History of CSC Uniforms

Kingston Penitentiary Officer Alexander Elsmere is shown posing in his dress uniform. Elsmere joined the staff of Kingston Penitentiary in 1859. This portrait likely dates back to the 1870s or 1880s.

This is a typical Guard's uniform of the style worn from c.1910 – mid-1930s. In the mid-1930s, the Stetson-style hat was changed to a peaked forage cap, but the rest of the uniform remained the same until 1963-64.

This is the first CSC Commissioner's 'No.1 dress' uniform. It belonged to Commissioner Donald R. Yeomans and is dated Sept. 1980. It represents the first uniform style worn by staff under the "Correctional Service of Canada".

Standardized uniforms have been part of corrections in Canada for well over a century and June 1, 2005, marks the next step in their evolution. The new Correctional Service of Canada (CSC) uniform has been in development for a number of years and many interested groups have contributed to its design, which incorporates essential elements of style, comfort, mobility and ruggedness.

In the 1800s and well into the 20th century, many soldiers who completed their years of service sought a career in corrections. CSC uniforms and regalia naturally sprung from Canadian, British and American military traditions. Since then, CSC has gone through a number of philosophical and organizational shifts that are mirrored in the uniforms of the times - from highly militaristic to a more civilian look.

Warden Samuel Lawrence Bedson, Manitoba Penitentiary, c. 1880. He is credited with designing the first standardized uniform for penitentiary officers, which was approved in 1890. He is pictured here wearing his military uniform.

Uniforms for federal correctional staff varied from one region to another across Canada until 1890 when Warden Bedson of Manitoba Penitentiary (Stony Mountain) is credited with designing the first standardized uniform. Staff uniforms were manufactured by inmate tailors employed in industrial tailor shops at all five penitentiaries across the country: Kingston Penitentiary, British Columbia Penitentiary, Manitoba Penitentiary, Dorchester and St. Vincent de Paul.

The first uniforms were blue serge (wool) and were characteristic of the early military influence. By 1910, most correctional officers had switched to a newer khaki uniform that remained in use until the 1960s.

Priorities within the service shifted in the early 1960s, away from a punitive approach towards a philosophy of rehabilitation. Other changes within the then Canadian Penitentiary Service illustrate changing attitudes towards the correctional system: a new Penitentiary Act was introduced in 1962; the Service underwent a broad reorganization; and a greater effort was made to focus on the quantity and quality of staff training and to attract a more professional staff. The Service adopted a blue uniform that was distinctly civilian in style.

In 1978, correctional officers again traded in their blue uniforms for khakis. The new khaki-coloured tunic and elaborate military-style insignia were adopted with the hope of building a common identity, esprit-de-corps and to boost professionalism.

A new uniform was introduced in 1993. Once again, the uniform reverted to a variation on the blue theme and a more civilian style.

The newest variation consists of highly functional dark blue cargo pants and a black t-shirt under a dark blue shirt, with shoulder flashes and epaulettes. Rank insignia consists of gold bars on blue: one bar for correctional officer I and two for correctional officer II. Correctional Supervisors will wear light blue shirts with three bars.

What does this new uniform say to the wearer and to those who view it? Future employees will consider it years down the road, looking back through the long lens of history. As for now, it is certain that employees are eagerly looking forward to donning the new CSC uniform and fulfilling the obligations that come with it. It reflects the enormous responsibility of our correctional staff to carry out challenging duties while respecting human rights, the rule of law and the highest ethical standards.