The "New Jail" adjoined to the original Don Jail building
|Security class||Short Term (Remand)|
|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. The adjoining Toronto Jail building remained operational until a new facility, the Toronto South Detention Centre, was completed on the site of the former Mimico Correctional Centre. 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 is scheduled for demolition, unlike the old Don Jail which was taken over by Bridgepoint in 2013, but whose 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years as renovations would be both difficult and expensive, even in an empty facility; as such, it is considered badly outdated as a prison facility.
The adjoining building 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.
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. 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. 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  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  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. These conditions were also brought to light by a controversial article 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.
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.
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.
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.
In 2007, human remains were found on the jail's grounds during an archaeological assessment.
Movies, television and books
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.
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.
Scenes from Chicago were filmed in the old building.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Don Jail.|
- List of oldest buildings and structures in Toronto
- List of correctional facilities in Ontario
- Capital punishment in Canada
- Infrastructure Ontario Media Release Detention Centre Project Attracts Industry Interest, September 9, 2008
- Transforming the Historic Don Jail, Bridgepoint Health
- As reviewed by Justice Paul H. Reinhardt in R. v. Prince, 2006 ONCJ 349 (CanLII)
- "Stink of vomit, urine and grimy mould fills dingy 21st-century anachronism", Toronto Star, 7 May 2003, p. A01.
- 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.
- "MPP censured over Star reporter's Don jail visit", Toronto Star, 25 July 2003, p. A06.
- Kopun, Francine. "Human remains found at Don Jail", Toronto Star, 25 September 2007.
- Gang's second jailbreak becomes CBC's first TV news story - Television - CBC Archives
- Back Story: The Don Jail, National Post, August 05, 2008