Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Burwash Prison

Burwash Prison was located along highway 69. Once fully constructed, the site had the ability to house 1000 inmates but never reached full capacity.

Burwash was a completely self-sufficient town which contained a 20 bed hospital, church, school, staff townsite, power station, post office, blacksmith, tailor shop, skating rink, cemetery, hospital, barber shop and church.

The beginning

On September 14, 1914, the Ontario Government passed an Order in Council to establish the Burwash Industrial Farm. Four days later, the new Superintendant Clarance Fletcher Neelands, Sgt. Norman Sydney Oliver and nine inmates arrived at the Burwash Station. They set up camp and soon thereafter began constructing the first permanent building known as Camp Spruce.

In 1914 construction commenced on the 35,000 acres of land and by the end of the same year 150 prisoners serving sentences of two years or less were transferred to Burwash.

With the First World War, came recession. With recession came crime. The population of inmates grew to 180.

By 1915, a small log camp had been built on the banks of the Wanapitei River and by fall, work had begun on the main camp. It was completed on January 31, 1916.

Until the construction of the cell blocks, prisoners lived in the dormitory located within the townsite.


The population continued to grow as the Guelph Reformatory was turned into a veteran's hospital and rehabilitation center. The 200 prisoners were transferred to Burwash. Burwash's population grew to over 350 men.

By 1917, a steam powered sawmill (on Mill Lake), shingle and 'sticker' mill were in operations. The mill produced one million feet of lumber at its peak, annually.

During the 1920's when Christmas season arrived, the Salvation Army organized people to sing Christmas carols to the inmates.

Travel to Burwash was primarily by train as there were no roads leading to the site.

In 1933, a road built by the inmates connected the Wanapitei River with Estaire. This road now connected Burwash with other roads to Wanup, Sudbury and Coniston. Burwash was no longer a remote isolated area. In a few years, cars were making it possible for people to visit Burwash and for staff to go shopping in Sudbury.

Once the Trans Canada Highway was built, prisoner escape attempts became more frequent and signs were posted along the highway instructing motorists not to pick up hitchhikers.

Camp Bison

The new $2.6 million Camp Bison was officially opened in a ceremony on June 8, 1960. It accomodated 210 inmates. The name of the camp originated from the numerous wildlife that had been known to roam the property.

The End

On July 10, 1974, Ontario Minister of Correctional Services, Richard T. Potter, announced that the Burwash Correctional Centre would close. The cost to run Burwash was deemed too high, outdated equipment would be costly to replace and Burwash's closure would save the provincial government money.

The last day of operation was February 13, 1975. Residents of the estimated 175 townsite houses were told they would have to vacate their homes. Some residences took their homes with them - literally.

In 1977, a steering Committee was established by the Ontario Government to recommend possible uses for the remaining prison complex and the 35,000 acres of land. This led to the Federal Government purchasing the property in October for $1.8 million dollars.

In July of 1979, the land was leased to the Regional Municipality of Sudbury for a goat farming operation to produce mohair.

In 1990 the government bid on 8000 acres of lad to be used for military training. Some of this training involved using explosives to destroy some of the townsite's homes.


Any buildings left on the site were bulldozed by the government in 1994.

An Ontario Heritage Trust plaque was unveiled at the site on August 6, 2006. Around 2007 the cemetery, overgrown and difficult to find, was cleaned up and a sign posted to mark it's location. There are an estimated 12-20 prisoners buried here many of whom had no family to bury them properly.

Parts of Burwash are still used by the Department of National Defense for training purposes.