History

The Prison for Women (P4W) served as the sole prison for federally sentenced women in Canada from 1934 to 2000 (CSC, 2000). Over that time, thousands of women were imprisoned there, in conditions described as “disgraceful” in 1938 (Archambault, 1938, p. 314), “unfit for bears, much less women” in 1977 (MacGuigan, 1977, p. 135), and “cruel, inhumane, and degrading” in 1996 (Arbour, 1996, p. 51). Women from P4W described the “archaic conditions, arbitrary mass punishment, sexism, and racial barriers” (Sugar and Fox, 1989, p. 468) of the prison. Prisoners were experimented on in unethical scientific studies in the 1960s (Gilmore and Sullivan, 1998).1 Many women also died at P4W. As one woman at P4W expressed, “Grief is too present in my life” (Mayhew, 1997, p. 75).2 The prison was slated for closure in 1999 by the Solicitor General and decommissioned in 2000 (CSC, 2000). Since then the prison building and grounds sat empty, and has recently been purchased for commercial development (Nease, 2018).3 When creating a memorial on the grounds of a prison that has closed, it is important to ensure that the history of the prison is not lost in this development.

Content from: Mussell, L (2019) “After the Prison Closes: Seeking Healing, Memory and Awareness”, Journal of Prisoners on Prison, 28(1): 66-73.

Footnotes:

1 Experiments included sensory deprivation, behavioural modification, electro-shock therapy, and experimental pharmacology (e.g., LSD). Prisoners across Canada have come forward with their experiences, including a former prisoner at P4W, Dorothy Proctor, in 1995 (Osborne, 2006). Proctor later brought a lawsuit against CSC in 1998 (CBC News, 1998).

2 It is unknown how many women in total died at P4W. Some members of the Collective personally remember the seven women who died by suicide in P4W between 1988 and 1991, including six who were Indigenous (Hansen, 2018).

3 P4W was purchased by Queen’s University in 2007 and initial plans included housing university archives in the building (Girard, 2007). The interior of the building was awarded heritage designation shortly following this purchase (City of Kingston, 2007), which may have rendered prospective renovations prohibitively difficult. Queen’s sold the prison to ABNA Investments Inc. in 2018 (Nease, 2018).

Sources:

Archambault, Joseph (1938) Report to the Royal Commission to Investigate the Penal System of Canada, Ottawa: J. O. Patenaude, I.S.O. 

Arbour, Louise (1996) Commission of Inquiry into Certain Events at the Prison for Women in Kingston, Ottawa: Public Works and Government Services Canada. 

CBC News (1998) “Former inmate sues over LSD experiments”, CBC News – October 7. Retrieved from https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/former-inmate-sues-over-lsd-experiments-1.166674.

City of Kingston (2007) “2007-167 A By-Law To Designate 40 Sir John A. Macdonald Boulevard, Also Known As ‘The Prison For Women (P4W)’ To Be Of Cultural Heritage Value Pursuant To The Provisions Of The Ontario Heritage Act (R.S.O. 1990, Chapter 0.18)”, City of Kingston. Retrieved from https://www.cityofkingston.ca/cok/bylaws/2007/doc/doc926614.PDF.

Correctional Service of Canada [CSC] (2000) The Closing of the Prison for Women in Kingston in Kingston July 6, 2000,Ottawa. Retrieved from http://www.csc-scc.gc.ca/text/pblct/brochurep4w/index-eng.shtml.

Gilmore, Norbert and Margaret Somerville (1998) A Review of The Use of LSD and ECT at the Prison for Women in the Early 1960s, Ottawa: Correctional Service of Canada.

Girard, Daniel (2007) “Former prison for women now part of Queen’s”, The Star – September 14. Retrieved from https://www.thestar.com/news/2007/09/14/former_prison_for_women_now_part_of_queens.html.

Hansen, Ann (2018) Taking the Rap: Doing Time for Society’s Crime, Toronto: Between the Lines.

MacGuigan, Mark (1977) Report to Parliament.The Sub-Committee on the Penitentiary System in Canada, Standing Committee on Justice and Legal Affairs, Ottawa: Ministry of Supply and Services Canada. 

Mayhew, Jo-Ann (1997) “The Bear and Me”, Journal of Prisoners on Prisons, 8(1-2): 75-78.

Nease, Kristy (2018) “Developer eyes Kingston’s shuttered women’s prison”, CBC News–June 26. Retrievedfrom https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/ottawa/kingston-women-prison-future-plan-1.4720690

Osborne, Geraint (2006) “Scientific Experimentation on Canadian Inmates, 1955 to 1975”, The Howard Journal of Criminal Justice, 45(3): 284–306.

Sugar, Fran and Lana Fox (1989) “Nistum Peyako Seht’wawin Iskwewak: Breaking Chains”, Canadian Journal of Women & Law, 3: 465-482.