My encounter with the Kingston Pen’s notorious deceased employee

A summer job at Kingston's haunted prison taught me more than customer service

Riley got her chance to see a ghost when she worked as a tour guide at the Kingston Pen.
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I’ve always had an interest in the supernatural. I used to hope that one day I’d see a ghost, or that some unexplainable thing would happen to me. Luckily, I got my chance when I worked as a tour guide for Canada’s most notorious prison: the Kingston Penitentiary. 

From feeling cold in strange places to experiencing a powerful gut feeling telling me to leave where I was, my memories of working at the prison are filled with completely unexplainable and spooky experiences. 

After the prison’s closure in 2013, when more than 170 years of operation came to an end, the prison opened to the public for guided tours of the facility, which include stories of its history. 

Although I had minimal knowledge of the prison when I started my job as a guide, I knew of its history of ghosts and creepy happenings. After all, what legacy of criminals and their demises, and the legends of staff deaths on duty, wouldn’t surmount to some intense and angry spirits? 

After all, what legacy of criminals and their demises, and the legends of staff deaths on duty, wouldn’t surmount to some intense and angry spirits?

Within the first few weeks of working there and learning the tour material, I heard many stories of supernatural encounters from the seasoned staff. I wanted to believe them, but after three weeks of working there and experiencing nothing, I was skeptical. 

Then, things took an interesting turn during my very first tour. 

The first time I led a tour, I donned my neon yellow tour vest and led 31 tourists through the one-kilometre route. Honestly, it was a rough tour. I had forgotten a lot of information and had to stumble through the little I remembered. To add insult to injury, I fell through a door while trying to open it for my guests, and I could tell they were starting to get a little sick of me.

Thankfully, some of the stops along the way have retired staff stationed there who worked in the facility when it was a prison, and can share their experiences with the tour groups. These staff visits were always the most relieving part of these tours. Guides could count on the former prison employees for a laugh and a smile. 

As we neared the very last stop, the end was in sight, and I was ready to hand my group off to the retired staff waiting inside the last building to speak to us. This last stop was in the old psychiatric hospital called the Regional Treatment Centre, or the RTC. 

This building has a nasty history of its own. It had been used as a shop in the early 1800s, where shoes and tools were made. Later in the century, it was the ‘prison of isolation,’ which means the prison would send the worst offenders there for imprisonment. It was a 24-hour silence area in terrible condition. 

In the 1950s, it was transformed to be the RTC that is now standing. It housed criminals who were mentally ill but still found criminally responsible for their actions. 

As I handed my group off to the retired nurse that had worked there for over 15 years, I stood back quietly, thankful that the people in my group didn’t have to hear me speak anymore. 

In this section, there are two cell blocks. In one range, you can walk down and look at the cells, but the other is locked, without an entry point and blocked by a locked gate. I stood with my back to the closed cell blocks, listening to the nurse’s story. 

As he spoke, I thought I heard keys jangling from behind me, coming from the empty, locked cell block. At first, I thought nothing of it. Seeing as it was my first tour, I was convinced another staff member or a tourist was messing with me. The sound persisted to the point where it was annoying, so I spun around to see who was trying to freak me out on my first tour. 

As I spun around, I saw the shadow of a man standing behind the locked entryway. He walked down the range closer to me and spun his key ring in his hand to lock the cell in front of him, making the noise that I had heard. 

As I spun around, I saw the shadow of a man standing behind the locked entryway. He walked down the range closer to me and spun his key ring in his hand to lock the cell in front of him, making the noise that I had heard. 

I stood there, mouth open, watching him continue to close the cells, before he turned around to walk back up the range. I was so scared (and confused) that I decided to leave my group and wait outside, wanting to get as far away as possible. 

After the tour, I decided to tell one of the other guides who’d worked there for several summers what I'd seen. He laughed it off and said, “Oh, that's just William Wentworth.” 

I later learned that William Wentworth was the very last staff member to die at Kingston Pen. In November 1961, during his midnight shift, he was stabbed to death on the third floor of the RTC. His murderer still has yet to be caught, and it remains a mystery to this day. Rumours and theories have spread from anybody who hears the story, especially from the tour guide staff. 

Staff and tourists alike have often seen Wentworth doing his rounds. He’s a nice ghost, doing what he was hired to do. He tries to keep the angry prisoner spirits in their cells, or so I’ve been told. 

Thanks to my time at Kingston Pen, this hasn’t been my only ghostly encounter, but it was definitely the one that spooked me the most. 

Another time, again on a tour of almost 30, I was leading my group out a corridor into a courtyard. When I opened the door and held it open for the group, I happened to look into yet another gated area. Hovering over what used to be huts for the women prisoners was a glowing orb. I thought it may have been a reflection from the metal on the door, so I shifted the door to see if it would move. It didn’t. It hovered over the pavement and refused to move. 

Hovering over what used to be huts for the women prisoners was a glowing orb.

As we walked past where it hovered, the orb stayed in place like a translucent Christmas ornament on a piece of fishing line, just hanging in the empty space. When we came back out again and passed the same spot, it was gone. I got the feeling it wasn’t angry, but rather curious, watching as the tour group wandered into the next building. 

Kingston Penitentiary is known as the most notorious prison in Canada for once housing some of the country’s most infamous criminals. After working there, even after the last inmate had left, I can tell you that while it’s intimidating, it’s filled with a sense of curiosity. It has some amazing stories, some so unbelievable that they blow your mind. It's got ghosts both friendly and vengeful, and its tales can pass along some amazing knowledge of Kingston and Canada’s past, as well as some obscure facts. 

Who knows? Maybe you’ll see a ghost just like I did.

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