention Centre, was completed on the site of the former Mimico Correctional Centre.[2] The Toronto Jail was empty as of December 31, 2013 and formally decommissioned on January 6, 2014 at which point the property was transferred to Bridgepoint Active Health and demolished in March and April. The old Don Jail which was taken over by Bridgepoint in 2013; its architecture was retained and has become the administration building for the new hospital on the same property.


The Don Gaol was built between 1858 and 1864 with a new wing being built in the 1950s. 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 the oldest pre-Confederation (1867) structures that remains intact in Toronto. For example, it is over thirty years older than Toronto's Romanesque Old City Hall. 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.[citation needed]

The adjoining east wing was built in 1958 and remained in operation as the Toronto Jail (but retained the "Don Jail" nickname) after the original building closed in 1977.[3] It was demolished in early 2014, several months after the Toronto Jail was closed.[4]

Living conditions[edit]

Originally constructed to house 276 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 corrections officers have decried its overcrowding and inadequate facilities. Guards at the jail have even walked out in protest of these conditions: on January 16, 2008 one such walk-out resulted in a complete jail lockdown.[citation needed] 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.[citation needed] It does not hold any persons actually found guilty of an offence, except for brief periods while they await transfer from court to the institution where they will serve their sentences.

Courts have taken judicial notice of the deplorable conditions at the Toronto Jail. In R. v. Smith [2003] O.J. No. 1782, Justice Richard Schneider set a precedent in this regard by crediting persons serving time in the facility awaiting trial with three days for every day spent in the facility, as opposed to the more common "2-for-1" practice. In R. v. Permesar [2003] O.J. No. 5420, the same judge noted that the prison failed to meet the Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners set by the United Nations.[5] These conditions were also brought to light by a controversial article[6] appearing in the Toronto Star after journalist Linda Diebel was smuggled into the prison by Dave Levac, a sympathetic Ontario MPP. Mr. Levac faced censure by the Integrity Commissioner for bringing in the reporter, whom he led Jail officials to believe was a member of his staff, as part of his entourage.[7][8]

Capital punishment[edit]

Don Jail as it looked in the 1860s

Before capital punishment was abolished in Canada, the Toronto Jail was the site of a number of hangings. Starting with the execution of John Boyd in January 1908, hangings at the jail 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.[citation needed]

The best-known Canadian hangmen, such as John Radclive, Arthur Ellis and Camille Blanchard, hanged men at the Toronto Jail. The Toronto-based hangman Samuel Edwards, who worked during the Great Depression, carried out his first execution there in July 1931.[citation needed]

Twenty-six men were hanged on the jail’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 murders, and their executions were Canada's last before capital punishment was abolished.[citation needed]

In 2007, human remains were found on the jail's grounds during an archaeological assessment.[9]

Movies, television and books[edit]

In 1952, 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.[10]

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.[11]

Since 2008 the Don Jail has been a fixture in the Canadian television series The Murdoch Mysteries (aired in the U.S. under the title The Artful Detective).

The jail was also a filming location for the episode So Shall Ye Reap, from the TV series War Of The Worlds in which it served as the hideout for the aliens.[citation needed]

The jail is featured in pivotal scenes in the novel Old City Hall, by Robert Rotenberg.[citation needed]

The jail is extensively featured in the 2009 documentary Hangman's Graveyard. The film details the recent archaeological investigation at the jail and tells the story of the executed inmates found in an abandoned cemetery beneath a parking lot behind the jail.[citation needed]

Scenes from Chicago were filmed in the old building.

Toronto artist and musician Andre Ethier wrote the song "Don River Jail" about the building.[citation needed]

See also[edit]

External links[edit]


  1. ^
  2. ^ Infrastructure Ontario Media Release Detention Centre Project Attracts Industry Interest, September 9, 2008
  3. ^ Transforming the Historic Don Jail, Bridgepoint Health
  4. ^
  5. ^ As reviewed by Justice Paul H. Reinhardt in R. v. Prince, 2006 ONCJ 349 (CanLII)
  6. ^ "Stink of vomit, urine and grimy mould fills dingy 21st-century anachronism", Toronto Star, 7 May 2003, p. A01.
  7. ^ The Hon. Coulter A. Osborne, "Report Re: Mr. David Levac, Member for Brant, with respect to his attendance at the Toronto Don Jail", 23 July 2003.
  8. ^ "MPP censured over Star reporter's Don jail visit", Toronto Star, 25 July 2003, p. A06.
  9. ^ Kopun, Francine. "Human remains found at Don Jail", Toronto Star, 25 September 2007.
  10. ^ Gang's second jailbreak becomes CBC's first TV news story - Television - CBC Archives
  11. ^ Back Story: The Don Jail, National Post, August 05, 2008

Coordinates: 43°39′58″N 79°21′14″W / 43.66618°N 79.353972°W / 43.66618; -79.353972