[Note from prisonjustice.ca: Starting in 2001, the BC Liberal government made cutbacks to the BC Corrections Branch. They
closed all medium and minimum security prisons in BC, moving prisoners
into maximum security prisons. This article sheds light
on what the government is doing with the closed prisons.]
Mount Thurston Correctional Centre on the block
Amy O'Brian, Vancouver Sun
Nestled between on-line real estate listings for a private Fijian island
and a development property in Kelowna, there is a highly unusual Fraser
Valley property that is stirring curiosity among buyers.
The 24-hectare (59-acre) rural property boasts one kilometre of water
frontage on "one of the best fishing rivers in the Lower Mainland" and has 31 buildings that house everything from a gymnasium to kitchens.
But it's not the amenities or the landscape that are eliciting buyer
curiosity -- it's the property's history.
For 45 years, the grassy pocket of partially forested land on the Chilliwack
River was home to a variety of prisoners who served sentences for crimes
such as auto theft and drug possession.
The Mount Thurston Correctional Centre closed its doors as a minimum
security prison for men in 2002 after the provincial government announced
cutbacks that included the closure of seven prisons and 24 courthouses.
And now, it could become anything from a rustic recreational camp to
a religious retreat.
"Fishing camp people are looking at it, religious retreat people are looking
at it," said John Gee, an agent with Colliers International, which is selling the property
for the British Columbia Building Corporation.
" It's an intriguing property and every property has its buyer."
Listed on Colliers' "unique properties" Web site, Mount Thurston is in the recreational property category, along with
a private island in the Fiji archipelago that is 20 square kilometres
and boasts "powder white beaches and turquoise lagoons."
There is no asking price for the former jail and Gee wouldn't hazard
any guesses to how much the property will fetch, saying "the appeal for the property is unknown".
"Somebody might think, 'Wow, I can buy 59 acres and to me, that's worth
$3 million.' And someone might say 'Gee whiz, what do I want to buy a
correctional facility for? It's only worth $1 million,'" Gee said.
With its rustic bunkhouses and practical industrial kitchens, Gee said
the property is very attractive to fishermen who know "it's on what is arguably one of the best fishing rivers in the Lower Mainland."
He said he's heard from one interested buyer who has fished the Chilliwack
River for years and wants to get a group of his fishing buddies together
to buy the land.
Judging from history, however, chances are high that the Mount Thurston
property may go to a charitable group.
In the past couple of years, the province has sold three correctional
facilities and is planning to sell two more, including Mount Thurston,
said Denis Racine, director of communications with BCBC.
Last year, the 15-hectare Stave Lake Correctional Facility was sold to
the Zajac Foundation, which plans to open it as a camp for disadvantaged
children as early as this summer.
And Camp Metchosin, a corrections property on Vancouver Island, was sold
to the Boys and Girls Club.
Racine wouldn't reveal the sale price for Stave Lake or Camp Metchosin.
However, the total cost for the entire Zajac project -- including the
land purchase and renovations -- was estimated at $5 million to $6 million.
Racine said all the prisons and correctional camps that are being sold
off have been deemed "surplus property" by the province.
"When they decide that they no longer need it, we will put it on the
market," he said.
The third correctional property that has sold in the past few years was
a halfway house in Chilliwack that was bought by the federal government
and continues to operate as a halfway house.
On the negative side of the ledger for the Mount Thurston property is
the fact that it sits in the middle of a flood plain and has zoning restrictions
that take into account possible flooding.
The bunkhouses, dining hall, and kitchens aren't exactly luxurious or
state-of-the art, but Gee insists the property doesn't feel too much
like a prison.
" It's not like a jail, it's more of a boy scouts camp, except the tenants
weren't there because they wanted to be," he said.
At one time, there were six bunkhouses, each housing 10 inmates.
The majority of the buildings are about 40 years old and include a church,
maintenance garage and kennel.
And if the buildings prove worthless to the new owner, they can rest
assured that the timber on the property is worth an estimated $120,000.