The Huron County Gaol was established as the jail for Upper Canada's Huron District. Construction took place between 1839 and 1842 using stone from the Maitland River Valley and from Michigan.
The octagonal jail was designed by Thomas Young, modelled a Panopticon design first proposed by philosopher Jeremy Bentham in 1791. This design features a circular prison with cells distributed around a central surveillance station. Thomas Young also designed the Barrie gaol which shares a very similar design. The panopticon design at the Goderich jail, has an octagonal central block radiated two foot thick walls, with a height of eighteen feet. Encompassing these walls are perimeter or curtain walls of identical dimensions enclosing exercise yards and jail gardens.
At the time of construction, the united counties of Huron, Perth, and Bruce required both a courthouse and a jail before they could gain official autonomy. To this end, a temporary courtroom and Council Chambers were set up on the jail’s third floor which was originally meant to be used as a chapel. It was in this makeshift Council Chamber that the first Huron District Council meeting was held on 8 February, 1842. The third floor was also used for church services and other public gatherings before proper buildings were available. The county courthouse was completed in 1856, in the centre of Goderich’s Market Square at which time, the jail .
In its time, the Huron County Gaol also served as a home for the aged, the insane, and the poor, in addition to the common criminal. The site ceased functioning as a jail serving Huron County in 1972 and inmates were then transferred to regional jails in Walkerton and Stratford.
Three inmates were hanged at the jail and two were conducted publicly. On 18 December 1861 William Mahone was hanged outside the jail walls.
An exterior wall of the jail was the location of the last public execution that occurred in Canada, when on December 7, 1869, Nicholas Melady was hanged for the murder of his father and step-mother. Edward Jardine was hanged privately on June 16 1911.Steven Truscott also awaited execution in the Huron County Gaol from September 30, 1959, when he was convicted of murder, until his sentence was commuted to life imprisonment on 22 January, 1960. Some of the notorious criminals who served time at the jail include individuals like the infamous James Donnelly of the Black Donnelly clan of Lucan, Ontario, at that time part of the County of Huron.
The Huron County Museum has done a very lovely job on restoration and now a museum in this historic structure.
Until next time, Happy & Safe Exploring !
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