It is the common verdict that all prisons and jails are dangerous, frightening places and most of our communities simply will not consider hosting one. Yet there have been fewer than a half dozen prisons in all of Canadian history which truly deserve to be labeled "infamous". American penal history has its Alcatraz, its Leavenworth, Sing Sing, Folsom, San Quentin and many more. In Canada the most feared prison was the "super-maximum" called Millhaven, built outside of Kingston, Ontario. Here on the Pacific Coast no prison was more "infamous" than Oakalla, in Burnaby.
The statistics for Oakalla hint at the horror and decades of unrelenting pain. There were 44 official executions (hangings) ... 890 escapes between 1940-1990 and a score of full scale riots. There were also dozens of suicides and a few thousand suicide attempts, during the prison's last decades of operation.
A 1987 aerial photo of the main hall of the Oakalla prison complex in Burnaby, B.C., near Vancouver. Oakalla was completely demolished in 1992 at the insistence of the municipal government, and replaced by 531 "luxury" condo townhouses and rental apartments. It has been suggested that the ghosts of the men executed at Oakalla still haunt the hillside property. Research for THE GHOSTS OF OAKALLA has uncovered many extraordinary and compelling stories of its desperate inmates.
There have been just a handful of books published about Oakalla Prison and Earl Andersen's HARD PLACE TO DO TIME (1993) is probably the best of the bunch. Ironically, given the fact that Oakalla was always in the news, there have been no documentary films produced on its history or its incredible inmate population. Well we are now addressing that lack of foresight because time is running out. The survivors are dying off and living memory has become dull. Pre-production is underway and we will have an HD video short ready for viewing by mid-August. Any person or group with an interest in viewing THE GHOSTS OF OAKALLA should send me their contact information.
The isolation unit of the infamous Oakalla Prison in Burnaby, B.C. The institution had a fascinating and deeply troubled history. It housed a Who's Who of British Columbia criminals and political prisoners.