Stony Mountain Institution

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Coordinates: 50°04′55″N 97°13′30″W / 50.082°N 97.225°W / 50.082; -97.225

Stony Mountain Institution is a federal multi-security facility located in Stony Mountain, Manitoba, about 18 kilometres (11 mi) from Winnipeg. The medium security prison opened in 1877, the minimum security unit (formerly Rockwood Institution) opened in 1962 and the newest addition to the prison, the maximum security unit, opened in 2014.[1]

Stony Mountain Manitoba - Federal Penitentiary
Stony Mountain, Manitoba - Federal Penitentiary in 2008

On September 30, 2013, Kingston Penitentiary in Ontario officially closed its doors and ceased being a federal prison, making the Stony Mountain Institution (medium security site) the oldest federal prison in Canada.


(This section is primarily based on The Early Years of Stony Mountain Institution, by Marc Shaw, as found in the Newsletter of Canada's Penitentiary Museum, Summer of 2004.)[2]

In the years immediately following Confederation, Kingston Penitentiary was joined by several new institutions: St Vincent de Paul in 1873, British Columbia Penitentiary in 1878, and Dorchester in 1880. The establishment of the "Manitoba Penitentiary" (as it was known until it was renamed Stony Mountain Institution in 1972) was authorized by the young Canadian federal government in 1872. Lands were expropriated at Stony Mountain, some 18 kilometres (11 mi) from Lower Fort Garry, where Sir Garnet Wolseley’s expeditionary force had been stationed as part of the effort to quell the first Riel (the "Red River") Rebellion of 1869-70. One of the members of that force, Samuel Lawrence Bedson (1842–91), did not return East following the Rebellion, but went on to become the first Warden of the new Penitentiary.

The site's isolated location and lack of available building materials proved a challenge to the construction process. Stone for the windowsills and the corners was quarried at Lower Fort Garry, dressed and hauled overland during the winter. Timber was freighted from Ontario. A brick-making machine from St. Paul, Minnesota was employed in the manufacture of over 400,000 bricks from local clay. Despite efforts to avoid wastage due to difficulties in transporting materials, by the time the Penitentiary was completed in February, 1877, the final cost was $125,000—some $9000 over budget. Some 60 tradesmen worked during the summer months and 25 stonemasons during the winters.

In August 1877, with Lord and Lady Dufferin presiding, the Penitentiary was officially opened.[3] 14 inmates, including a female "lunatic" comprised the original prison population transferred from the gaol at Lower Fort Garry.

The original prison building was soon joined by a number of other buildings, as a period of rapid growth commenced. Structures such as stables, schoolhouse, staff quarters, hospital, chapels, forge and slaughterhouse were built. By 1885, some 44 cells were in use. Growth tended to be decentralized and the buildings came to occupy a large area.

The original heating system, based on an English model, proved inadequate and the winter of 1877/78 proved very harsh for both staff and inmates. This situation was alleviated by the installation of a steam boiler in the summer of 1878. Due to the severity of the Manitoba winter, heating costs were $3000—considerably more than the identical British Columbia Penitentiary. To cope with this continuing expense, Warden Bedson negotiated with the CPR for a favourable shipping rate for coal.

Bedson proved to be an innovative and progressive warden. A system was devised whereby prisoners could communicate their needs to guards without breaking the rule of silence. A four-foot white wand painted black on one end (for ordinary needs) and red on the other (for emergency use) was utilized. He also emerged as a noted prison reformer. He placed high value on religious and educational programs, and spiritual and educational needs were emphasized from the very beginning. Bedson also instituted an early system of inmate wages and parole.

He also played a key role as a conservationist. An original investment of 13 head of buffalo grew substantially over the years and after a number of transfers of ownership, the herd was eventually relocated to Wood Buffalo National Reserve in Alberta.

Early growth was ambitious, if dispersed. By 1912, perimeter wall construction had begun, and the numerous buildings were completely enclosed by 1922. The entrance to the institution was via the "South Gate" – a handsome two-storey structure that controlled vehicular and pedestrian traffic. The need for additional cell space led to the construction of wings off the main cell-block throughout the 1920s.

The building of a new facility to replace the original Administration building commenced in 1933. Due in part to the Depression and the Second World War, this building was left in a partially completed state for many years. The 1877 Administration Building and the South Gate, the last survivors of the original prison structures, were demolished in the late 1960s, and Stony Mountain’s origins are not readily apparent in the modern facility of today.

Famous inmates[edit]

  • After the 1885 North-West Rebellion, Chiefs Big Bear, One Arrow and Poundmaker were all convicted of treason and were imprisoned in the Stony Mountain Penitentiary. Here their health deteriorated rapidly and upon being released due to poor health, died shortly thereafter.[4]
  • Kenneth Leishman (aka "The Flying Bandit") plead guilty in 1958 to two bank robberies, and was given a 12-year sentence to be served at Stony Mountain Penitentiary in Manitoba, near his family in Winnipeg. He was released on parole towards the end of 1961, after just 3.5 years, and was described by Stony’s warden as a ‘model prisoner’.[5]
  • Thomas Sophonow was wrongfully convicted in 1981 of the murder of Barbara Stoppel; he was acquitted on appeal in 1985, and conclusively exonerated by DNA evidence in 2000. On the 18th of April, 1983, he was transferred from the Winnipeg Remand Centre to Stony Mountain Penitentiary. He remained in that facility until July 25 of 1983. For that entire period, he was kept in segregation. This meant that he was in a cell that measured 1.7 metres (5.5 ft) by 3.0 metres (10 ft) for 23 hours a day, every day. No doubt this was done for his own protection. Yet the conditions were harsh and for some 97 days he lived a most difficult life. Indeed, during the one hour when he was let out of his cell for exercise and a shower there was no allotted place of exercise. He obtained his exercise outside in a narrow courtyard alone, apart from prison guards.[6]
  • James Driskell was wrongfully convicted for the murder of Perry Harder in 1991. He served a total of 12 years in Stony Mountain Institution convicted of first-degree murder. In 2005, the Manitoba Dept. of Justice entered a stay of proceedings and called for a public inquiry, which ended Driskell's conviction without exonerating him. The results of that inquiry were released to the public on Feb. 15, 2007.[7]
  • Ernest Cashel was briefly imprisoned here for theft, until he was transported back to Calgary to face murder charges. His subsequent escape from custody was called "the greatest blow the Mounties had received in all their experience."[8]
  • Thomas Hogan, an Ojibway artist, served time for attempted robbery in the 1970s

Current status[edit]

Stony Mountain Institution is a clustered site, housing maximum, medium and minimum security inmates. There are seven operational units within the clustered facility, offering various levels of supervision, including healing units for Indigenous inmates (named NI-MIIKANA at the medium security site and AANIIKEKANA at the minimum security site). Stony Mountain promotes a healing process based on Indigenous culture. This contributes to the successful reintegration of Indigenous offenders.[9]

At the medium site there are five different living units offering various levels of supervision.[9]

"Manitoba Penitentiary" (later renamed Stony Mountain Institution-a medium security prison) opened in 1877 and can currently house up to 546 male offenders. The minimum security unit (formerly known as Rockwood Institution)opened in 1962 and can house up to 167 federally incarcerated male offenders. The newest addition to the clustered site, the maximum security unit (unit 6), opened in 2014 and can accommodate up to 96 maximum security federally incarcerated male offenders.[9]

Inmates are assisted with a focus on improving living skills and avoiding substance abuse. Inmates can acquire work experience and useful training in various trades within the Institution, including maintenance shops, food services, etc.[9]


  • Male offenders
  • Security level: maximum, medium & minimum
  • Date opened: 1877
  • Number of inmates: 570
  • Average length of sentences:
Less than 40 months: 44 percent of inmates
More than 40 months: 48 percent of inmates
Life sentence: 7 percent of inmates
  • Number of employees: 396

Seizure of contraband[edit]

  • In the summer of 2006, four separate major seizures of contraband (illegal drugs) were made, including the single largest seizure in Stony Mountain Institution's history.[10]

Expansion included maximum-security wing and a 50 bed unit at the minimum site[edit]

It was announced by the Federal government, in November 2010, that Stony Mountain would be undergoing an expansion, which added a maximum-security wing to the institution, with 96 new beds. The total cost of the building project was expected to be $45 million. In justifying this spending, the Federal Minister of Public Safety stated, "In the previous system, a violent criminal sentenced to nine years in prison could potentially be on our streets in as little as three years if he or she spent two years awaiting trial. This possibility is not acceptable to Canadians," said Minister Toews. "We are acting to ensure that the criminals pay their debt – their full debt – to society."[11]

This new wing became the only maximum-security unit in Manitoba. About 40 new positions were created with the addition of the maximum-security wing. The maximum unit at Stony Mountain Institution was completed and inmates were placed there in 2014.[12]


  1. ^ Institutional Profiles- Prairie Region- STONY MOUNTAIN INSTITUTION. Correctional Service Canada. Retrieved 14 Dec 2010.
  2. ^ FPM Newsletter, Summer, 2004. Retrieved 14 Dec 2010.
  3. ^ Lord Dufferin. The Manitoba Historical Society. Retrieved 14 Dec 2010.
  4. ^ 1885 - Aftermath. Kinanāskomitin: Cree History at the University of Saskatchewan Archives. Retrieved 14 Dec 2010.
  5. ^ The Flying Bandit- a blog entry from This Was Winnipeg
  6. ^ The Inquiry Regarding Thomas Sophonow. Province of Manitoba, Dept. of Justice. Retrieved 14 Dec 2010.
  7. ^ Driskell Inquiry Report Released. Province of Manitoba. Retrieved 14 Dec 2010.
  8. ^ Porter, G.C. (May 24, 1941). "Outside Help Usually Has Part In Prison Breaks". Winnipeg Tribune. p. 31. Retrieved 23 December 2014.
  9. ^ a b c d "Stony Mountain Institution". Correctional Service Canada. April 29, 2014.
  10. ^ Contraband at Stony Mountain Institution. Retrieved 14 Dec 2010.
  11. ^ Toews: Cost of a safe and secure society is worth paying. Correctional Service Canada, News Release, Nov. 12, 2010. Retrieved 16 Jan 2011.
  12. ^ Stony Mountain Institution to add maximum-security wing. CTV News Winnipeg. Retrieved 14 Dec 2010.