Designed by William Thomas, one of Toronto’s most important 19th century architects, the Old Don Jail is a historic landmark. Built in 1864, it was the largest prison of its kind in North America—a jail that attempted to reform its inmates rather than simply incarcerate them. It was designed so that each inmate had access to daylight, heat, and ventilation.

After more than 30 years of vacancy, the conservation and adaptive reuse of the Old Don Jail preserves the rich heritage of the building while providing bright new administrative offices for Bridgepoint. The original exterior of the building was fully retained and repaired, while the interior was refurbished and renovated, allowing the marks of history to remain and creating a positive environment for Bridgepoint staff.

A major challenge for the project lay in transforming an inflexible floor plan designed for isolation and separation into an open, accessible, and friendly place. In order to open up the space, 90 percent of the prison cells were removed by dismantling, by hand, from the top down, each load-bearing cell wall. A new structural system was installed, and glass and wall partitions were designed to form new office and meeting rooms for staff.

Other important renovations included:

  • Window bars removed except in key interpretive areas, a gesture signaling the move away from a house of incarceration and toward a healthier new program
  • New elevators, stairs, and bathrooms added for improved circulation, egress, and amenity
  • The construction of a pedestrian bridge, connecting the administration building to the new Bridgepoint Hospital
  • Window repairs and the addition of single-glazed operable storm windows to the interior, providing new energy efficiency without altering the external appearance.

Significant conservation work included:

  • Masonry walls and floor structures reinforced to meet current seismic codes
  • Stone and wood floors repaired and refinished, and buff-brick, limestone, and sandstone masonry repaired and cleaned
  • Previously removed ventilation towers restored as functioning HVAC towers
  • A previously removed central skylight reconstructed, restoring natural light to the atrium
  • Detention cells, gallows area, dayroom corridors, and other areas retained for public and semipublic viewing
  • Select artifacts and materials (such as fragments of wallpaper, cell hardware, and cell contents) retained in place and/or reconstructed as historical exhibits.


Sara O. Marberry, EDAC, is a contributing editor for Healthcare Design. She is a writer, blogger, speaker, and strategic marketing and business consultant in Evanston, Ill., and the former executive vice president of The Center for Health Design. She can be reached at


To read more about Bridgepoint Active Healthcare's new hospital project, please see "What’s Old Is New Again At Bridgepoint Active Health."

For a detailed source list, including costs, project team, and other vendors on this project, visit: "Bridgepoint Active Healthcare: Project Breakdown."

For a closer look at how funding was established at Bridgepoint Active Health’s new hospital, please read "Using Public-Private Funding To Build Bridgepoint Hospital."

Bridgepoint used various design approaches link to the community and target LEED Gold certification, see "Bridgepoint Active Design Details."