Let's Talk: Sharing the stories and voices of CSC

Information from Canada’s Penitentiary Museum archives

Two men and a group of women stand outside in front of windows.

The first women trained as correctional officers at Prison for Women, 1960.

Women have played a part in corrections since the first penitentiary opened in Kingston in 1835. Now, 52% of Correctional Service Canada (CSC) staff are women. They work in all aspects of the organization from front line workers to senior management.

Let’s Talk looks back at our history and highlights 13 things you may not know about women in corrections.

1) The first female employee in a Canadian penitentiary was Mrs. Ann Elmhirst. She was hired in September 1835 as Matron in charge of the women inmates at the Provincial Penitentiary of Upper Canada in Kingston, Ontario. (It later became the Kingston Penitentiary).

2) In 1845, the Kingston Penitentiary’s chaplain advocated a raise for the Matron, “to a position of equality with the Warden.” The Warden made £375 a year, while the Matron made just £50.20. The average guard was paid approximately £63. Not surprisingly for the times, her salary was not increased.

3) Miss Jean Roy was the first woman to work at national headquarters in Ottawa. She was hired as an accountant for the Canadian Penitentiary Service in the 1920s. She resigned in 1931 to get married.

4) In 1934, a women’s-only penitentiary opened across the street from Kingston Penitentiary in Kingston, Ontario. For the next 60 years, the Prison for Women was the only federal prison in Canada for women. No matter where a woman was from in Canada, if she was sentenced to two years or more, she would serve her time in Kingston. This meant women from other provinces were separated by great distances from their families and support networks. Women offenders who had children often could not see them for years.

5) Women were hired to work with the offenders at the Prison for Women but were not given formal job training. They shadowed and learned from experienced staff members. The first formal training class for female correctional officers was offered in November 1960, almost 30 years after the prison opened.

6) Mrs. Elizabeth Funnell was one of the first women to work in a male penitentiary. She was the first in the Kingston area when she became a clerk typist at Joyceville Prison in June 1960. This opened opportunities for women to work in men’s institutions in clerical positions, but not as correctional officers.

7) That changed in May 1978, when the Regional Psychiatric Centre in Saskatchewan hired eight female correctional officers. They began training at the staff college in Edmonton and graduated in May 1978. Over the next decade other institutions followed suit and hired women as correctional officers.

First deployment of women correctional officers to male institutions

  • May 1978: Regional Psychiatric Centre, Saskatchewan
  • July 1979: Mission Institution, British Columbia
  • July 1979: Federal Training Centre, Quebec
  • April 1981: Warkworth Institution, Ontario
  • April 1981: Joyceville Institution, Ontario
  • Nov. 1983: Kingston Penitentiary, Ontario
  • May 1984: Bowden Institution, Alberta
  • May 1984: Drumheller Institution, Alberta
  • May 1984: Westmorland Institution, New Brunswick
  • May 1985: Dorchester Penitentiary, New Brunswick
  • July 1985: Archambault Institution, Quebec
  • Feb. 1986: Kent Institution, British Columbia
  • Fall 1986: Millhaven Institution, Ontario

8) Mary Dawson was the first woman to be warden of a male prison. She became warden at Warkworth Institution in Ontario in 1980. In 1984, Mary moved to the Kingston Penitentiary and achieved another first as the first female warden of a maximum-security prison.

9) In 1989, CSC setup a task force, in collaboration with the Elizabeth Fry Society, to examine how women sentenced in the federal corrections system were treated. As a result, of the 1990 Creating Choices: The Report of the Task Force on Federally Sentenced Women, CSC developed and began delivering gender-specific programs to women.

10) In 1994, the recommended closure of the Prison for Women was taken up. Six regional facilities for federally sentenced women were constructed in regions across the country to replace it:

  • Nova Institution, Nova Scotia (1995)
  • Edmonton Institution for Women, Alberta (1995)
  • Okimaw Ohci Healing Lodge, Saskatchewan (1995)
  • Établissement Joliette, Quebec (1997)
  • Grand Valley Institution for Women, Ontario (1997)
  • Fraser Valley Institution, British Columbia (2004)

On May 8, 2000, the last inmate was transferred from the Prison for Women in Kingston to Grand Valley Institution near Kitchener.

11) The Mother-Child Program was introduced into women’s institutions in 1997. It was designed to provide services to women offenders who are mothers and help them nurture the mother-child bond. It has a residential component and is offered at all the women’s institutions.

12) Lucie McLung was the first woman commissioner of CSC from 2000 to 2005. Anne Kelly, the second woman commissioner, was sworn-in in 2018.

13) As of April 2023, there were 11,431 CSC employees who are women, or 52% of staff. There are 2,378 women correctional officers. Twenty-two female wardens work at both male and female institutions.

Interested in learning more?

Listen to the latest episode of our podcast Prisons Inside/Out where we sit down with some inspiring women leaders in federal corrections to learn about their careers, challenges they’ve overcome and their experiences being a woman in the field of corrections. 

One woman and row of men in hats sitting in chairs, with a row of five men standing behind

Accountant Jean Roy sitting with group of men, 1922.

Women sit around a table

Women sit around a table in a range at Prison for Women, 1977.

Two men and a group of women stand outside in front of windows.

The first women trained as correctional officers at Prison for Women, 1960.

eight women in uniform stand in a line

Graduating class of November 1980.These are some of the first women trained as correctional officers.

Woman wearing correctional officer uniform and cap speaking into an interviewer’s recorder.

Warden Mary Dawson

woman sits with arms crossed on desk in front of her

Lucie McLung was the sixth commissioner since CSC was established in 1979.

Let's Talk

Let’s Talk is a publication of Correctional Service Canada (CSC). Let’s Talk shares stories new and old of the people and programs at CSC. These stories provide an engaging window into how CSC fulfills its mission of contributing to public safety and assisting in rehabilitation. Let’s Talk is your home for informative articles, podcasts, and videos about CSC.

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