Doors Open, Doors Closed

Stephen Truscott
Stephen Truscott

1959: The year I was born…

in an incredible miscarriage of Canadian justice,  14 year old Stephen Truscott was sentenced to death and spent time on the Don Jail’s death row.

Earlier, the infamous Boyd gang were repeat Don Jail customers, and a few of them didn’t come out alive.

Completed and open for business in 1865, two years older than confederation, the infamous “Don” is nothing less than the Canadian equivalent of the Count of Monte Cristo’s Chateau d’If,  or perhaps the American Alcatraz.

My family decided to make the lengthy trek to Toronto to we could visit the Don Jail before it’s gone.   Apparently it’s going to be renovated and become part of a hospital.  (Hopefully they’ll be discrete about what they do with the former death row or indoor gallows.)

It’s an imposing building.  Years ago when I lived nearby I’d look at it and wonder.

I couldn’t resist the opportunity to get a peek since they were doing “Doors Open Toronto” tours.

The crowd mills about on the street outside the fence at the Don Jail.
The crowd mills about on the street outside the fence at the Don Jail.

I’d heard there were 2 hour wait times.  But checking the doors open website before leaving home I learned that the last tours would be at 4:30.  The “phone number” listed on the page consisted of zeros, so there was no way of finding out anything before.

When we arrived around 3:00pm  there were probably a few hundred people milling about outside the chain link fence, and more inside.  My husband drove off in search of parking and we tried to figure out where  the line actually ended.   Nobody seemed to know.  The “outsiders” didn’t know if we’d ever get in, until someone got the attention of an inner fence tour volunteer tour guide.  She was helpful.  We learned that they hadn’t admitted anyone since 11:30 am.  The lucky insiders were the only ones who were going to be priviledged to get the tour.

Then my husband arrived to tell us he’d paid for parking until 6:00 pm.

I do understand that the organizers were overwhelmed by the turnout on Saturday.   They weren’t expecting it.   They’d ceased admitting people really early yesterday as well. (We hadn’t heard that then… all anyone said was that there were “long waits”. )

What I do NOT understand is why they didn’t do anything differently on Sunday.

They had a web listing.  If they stopped admitting people at 11:30 they should have put  a “sold out” notice on the website…

Another thing I don’t understand is why there wasn’t a phone number.  Even if it was just a machine, if we could have called and learned that there wasn’t any point in coming we could have stayed home.

Why were people still waiting at 3:00pm
if they’d stopped letting in as early as 11:30am?

We looked around to see if there had been any way for us to at least have known not get stuck paying for parking?  Oh look… apparently someone had handwritten “NO” above the “Don Jail Tours” sign…  Not terribly official looking, but better than nothing.

don valley

This was all we found on the Broadview side of the Don.   Way at the back of the parking lot, overlooking the Don Valley we found a couple of “limited capacity” signs laying on the ground.


This was the only notification the “outsiders” got.

I can’t understand why no announcement had been made to the people waiting patiently outside the fence.

Or why prominent “closed” signs weren’t displayed.

It’s not just the patrons who were turned away who suffered for these oversights, but it certainly wasn’t fair to all the volunteers who put in incredibly long hours.

Interestingly enough, when we went around the back of the building we discovered that tickets were being sold for the paid tours that would be held this summer.



I certainly hope that this was not just a publicity stunt to drum up business for the planned money making tours. It certainly makes me wonder though.