Oakalla Prison

1912-1991: Oakalla (Lower Mainland Regional Correctional Centre)

The Oakalla Prison Farm became a model prison for similar institutions in Western Canada. Attention was given to lighting, sanitary conditions and security. Oakalla was organized to employ inmates within the property. This eventually led to the obsolescence of the chain gang. The popular view was to reform prisoners through farm work and teaching them trades. This approach represented a more sophisticated attempt to teach industry to offenders. However, the system still emphasized punishment, security and discipline.

The Oakalla Prison Farm opened in 1912 and was hailed as the most modern facility of its kind. Initially designed to hold 150 men and 50 women, by the 1950s, the population was well over 1000. A working farm, the prison had its own dairy, vegetable gardens and livestock. From the beginning, the location of Oakalla on 185 acres of scenic land next to Burnaby’s Deer Lake was the source of contention with residents petitioning the government to relocate the prison and by 1979 it was decided to close the farm and 64 acres of land were transferred to Burnaby for inclusion on the Deer Lake Park. In 1991, Oakalla closed forever and the buildings were demolished to make way for a new residential housing development and an expansion of the park.