Penitentiary City - Introduction

Kingston: Canada's Penitentiary City

Postcard of Kingston Penitentiary, 1905


For more than 170 years, Kingston has been associated with criminal treatment in Canada.  Beginning in 1835, many offenders of the law, after sentencing by the courts for serious crimes, were sent to Kingston from Upper Canada (now Ontario), as well as convicts from Quebec during the years (1841 to 1844) Kingston was the capital of the United Province of Canada East and Canada West. Kingston became well known for this dark association with punishment.  During the 19th and 20th centuries, the parental warning of "Behave or you'll be sent to Kingston!" became commonplace.  Today across Canada, there are 58 federal correctional institutions administered by the federal Correctional Service of Canada and, of these, nine are located in the Greater Kingston area.  This represents the highest concentration of such facilities in the country.  If one is looking for the birthplace of rehabilitative correctional treatment in Canada, look no further than Kingston!

This tour convincingly makes the case about the great importance of the penitentiary to the Kingston community now and in the past.  If we look beyond negative and sensational stories, as well as sad and desperate cases, we see that the operation has provided a livelihood for those families with members who worked or are working for the penitentiary service.  It has also contributed significantly to the local economy in a broader sense through business interactions with the many companies providing goods and services to the prison and which purchase or have purchased the varied products manufactured there.  Today, the Correctional Service is one of the top three employers in the Greater Kingston area.

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