Kingston Penitentiary Proposed as World-Class Sailing Facility

Published on October 8th, 2013

Kingston, Ontario (October 8, 2013) – If someone told you they had “gone sailing” at Kingston Pen, you would be forgiven for thinking it a euphemism.

Like “going up the river” or “staying at Club Fed.”

But one of the city’s residents wants to make the phrase a reality by turning the recently decommissioned prison into a world-class sailing facility.

“It would really and truly change Kingston for the good,” said George Hood, who is spearheading the proposal alongside three other residents.

It’s little more than an idea at this point, but Hood said the project would include both residential and commercial development on the prison’s waterfront property, with a 500-unit condominium building, restaurants and storefronts co-existing with the world’s largest freshwater sailing centre.

They would keep the prison’s front gate and the turrets, ensuring it still looked the part of a historic jail.

“We’d make it really, really kind of funky,” he said. “This is the kind of place you’d like to go and have dinner on a Friday night.”

Home to the country’s worst criminals for the last 178 years – including Clifford Olsen, Paul Bernardo and, more recently, Russell Williams – Kingston Pen closed last month after the federal government decided it was outdated and too expensive to run.

Speculation about the prison’s future has focused mostly on its potential as a tourist attraction, similar to San Francisco’s Alcatraz. A limited run of tours held this month in support of United Way Kingston sold out almost immediately.

But Hood, a former vice-principal of Queen’s University and self-proclaimed “crazy bastard,” said the prime lakefront property would be better utilized with something completely different.

Kingston is already a prominent sailing hub – the penitentiary grounds jut into Lake Ontario beside the Portsmouth Olympic Harbour, where sailing events were held during the 1976 Summer Games in Montreal – so the proposal is a natural fit, Hood argues.

He says the idea came about simply by chatting at the end of his driveway with Dr. Michael de la Roche, an emergency physician in nearby Belleville and member of Canada’s Olympic sailing team in ’76. From there, George Jackson, a local yachtsman, and John Curtis, a member of Canada’s Olympic sailing team in 2004, joined the group and the brainstorming began.

“We’re basically just four guys that know something about sailing and want to see something done in our hometown.”

The group has consulted with developers and architects, and met with local politicians in an attempt to build broad support for the project.

Ideally, Hood would like to have it approved by the end of the year, with the first part of the sailing facility ready to open next spring. That timeline seems ambitious given that the prison shut its doors little more than a week ago.

A spokeswoman for the Correctional Service of Canada told the Star via email that no decisions have been made with respect to the penitentiary building or the land on which it sits.

Hood said his group doesn’t see the fact that the prison is a national historic site as an obstacle to a repurposed development.

“Big deal,” he said. “It’s been declared a historic site. That doesn’t necessarily mean anything.”

Hood said they would leave part of the penitentiary untouched to be used as a museum. “But we don’t think it should be entirely devoted to that.”

Friends of the Penitentiary Museum, a volunteer group of citizens that has operated a museum across the street from the prison since 2000, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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