Prisons are not something usually associated with Canada, but even a country stereotyped as friendly and polite needs someplace to put all its evildoers. Though Canada is not usually associated with the sort of violent criminal activity that has become expected in certain parts of its neighbor to the south, there are occasionally some people deemed as especially dangerous to be found up north. Naturally, with time, some of the prisons built to house these high-risk inmates become derelict, leaving behind huge, empty complexes which are difficult to reuse and stubborn to try to demolish.
The wide open farms of eastern Ontario spread out in front of us after we sped past the Toronto city limits, gunning our little Chevy down the 401. The four of us in the car were heading into rural Ontario on the trail of an abandoned maximum security prison, formerly a place whose name once struck fear into the hearts of teenage hooligans and serial murderers alike: Millbrook Correctional Centre, known to its inmates as simply ‘the Brook’.
Located far from any real population centers in the woods east of Toronto, Millbrook Correctional Centre was designed to be where Ontario (and occasionally the rest of Canada when there was a need) kept its most violent prisoners. Opened in 1957 in response to a massive riot that ripped through Guelph Reformatory, Millbrook was purpose built to house the baddest of the bad, the inmates who could not be held anywhere else in the system. Murderers and violent thugs rubbed shoulders with career burglars and rapists, eventually also mixing with people convicted of lesser offenses like drug crimes, simple assaults, and immigration violations. As increased loads placed on the prison system sent more and more people to the Brook, capacity increased from 268 to almost 500 inmates.
Regardless of their crimes, new prisoners were tossed into solitary confinement upon arrival in what came to be called the Ontario Plan. Under a part of the Plan known as the Progressive Stage System, an inmate’s stay was divided into three phases, with the initial one being the most draconian. Upon arrival at Millbrook, inmates would be put on a so-called ‘special diet’ for sixteen days: no letters, phone calls, or visitors; 24-hour-a-day lockdown inside a cell, and nothing to pass the time but a Bible. With good behavior and time, they were rewarded in later phases with things like library privileges, smokes, visitors, yard time, and at the top level, one outgoing letter a week and the opportunity to take correspondence courses from within the prison.
Conditions at Millbrook were notoriously harsh. Things like personal toiletries and sweets were contraband, and the guards strictly regulated every detail down to how the inmates slept in their beds. Part of the Ontario Plan meant “troublemakers” were classified (though not segregated in housing) into three groups: one for discipline problems, one for convicted sex offenders, and a third for inmates deemed to be homosexual. Psychological help and treatment was hard to come by, the staff overworked and underpaid. In April of 2001, a 50-year-old Vietnamese immigration prisoner named Nguyen Cao Son died under ‘suspicious circumstances’ – sparking a hunger strike by around 60 inmates being held for related immigration offenses. In March of 2001, prisoners broke into one of the prison’s control rooms and unlocked a wing’s worth of cells – releasing 39 convicts into the halls of the jail. The inmates tried unsuccessfully to reach the outer yard, and after a few hours of rioting, finally returned to their cells. This incident, along with worsening labor relations between the provincial government and the Ontario public servants’ union made keeping the prison open harder and harder. Sure enough, by the end of 2003 Millbrook was shut down, the prisoners transferred away to jails in Kingston and Lindsay.
We climbed the hill through the trees to the prison, and slowly the imposing three-story-high brick walls came into view. All the doors were welded shut, and a walk around the perimeter quickly revealed our options were limited. After all, this was a compound designed to keep the world inside totally separate from what was outside. It was a fortress. But as with all castles, the walls were eventually breached. We found ourselves a well-placed chink in Millbrook’s armor, and into the penitentiary we went.
Inside, the prison was eerily chilly. The thick walls of cinder blocks and reinforced concrete insulated the cold air inside from the warm spring sunshine. One hallway was covered in a layer of ice two inches thick, trapping a fire hose in its grip. Mid April didn’t seem so bright inside the bone-chillingly cold halls of the prison.
The prison’s maximum security wings were wide open, all the cell doors locked ajar by the last wardens to leave. The slots in the doors would have been the inmates’ only portal to the outside world, save for a window that looked out on the yard. No doubt a depressing way to spend 20 years to life.
The prison was a self-sustaining city of sorts, maintained largely by the inmates themselves as part of the Ontario Plan’s emphasis on rehabilitation through education and vocational training. Within its walls were kitchens, medical facilities, and a machine shop that, until 2000, made most of Ontario’s license plates. An equipment malfunction that year left the province short of plates by 100,000 or so. When three outside workers were brought into the prison to help make up the difference, all sorts of health and safety types cried foul, and the presses fell silent soon after, with production shifting to a private contractor. It was one more thorn in the side of the wardens, and only added to government pressure to close the facility.
The beauty of an abandoned prison is that when all the doors are left open, one can see both sides of the same coin. The guards at Millbrook enjoyed several towers where they could survey the sprawling complex of buildings. Central locking stations, like the one the prisoners stormed in 2002, made their jobs easier and arguably a bit safer, allowing all the doors in a given wing to be controlled from a single room rather than risking an inmate stealing the keys. At the time Millbrook was built, these central monitoring systems had only begun to make their debut onto the penitentiary scene, and the new prison received the state-of-the-art systems as they were developed.
We escaped Millbrook without being descended on by the black helicopters of the Ontario Provincial Police (which, I’ve been told, besieged a team that went a few weeks prior to us) or the residents of the town itself. Our attention turned back to the glittering skyscrapers of Toronto, titans that begged us to stand upon their shoulders, their skeletons of concrete, steel and glass towering above us like giant futuristic sentinels. We would soon oblige them.
See more postcards from the joint right here.
**Update – 24 May 2015***
I have received word from Ontario that Millbrook Correctional Centre has finally begun to fall to the wrecking ball. After spending more than $70,000 every year since its closure on the site, the provincial government found the means and time to level the complex piece by piece.
From the demolition plan:
“This project involves the deconstruction and demolition of the main complex of buildings and fire training tower as well as the removal of all roads including the main “ring” road, transformers, septic beds and lagoons, all wells and storm water management systems. The design approach was first to de-construct the site by identifying what can be reused/recycled/diverted from landfill. Environmental remediation work was identified in a phase 1 and 2 ESA and is included in the scope of work. This work includes the clean up in the lagoons, septic beds, former dumpster area, onion field and sand pit, creek area, powerhouse area and sludge beds. Work will also be required under the fire tower.”
Though plans for its reuse have not been finalized, sources indicate that either a local sports center or a large-scale marijuana grow-op are both potential contenders for the site’s final disposition.
Check out some current photos of Millbrook’s dismantling over at Jermalism (scroll down to the bottom for the demolition pics).
im glad its closed i was a resident myself in 1983 84.was crazy but survived
Wow, what a fantastic set:) Thank you for sharing!
How would the OPP know you guys were there? Do they patrol it regularly with helicopters now? I never heard of anyone having a problem like that before? When were you there because I heard it is scheduled for demolition before Jan st, 2011.
i’m just relaying a story i heard secondhand…some people who went a month or two before us were caught walking up by a helicopter that circled around. apparently they occasionally do aerial patrols in that part of the province and just happened to get lucky. i have heard however that recently various police agencies occasionally use it for training.
as for demo, i’ve seen recent photos, so the prison is still there.
The prison is still there as of today and won\t be demolished as the town hall said, however every door, opening, crack everything has been welded shut real well, someone has been trying ot get it but not yet,,,i want to know when also, i didnt see any helicopters when i was there today but possibe
wow,these pictures brought back some healing memories to my past.I was there from May 1979 to April 1980 then again from December 1983 to April 1984 i was 18 my 1st time and 22 the second time my name is Harvey Saunders My co-accused was Goerge Melish
I did prison ministry for over ten years. I remember so many of the photos and how the system worked. I remember so many of the inmates and wondering if there are improvements to the system currently. Now a huge empty facility and the best toboggan hills can not be accessed because of politics . Funny we tobogganed when the inmates were there but now it’s unsafe?
Thanks for the thoughts! if it had been winter, we’d have definitely brought sleds!
dianne could you refer me to information on the Ontario Plan? i know someone who is still suffering and believes he was brainwashed at Millbrook. Could it be true?
I grew up in the Town when i was younger and we use to go to the hill every winter and go down with our crazy carpets. Wonder why you wouldnt be allowed to do that now.
The prison is still standing as of today, they do foot patrol up there as well. we live down the road for it. People are always getting kicked off the hill
I was there in the mid and late 70s.
The warden at the time i think his name was Drury or something like that was a real asshole.
I remember being sent to solitary for giving someone an Aspirin because the screw wouldn’t open the guys door for sick call.
Back then you had to call out that you wanted to see the Nurse.
This guy was really sick and didn’t call out, and the screw wouldn’t open his cell door.
So I asked for an aspirin and slid it under the guys door.
Well you’d think I had tried to Fuck the Nurse.
They called the Goon Squad to escort me to the HOLE.
They had this nasty shit we called Bean Cake that they would feed us in the Hole.
When I was there, there were few really BAD Guys there, most were sent from other joints like Guelph and later Maplehurst.
I worked on a press making License Plates.
Bloody boring job.
I’d put 4 blanks in the press instead of just 2 and watch the press try and squeeze them two extra pieces of metal.
The Screw would go through all the plates and make sure all the numbers were there for each box of plates.
Any that were missing or messed up, because someone pit 4 blanks in the press and they came out BAD, They had to make.
Just one of the ways I’d amuse myself.
Glad to see it’s finally closed.
They should have locked some of them Screws up in there.
And made em eat Bean Cake.
To this smart guy John above….Drury was never the Superintendent thats all you know. If you would have spent more time doing the right things and learning the proper names maybe you would not have been there long…………Drury was the Asst Supt. and maybe he should have kicked your ass some more.
well now…wayne ellis…your attack of john;s comment on aug 2012…took you 5YEARS…to start to beakin off …about an inmates comment of a HELL he was lucky enough to live through,,,mmm …MY name is Bobby Butson…from Hamilton..and i was there in millbrook in the seventies,. and whoever the FCK you think you are WAYNE ELLIS…you sound like a DISGRUNTLED PIG FARMER…WHO WAS A COPPER IN THE BROOK…and you must still be CRYING IN YOUR BEER …that they closed down your place of employment …down the road from where you live.Must be gettin up there in years now eh?…Pig farming not working out for you anymore?…oh well….do you know what P.O.S. MEANS WAYNE ELLIS?…tO SUGGEST a correctional officer….copper…should have assaulted an inmate , while in custody…suggests to me …you sound like the type of person who in the past participated in such behavior…and thought nothing of said inmates rights in the past…speaks ALOT about the type of person you are NOW…and the type of PERSON …you MUST have been in the PAST , if in fact you are an ex copper…therefore if the shoe fits …WEAR IT…WAYNE ELLIS…
i was in millbrook from 1970 till april 1973 when 12 of us in 10 wing started a riot and we were street charged , i ended up going to kinston
thanks for responding, the fellow i know believes that he was subjected to brainwashing and drug experiments while at Millbrook; is it possible? He is really suffering from all this. take care
Did a deuce less in 1959, worked in the marker plant. Mans worst nightmare if the :GOON SQUAD: was coming for you. Nasty, biggest meanest basterds you could ever want to meet. By the way back then their was no such thing as a conjugal visit, connjugle visit back then was which ever hand wasent tired. Smokes was another thing, we used to hide extra weed in marker plant in equipment. Could dam neer write a book about this hell hole. Administration strip search was another story.
My name is Bobby Butson, I’m from Hamilton. I was in Millbrook in 1975. I was 18 years old. I ended up there doing 18 months definite, 12 months indefinite, with all my goodtime gone by the time I got there! In May of 1975, i got an extra 30 days for sucker punching a WHITE SHIRT (guard), in Barton St. Jail….Sgt. Davidson. Once i got back to the jail, before the coppers threw me back in the hole for my (PUNITIVE DIET) beancake lunch, they were nice enough to let me have exercise yard time with 2 other guys that were in the hole as well…they had just installed a new yard light under 1 east range, windows…there were 2 coppers in the yard as well…one of them was named Kerr – some musicians father. One of the cons boosted me up to grab the electrical conduit pipe, and I hang dropped while holding that pipe, over the top of the wall and down the 25 feet on the freedom side to make my escape…..which only lasted 3hrs, because it was shift change. Jail guards in cars chased me for 3 hours through the north end of Hamilton to finally beat me down, stuff me into a car, and return me to Barton Street Jail. So when I got to Millbrook…it was like going to do my ENTIRE 30 months there! I was only there for 3 months….and I was not without at least ONE black eye for my entire time there! I started sucker punching coppers, to get street charged, and get 6 months more on my sentence, thus ending up in the Pen. But those PIG farming coppers figured it out and wouldn’t street charge me – everytime I hooked a copper they just beat the bark out of me! They were going to try to keep me there for my full 30 months! Well, the last time I hooked a copper, they chained me up by my wrists in the back of the Seg Unit…and kicked the HELL OUT OF MY BALLS!!! It was so bad that I screamed for DAYS to see the joint nurse and hopefully charge these coppers. Hey, don’t hate the player, hate the game! My nuts were as big as softballs after that beating….thankfully, maybe the nurse had a son, and knew after seeing my injuries that the coppers could not stop her from honoring my request. She telephoned the O.P.P – ‘I WANT THESE COPPERS STREET CHARGED’ So…they came, interviewed me, saw my medical report from the nurse, and street charged 3 coppers, then shipped ME out of Millbrook – obviously to save MY LIFE. They sent me to the Cobourg town jail . Then they brought Millbrook guards in to guard me! WELL, I hooked a Cobourg jail guard, and off I went in a transport van, handcuffed, a belt done up behind my back, with 2 old Brookside Training School coppers who knew me when I was there in 1973. of course there was a steel wire mesh wall protecting them from me. I thought they were taking me back to Millbrook…they would not tell me where they were taking me. So being a kind of agile guy from gymnastics as a kid, I got the belt that i was handcuffed to behind my back undone, and told those 2 coppers, “I know what road you gotta take to get me back to Millbrook – and I dont care if you are going 60 miles an hour, I WILL kick this window out of the side of this van and JUMP OUT – I would sooner be dead or in the hospital than go back to Millbrook!” WELL, these two old coppers – near retirement, I am sure – got on the radio, called the O.P.P, and an cop car pulled us over. Cop got out of his cruiser – GUN DRAWN – the 2 old guards opened the side door of the van, and I had a cop pointing his gun right at my HEAD. He said: “Turn around!” so they could tie up that handcuff harness behind my back again. I did what i was told…WHEW! Anyway, now the 2 old guards told me they were taking me to the Peterborough jail, so I got that harness undone behind my back again, freeing my hands to just being handcuffed. But i told those 2 coppers: “As long as you don’t take that road to Millbrook, I will calm down.” They gave me a smoke, and we arrived at the Peterborough jail. Needless to say, Millbrook guards showed up again to watch my range! I started sucker punching Peterborough jail guards. WELL, i did end up in the PEN….Millhaven, en route from Kingston Pen, through Collins Bay, where the coppers there threatened me with Millhaven if i didnt do as i was told. Told me guys in Millhaven would straighten me right out….QUICK! I broke my arm in Collins Bay playing tackle football with NO football gear. Anyway, I had enough of these Collins Bay coppers trying to intimidate me with Millhaven, and one morning, when i was getting my meds for my plaster-casted arm, some nurse started yapping at me for being late, like i was in training school, or something. I basically shot my mouth off, and dared her to call the goon coppers. She did, and i just said: “I been in maximum security since i was 15yrs old, and I’M NOT AFRAID OF THE HAVEN – so #### you, Let’s go.” And yea, i got beat, loaded into a car, like ROADKILL, and stomped all the way to Millhaven, handcuffed and shackled on the floor of a car. I was released after in October 1977 about 28 months in the Haven…to find out how that was, go to the Millhaven website, prisoner stories. But i’m NOT cute little BOBBY BUTSON anymore…i go by Rob Butson(as in Robert). It’s NOT the SIZE of the DOG in the FIGHT, it’s the SIZE of the FIGHT in the DOG! But, i am a calm guy now, i’m 55 years old now, my wife is – you are gonna love this – an EX correctional officer, 13yrs younger than me, who worked only 1 year with adult prisoners, and 9 years with kids. Currently halfway through a social service worker course. We’ve been together 6 years now, she’s beautiful, and i AM a lucky guy, and free! And the last person i shot was 1993 – warrent expiry was 1997 for that. I’m out of the crazy life…what a road it was! Good luck to all who have survived……i really mean that!!!! Hey, you guys who did that Millbrook tour…get a hold of me would you???
Wow, it’s almost like they treated you like a criminal or something.
DENIM73….?… Did you ever meet your FATHER?
hey bob ,mike parker here,I remember u fro sprucedale school in the seventies,wow u had a hell of a life,im glad it worked out for u in the end,buddy,take care
Hello Mike, my friend…I remember you too. I remember you from Sprucedale as one hell of an advisary as an athlete…especially if you were on the opposing team, baseball, football hockey…you name it you did it well…Getting this email blew my wife’s mind, she thought only I had a memory like an elephant. Good to hear from you my friend. This is my email if you want to talk I have something to talk to you about that might benefit you…email@example.com
Bye for now hope to hear from you
glad to see you are still sharp ,mike…im ok …but damn good to hear from childhood friends…people you never forget yknow? i left my email address for you …then maybe we can talk further…first time i watched mel gibson in Payback…his charachter was parker…i thought of you mike …on the ring hockey ..in the gym…and on the ice hockey…
I like your comments about Canadians being polite and having little violent crime. I’m afraid the stereotype is rather upsettingly untrue. Canada actually has a higher violent crime rate percapita than the U.S.
This is because we count all assaults (including threats) in violent crime stats, where America (and many other countries) only count aggravated assaults. The problem with comparing crime stats between nations is making sure you are comparing apples to apples, as well as all the other factors (some crimes are reported more frequently than others depending on region).
Can you please quote your source on that?
OMG! I am soooo jealous of you. How the heck did you manage to get into this place? I found an open door there once and went in, but it just took me up to a guard tower and not into the prison. I don’t live in Millbrook but I work in the area and I heard that the prison is going to be demolished this year (2013). The houses that were on the property have been torn down.
We FAST-roped in from a hovering Blackhawk. Easiest way to do it.
I haven’t heard anything about impending demolition, though that would be a bummer if it’s true. Do you know if there’s solid redevelopment plans?
Can’t get in now at all. Security patrols the place pretty much on the hour now. As well, the army has been using it for training purposes and blowing stuff up. Where can I find me one of those BlackHawks LOL!
Thanks for the update! We saw some evidence of police practice like breached walls, but nothing major. Honestly it seems like it would be a fun place to practice using explosives though!
I have a little thing called a Thermal Lance, it’s portable, and will burn through steel plate no problem.
I’ll bring it along next time I go east to Ontario.
I’d kind of like to see the old place again.
Piss in the old wardens office.
1st time there was so long that I forget the year, but ended up over at the camp. Errol or Sarge was his name. One week night I guess we were a little bored and 2 of the guys figured they would pay the LCBO a visit. They ended up coming back with about 8 bottles of rye. What a night!!! Bout a year later got a visit from the OPP asking about that night! Course, I knew nothing!! They ended up charging 1 person. Nobody said duck all, but the guy ended up with 2 years to the ‘pen. My second time was in ’86, I had 2 less, did every day right there!!
What a shit hole this was. I was one of the last inmates in this jail, as it closed, I worked in the library and then got shoved into plates, laundry, and then taylor shop. It never broke me though. Glad it closed, nobody was safe even with the cameras. I know a man who was murdered in his cell over a debt. 8 guys got him in a cell and beat him so bad he was a vegetable and taken off life support. I’ll be honest though, I’ve been to I think every Ontario provincial jail. Monteith jail was the absolute worst ever. OMG horrible food, shitty dorms, and I thought white people were racist wow not even close. Anyway glad it’s shut down, it was pure hell.
Shipped to the Brook because of deteriorating behaviour at maplehurst unit 4. 1986…. Back to Niagara for reclassification……2 nights in the Toronto east and the next day arrival at the Brook…. Just 20 years old and doing a year for cracking my knuckles in court…..attempt obstruct justice…..lol…..went to unit 5 for a few days and then a white shirt tried telling me that pc at the Brook was like population in any other jail…..what a goof…knowing the likes of Wayne grey….Mike Osborne and Randy meisner got me place on 1 unit……1 2 3 and 4 were the only population ranges……20 hour lock up for the first while until I got a job at the marker plant….got into it there with a screw named baldy…. We stamped a plate that said. Baldy. Another one said is a. And the third one said goof…tied them up with wire through the screw holes in that order and hung that shit from the pipes above the lockers…..off to the hole I went…the one way glass fucked me up cause I could hear the coppers creeping but couldn’t see them….football in the yard was a game for gladiators…everybody bled the same when making a play near the wall……prisoner justice day 1986….j r rolls got a dirty beating when his plate was found upside down on his tray with no food under it….said he flushed it…..people need to see your meal untouched for credibility……Mooney was on the rec gang and gave me a clean hip check when we were playing ball hockey on the tarmac…..up and over I went and that was the end of my career….bruised up for awhile….nice check Kenny. Lol. Learned to play bridge there….what a tense fuckin situation that is…..Bernie kuhlish from London ont was my partner…..not a patient man by any means but I learned quick thank Bernie……congratulations Jerry the book for taking my tm’s every week on the 3 game parlays…..Bengals fucked me over every time….sitting in the yard behind the marker plant playing handball with hairy and alley…hairy would look over to the left and see the rolling hill over the wall and say. Imagine if you seen your best friend on the hill……..fuckin your ol lady……it was a good laugh……there from July til November 1986….no blacks allowed in population back then except smokey from Hamilton…..turned down camp cause there was inmates there from upstairs units….the Brook had pc…super pc…and super duper pc……real solid fellas back then…….release day was great…..waited for the greyhound on the side of the hiway and shot the shit with Freddie hill from Toronto…..unit 4 material……..everyone knew where they stood…what was expected of them and the inmate code was strictly adhered to out of honour.loyalty. and fear…..better than the super jails of today…….
I spent time at the brook, was ok I guess. Keep to yourself and do your own time! Made plates and sewed clothes. Was there when they took smoking out!
71-73 did a lot of hole time.
ross the boss morrison
Russel your riot almost killed my father at that riot as you said he was a screw he tried to see each of you inmates as a person who made bad choices and wanted the best for you finally i got the year right it was during my tenth birthday that the riot occured
By the way it was fun tobbagoning those hills ontario government has no common sense yes i am from the area lived four and a half miles away in a hamlet called cedar valley
Oh wow, that hill would be perfect for what I would call sledding (as a Coloradan).
Thanks for the memories meet many of the guards from the brook friends and co-workers of my dad miss him alot since his death in 2000
My name is Mike Waugh I did a few bits in the brook in th 80’s and 90’s was shot in the yard in the riot of 97 I think it was we had 4 riot gear uniforms out there that’s when shit went south lots of good times was in j-unit in millhaven in 99 till 01 and lots of guys that were with me in the yard that day I saw there anyways millbrook was mostly a P.C joint there was only 4 ranges of reg pop when I was there and the treatment wing we called t-wing and a few guys in there were good to just crazy is all anyway you want to here joint stories drop me a line I got a million of them