Kingston Penitentiary tours expected to continue in 2019 season

Kingston Penitentiary could be open for another year as a tourist destination in 2019. A report is expected to go before city council this week and council is expected to vote on whether to sign another agreement with the Correctional Service of Canada.

Approximately 68,000 toured the former maximum security prison in 2018, a big drop from the 100,000 who visited the year before. Last year was the third year the old prison was open for public tours. The first year — 2016 — saw 60,000 visitors.

Officials say Canada 150th birthday in 2017 likely attracted more people to the penitentiary. The report going to council, which was written by Lanie Hurdle, commissioner of community services, recommends the city find different ways of bringing in more tourists.

Hurdle says in the report, “It will be important for the city to increase marketing efforts and introduce additional uses on the property.” This includes allowing more access for filming.

In 2018, Kingston Pen tours netted approximately $1.3 million. The net profit is split between the United Way of Kingston Frontenac Lennox & Addington and marketing efforts by the St. Lawrence Parks Commission and Tourism Kingston.

Correctional Service of Canada has agreed to continue public tours on the property. City staff are also looking into the possibility of starting a multi-year agreement with CSC, saying they hope to implement several changes to the property, which would be a long-term initiative.

“Continuing to support the Kingston Penitentiary tours and additional uses on the property is critical for the tourism sector,” Hurdle recommends.

City officials anticipate these changes could increase the number of visitors to nearly 80,000 next year — netting profits of $1.4 million.

Before it was a tourist destination, the Kingston Penitentiary was home to some of Canada’s most notorious criminals. The institution was open for nearly two centuries. It closed as a maximum security prison on Sept. 30, 2013.

Kingston Pen — as a tourist destination — was opened in 2016, thanks to a partnership between the city of Kingston, Correctional Service of Canada and St. Lawrence Parks Commission.

Both Tourism Kingston and city partners have identified the Pen as a key tourism asset for the city.

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