The recent news that Brockville’s jail is to be replaced is probably long overdue. It was built in 1842, and by the time it closes, will have been locking people up for longer than any other institution in Canada.
In 1842, people were, on average, 11 cm shorter than they are today, which means everything from doorways to cells are small by today’s standards. From 1848 to 1858, there are 541 people listed as having been in the jail, from nine to 77-years old, for offences ranging from stealing food to murder.
By 1864, the jail had been enlarged to include ten criminal cells measuring one metre by two metres, and five debtors’ cells at twice the size, so you can only imagine what it had been like before.
Some of the interesting stories I discovered about the jail:
Brockville’s first public hanging took place in 1853, and you can read the rather gruesome story of John Simpson here.
John Luckey was Brockville’s last hanging, taking place in December, 1893. You can read a detailed account of both the execution and the crime from a reporter who attended the event.
Luckey’s executioner, John Radclive (also Ratcliffe), was Canada’s first professional hangman.
I could only find three references to escapes from Brockville Jail:
During the summer of 1994, two young offenders climbed the door on the internal/outdoor patio, scaled the fence and then hopped down the three flights of roof tops to freedom. They were picked up by police several hours later. (unverified)
Legendary bank robber, escape artist and author, Roger Caron, made it out in 1972.
Behind Bars: Inside Ontario’s Heritage Gaols, by Ron Brown, describes an escape by James and John Young in 1876 from the Brockville Jail, but the author may have confused this with an escape from the Cayuga Jail.