Ok, let’s talk old again. We’ve written about old homes and an old downtown bar, so let’s talk about another old place no one ever really wanted to visit…Barrie Jail.
The 'Barrie Bucket'
The Barrie Gaol as it was originally called, is known locally by many as the ‘Barrie Bucket’ – was built in 1841. Located at 87 Mulcaster Street, it was considered a maximum security facility…
History tells us that 5 people were executed by hanging at the jail, with James Carruthers being the first and Lloyd Wellington Simcoe the last. Capital punishment ended in Canada in 1976.
In the 1800’s the jail was known as a catchall for much more than the criminal element. On any given day you might find the homeless, elderly, mentally challenged or heavy drinkers sharing space when there was nowhere else to go.
By 1898 there was a permanent building erected for those not criminals, known as the House of Refuge for Simcoe County, leaving the jail to the criminal element alone.
No Interior Pictures
Originally the jail was built to house 32 men. With additions the number increased to 82, however, similar to the overcrowding we hear of today, there would often be closer to 100 plus men and women incarcerated there.
In the original part of the jail, cells had no lights or washroom facilities; simply a bucket that was tucked under the cot. However, there are no pictures that we could find of the interior at that time.
A Few Design Follies
The original jail was designed by Thomas Young (c.1810-1860) of Toronto. The 3 jails that Mr. Young designed shared a basic octagonal design. Being built to last, Barrie Jail was constructed using locally quarried stone blocks about 2 feet thick. The stones were cut and brought by steamboat from a quarry at Longford on Rama Road.
The design was intended to maximize ‘centralized control’ and easy observation of the prisoners although it didn’t always work out that way. It turns out that prisoners found a few ways of escaping. Perhaps one of the most comical errors was the fire-escape ladder mounted to the wall along with the hole which was used to pass through the firewood used for heat.
No, really a correction must be made. Moses Hayter, the first Warden of the jail had a tough time stopping escapes because the locks didn’t arrive until four years after the jail was built. – Imagine.
One of the most daring escapes took place in late spring of 1926. William Skelly, a member of the Clan, had blown a four foot square hole through a wall and escaped. Luckily he was arrested in Toronto shortly afterwards.
Then...History Changed it's Course
The Ontario Ministry of Corrections took over control of the jail in 1968. The last prisoners in the jail were transferred to the ‘Super Max’ in Penetanguishine in 2001. Today it is an empty shell, all but abandoned, yet an impressive reminder of what once was. No longer do people visiting the courthouse smell the tantalizing odours of cookies being baked wafting from the jail. Now I’ve been told, that no one goes in except to deliver documents for storage.
We are blessed in Barrie to have so many heritage homes and buildings. It’s sad when a building such as this isn’t being used and sits empty. Maybe the powers that be will see the benefit of allowing public use of the jail once again…as a museum perhaps?
Special Attention is Needed
Upkeep of these buildings requires special attention by the contractors invited to do the work. Whether it is the exterior stonework or rooflines, these knowledgeable contractors take pride in working with these very special buildings.
If your home or out buildings are in need of repair, consider contractors that are well aware of historical building designs and materials. One local contractor, whose work we admire, is JN Roofing of Barrie. He’s done some very nice work on a few of the heritage homes in the area.
Written By: Jane Laker
Photo Credit: Veronika Kovecses