Saint-Vincent-de-Paul Penitentiary National Historic Site of Canada
Links and documents
Listed on the Canadian Register:
Statement of Significance
Description of Historic Place
A monumental stone prison with a severe, forbidding presence, Saint-Vincent-de-Paul Penitentiary National Historic Site of Canada is located in Laval, Québec. Opened in 1873 in a facility previously constructed as a reformatory, it was Canada’s second federal penitentiary, and served as the country’s sole francophone correctional facility from 1873 until it closed in 1989. The designation refers to the penitentiary buildings on the legal lot.
Saint-Vincent-de-Paul Penitentiary was designated a national historic site of Canada in 1990 because of:
- its important place in the social history of Québec.
Originally built in 1873, most of the present institution was constructed in the 1930s and 1940s. The architecture of the original facility, which planned for only an administration building and cellblock, was unimpressive, and the penitentiary has been altered so significantly that it has lost its original Greek cross cell block configuration.
The heritage value of Saint-Vincent-de-Paul Penitentiary National Historic Site lies in its witness to over a century of criminal justice in Canada in general and, particularly, Québec. Heritage value resides in the recognizable public presence of the institution which includes its exterior appearance, its site and its setting. It can also be found in the stories and the relics of life within the institution’s walls.
Source: Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada, Minutes, 1990.
Key elements that contribute to the heritage character of the site include:
- the high, surrounding stone wall which provides the distinctive public face of the institution;
- the penitentiary’s large scale, cohesive form, and distinctive flat topped profile broken only by guard towers with turrets, its severely regular proportions and severe formal tone created by a mixture of restrained classical elements, including a heavy cornice supported by regular brackets, faux pillars to mark gates, detailed pediments over the gates, arched second storey windows, and utilitarian details, such as barred windows and caged gate apertures;
- its abundant use of stone materials and their skillful craftsmanship;
- remaining fragments of the prison’s early form, design and materials inside the walls, specifically the rotunda and parts of the two wings;
- the consistently low height of facilities within the penitentiary wall;
- graffiti on the interior and exterior walls, rotunda and original wing areas recalling the penitentiary’s long-term role;
- archaeological evidence of prison life (buried and above ground) inside the boundaries of the wall;
- the penitentiary’s location on the historic outskirts of Montreal;
- its status as a visual landmark.
Government of Canada
Historic Sites and Monuments Act
National Historic Site of Canada
1873/01/01 to 1989/01/01
Theme - Category and Type
- Governing Canada
- Security and Law
- Building Social and Community Life
- Education and Social Well-Being
Function - Category and Type
- Correctional Facility
Architect / Designer
Location of Supporting Documentation
National Historic Sites Directorate, Documentation Centre, 5th Floor, Room 89, 25 Eddy Street, Gatineau, Quebec
Cross-Reference to Collection
The Main Cellblock is located within the walls of the compound of Saint-Vincent-de-Paul Penitentiary. It is an imposing, stone structure built of enormous blocks of limestone with…
The Towers are prominently located at the four corners of the enclosing walls at the Saint-Vincent-de-Paul Penitentiary. Each of the four towers is composed of a concrete shaft…