One of the most important pre-Confederation buildings in Canada, the Don Jail, was recently awarded the William Greer Architectural Conservation and Craftsmanship Award of Excellence from Heritage Toronto.
The Don Jail was the largest jail in North America when it was completed in 1864. At the time, it was considered a forward-thinking approach to rehabilitating criminals who worked in adjacent fields, but with time, the prison’s small cells and overcrowding brought unrest and disorder. The Don Jail is the site of Canada’s last public hanging in the early 1960s, and it was closed in 1977.
The Don Jail is now the home to the administrative offices of the adjacent Bridgepoint Active Healthcare, which features many preserved elements of the original structure such as the exterior stonework, preserved jail cells, gallows, windows and flooring, and detailed ironwork in the rotunda beneath a Victorian skylight.
The former Don Jail is now open to the public for the first time and features interpretive text displays about the site’s history and its role in assisting recuperation.
The former jail’s adaptation involved figuring out how to transform an inflexible floor plan created for isolation into an open and functional administrative building.
“A balance was sought between new and heritage fabric in the former jail,” said Antra Roze, associate with Diamond Schmitt Architects. “A language was established to clearly delineate old and new elements: a new partition never meets an old wall but instead is separated by a glass fin and the marks of history (ghosting, remnant materials) have been allowed to remain.”
The master plan for the site places the Don Jail at the centre of a nine-square development grid. The promotion of recovery and wellness as well as the connectivity between the hospital and surrounding community are the key principles at work in the design of the hospital and the heritage conservation of the Don Jail. The intention of the updated facility was to transform the site from fostering isolation to integration.
Bridgepoint Active Healthcare is designed by two teams of designers and heritage consultants as part of a public-private partnership, including Stantec Architecture, KPMB Architects and ERA Architects, Planning, Design and Compliance Architects; and HDR Architecture, Diamond Schmitt Architects and VG Architects, Design Build, Finance and Maintain Architects.