Arresting Images: An Exhibition on the Chronology of Mug Shots

The Lennox & Addington Museum and Archives previously hosted a traveling exhibition curated by the Ontario Police Patrol called Arresting Images. This fascinating collection illustrates the chronology of mug shots and how they have evolved over time. Arresting Images features the two earliest mug shots to exist in a Canadian public collection.

The Evolution of Record Keeping and Mug Shots

On June 21, 2016, Dave St. Onge gave a talk on the early history of federal penitentiary mug shots in Canada. As a knowledgeable source on penitentiary history, Dave focused on Kingston Penitentiary as he outlined the evolution of record keeping and mug shots.

The first records of inmates are discharge papers in the Kingston Penitentiary registers. These sheets of paper recorded the inmates’ basic information including their name, crime, complexion, height, and where they were born. Notable markers and moral features were also noted as the need to have a better description of current and past inmates increased. These included tattoos and smoking or drinking. This created a clearer report of who these people were. This was useful if they needed to be found later.

Photography was invented in the 1830s. This changed the entire system of record keeping. A French police officer named Alphonse Bertillion introduced a classification system called anthropometry, the recording of exact body measurements. This approach progressed towards fingerprinting inmates, and in 1910 Kingston Penitentiary began taking mug shots. The range in clothing that inmates wore demonstrates the informal nature of mug shots. An inmate’s mug shot appearance could indicate their trade and socioeconomic background. Later on inmates wore their uniforms, which regulated the images and displays the evolution of prison uniforms. Arresting Images is a unique exhibition illustrating the type of information considered valuable to Penitentiaries during the early 1900’s. (To learn more about Canada’s penitentiary history, visit Canada’s Penitentiary Museum or buy tickets for Kingston Pen Tours!)

Visit the Lennox & Addington Museum and Archives Today!

The Lennox & Addington Museum and Archives provides insight into the history of the surrounding area from the eighteenth to the twentieth century. In addition to travelling exhibitions, the Museum includes permanent exhibits about life in the County and its industrialists and entrepreneurs. During the summer, Allan Macpherson House & Park, the home of one of the County’s most civic-minded and politically active entrepreneurs, is also open.

Visit Lennox & Addington Museum and Archives at or stay connected with them on Facebook and Instagram!

If you would like to learn more about the Museums, Art Galleries and Historic Sites of Kingston and the Area start by exploring the spaces around you!

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