Burwash, Ontario

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Unincorporated community
Coordinates: 46°14′22″N 80°51′03″W / 46.23944°N 80.85083°W / 46.23944; -80.85083
DistrictSudbury District
Time zoneUTC−5 (EST)
 • Summer (DST)UTC−4 (EDT)

Burwash was the name of a community in Ontario, Canada, located approximately 30 miles (48 km) south of Sudbury.[1][2]


The community was built to house the staff working at the Burwash Industrial Farm (also referred to as the Burwash Correctional Centre), a provincial jail that housed anywhere from 180 to 820 inmates during its history.[3] The prison opened in 1914[3] and shuttered in 1975,[4] after it was deemed to be too costly to run despite it being a self-sufficient institution.

Prior to the construction of Highway 69, Burwash was an isolated location in the Wanapitei River valley,[4] accessible only from a nearby station on the Canadian Northern Railway (today's Canadian National Railway).[3] At its peak, the correctional facility owned 35,000 acres (14,164 ha) and leased an additional 100,000 acres (40,469 ha) of land,[5] and was the fourth-largest employer in the Sudbury area.[4] Following the construction of Highway 69, the facility became less isolated and signs were posted on the highway advising motorists not to pick up hitchhikers in the area due to the possibility of convict escapes.[3]

Because the prison's geographic isolation meant that employees could not simply commute from Sudbury or Killarney on a daily basis, a townsite was required for the guards and support staff that worked at the prison farm and the community, built by inmate labour, housed anywhere up to about 1,000 residents.[4] It boasted a public school, which went from kindergarten through grade 10 at one point, a church, a post office, a barber shop, a tailor shop and a shoe repair shop. There was also a grocery store that sold bread made by the inmates, meat from the farm and vegetables produced by the inmates, as well as other grocery items which were brought in from Sudbury. Milk was delivered to the door by horse and wagon and the garbage was picked up by a different horse and wagon. There was a complete working sawmill, which milled the trees cut down by inmates. The village was built from the lumber and all of the provincial parks were provided with picnic tables made there as well. Burwash was considered to be almost self-sufficient, with the inmates working at various trades and receiving an education.

One of the few successful escapes from the prison took place on May 17, 1966, when convicted murderer Wayne Ford and two other prisoners escaped into the bush, walking for 16 miles before stealing a car and making it to Toronto.[6] All three were eventually recaptured, and transferred to maximum security institutions.[6]

David Clayton-Thomas, who had been a juvenile offender in his youth before becoming a noted rock singer, also spent some time in the institution.[7]


After the prison was closed in 1975, the provincial government's initial plan to sell off the site was opposed by MPP Bud Germa.[8] After a journalist from CKNC-TV interviewed Germa about the issue on the Burwash site,[9] Progressive Conservative MPP Margaret Scrivener accused him of illegal trespassing.[10]

In 1977, the federal government of Canada launched a feasibility study on a proposal to take over the facility as a new maximum security prison,[11] but this was dropped in 1978.[12] The provincial government also considered proposals to convert the site into a provincial park or a physical rehabilitation center to be operated by the provincial Workman's Compensation Board, which were also not pursued.[4] In 1980, a portion of the site was leased to the Regional Municipality of Sudbury as part of a failed attempt to launch an angora goat farm in the area,[4] which became one of the most infamous economic development boondoggles in the city's history.[13]

In 1986, Cambrian College professor David Blake put forward a proposal to buy the site and open a for-profit institution at which prisoners would be given unionized paid work,[14] which was also not pursued.

In 1987, the land was parcelled off to various groups.[15] The Department of National Defence took over 3,000 hectares for use as a military training area;[16] the Burwash Native Peoples Project took over 3,200 hectares for a First Nations-owned sawmill company;[15] the Sudbury Public School Board leased part of the land for an outdoor science education program;[15] the provincial Ministry of Transportation took over on-site gravel reserves for use in road construction;[15] the Ministry of Natural Resources took over 6,200 hectares for timber and wildlife management;[15] and a local country music festival was granted a parcel of the site to serve as its new venue.[15] A citizen's group in Sudbury, the Sudbury Citizens Movement, opposed the plan and sought to acquire the site so it could establish a worker's cooperative in the institutional buildings and an affordable housing community in the residential townsite,[17] but was not successful in overturning the selloff.

Nearly all of the remaining buildings at the Burwash site were demolished in 1994,[3] although the Camp Bison jail facility was still standing as of 2020.[18]

In the early 2000s, various proposals were put forward to reestablish Burwash as an intentional community, which would be built on principles of environmental sustainability;[19] to date, no such project has been formally launched.

Several community reunions were held in the 1990s and 2000s.[3] An Ontario Heritage Trust plaque was unveiled at the site on August 6, 2006.[5]

As of 2012, the site is no longer directly accessible from the route of Highway 69. As part of the ongoing freeway conversion of the highway, its route was realigned to the east, and the Burwash road is now accessed from a decommissioned highway segment leading to Ontario Highway 637. In March 2020 Avalon Eco Resort purchased the old Camp Bison Jail Center and lands around it with the hopes of one day putting in a hiking trail with access off Ontario Highway 637.

Elk population[edit]

The site also hosted an attempt to replenish the decimated elk population of Ontario.[20] Beginning in the 1930s, a herd of elk was transported from Alberta to be raised in the safe confines of the prison farm.[20] Because the proximity of a human community provided the elk with an additional source of food, this population thrived more successfully than a similarly-sized population that was transferred to the Chapleau Crown Game Preserve at the same time.[21]

By 1950, however, concerns that the elk were spreading liver fluke to other local animal populations led the provincial government to institute a program of reducing the population by permitting hunting of the elk.[22] A reevaluation of the problem in 1970 revealed that the parasites had in fact travelled the other way, from the indigenous wildlife to the transplanted elk,[22] and the government reinstituted a ban on hunting the animals in the hopes of allowing the population to rebuild again.[22]

By 1985 the elk population had not significantly recovered,[23] and an additional herd was transported from Alberta to Burwash in 1997.[20] The 1997 transfer had some success in rebuilding the elk population, which was cited as one of the reasons for the construction of a grade-separated wildlife crossing over the realigned route of Highway 69 in the area.[24]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Map sheet 12" (PDF). Official Road Map of Ontario. Ontario Ministry of Transportation. 2006-07-06. Retrieved 2008-05-12.
  2. ^ "Topographic Map sheet 41I2". Atlas of Canada. Natural Resources Canada. 2006-02-06. Archived from the original on 2010-08-03. Retrieved 2008-05-12.
  3. ^ a b c d e f "Burwash Reunion celebrates long-vanished town". Sudbury Star, August 2, 2003.
  4. ^ a b c d e f Oiva Saarinen, From Meteorite Impact to Constellation City: A Historical Geography of Greater Sudbury. Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 2013. ISBN 978-1-55458-837-4. pp. 159-160.
  5. ^ a b "Ontario Heritage Trust unveils provincial plaque to commemorate correctional reform institution in Burwash". Ontario Heritage Trust. 2006-08-06. Archived from the original on 2008-05-26. Retrieved 2008-05-17.
  6. ^ a b "Ford has learned how to get along". Toronto Star, May 4, 2013.
  7. ^ "Clayton-Thomas shares troubled past in autobiography". Regina Leader-Post, September 18, 2010.
  8. ^ "Proposal to sell Burwash site triggers a row". The Globe and Mail, December 22, 1976.
  9. ^ "A visit to Burwash". The Globe and Mail, January 3, 1977.
  10. ^ "Break-in at Burwash". The Globe and Mail, December 29, 1976.
  11. ^ "Ottawa to buy part of Burwash for new prison". The Globe and Mail, December 22, 1977.
  12. ^ "Plans dropped for new prison near Sudbury". The Globe and Mail, December 1, 1978.
  13. ^ "Angora goat scheme's in a tangle". The Globe and Mail, January 21, 1980.
  14. ^ "Unionized Inmate Workers: Ontario Asked to Okay Private Prison in North". Kingston Whig-Standard, March 24, 1986.
  15. ^ a b c d e f "Prison site to be used by ministries". The Globe and Mail, July 29, 1987.
  16. ^ "Reservists training at old prison site". Sudbury Star, July 7, 2004.
  17. ^ "Sudbury-area farmland sought by co-op". The Globe and Mail, September 16, 1987.
  18. ^ Tony Dunnell, "Burwash Correctional Center, Killarney, Ontario: A long-abandoned provincial prison left to crumble in the frigid air of Ontario". Atlas Obscura, April 12, 2018.
  19. ^ "Others share Burwash dream". Sudbury Star, October 26, 2005.
  20. ^ a b c "Elk are here to stay in Sudbury". Sudbury Star, January 3, 2001.
  21. ^ "Land for elk herd won't be sold". The Globe and Mail, April 12, 1994.
  22. ^ a b c "Transplanted Elk May Thrive in Another Place". Kingston Whig-Standard, June 28, 1990.
  23. ^ "Ontario is concerned over decrease in elk". The Globe and Mail, April 2, 1985.
  24. ^ "Ontario builds first bridge for animals near Sudbury". CBC News, March 20, 2012.

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