Review of Kingston Penitentiary Tour


James Donnelly, Grace Marks, Norman “Red” Ryan. These are just some of the inmates who were imprisoned at Canada’s oldest maximum security prison, Kingston Penitentiary (figure 1). The Kingston Penitentiary, also known as the KP or Kingston Pen, was the first museum I visited in Kingston, Ontario as a new resident of the “museum capital of Canada” and as an aspiring museum aficionado.


Figure 1 The Kingston Penitentiary acted as a maximum security prison for 178 years. Following its closing in September 2013, tours of the penitentiary began to be offered, with its former workers helping lead the tours and providing interpretations of the many spaces encapsulated within the KP. Photographer: C Kish

I visited the KP during the first weekend it was opened for the 2017 season, on a dark, gloomy, rainy, and overall wet Saturday. In other words, it would have been one of those “pathetic fallacy” moments if I had actually been attending the prison as a prisoner. Given that the tour was 90 minutes and there were approximately 16 different stops along the tour, I thought it would be best to provide the top two tour highlights.

1) Past Prison Workers

At the start of the tour, the group and I met in the visiting room while encountering our first person who had worked at the prison. She identified herself and the other former prison workers as being human “artifacts” on the tour. Although having human interpreters isn’t a new concept in the museum world, being able to engage with people who actually worked at the site being visited is truly a unique experience that most museums are unable to provide. Along the tour we met with 3 or 4 more people who worked there in places like the main dome and dissociation unit. I found the KP tour’s usage of past prison workers to be smartly done and, as a result, not much text was needed for the actual tour.

2) Architecture

In 1990, the KP was categorized as a National Historic Site of Canada. It is what many of my past art history professors would have deemed a 19th-century, limestone-based “architectural marvel.” As a result, the KP is a series of buildings situated on the waterfront of Lake Ontario that juxtapose the Brutalist-style jails that we are accustomed to seeing in movies. The exterior of the prison has columns at the front, while the interior of the prison features the “main dome” (figure 2), where prisoners could be held with a lookout area below. Additionally, there was a Workshop (figure 3) for prisoners that had vaulted ceilings.


Figure 2 Here is the main dome area, where prison workers could keep an eye on prisoners. In some parts of the prison there would be 5 tiers of cells, but here you can see there are 4 tiers. Photographer: C Kish


Figure 3 Here is an image of the KP’s shop wing, which had beams of the outside shining through its vaulted ceilings. The staircases lead to rooms such as the school, where prisoners could obtain high school and college credits. Photographer C Kish

The most controversial voice element missing from the tour is that of the prisoner. Although the graffiti (figure 4) somewhat speaks acts for the people who were imprisoned at the KP, it could be argued that the tour emphasizes the perspective of the prison worker. Thus, perhaps, it would be good for the future to have more of an equal balance of perspectives. Also, keep in mind that the KP is a penitentiary, meaning one should come prepared for the weather. When I was on the tour, the penitentiary was freezing, as it was a rainy day. That being said, the Kingston Pen tour is definitely worth the $35 ticket. The idea of having past workers as interpreters and the opportunity to see a wide scope of rooms at the KP made the tour one of the top ones I have been on in the last few years.


Figure 4 Throughout the penitentiary there is graffiti left on the walls from past prisoners. Some of the graffiti provides simple instructions, such as “Do not use when hot water is plugged in,” with an arrow drawn towards an outlet. In contrast, there is also graffiti that has a high usage of exclamation marks, capital letters, expletives, and perhaps even imagined extensions to song lyrics. Here, a prisoner wrote “Hell’s going with you write it on your back, all this will fade to black,” which could be interpreted as someone adding to Metallica’s song “Fade to Black.” Photographer C Kish


“They Are All Individual”: Community Museums and the National Narrative


On November 7, 1957, a group of people passionate about local history came together for the first meeting of the Oshawa and District Historical Society. In less than three years’ time, this group would achieve one of their primary tasks when the Henry House Museum opened to the public on May 21, 1960.

At their first meeting, when Verna Conant (wife of Ontario’s 12th Premier Gordon D. Conant) was elected as the first president, a woman from the Ontario Historical Society spoke to the newfound ODHS. As per newspaper customs of the time, the Oshawa Times-Gazette reported her name as Mrs. Paul Hughes, her actual first name unknown at this time. The Time-Gazette shared highlights from Hughes’ talk, and much of what she presented is still relevant today, almost 60 years later.

“One of the charms of visiting these museums is that they are all individual,” commented Mrs. Hughes, “Each makes a particular contribution, not only its community, but to the country as a whole.”

For the last six years, the Oshawa Museum has been my second home. With its humble beginnings as the Henry House Museum, the OM, under the management of the (now named) Oshawa Historical Society, has seen tremendous growth and today is comprised of three historic houses, all three standing on their original foundations. It is through these houses that the OM brings our community’s history to life; feature exhibitions, our growing permanent collection, and dynamic programming help us do just that.

Henry House Oshawa Museum 2013

Henry House, Oshawa. Credit: Lisa Terech

What Mrs. Hughes emphasizes above is why I love local history museums. Each museum is as unique as the community’s story they are telling. Behind the scenes there is the dedicated staff, passionate about their community, and this is evident with the details in the exhibits. I attempt to visit local history museums on every vacation I take and have yet to be disappointed. It has been especially interesting in this Canada 150 year to see each museum putting their best foot forward and celebrating how their community played its part within the larger national narrative. Perhaps Oshawa was only a village in 1867, a small stop on the way from Toronto to Kingston, but our burgeoning locality has its own contributions to the 150 celebrations. For example, within our collections is a telegram sent to local politician T.N. Gibbs by Sir John A. Macdonald during the first national election, urging him to ‘not be beaten.’ Gibbs was an Oshawa based politician (our first Reeve) and business-owner, and he would go on to serve in Macdonald’s cabinet before being appointed to the Senate. Interestingly, although it could not have been proven at the time, there are strong suspicions of voter impropriety in this Ontario South election of 1867. This telegram speaks on many different layers, of a local personality, to the first election and its connection to a Father of Confederation. It could also speak to early democracy and the importance of fair election practices. Perhaps not all municipalities have telegrams from Macdonald in their holdings, but this OM artefact is an example of what Mrs. Hughes illustrated in 1957: each community has their own stories to tell, stories on a local, provincial, and national level. Visit a community museum and see you can discover.

Spadina House Aug 2012

Spadina House, Toronto. Credit: Lisa Terech

Elisabeth Meets With OMA Conference Programs Committee


Hello everyone, just a quick up-date on the OMA Conference Programs Committee! The Committee actually had the chance to meet in Kingston at the beginning of the month of April to sort through this year’s proposals, and the Conference is now really taking shape.

The Conference has been inspired by the OMA’s “Looking Ahead: Ontario’s Museums 2025” plan and the themes have been derived from its objectives. The (summarized) themes of the conference are: community building, developing new funding models and partners, promoting Ontario’s museums, and building greater collaboration within the museum sector the culture sector and beyond. Based on feedback from previous years, we also included more workshops and have a few pop-up sessions during lunch breaks that people can also attend.

For my part as the GOEMP Committee representative, I have been doing my best to ensure that what programming offers at the conference reflects some key interests of the EMP community. While there were no proposals that dealt explicitly with EMPs in the field, I hope that the selection of workshops and topics will meet GOEMP needs and expectations.

My visit to Kingston was brief as I had a meeting back in Ottawa later in the day; however, I was struck by the immense heritage community in the city, as well as the variety of sites and models of management. I can’t wait to explore more of the city closer to the Conference date.

The 2017 Ontario Museum Association Conference will take place October 11 – 13. Learn more about it here.

Will Interviewed by Sault Star Newspaper About GOEMP


The GOEMP Committee’s own Vice-Chair, Will Hollingshead, was interviewed by the Sault Star newspaper about his role in helping lead the Committee and represent the province’s emerging museum professionals, in particular EMPs located in Northern Ontario. The story was written by reporter Brian Kelly and it was published on Friday, January 27, 2017 with the title “Hollingshead Helps Lead New Group.”

Thank you to Brian and the Sault Star for their tremendous support and excitement about GOEMP! We look forward to better connect with EMPs up North.

You can read the article by clicking here.

Elisabeth Joins 2017 OMA Conference Programs Committee


Elisabeth Boekhoven, one of the GOEMP Committee’s current Conference and Programs Co-Chairs, has joined the 2017 Ontario Museum Association Conference’s Programs Committee.

For those unfamiliar with the preparations that are undertaken to produce each OMA Conference, there are two main committees that form to support the OMA’s staff members: (1) The Local Arrangements Committee and (2) The Programs Committee. These committees have new members every year because the location of the Conference changes annually. In 2017, the Conference will be held in Kingston, so many of the Committee’s members will be from the Kingston area to offer their location-specific expertise.

On this new development, Elisabeth stated (via email):

I am excited to take on the role of GOEMP representative with the OMA’s Programs Committee. This is a singular opportunity to learn from professionals in the museum field, and offer my own knowledge and experience to ensure the changing interests of the EMP community are reflected in the final selection of presentations at the 2017 Conference. With the help of Programming and Conference Co-Chair Diane, I will also identify programming opportunities that may be ameliorated or enabled that will reflect the EMP community’s interests. I hope that the end result will be an engaging and dynamic conference in Kingston that will inform, encourage and challenge any who attend.

This is an exciting opportunity for the GOEMP Committee to help shape the OMA Conference experience for EMPs beyond organizing its usual robust offering of EMP-focused programs.

We look forward to seeing what you accomplish in partnership with your Co-Chair, Elisabeth. Congratulations!

GOEMP Committee is Recruiting

September 15, 2016

Are you an emerging museum professional within the first 10 years of the beginning of your career? Are you passionate about the future of museums in Ontario?  Would you like to be a voice for emerging museum professionals, network with your peers and have an opportunity to develop your own leadership skills?

If so, then the Group of Ontario Emerging Museum Professionals (GOEMP) Committee is looking for you!

Download this posting as a PDF

What is the Group of Ontario Emerging Museum Professionals (GOEMP) Committee?

The Committee is a voice and a resource for the GOEMP community, providing programming, communications, and resources both digitally and in-person, and fostering a supportive, professional network among Ontario’s EMPs. In addition, we execute networking and advocacy events in partnership with the Ontario Museum Association (OMA) and other organizations, including initiatives at OMA Conference, including Conference Connections and Trivia Night.

What will you do?

Committee Members are champions for EMPs in Ontario. You will assist in executing program and communication plans to create a network of emerging museum professionals across Ontario. GOEMP Committee develops and executes plans for participation in the OMA Annual Conference and other learning events by the OMA and other organizations. You will communicate with Ontario EMPs through a variety of mediums, and you will be an ambassador for the GOEMP, representing the group externally at meetings and events, as necessary.

We are looking for 7 Committee Members 

We are looking for seven (7) committee members to participate in this volunteer committee for terms of three years.  The committee is comprised of a Chair, Vice-Chair, Secretary, Communications Chair, Conference & Programs Chair, and Members-at-Large. Once the committee has a full complement of members, positions will be voted on. See below for the complete list of positions and responsibilities.

Please note that appointments will take into account the need to have balanced representation across the following criteria: number of years in the field, regional representation, size and type of museum, specializations.

We are looking for people with the following qualities. You are:

  • Within 10 years of the beginning of your professional career.
  • A museum lover who cares about the future of the profession and your fellow professionals.
  • A quick thinker, full of ideas, with problem solving and planning capabilities.
  • An excellent communicator interested in and good with social media, curious about new technologies, a confident public speaker, and someone with a good phone manner.
  • Willing to listen and learn. You have a can-do attitude.
  • Someone with museum experience (volunteer or paid).


If this sounds like you, then please email with your statement of interest, along with a cover letter and resume, outlining why you’re the right person to sit on this committee and how you demonstrate the qualities above.

The deadline for applications is 5pm on Friday, September 30, 2016.

We thank all applicants for their interest; however only those selected for interview will be contacted. Interviews will be conducted online through video conferencing. Appointments will be made by a panel made up of members of the GOEMP Committee.

For more information on GOEMP, please visit our Facebook Page.

Terms for members will be until January 2019.


The Group of Ontario Emerging Museum Professionals Committee will comprise up to 9 members. As Ontario is a large and diverse province, composition of the Committee will strive to reflect this.  Regional representation will ideally come from southwest Ontario, the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), southeast Ontario (and Ottawa area), and northern Ontario.

The committee will be comprised of the following positions, with responsibilities as such:


  • Organize meetings on a quarterly basis, prepare the agenda, and convene the meeting.
  • Liaise with the National EMP Network.
  • Liaise with the OMA, as necessary.
  • Represent the GOEMP Committee at programs and events, such as Queen’s Park Day.


Vice Chair

  • Support the Chair as necessary, and act as chair in the event of that the chair cannot fulfill their responsibilities



  • Take minutes during meetings and distribute to all committee members.
  • Prepare the Annual Report, with support from the Chair and other members


Communications Chair

  • Maintain the GOEMP website
  • Contribute regular updates to GOEMP social media, including the Facebook page and monitoring the use of and engagement with the #GOEMP hashtag.
  • Liaise with OMA communications staff to ensure GOEMP activities are made known to the larger Ontario museum sector
  • Create and monitor a system of communicating Ontario museum job and volunteer listings or notifications to the GOEMP community
  • Explore the creation of a GOEMP newsletter or related communications initiatives


Conference & Programs Chair

  • Liaise with OMA staff in regards to EMP activities at the OMA annual conference.
  • Explore opportunities for new partnerships, including networking with schools and raising awareness of GOEMP support and resources amongst new students.
  • Offer support for EMPs in creating and hosting successful regional ‘Meet Up’ events
  • Develop EMP-focused professional development initiatives and resources


Members at Large

  • Offer support to the Committee, bringing fresh ideas, perspectives, opportunities, and enthusiasm for the EMP community
  • Regularly attend meetings and stay current with GOEMP Committee communications.
  • Support their local area and EMPs.
  • Support the communications chair with social media and ensuring the Facebook group is regularly updated with quality content of interest to the GOEMP community.

Welcome to the GOEMP Website

The Groups of Ontario Emerging Museum Professionals is a group for museum/arts related staff and enthusiasts living in Ontario. We facilitate social and professional opportunities for those in their first decade of a museum career, and we partner with the Ontario Museum Association for their annual conference, offering unique programs for EMPs at conference.

Join in on the GOEMP conversation by following GOEMP on Facebook.