The Huron Historic Gaol is one of Canada's national historic sites, located in Southern Ontario. Built of stone from the Maitland River Valley, the Huron Historic Gaol represents a prime example of Huron County's heritage. The Gaol (an old english spelling of jail) was built between 1839 and 1841. During this time, the then united counties of Huron, Perth, and Bruce required both a courthouse and a jail before they could gain official autonomy. Due to a lack of funds for the construction of a court house, the Gaol's top floor, which was originally meant to be used as a chapel, was assigned to the magistrate to use as a court room.
Thomas Young, architect, designed the structure according to what was then considered to be advanced standards in prison reform, standards propsed by english philosopher Jeremy Bentham. The panopticon design has an octagonal central block radiated two foot thick walls, eighteen feet high. Encompassing these walls are perimeter or curtain walls of identical dimensions enclosing exercise yards and jail gardens.
In its time, the Huron County Gaol served as a home for the aged, the insane, and the poor, in addition to the common criminal. Unique among Western Ontario's public buildings, the jail stands as a tribute to the citizens of Huron County and illustrates the early needs in the community to respond to the humanitarian requirementns of the middle of the century.
Some of the notorious criminals who served time at the jail include individuals like the infamous James Donnelly of the Black Donnelly clan of Lucan, Ontario, at that time part of the County of Huron, and Steven Truscott.