Built over 200 years ago, Quebec City’s first prison has been retro-fitted into an inviting cultural center that explores the history of English-speaking culture in area despite many locals’ disdain for it.
Originally constructed in 1712 as military barracks, the building was refit as Quebec City Common Gaol in 1813. As the first and only penal city in young Quebec City, public offenders were crammed in with one another with no consideration to their crimes, pairing drunkards with murderers, and prostitutes with scofflaws. The high balcony that looked out over the central area also pulled double duty as both a watchpoint and a gallows where people would be hanged from the iron railings. The conditions in the jail were notably unlivable, even by the standards of the day, and the prison was closed in 1868.
Once the prisoners moved out, scholars moved in with Morrin College, the city’s first English-language college taking over the space, and sealing its future. Once the college was established, the Literary and Historical Society of Quebec moved into a wing of the building, and eventually took it over in total.
Today the Morrin Centre as the public building is now known is home to Quebec City’s only English-language library and also provides educational resources relating to the contributions and history of English-speakers in Quebec. The books are lined against the walls in the prison’s former main area and on the balcony from which prisoners were once hanged. Given some of Quebec’s almost militaristic dislike of English speaking citizens, its probably best that the center is held in a fortress.