Tuesday 20 April 2021

Book ~ "The Don: The Story of Toronto's Infamous Jail" (2021) Lorna Poplak

From Goodreads ~ Conceived as a “palace for prisoners,” the Don Jail never lived up to its promise. Although based on progressive nineteenth-century penal reform and architectural principles, the institution quickly deteriorated into a place of infamy where both inmates and staff were in constant danger of violence and death. Its mid-twentieth-century replacement, the New Don, soon became equally tainted. 

Along with investigating the origins and evolution of Toronto’s infamous jail, The Don presents a kaleidoscope of memorable characters - inmates, guards, governors, murderous gangs, meddlesome politicians, harried architects, and even a pair of star-crossed lovers whose doomed romance unfolded in the shadow of the gallows. 

The Don Jail was a jail in Toronto, east of the Don River, built between 1858 and 1864, with a new wing built in the 1950s.  When the original Don Jail building stopped being used for housing offenders in 1977, the east wing remained in operation as the Toronto Jail and continued to serve as a jail until 2013.

It was originally designed as a reform prison and once dubbed the "Palace for Prisoners" because of its progressive approach to the wellness and living conditions of inmates.  The reputation of the Don Jail soured over the years, though, due to overcrowding and other things.  The east wing was constructed to house 276 prisoners but at the end of its service its capacity was 550 (its average prisoner load was about 620).  It was not designed with adequate visitor facilities, exercise areas, telephones, lawyer meeting rooms, showers or laundry facilities.

Twenty-six men were hanged on the jail’s indoor gallows and it was there that Canada's last to be hanged (in 1962) before capital punishment was abolished.

When the Bridgepoint Health demolished the Riverdale Hospital to replace it with a new facility, the Don Jail building was renovated to serve as the administrative wing for the hospital.

The author does a good job in telling the history of the Don Jail, what was going on in Toronto at various times and how it affected the Don.

I never got to visit the jail before it was demolished and converted.  Doors Open had tours but it attracted a lot of people so I didn't head over ... one day I will.

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