Toronto retiree finds freedom in purchase of former New Brunswick jail

New retiree Bill Steele says he was looking for a unique piece of real estate and he found it — in a decommissioned jail for sale in Dorchester, N.B.

"I was looking for something strange and unusual," the Toronto man said.

Steele said he was impressed by the building, which contains 15 cells, a gym, a yard surrounded by chain-link fence topped by coiled barbed wire, and an apartment where the previous owner once lived.

He bought it. The closing date is June 1.

Former owner Andrew Partridge had the building on the market for two years. The last asking price was $159,000.

Steele said the building has a colourful past. It was built in 1800 when Dorchester, was a bustling centre of shipbuilding, and closed for good about 20 years ago.

"Something I'm looking forward to investigating further is the history of the Bannister brothers that were hung there," Steele said.

He's has also been contacted by some former inmates who've asked if they can revisit the building.

"You know, kind of get rid of some of the demons."

He said he feels a responsibility to be compassionate about the requests.

He also likes the surrounding community that he's already begun to explore.

"The view is amazing. I love the community that it's in, that it was in the downtown part of Dorchester. I was just in awe."

New start

Steele said he was looking for a change of pace after 29 years of working as a transfer station operator for the city of Toronto.

"I decided to retire and cash out my pension. I've had enough, I'm 50 years old and you know, I'm not getting any younger, I feel great, I've never felt better so now's the time."

He has been grieving the recent loss of his 25-year-old son, Billy, to heart failure. The purchase of a retirement property and relocating to the East Coast was something he had planned to surprise his son with. 

An antique dealer on the side and a self-described collector of unconventional items, Steele said he might open a shop or an inn of some sort. Friends and relatives are interested in visiting him once he moves into the former Dorchester lockup.

"I might even set up a curiosity museum," he said.

"It's going to be quite the adventure arriving there. I've gotten lots of messages from complete strangers welcoming me and offering to help me out. I really feel I picked the right place, absolutely."