Kingston Penitentiary Harbourfront Property

A historical image of a boat unloading coal at the dock adjacent to Kingston Penitentiary. Photo is courtesy of the Canadian Penitentiary Museum.

As part of the official decommissioning of Kingston Penitentiary, the Correctional Service of Canada (CSC) conducted an Environmental Site Assessment of Kingston Penitentiary property. The assessment identified areas on the property that showed evidence of contamination relating to coal storage (see photo right of a boat off-loading coal onto the ground by the harbour), as well as spills and leaks associated with Portsmouth marina boats stored in the area.


Coal was used in varying degrees throughout Kingston Penitentiary’s early history. Starting in 1835, when Kingston Penitentiary first opened its doors, coal was used in small quantities for blacksmithing, cooking and heating stoves.  The use of coal increased in the 1880s after the electrification of the prison, as the use of a power plant generator meant a constant need for fuel. When running water and radiators were installed in the prison in the early 1900s, even more coal was required to run the boilers and pumps.

Aerial view of Kingston Penitentiary in 1931. You can see stockpiles of coal on the left-hand side of the photo, by the water’s edge.

Starting in the 1950s, coal at Kingston Penitentiary was slowly replaced with more reliable sources of fuel such as gasoline, heating oil and natural gas.

Before being used, the coal would be unloaded from a boat, weighed and stored along the south and west walls of the Penitentiary. The coals piles were weathered by wind, rain and snow, and traces of coal were still present when the soil was tested in 2013-14.

Environmental Assessment Results

Results showed that the soils tested had elevated levels of metals and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), above recommended guidelines. There were several “hot spots”, where concentrations of metals and PAHs were higher than in other areas.

An assessment of the nearby water in the Portsmouth Harbour and Lake Ontario showed that there were no unacceptable risks to freshwater species associated with the contaminated soil or groundwater.

This is an overhead image of Kingston Penitentiary and the Portsmouth Olympic Harbour. The red area of the map around the perimeter of the institution indicates the suspected area affected by the institution's historical storage of coal.
*The red area of the map indicates the suspected area affected by the institution's historical storage of coal.


After the environmental site assessment and risk assessment were completed, clean-up options were presented to CSC. The option chosen was to excavate and replace the impacted soil, so that the land would be revitalized and restored to green space. The remediated area will no longer be leased for boat slips or long-term boat storage, so the refreshed space will be open for the public to have access to and enjoy!

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