Out of Jail

10 March 2016 – And that’s just how we feel, this Tuesday morning, in the unseasonable, spring-like warmth. Out of winter’s jail!

Remember the fox in Joel Weeks Park (previous post), with snow tucked behind his ear? Just days later now, and his beaver colleague basks in the sun.

beaver sculpture, Joel Weeks Park

We bask too, Phyllis & I, both in summer-weight peaked caps and  bare-handed. We have no very precise plan, apart from wandering our way east of the Don River up toward Danforth.

The “toward” takes us to Gerrard St. East, and the still-surprising view of a recently restored, now-resplendent and repurposed Renaissance Revival heritage building.

former Don Jail, from Gerrard E.

Yes. The former Don Jail. It, too, is now “out of jail.”

It was a model of the latest thinking in penal reform when it opened in 1864 — natural light, fresh air, healthy work by day & an individual cell to sleep in by night. It was a dirty, overcrowded disgrace when it finally closed in 1977.

Now it is the administration building for Bridgepoint Hospital right next door, an historically appropriate use since penal & health-care facilities have long shared this site. An Isolation Hospital was built here in 1893, renamed Riverdale Hospital in 1904, the “half-round” hospital went up in 1964, renamed as Bridgepoint Hospital in 2002 and finally replaced with today’s Bridgepoint Active Healthcare facility in 2013.

And there sat the Don Jail, deterioriating in reverse lockstep with the health-care improvements next door. Now, finally, the buildings are in synch, and functionally linked as well.

The public is encouraged to tour the former jail. We march in through the imposing main door with its Father Time gargoyle.

Father  Time gargoyle, main door

Somehow we miss the stack of self-guiding leaflets, and have to depend on our own curiosity.

It takes us first into the central rotunda, to stare upwards at the iron catwalks that ring the rotunda and connect with the building’s two wings. We blink against the daylight pouring in from above — restored daylight, part of the original progressive design, but blocked in later, meaner years.

partial view of rotunda, from main level facing north

The ironwork is original, including the scrollwork dragons that support the wooden catwalk floors.

"dragons" support the catwalks...

Up to level 2, where we can see how cunningly long lines of cells have been joined up to become office space. Many original iron-bar doorways are now blocked, with handsome new wooden doors here and there, to mark the new, more generous footprint.

level 2, east wing

Signs, still, of the former padlocks at each of those one-time doors.

once padlocked

Down, down to the lower level, where some original cells (and heating ducts) have been preserved — though with a spanking fresh black & white paint-job, surely not a feature of the 1970s jail.

original group of cells, lower level

Even so, and even knowing the cells were originally meant to be for one inmate only, and only at night — even so, the size of the cell is a shock.

a cell -- full width!

We leave by the north door, into what is now pleasant park landscaping that leads on up to Riverdale Park. Well, it’s not entirely pleasant. Canada’s last executions took place in this jail in 1962, and these paving stones outline the one-time cemetery. (All bodies were exhumed and now lie in St. James Cemetery.)

site of cemetery

Up into Riverdale Park next, where a man ignores plentiful benches to perch on a tree stump instead, peacefully reading his book in the sun.

in Riverdale Park East

Much later — after a wander along Danforth and blissful coffees & treats at Leonidas — we double back through the Bridgepoint grounds. This time we are between the hospital itself and the Don River.

Where we see yet more out-of-jail joy in light, colour and movement.

e.g. of Bill Lishman's sculptures at Bridgepoint

Right.

It’s a return visit to Bill Lishman‘s exuberant sculptures, dancing their way down the slope.

 

 

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9 Comments

  1. Out of jail indeed, and into the wonderful freedom of movement of those dancers✨😊

    Reply
    • Lishman’s work is wonderful. He is also the guy who taught a batch of orphaned Canada goose goslings how to fly — they imprinted on him for reasons I now forget, he wanted them to develop flying power & independence, so he acquired a super-light aircraft, the kind you sit in and power with a lawnmower engine (or something) and zoomed around the sky with his brood finally figuring it out and flying in formation with him. Eventually, they did their migration and were naturalized. I saw a Natl Film Bd documentary on this once, which is why I know, if very vaguely now, the story.

      Reply
  2. Don jail perseveres. A dark history but a history of our city non the less.

    Reply
  3. The most elegant jail I’ve ever seen!

    Reply
    • When first built, and when spiffed up & repurposed — but much elegance in the over-crowded years in between

      Reply
  4. Thanks Rio!

    Reply
  1. Out of Jail | Seriously Clowning Around

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