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Province breaking ground on new Thunder Bay correctional facility

Construction of the new 345-bed, $1.2-billion Thunder Bay Correctional Complex is expected to be completed in the fall of 2026

THUNDER BAY — Five years after it was first promised, ground is officially being broken in the construction of a new Thunder Bay correctional facility.

The province on Thursday announced it is breaking ground on the 345-bed Thunder Bay Correctional Complex, which is expected to cost $1.2 billion, though construction on the project is believed to have begun in August.

The province says the new facility will address capacity pressures, create additional space for programming and expand supports for inmates with mental health issues. It will also feature dedicated Indigenous cultural spaces, with both indoor and outdoor components that include a smudging space, sweat lodge, teaching lodge, and greenhouse.

In an interview, Solicitor General Michael Kerzner called the new build an important part of his government's plans to modernize facilities that are sometimes badly outdated .

“I’m really excited with this project, because we’re taking infrastructure… some of which dates back to the time of confederation, and we’re bringing it into our century," he said. “We want to have a great environment that’s safe for our staff, but also safe for… inmates.”

While part of the transformation involves the creation of new physical spaces like healing centres, Kerzner also pointed to design changes.

“We’re using a lot of natural light, lighter colours, we’re making the facility more inviting for the staff who will be working there and those who’ll be there as inmates," he said.

Shawn Bradshaw, president of OPSEU Local 738 at the correctional centre, said the change is badly needed and overdue.

“It’s kind of hard to explain just how depressing the environments can be," he said. "We’re hoping to get a better more staff-friendly environment, safer — just a more modern facility with the amenities staff need to do their jobs.”

He reported encouraging progress since crews with Ellis Don and subcontractors began work to clear and prepare the site over the summer.

“It’s been quite shocking how much work they’ve done so far really, and just kind of a relief that it’s finally come to fruition. It was hard to keep everybody’s morale up when it seemed to drag on so long.”

The project, which would replace both the nearly century-old Thunder Bay District Jail as well as the Thunder Bay Correctional Complex, was first promised by the former Liberal provincial government in 2017. The Progressive Conservative government reaffirmed their commitment to the project in April 2019, nearly a year after taking office in 2018.

The province had also completed expansions at both the Thunder Bay Correctional Centre and the Kenora Jail last month. The new building in Thunder Bay is designed to connect to that modular build, Kerzner noted.

The province said construction is expected to be completed in the fall of 2026.

— TBNewswatch