Having participated in the city’s consultations on the future of Kingston Penitentiary, I believe the team has tried very hard to make everyone happy. The trouble is, in my view, this approach is failing to see the forest for the trees. In an attempt to please everyone, I suspect that irreversible mistakes will be made in underestimating the value and importance of this site as a historic and tourism attraction. Many uses are possible for the property, but the penitentiary itself must be preserved and promoted in keeping with its national significance.
The Kingston Pen’s dark history must be commemorated appropriately. Maintaining the “sense of place” by preserving buildings and walls is paramount. It would be a grave mistake to compromise that legacy by putting in condos and restaurants right against the walls or on the site itself and telling everyone it has been transformed into a place with a fun, festival atmosphere. That approach will be at odds with the history of the site.
You cannot erase the dark history of the site. We are far better off to embrace the penitentiary for what it is: a unique opportunity to create our own “Alcatraz of the North.” The economic benefits of this approach would be far reaching and long lasting for all citizens of Kingston, rather than just benefitting those wealthy enough to afford a waterfront condo. Partnerships will be key, but the demand is already proven as visitors have flocked to Kingston to visit the penitentiary.
Although The Haunted Walk started in Kingston, we have also given tours of the old Ottawa jail for more than 20 years. We have seen sustained growth and interest and host tens of thousands of visitors annually. Jail tourism is one of the fastest growing sectors of the tourism industry worldwide. The opportunity at the Kingston Penitentiary is exponentially higher as it is known across the country. It also has a unique and important story that needs to be told. There is so much more that could be done to ensure that the people of Kingston benefit from the most important tourism opportunity we have ever seen.
San Francisco faced the same economic pressures and chose to preserve and invest in Alcatraz as a historic site. It is now one of the most important draws in a multibillion-dollar tourism industry for that city. Let’s not make the mistake of missing out on something that could be the jewel in the crown in Kingston’s tourism and heritage offerings for decades to come by shortsightedly trying to solve everyone’s needs with one small plot of land.
Condos are springing up all across the country, but there is only one Kingston Penitentiary.
Haunted Walks Inc.