The Toronto Jail (more commonly known by the nickname The Don, or in the media as the Don Jail for clarity) 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 Jail closed in 1977 and is now owned by the Bridgepoint Health Foundation which will incorporate it into a redeveloped hospital. The adjoining "new jail" will remain operational until a new facility, the Toronto South Detention Centre is completed on the site of the current Mimico Correctional Centre.
The Toronto Jail was built between 1862 and 1865 (predating Canadian Confederation by two years) with most of the current jail facilities being built in the 1950s, although a jail has stood on the site since 1858. 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 very few 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years as renovations would be both difficult and expensive, even in an empty facility; as such, it is considered badly outdated as a prison facility.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 "New Jail" was built in 1958 and remained in operation after the "Old Jail" 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 in "The Don". 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 Don was the site of a number of hangings. Starting with the execution of John Boyd in January 1908, hangings at the Don 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 Don. 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 Don’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. For the movie Cocktail (1988), starring Tom Cruise and Bryan Brown, the rotunda in the old section of the jail was redressed as an upscale New York nightclub. The jail is featured in pivotal scenes in the novel Old City Hall, by Robert Rotenberg. The Don 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. Before Bridgepoint Health begins the full renovation of the old section of the Don Jail it is to be offered as a venue rental location. Rentals will be available once the building is brought up to code for public gatherings. Toronto artist and musician Andre Ethier wrote the song "Don River Jail" about the building.
Canadian Prisons Don Jail Location: Toronto, Ontario Status: Operational Classification: Short Term (Remand) Capacity: 550 Opened: 1858 (current facility completed in 1865 with later additions. "New Jail" completed in 1958) Closed: Managed by: Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services