Thursday, February 14, 2013

Abandonment Issues: Burwash Industrial Farm's Camp Bison

Burwash Industrial Farm (Camp Bison)

Burwash Industrial Farm (Camp Bison)

Untitled

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."

Burwash Industrial Farm (Camp Bison)

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.

Burwash Industrial Farm (Camp 
Bison)

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.

Burwash Industrial Farm (Camp 
Bison)

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.

Burwash Industrial Farm (Camp Bison)

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 scales of justice are never balanced

Puppy love
Puppy love

Hell block
Hell block

The northern expanse of Turtle Island
Turtle Island

Time stops for no man
Time stops for no man

Behind bars
Behind bars

Hooked on a feeling
Hooked on a feeling

Everyt h ing f   all  s a p a rt
Everyt h ing f   all  s a p a rt

Snitch
Snitch

Grilled
Grilled

Bella
Bella

Internal growth
Internal growth

Spiralling downward
Spiralling downward

The twists and turns
The twists and turns

Centred stage
Centre stage

Upstaged
Upstaged

Burwashing
Burwash Industrial Farm (Camp Bison)

Cornered
Cornered

Girls gone wild
Girls gone wild

Top of the world ma!
Burwash Industrial Farm (Camp Bison)

Up up and away
Burwash Industrial Farm (Camp 
Bison)

What the fuck are you stairing at?
What the fuck are you stairing 
at?

As best os tiles
As best os tiles

The hole (Solitary confinement)
The hole (Solitary confinement)

The hole truth
The hole truth

The hell hole
The hell hole

Time swerved
Time swerved

Lilly from the block
Lilly from the block

Chow time
Chow time

The kitchen is closed, and has been so for decades
The kitchen is closed, and has been so for decades

Pendrith Bake-O-Mat
Pendrith Bake-O-Mat

The sky's the gimmick
The sky's the gimmick

The best of both worlds
The best of both worlds

Glory
Glory

Who let the dogs in? (Bella)
Who let the dogs in? (Lilly)

Chaint pips
Chaint pips

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.
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.

Cushion tank
Cushion tank

Doing big time
Doing big time

Click here to add a title
Doing the time of my life

Lilly's mug shot
Lilly

Life is full of ups and downs
Life is full of ups and 
downs

An ode to doom vs.An ode to doom vs.

Time doesn't heal all wounds
Time doesn't heal all wounds

Lilly's pad
Lilly's pad

Barber's chair
Barber's chair

We walk in circles
We walk in circles

We run in circles
We run in circles

We move in circles
We move in circles

We just want to run
We just want to run

No parking within 3 metres
No parking with 3 metres

Pull here in case of fire, but nothing will happen so I'd recommend running
Pull here in case of fire, but nothing will happen so I'd recommend running

Burwash away your sins
Burwash away your sins

Cell block out the memories
Cell block out the memories

Matchgirl at work
Matchgirl doing her thang

Camp Bison water treatment plant
Camp Bison water treatment plant

Jerm & Ninja IX reflect on Camp Bison
Jerm & Ninja IX reflect on Camp Bison

Time served, you are free to go.

********* ********* ********* ********* *********

***UPDATE***
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.

Burwashed out

Burwash 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.

Jeremiah IX gets high again

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
Good morning Burwash

Camp Bison Campsite
Camp Bison Campsite

Doing the time of our lives
Doing the time of our lives

Fog off
Fog off

Water treatment
Water treatment

The view from the tent
The view from the tent

Morning glory
Morning glory

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
To hall and back

It's a hall of a good life
It's a hall of a good life

No cell service
No cell service

Go to hall
Go to hall

Bat out of hall
Bat out of hall

We've Got Company
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

9 comments:

john said...

Quite an amazing project! great photos.

Anonymous said...

I spent the first three years of my life in Burwash. My father was a gaurd there. I have vague memories of the place. The photos are incredible. What a strange emotion they convey - natural landscape set against run down abandoned jail.

Jerm IX said...

Thank you both very much for your comments.

Guillaume Clément said...

Verry nice work man, again :)

Christina Warrysh said...

I really enjoyed your write up and pictures of your journey to Burwash Prison. What a unique and beautiful place...Thanks for sharing.

Anonymous said...

me and a friend of mine found it. after years living up there we heard about it but never known where it was till we found our way there

Elizabeth, Reily and Payton said...

This was simply beautiful to read through and see. I stumbled on your blog while doing a bit of research on Burwash. I just found out my grandfather did 6 months hard labour there and was hoping to see a glimpse of what life what have been like for him at that time. Although he was there in 1945 or so I was still able to get a sense of it through your work. Thanks so much for that. Keep up the amazing work.

Anonymous said...

FYI

Current Burwash, Ontario land owner calling OPP on trespassers.

TV news Story 2015:

http://northernontario.ctvnews.ca/video?clipId=724349&binId=1.1142313&playlistPageNum=1

Anonymous said...

Hello, Jerm IX, your photography is absolutely astounding. I am admin to a popular Sudbury Page on Facebook ( Sudbury's fine Past & Future, Let's Reminisce)I am admin to that page & I collect photos of Sudbury's Past & Present. Hope you do not mind, I borrowed some of your splendid photos to re-post to the Page, with your info attached of course. At the same time, I hope it will bring you more popularity. I will add your info, to each photo re-posted. It would be nice if you can join the page. Lay light to your Burwash trip. I have an ongoing Camp Bison Album. Hope to See you on the page. Again, you are such a great photographer, great work taking great photos. Thanks. Noella