Thursday, February 14, 2013
Abandonment Issues: Burwash Industrial Farm's Camp Bison
The Ontario Heritage Trust erected a historical plaque on the former site of the Burwash Industrial Farm (aka Burwash Correctional Centre) in 2006. It reads as follows...
"Burwash Industrial Farm was established in 1914 based on the revolutionary premise that low-risk inmates would benefit from the exercise and skills learned while working outdoors at self-supporting institutions. Burwash Industrial Farm accommodated between 180 and 820 minimum and medium security offenders with sentences of three months to two years less a day. Over time, it grew it to occupy 35,000 acres owned and 101,000 acres leased, housing three permanent camp sites, several temporary ones, and a town of prison staff families with a population of 600 to 1,000 people. Prison inmates provided labour to build the entire community and ran an extensive mixed farm, a tailor shop, and a prosperous logging operation. Burwash Industrial Farm was one of the largest reform institutions in 20th century Ontario. It closed in 1975 because of changes in correctional practices."
Before the construction of highway 69 connecting Sudbury to southern Ontario, the town of Burwash was very isolated, accessible only by train. Just as they had done with the prison itself, and the surrounding town, the prisoners themselves eventually constructed the road that led from Burwash to highway 69. The roads brought new temptation to the inmate population, and the number of escape attempts escalated. Signs were erected on the adjacent stretch of highway 69 warning motorists not to pick up hitch-hikers.
The town was built by lumber milled on site by the inmates, who also made all of the picnic tables for provincial parks. Inmates learned trades and received an education while serving their time. The self contained town had a public school, a church, post office, tailor shop, barber shop, shoe repair shop and a grocery store. The grocery store sold vegetables produced by the inmates, meat farmed by the inmates, and bread baked by the inmates.
Burwash Industrial Farm was the only fully self sufficient correctional institution in Canadian history.
In 1960, the newly constructed $2.8 million main building of Camp Bison was opened, housing 210 inmates. In 1969 and 1972, Garry Sullivan was one of those inmates. The following is a quote from Garry Sullivan.
"I have fond memories of Burwash as an inmate in the 60s and 70s. I actually did walk out with my Masonry ticket. However my memories are somewhat different than those of the 'villagers'. I too am glad to see Bison standing but disappointed by all the damage caused by the paint ballers. That was actually a very nice building as jails go and one could even say homey. I was there in '69 and '72 and worked in the tailor shop. In '72 the Bluebird bus would take us every morning to 'Mr Bill's' masonry shop at Main Camp. I remember Lt. Russell the Scot..."Tay up yer boots lad" was his famous quip. I had a lot of fun there I will disappoint some of you by saying. My life is vastly different now, though not one bit of that can I attribute to the correctional practices of the day. When I see it now it just reminds me of the end of the movie Papillon as the camera pans over the overgrowth. Good riddance to it all. With respect to your (former guards and residences) memories...We may have been on opposite sides, but we shared one of the most beautiful and magnificent parts of this country and world. It was pure and rich."
As the plaque stated, Burwash Industrial Farm was shut down in 1975.
In 1990, the federal government purchased a portion of the land for $1.8 million, and to this day it is still used by the Department of National Defense for training purposes. In 1994, the federal government demolished every single building in the entire town. Except for one: The main building of Camp Bison.
In the summer of 2012, Ninja and I planned a camping trip to Killarney Provincial Park, with our sights set on a visit to Burwash. While the week of camping was pure heaven, it was not to be at this time, as once again, construction was under way on highway 69, and the military road into Burwash was inaccessible.
In early October, we decided to take another run at it. Six hours north of home, we met up with our friend Matchgirl and began driving down the treacherous military road filled with potholes and ditches. At the end of the road we parked and met a hunter that informed us that bear hunting season had just gotten under way and warned me that my all black outfit would make it easy for a hunter to mistake me for a bear. Stay close to your friends, he warned. This is when and where we were introduced to Lilly and Bella. Lilly is Matchgirl's 4 year old shepherd husky mix, and Bella is her friend's 2 year old lab husky mix. And then we began the 45 minute, 4.5 kilometre walk into the forest toward the only surviving building. Beaver dams created flooded areas, but it wasn't as difficult to manoeuvre on this day as it had been for others in stories I've been told and read online. There are no bugs this time of year either, just men with shotguns and rifles that may confuse me for a bear.
We all chatted along the walk, getting to know each other better. We clicked. As we rounded the final curve and the building exposed itself to us, our excitement intensified. This one had been a long time coming for Ninja and I.
We entered the building together, and explored for hours. Lilly and Bella kept us company every step of the way, which provided a nice addition to the exploration, watching them poke around with the same level of curiosity and intrigue that motivated me.
With no further adieu, come on in to Burwash Industrial Farm's Camp Bison.
The scales of justice are never balanced
The northern expanse of Turtle Island
Time stops for no man
Hooked on a feeling
Everyt h ing f all s a p a rt
The twists and turns
Girls gone wild
Top of the world ma!
Up up and away
What the fuck are you stairing at?
As best os tiles
The hole (Solitary confinement)
The hole truth
The hell hole
Lilly from the block
The kitchen is closed, and has been so for decades
The sky's the gimmick
The best of both worlds
Who let the dogs in? (Bella)
From up top, I started to descend this staircase while glancing upward. Luckily, I looked down and noticed the drop off before falling on my face.
Doing big time
Click here to add a title
Lilly's mug shot
Life is full of ups and downs
An ode to doom vs.
Time doesn't heal all wounds
We walk in circles
We run in circles
We move in circles
We just want to run
No parking within 3 metres
Pull here in case of fire, but nothing will happen so I'd recommend running
Burwash away your sins
Cell block out the memories
Matchgirl at work
Camp Bison water treatment plant
Jerm & Ninja IX reflect on Camp Bison
Time served, you are free to go.
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August 5, 2013
I guess you can call us recidivists, because this past Saturday we packed up our tent and the basic essential camping gear and ventured north, returning to the old prison at Burwash.
Pockets of rainfall were teeming down off and on as we drove north up highway 69, and the blackest of ominous clouds filled the sky. But the sky opened up and the black clouds dissipated at the perfect moment as we approached the end of the road. We lugged our heavy packs and tent down the 4.5 kilometre trail into the remote prison, slapping at attacking armies of horse flies and mosquitoes along the way. With only the shoes we were wearing and a desire to keep them dry, a near slip into a beaver dam made us rethink our approach crossing the flooded areas: we stripped to bare feet and marched straight through the knee deep floods. After 45 minutes or so, Camp Bison revealed itself to us once again.
We were alone for miles in every direction as we entered the prison, and this was the case for the duration of our time served. We immediately carried our gear to the roof and set up our tent. We then spent hours within the prison walls, wandering aimlessly. We dangled our legs over the edge of the building and watched the sun set, as we dined on meatballs, salad, assorted fruits and macaroons. It was at this time that we commented on the utter silence that surrounded us, and we listened to it, or rather the lack of it. As the sun disappeared, the ominous black clouds returned and blanketed the night sky.
A few hours after night fell we ventured back inside. Armed only with a Mag-Lite, we held hands and walked in silence, re-exploring the entire building. We were now sharing the long hallways of cells with the bats flying overhead. It was in one of these hallways that we stopped and turned off the flashlight, standing motionless in pitch blackness for several minutes, soaking up the creepiness before returning to the rooftop campsite.
As we emerged onto the roof the black cloud cover was announcing a coming storm. Just then, the silence was broken by a screaming crying animal. It sounded cat like, and deadly. Whatever it was, it was large and it was announcing the moment it was most likely fatally attacked by a predator of some sort. On that note, we entered the tent and went to...well I can't say bed because it was but a small pad on the stone roof...and I can't say sleep because we barely got any. For a brief period of time, rain fell from the black clouds, but it was a bark worse than bite situation. In the middle of the night, the temperature fell to a chilly 10 degrees, which even this far north is below average for early August.
At 5:55 AM we were more than happy to call it a night, or a day, or whatever. We exited the tent onto our private prison rooftop campsite and to our delight the entire building was surrounded by a ring of dense fog. We spent a few early morning hours wandering and photographing, before eating and packing up.
Good morning Burwash
Camp Bison Campsite
Doing the time of our lives
The view from the tent
Before the sun rose over the tree line, the soft morning light gave such beauty to long the hallways where the prison population once resided.
To hall and back
It's a hall of a good life
No cell service
Go to hall
Bat out of hall
We've Got Company
Stiff and sore, calloused and tired, we threw our gear back over our shoulders and made the long trek back to our car, and then the long drive back to our home.
Once again inmate, your time has been served and you are free to go.
click here to check out all of jerm & ninja IX's ABANDONMENT ISSUES