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Who has the smallest jail in North America?

August 2019

There is great debate as to which town holds the distinction of having the smallest jail in Canada, or even in North America.

Several towns have been bold enough to declare themselves the winner of the smallest jail, with mere inches difference between all of them.

Small tourist towns such as Tweed, Creemore, Cocobonk, Port Dalhousie, Providence Bay and Rodney, all in Ontario, have very small former jail buildings that are still standing, all that are very close in size.


The Tweed Jail

The Tweed Jail was built starting in 1898 and opened two years later at a cost of $350.  Measuring 15.74 feet by 19.68 feet, the jail closed in 1950.  

It was later taken over by the Ontario Provincial Police for use as a community station.  The three original cells were combined to make one large cell, creating extra space for a desk in the office.

The old jail can be found at 61 Victoria Street North and now serves as the local tourist bureau office.


The Creemore Jail

The Creemore Jail, built in 1892 at a cost of $425, is a 3-cell jail measuring 14.76 feet by 19.68 feet. 

It closed as a jail in the early 1940s and is now preserved as a tourist attraction.  It can be found at 151 Library Street.


The Port Dalhousie Jail

The Port Dalhousie Jail was built in 1845 on land close to the banks of the original Welland Canal.  Built of rough cut stone and mortar, the jail measured 20 feet by 15 feet, 2 inches, and featured a copper roof and two chimneys.

The jail contained two cells separated by a thick stone wall, each with its own a fireplace and a supply of wood.  It was designated a heritage building by the St. Catharines City Council in 1979, but is currently vacant.  It can be found at 1 Lakeport Road, St. Catherines.


The Providence Bay Jail

The Providence Bay Jail was built around 1912 as a two-cell jail, the building is of a similar size to the other jails listed in this article.

After sitting abandoned and deteriorating for many years, it was purchased by Blair Sullivan who renovated the old jail into a vacation cottage utilizing the original oak beams from the cells.

Accommodating two people, the jail cottage features a kitchen, dining area, three-piece bathroom and a bedroom with bunk-beds.  The bedroom window still has the original jail bars and the bedroom door is the one of the original cell doors.

The old jail can be found in the village of Providence Bay, one block north of beach.


The Coboconk Jail

Coboconk’s claim to having the smallest jail in North America was once promoted on the welcoming sign on the south side of the village. At 14.99 feet by 29 feet, it is certainly among the smallest jails in North America.

Located at 11 North Water Street beside Thompson’s Marina, jail was constructed around 1890 using limestone from the local quarry. The walls are two feet thick and it has two cells, each with a wooden door and bared window, along with a small wood stove for heating.

It still has the original iron bars and two foot thick walls.

As the population grew, the jail was used less and less and it subsequently became the Municipal Offices and eventually a storage warehouse.

Since 1973, the former jail has served as Ye Olde jail and Craft Shop and it is open Monday to Saturday from 11:00 in the morning until 3:00 in the afternoon.


Hillsdale Jail

The three-cell Hillsdale Jail was constructed by local builder William John Davenport in 1906 when Hillsdale was designated as a “policing village.”

The building has served several purposes over the years – including as a jail, courthouse, polling station and home for transient people.


The Rodney Jail

Although all the jails mentioned before are all close in size, the apparent winner for the smallest jail in North America goes to: The Rodney Jail, built in 1890, it measures just 14.76 feet by 17.71 feet. 

The former jail was reopened in 1995 as tourist information centre after being vacant for around 50 years.  It still features the original steel cell doors and stove and can be found at 135 Queen Street in Rodney.


Sources: https://ourbackyardtweed.wordpress.com/2014/06/17/north-americas-smallest-jailhouse, http://www.waymarking.com/waymarks/WMJPA_North_Americas_Smallest_Jail_Creemore, http://www.funtrivia.com/askft/Question82516.html, https://www.tripadvisor.ca/Attraction_Review-g3741471-d4133153-Reviews-Coboconk_Jailhouse-Coboconk_Kawartha_Lakes_Ontario.html, http://www.westelgin.net/ye-olde-jail, http://www.manitoulin-island.com/sullivan/jail.html

About the author

Bruce Forsyth

Bruce Forsyth served in the Royal Canadian Navy Reserve for 13 years (1987-2000). He served with units in Toronto, Hamilton & Windsor and worked or trained at CFB Esquimalt, CFB Halifax, CFB Petawawa, CFB Kingston, CFB Toronto, Camp Borden, The Burwash Training Area and LFCA Training Centre Meaford.

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