KAWARTHA LAKES – The historic stone wall that wraps around the Lindsay Old Gaol Museum will be demolished by fall of 2022 after City staff deemed it unsafe.
The property is designated because of both its historical and architectural significance as the former jail for the County of Victoria. Constructed in 1863, the gaol is built in white limestone using the Romanesque Revival style, which was frequently employed for correctional facilities in the mid-nineteenth century. Designed by Toronto architectural firm Cumberland and Storm, it is considered a local landmark.
The building was decommissioned as a jail in 2003 with the opening of the Central East Correctional Facility and is now owned by the City. The building now houses the Old Gaol Museum.
The property includes a large walled exercise yard. The original wall was demolished and replaced around 1989 and the current wall continues to deteriorate according to City officials. The new walls were built when the property was still an operational correctional facility. In 2017, Building and Property staff commissioned an assessment of the wall, which found that the structural integrity of the walls had been compromised. Since this time, the City says several reports have been prepared by qualified engineers confirming the structural issues with the wall.
In 2019 Kawartha411 broke the story on the plans for demolition that were already underway. Read more here: portion-of-the-courtyard-wall-at-lindsays-old-jail-to-be-torn-down
According to the Historical Society, the courtyard is where hangings took place and at least three bodies are buried there. The bodies have since been moved. Gallows were constructed for each hanging and then removed. Courtyards were also used by inmates for recreation and exercise, hard labour sentences and in the early days, the inmates chopped the wood that heated the town’s public buildings.
According to officials, future use of the open courtyard has not yet been “fully determined”. There are reports it could be used for City parking but that has not been confirmed.
Officials with the museum told Kawartha 411 News the basic plan for the space is some parking for the museum, green space and the south courtyard space reserved for a future museum addition.
“Every effort will be made to ensure that the space is both useful and attractive for the community. There are no architectural drawings approved by council at this time. The museum does have plans to create an additional exhibit to the one we currently have about the history of the walls and preservation of photographs and artifacts have been ongoing.” said Barbara Doyle, Old Gaol Museum.
“The courtyard walls need to be demolished, and I’m simply going by the engineering comments that I’m reading, this has continuously been surveyed by an engineer and deemed unsafe,” said Mayor Andy Letham. “I’m not an engineer but if that many visits by engineers claim they’re (the walls) not safe, they need to come down. At the end of the day, we can’t have unsafe walls.”
Professionals have attempted to stabilize the wall to prevent the coping on the wall from falling onto the ground below, but independent Structural Engineers have continued to provide reports advising that the walls still present a significant health and safety concern.
As a result, the demolition was approved by Council, by end of Q1 2022. The City says every effort will be made to maintain as much of the wall as possible for historical purposes.
Before this final decision was made, the Kawartha Lakes Municipal Heritage Committee staff asked that the demolition of the exterior courtyard wall be put off until a Cultural Centre Feasibility Study is completed and a plan for the future of the space is decided.
But on August 10, council motioned to proceed with the demolition but, recognizing the historical significance of the courtyard wall, directed staff to look into a potential heritage recognition piece for the structure.
“We all get its value but at the end of the day, if it’s not safe, it’s not safe,” said Mayor Letham. “We have a report that says it isn’t safe, it doesn’t go further than that, we have to do what is safe.”