An Unusual January Roadtrip

It was a rare date with my sister.  After days of heavy snow squall warnings that cancelled our attempt to get together after the New Year, the weather finally cleared enough for me to venture north to spend a day with my younger sister before she disappeared to Florida to spend her first winter of retirement.

I’m not familiar with the area around the small village where she lives, so in spite of the white-knuckle ride I had on a snow-packed and icy road, we decided to take a drive to nearby Penetanguishene.

Yes, I know that’s a mouthful, but it’s pronounced more or less as it’s spelled … Pen-ah-tang-gwish-een.

I’ve only known ‘Penetang’ as that-place-where-the-prison-is.  I had a preconceived impression of a gritty, beat-up little bump on the map, but instead I discovered an interesting town full of early frontier history.


I’ve never been to an active jail or prison – I strongly believe in the 11th Commandment that says Thou Shalt Not Get Caught, and the best way to accomplish that is to stay on the side of the angels.

So, of course curiosity required that we actually check out the “Central North Correctional Centre”.

I’m not sure what I was expecting of a maximum security facility but it wasn’t the squat, sprawling complex that reminded me of a high school built in the 1970s … at least, not until we got past the mountainous snowbanks lining the road and I saw the barbed wire.  I don’t know about your’s, but my high school didn’t have barbed wire.

We drew attention to ourselves almost immediately when my sister ignored the ‘no public access’ sign and attempted to drive up to what appeared to be the front entrance.  We were not more than 20 feet past the sign when a guard (a woman with a big blonde ponytail) came outside and started walking towards us.

Have you ever noticed that security guards – regardless of gender – have a certain no-nonsense swagger about them that can’t be mistaken for friendliness?

Tina quickly put the car in reverse and we hastily retreated back behind the sign … and the guard retreated in kind.

We parked the car behind the cover of snow and I approached on foot to sneak in a couple of photos, but when the Ponytail Guard came back out again, we skulked away.


We drove a short distance down the road to the WayPoint Centre For Mental Health Care. It is described on their website as a psychiatric forensic hospital, but regardless of how they attempt to soften the language, this is also a high security facility for the criminally insane.

That is why I was surprised by the lack of obvious security features like the ubiquitous barbed wire and external cameras we had encounter at the Correctional Centre down the road.  Even more so, I was stunned by Tina’s casual comment that she’s taken her grandson there for swimming lessons.


penetang3A psychiatric hospital housing criminally dangerous offenders has a swimming pool??

… and they have swimming lessons there for small children???

I’m still having trouble wrapping my head around that one.

In between WayPoint and the Correctional Centre are all that remain of the former psychiatric facility – the stone pillars and wooden gate, now mostly buried under snow.


The former facility was torn down a number of years ago to prevent trespassing by urban explorers (those who explore the abandoned ruins of man-made structures), or simply the idle curious.

I’m vaguely offended by that – of course I would.


  1. I agree with the “WHAAAT?” She must have been pulling your leg, right?
    For your next road trip, I suggest Midland, ON – just down the road from Penetang – in June which is when they hold their Butter tart festival. Holy sugar rush! 20, 000 people went in 2016.


      • Oh yes, it was awesome. Do NOT eat before you go. We stayed at the Victorian B&B where the breakfast was gourmet quality and then waddled down to main street to indulge. When friends and neighbours heard where we were going, they asked us to bring back goodies and so we brought a cooler and filled it.


  2. The curious seekers in this world are “never” idle, for Pete’s sake!
    I would be like you, incredulous over children’s swimming lessons in the same place as the criminally insane. 😀
    The snow by the signage or remains of the antiquated “nuthouse” makes it seem so innocent and innocuous, Joanne. Newly fallen snow does take away the blame of almost anything. So happy about your news of the medical diagnosis (prognosis?)!!


    • Thanks Robin 🙂
      I’m looking forward to resuming aquafit classes this morning. It’s something I discovered back in September and I have been really missing the pool workouts. It will be fun to get back into them 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  3. The only prison I’ve been near is the old Kingston “Pen” )now closed but open occasionally for tours). Years ago my friend’s husband was in a senior post there and he had forgotten his cell phone – we simply drove up to the main entrance – just off the road and she “knocked on the door” – it was opened and the phone was passed along (I found it very bizarre)/
    PS – the old Don Jail is open during Doors Open Toronto – now part of the Bridgeport Medical Centre – it is fascinating and rather gruesome but really interesting.


    • Very interesting Margie. I didn’t even know there was an old and new Pen in Kingston!!
      The old Don Jail has long been on my list of places to visit. I was disappointed to learn that it’s been so dramatically changed. I didn’t realize it is still part of the Doors Open Toronto.
      Thanks – I checked out the timing for this year and have marked my calendar!


      • The changes have actually been done really well and they have preserved a whole section just as it was. It is so popular at “Doors Open” that they now usually give you a “ticket” with a set time to come for your tour so that you don’t have to stand in line for hours – you actually enter from the new hospital bldg. so look for the entrance table down there.
        PS – I love the “Doors Open” events – go every year and I’ve also been to the one up in Ottawa.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Swimming lessons for children in a correctional facility? Must be well behaved in mates. I agree with your 11th commandment, don’t get caught and stay on the straight and narrow. I heard today of a break-in of a house on a few acres near here. I got angry. I hope the baddies get caught and get to spend some time in a correctional facility but they definitely don’t deserve any swimming lessons!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. A great read Joanne, take it from me – never mess with a correctional centre guard, they take their job very seriously!. I love the pictures of all that snow. It’s so HOT here!!


    • I guessed you were going to say that!
      … and that’s exactly what my instincts told me 🙂

      You would like it here today. The temperature is mild (hovering around the freezing mark) and it’s been snowing for the last 8 hours – and still snowing. There’s a thick new blanket of it.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I wasn’t a guard but I know enough of them to understand them. I’ve been out for an early morning walk because the temps are going through the roof again here today. Luckily for us it’s not too humid here and it cools down at night. Enjoy your blanket. 😎

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Call me crazy but… I love that psychiatric hospital for criminally dangerous offenders! It really is a lovely brick building… and no security wire – bonus!

    When I was very young, my parents thought it would be fun to load my two older brothers and me into the family station wagon for a drive from San Diego to Yuma, Arizona to visit the old Territorial Prison there. Why not? Actually, it was pretty interesting… and probably kept me on the straight and narrow all these years. 🙂 Alkatraz Island in San Francisco is another interesting (and non-functioning) place to get your prison fix… if you need one.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Sounds like a great little adventure, Joanne. I always get a little sad when they tear places like that down. I would love to explore them, too. As for swimming lessons in that facility, I think I might have to pass. But, maybe there aren’t many options. Great photos, I’m glad you have a sneaky streak 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • I agree that it would have been an excellent place to explore – but that’s the very reason it was torn down. It would definitely have attracted curiosity seekers.
      When the new facility opened, friends and family of employees were invited for a tour of the old facility before it was torn down. My sister was part of that tour and said it was horrifying – straight out of the *dark ages*. It would have been very interesting and I’m sorry I didn’t get a chance to see it.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. I’ve heard of some interesting ways to raise money for struggling businesses but children’s swimming lessons in a forensic psych facility? Double blink and a face palm for that one.


  9. I don’t know WHAT to say about the swimming pool part. I’m all for multi-purpose, but that’s not the best blend of a venue…

    Glad you had a memorable outing with your sister though 🙂


  10. I don’t know what I expected to find when I read the title of this post, but I knew it wouldn’t be dull!
    Love the 11th Commandment.
    And the Tango you danced with that blond ponytailed guard 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  11. I laughed at the picture of you creeping back to the prison and skulking away when, once again you were discovered. Wow…that was a strange trip…and I just can’t imagine sending someone to the other place for any kind of lessons!

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Oh, Jo, I am still laughing at this one. Such a bonkers post. I am left wondering whether everyone in your family is a tad crazy! So you battle through the ice and snow with a dodgy arm (or is that fully mended now?) without snow tyres (do you Canadians actually say tires? I thought that was just the Americans) to meet your sister and instead of a nice cozy chat over coffee and cake in some lovely old hotel you.go.and.visit.a.jail? Are you insane?
    😀 😀

    Liked by 1 person

  13. “I have an opportunity to go to Florida in a couple of weeks to stay at my sister’s. As much as I’d like to spend the time with her, I’m not so sure I want to go there.”

    Where in Florida?
    Most people on the Gulf Coast are well-behaved . . . I’ve yet to have anyone pull a gun on me. 😀

    Liked by 3 people

  14. joanne, such a nice post and laughing at this still:

    says Thou Shalt Not Get Caught, and the best way to accomplish that is to stay on the side of the angels

    also – the pool puzzles me too….


  15. Glad you had a good day with your sister. (Sometimes I think your commutes to your adventures are more harrowing than the visit itself. But that’s me with my high anxiety over road trips. Especially in winter!)

    Here’s a book you might enjoy – Susan Swan’s The Western Light – it is loosely based on Swan’s own childhood, her father, Dr. Churchill Swan who worked in Midland, and the WayPoint Centre!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh, interesting! Thanks for sharing that.

      I don’t normally travel north in the winter – especially on small country roads. I had forgotten how harrowing it can be … especially since I don’t have snow tires on my car :/


  16. What an awesome adventure! I felt like I was there with you…and I would have been, too!
    We have the abandoned (world famous-ish) Meninger clinic in our city. The sprawling property backs up to some public running trails. Hey…a girl can’t help it if she gets lost on a run and ends up near the deserted asylum, right? At least that’s what I told the police officer 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  17. This adventure puts the trippy in trip. I’ve been to a prison art show which was in the lobby of the prison, but I’ve never intentionally tried to get inside one to see what I could see. Kudos to you for even trying, I think.

    Liked by 1 person

  18. My word. Swimming lessons are offered in the vicinity of this place. It’s scary enough without you ones this close to harm’s way.
    Wonderful photo and I wouldn’t have heard hide nor hair of this place if you hadn’t posted this. Thanks. Interesting. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    • What’s the saying about no one ever suspecting that someone would try to break IN? 😉

      Small towns everywhere are just full of interesting characters and bizarre little stories. This one is no exception … however they do have the ‘advantage’ of not one, but two, maximum security facilities 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  19. I knew there was a reason I liked you…you take a road trip and instead of “typical” tourist traps…you visit the local prison!! Of course you did!!
    As for Urban Explorers….of course you would, and so would I!! 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  20. We used to call it ‘Penatang’ for short – maybe they still do…once went to a midnight Rocky Horror showing at their cinema – the audience had the best costumes and dancing I’ve seen at one! I often wondered …

    Liked by 1 person

  21. I volunteered at two different state prison before I got sick and I doubt the guards could run to chase someone if their life depended on it. They had swagger, but that’s about it……I do love your and your sisters persistence, though!

    Liked by 1 person

  22. Hi, Joanne – What an awesome adventure! Like you, I could not wrap my mind around public swimming lessons (for children!) in a ‘psychiatric hospital.’ I explored further and found out that yes indeed “Waypoint is pleased to partner with the Town of Penetanguishene to provide public swimming in the Atrium Building pool.” I also noted there many ‘guidelines’ strongly reinforced, and repeated:
    e.g. “All children and youth under the age of 18 should be accompanied by an adult.You are required to monitor your children at all times both inside the hospital and on the grounds.”
    Call me cautious, but I think that I may make different arrangement for my grandson’s swimming lessons.
    Great post!

    Liked by 2 people

  23. A psychiatric hospital housing criminally dangerous offenders has a swimming pool??
    … and they have swimming lessons there for small children??? – What could possibly go wrong ?

    All security guards along with police officers wear sunglasses all the time, even in the dark. Whats up with that ? She really must have thought you were a couple of escapees from the mental institution retreating behind the sign then jumping out of the car taking pictures. I have to be honest with you Joanne your retired life is a lot more exciting than mine 🙂 Seems like there’s never a dull moment !

    Liked by 1 person

    • I didn’t mention that at this same institution last year an inmate attacked a nurse. Three workers were injured trying to subdue him – everything from broken bones to stab wounds. What can possibly go wrong indeed?!!

      For all my bravado, I run like a coward at the first sign of an authority figure and a possible reprimand. Perhaps that’s a good thing or I could get into all kinds of trouble 😉

      Liked by 2 people

  24. Wow. You really do like living on the edge! I’m glad you’re Canadian. Doing what you did at the prison in the USA would be a tad riskier, don’t you think? They’re a bit more trigger happy down there.

    I don’t get the kiddies’ swimming lessons with the scary crims correlation AT ALL. What??


  25. With you on the swimming pool shock, Joanne, or maybe that’s the idea. When criminally insane takes his morning swim he gets a wave of volts passing through him.
    Surely it would be both insane and criminal to allow children in for swimming lessons. Or is this a bid for future Olympic success? I think my speed through the water would be dolphin like if I were sharing a lane with the bad and the mad.


    • LOL! I seriously doubt the swimming pool or its surrounding area would be shared by inmates and outsiders at the same time.

      I confess that it still puzzles me. This is a time when school pools are having difficulty staying open because of budget cuts … and most schools don’t even have pools!! And yet there is a pool in a psychiatric facility? I don’t understand government dollars at work sometimes.

      Liked by 1 person

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