Monday, February 1, 2016
Abandonment Issues: Peterborough County Jail
The Electric City, Peterborough, Ontario, is best known for it's National Historic Site, the world's tallest hydraulic boat lifts known as the Liftlocks, as well as holding the distinction of being the first town in Canada to erect electric street lights.
It is also my hometown.
From my perspective, as a small child growing up here, the most dominant landmark wasn't the Liftlocks or Quaker Oats or General Electric, or even the Market Hall clock tower, it was the brooding Georgian style stone jail atop the hill, walled in behind the old courthouse.
It was the jail that my dad kept getting locked in for drunk driving. I resented that jail as a young boy, but only a mere fraction of how much I resented him for the two decades that followed. The Peterborough County Jail played a profound role on my psyche as a child and throughout my teenage years spent on the streets, committing crimes and going in and out of young offender facilities. I just assumed I was following my destiny, father's footsteps as they say. I always truly thought it was a given that I would sometime see the inside of the Peterborough County Jail. But not like this...
First built in 1842, the jail was redesigned and reconstructed on the site in 1864-65, and expansions and upgrades took place throughout the 1950s. Thousands of men spent time locked in these dark dungeon-like, claustrophobia inducing cells over the course of the jail's 159 years in operation. Numerous inmates sentenced to death were hanged in the gallows in the walled in courtyard, the last being Edward 'Stonewall' Jackson in 1933. Several men were buried a mere few feet from the gallows and many an unmarked grave remain within these walls.
In 2001, a riot broke out and guards lost control of one of the 1st floor ranges. Inmates destroyed the range, ripping up tables and beds, barricading doors and lighting fires. They also managed to break off metal plumbing and heating pipes and smash through the walls, quite literally. The rioting inmates obliterated the walls between 5 or 6 cells, leaving behind a pile of bricks and rubble and a hallway of cells. They also created a massive hole in the outer wall but came an inch or two short of breaking through to the other side before order was restored. Immediately after the riot, all inmates were sent to the nearby Millbrook Correctional Centre and the Peterborough County jail was shut down.
It has been 20 years to the day since I was released after serving 20 months locked up as a young offender, and while I have explored almost a dozen jails and prisons since, none of those visits have been as a prisoner. Ironically, on the 20 year anniversary of my release, I finally find myself inside the decommissioned Peterborough County Jail, the day before demolition gets underway. Destiny manifests.
With camera in hand and freedom to roam, I thought I'd think about my father, whom I haven't seen or spoken to in 18 years. I expected to stand in a cell and wonder if he ever stood there. Following footprints again. But I'm not. I'm reflecting on my own growth. My triumphs and tribulations. My current legal hiccup. My successes and failures, regrets and accomplishments. I'm clicking my camera and snapping photos of mouldy cell doors on a dark range with a giant smile on my face, celebrating the fact that I'd never made it here until now. Here and now, standing before a replica of the gallows in the yard, realizing that I'm more loved by more people than I ever could've imagined as that stray street criminal kid I once was. I'm a survivor. A rose from concrete, or at least a blade of grass from stone, I tell myself, trying to pull myself out of a deep depression. This is cathartic.
The ghostly cold damp air sends shivers up my spine as I slowly wander about the dark ranges and hallways, with my camera attached to my face and an awakened sense of pride. Stepping in and out of cells, closing the heavy doors behind me until the heavy metal on metal thud echoes throughout the very small jail. This is the freest I've felt in a very long time.
I hope to (fingers crossed) update the post with some photos of the demolition process in the near future and will eventually add photos of what will remain, which is a park with plaques sharing some history and partial remains of the jail designed to look like ruins.
********* UPDATE *********
***February 22nd, 2016***
With asbestos abatement completed, the partial demolition is underway. Thankfully, the project foreman has invited me back anytime to continue to document the full process, as he is familiar with my work. For this opportunity I am very grateful.
I returned this afternoon to find a gaping hole in the perimeter wall revealing the old jail building that until very recently, hadn't been viewed by public eyes in over 140 years. It become instantly apparent, even from outside, that a lot of progress has been made in just under a month. Most of the barred windows have been removed and the roof was being stripped off, with boards being thrown to the sub roof for organizing, as almost all of the jail will be reused in some fashion or another.
Inside, the transformation continued. Most of the stored contents are gone and have been replaced with random piles of debris. The cell bars and doors have been removed and stacked throughout the jail randomly. With the roof mostly disassembled, the cold air was was bone chilling despite the balmy 6 degree weather outside, and many areas were coated in a layer of ice.
So here it is, the Peterborough Jail demo site as of today, in full colour.
Believe it or not the hole in the wall below is not from the demo, but rather caused by the rioting inmates that closed the jail down in 2001.
I'll be returning once a week throughout the demolition and will continue to update until the story ends.
***April 25, 2016***
Just over a month has passed and the old Peterborough Jail is now but skeletal remains of it's former self. Only remnants of partial walls and door frames still stand, wide open under the sky, which happens to be providing a furious late April blizzard.
Stay tuned, as I'll post pictures of the park once it is completed.
For more local Peterborough ABANDONMENT ISSUES check out the...
St. Joseph's Hospital
Peterborough Family YMCA
Mount St. Joseph Convent
click here to check out all of jerm & ninja IX's ABANDONMENT ISSUES