In 1805, Lower Canada’s House of Assembly gave the green light for building new prisons in Quebec City and Montreal. Trois-Rivières was included in 1811.
These institutions were based on the new detention philosophy: a means to punish and rehabilitate offenders. Prisons were also built in other Canadian cities starting in the 1820’s. It marked the beginning of a repressive prison system that lasted until the 1950’s, when new models, more focused on the rehabilitation of prisoners, started being implemented.
The blueprints for the new Quebec and Trois-Rivières prisons were drawn up by the architect François Baillairgé (1759-1830). After learning sculpture, carpentry and architecture from his father Jean Baillairgé, François attended the Académie royale de peinture et de sculpture de Paris, a rare feat for a local artist in those days.
Along with a friend, judge and teacher Joseph-François Perrault, he became interested in modern correctional theories that inspired his prison architecture projects. He introduced innovations into the Quebec and Trois-Rivières prisons: individual cells and separate wings to classify inmates according to their sex and crime.
A prison stands out among public buildings. It is surrounded by an imposing wall and its windows are obstructed with bars or wire mesh. The architectural style reinforces a sense of starkness. The Quebec prison (1809) and the Trois-Rivières prison (1822), designed by the architect François Baillairgé, were very plainly adorned. A symmetrical facade with classical lines featuring geometrical shapes ended with a triangular pediment. This neoclassical Palladian architecture was also used for the Montreal prison.
The Quebec Prison
Built between 1808 and 1813, according to the architectural plans of François Baillairgé, this prison was inaugurated in 1809. This was the first Canadian prison whose layout reflected the changes included in the ongoing corrections reform. In fact, although it mostly had common rooms, a few individual cells were put in by the architect. A minimal classification of inmates could be done based on their sex and the crime they had committed.
However, this prison quickly became obsolete and overcrowded. A new facility was then built on the Plains of Abraham, where detainees would be housed between 1867 and 1970. The old prison building would be occupied by Morrin College and by the Literary and Historical Society of Quebec, from 1824 to the present.
The Trois-Rivières Prison
In 1806, the people of Trois-Rivières demanded that the House of Assembly pass a law to build a safe and clean prison in their city, which was granted in 1811. Society in those days made a connection between uncleanness and crime. It wanted to be protected against potential contamination – both physical and moral – spread by prisoners.
The prison was built between 1816 and 1822 according to the plans of the architect François Baillairgé. It remained in operation until 1986, when it had become the oldest active prison in Canada. Designated as an historic monument in 1978, it is now par of the Musée québécois de culture populaire, which offers visits conducted by ex-inmates.
The Montréal Prison
A prison was built on Champ-de-Mars in Montreal between 1808 and 1811, on the site of an old house of detention dating back to 1768. The facility quickly became overcrowded. The architect George Blaiklock was given the task of drawing the plans of a new prison in 1825. The Pied-du-Courant Prison would be built between 1832 and 1836.
This new facility used the individual cell model to house inmates. It also included several double cells and some common day rooms. It became part of history in 1837-1838 when a large number of Patriotes were detained and hung there after their uprising against the English. Like several other correctional facilities in the 19th century, this prison would not be able to fully implement the reforms advocated by the Englishman John Howard, as it quickly became overcrowded and run down. Since 2003, the Centre d’exposition La-Prison-des-Patriotes recalls the history of this building, designated as an historic site in 1978.
The Kingston Penitentiary
Inaugurated in 1835, the Kingston Penitentiary is still operational. Its architecture draws on the model from Auburn prison (United States). Surrounded by a massive wall, it stands out right away with its portico, shaped like an arch of triumph, its cross-shaped cell blocks and a rotunda joining the cell blocks.
This facility, which could house 880 prisoners at the time of construction, included series of 2 m x 0.6 m cells laid out in long rows stacked five stories high. Large workshops gave inmates the opportunity to participate in work programs. Women were also incarcerated in Kingston right from the start, in a separate wing; a federal prison was built for them near the penitentiary in 1934, and was closed in 2000.