Canada’s oldest penitentiary opened on June 1, 1835, under the name “Provincial Penitentiary for Upper Canada.” Located in Portsmouth, now part of Kingston, this institution was designated for the incarceration of prisoners from both Upper Canada and Lower Canada. Kingston Pen, as it is commonly known, closed its doors on September 30, 2013.
Who were the inmates over the course of the penitentiary’s 178 years of existence? To discover their stories, consult the Kingston Penitentiary inmate history description ledgers, which have been digitized and can be viewed on the Library and Archives Canada (LAC) website.
The ledgers provide photographs (mug shots) of inmates and information such as name; alias; age; place of birth; physical description; occupation; crime committed; and date, place and length of sentence.
To find the pictures of some of the inmates who were incarcerated at the Kingston Penitentiary, search for a person’s name in the Collection Search menu: type their name and add “RG73” and “Kingston” as keywords, then select “Collections and Fonds” in the dropdown menu. The list of results will show the photographs.
Where else to look
Census returns, the official record of the population of Canada, also list the inmates who were incarcerated at the time of the census enumeration. In addition, nominal indexes can be searched for a reference to an inmate’s name. Remember that spelling variations are common.
Search for books on the Kingston Penitentiary and other Canadian penitentiaries in AMICUS using the author’s name, the book title, or subject keywords such as Kingston (or name of the city), penitentiary, prisons and criminals.