Spending a Night in Jail – Willingly!


OK, first of all, no I didn’t get drunk and locked up for the night, not did I have any outstanding fines that imprisoned me! While in Ottawa the national capital of Canada I did decide to stay in the Hostelling International Hostel there on Nicholas Street that is an old jail formerly known as the Carleton County Gaol. It was built in 1862 and closed in 1972 as the jail was no longer suitable or humane! The jail was converted for use as a hostel in 1973 but given it is a registered historic place, much of the original features remain.

HI Ottawa Jail
HI Ottawa Jail
HI Ottawa Jail
HI Ottawa Jail
Inside the hostel – ghosts?
Jail main stairway HI Ottawa Jail
Jail main stairway – the cage was to prevent deaths from people jumping or being pushed over the rails (inmates and guards)

The room I chose was a single one and what an experience that was! Not for the claustrophobic, the room was no wider than the bed. Imagine spending months or maybe years in there? It mercifully had a very high ceiling though, so once that feeling of being in a tomb subsided, I actually slept pretty well in there. I just had to make sure I didn’t get out on the wrong side of the bed!

HI Ottawa Jail single bed room
My room
HI Ottawa Jail single room
Just enough room for the bed and not much else!

Now this prison has a dark history (don’t they all?). Death row and the gallows where executions were once conducted remain on the upper floor. The trapdoor falls open into a courtyard below. In front of the noose are two large doors. They used to open these to display hangings to the large crowds said to be in the thousands who would stand outside the prison walls to watch. Thank goodness for the introduction of sporting events and TV to improve our entertainment!)

Death Row Ottawa Jail Canada
Death Row
HI Ottawa Jail Gallows
The Gallows
Gallows and trapdoor (note the large doors behind the noose) HI Ottawa Jail
Gallows and trapdoor (note the large doors behind the noose)

The most famous hanging conducted there was of Patrick J. Whelan who was hung there in 1869 (despite circumstantial evidence) for the assassination of Thomas D’Arcy McGee a father of confederation that lead to a Canada independent from British rule. 5,000 people attended this public execution!

courtyard gallows HI Ottawa Hostel Ontario Canada
Looking up at the gallows from the courtyard

In the stairwell behind the gallows there is a large wooden beam. When doing a tour of the building I was told it is believed to have been used in  at least 3 illegal hangings. Prison guards getting rid of unwanted prisoners apparently! Excavations apparently revealed numerous unmarked graves in the prison grounds. Not a pleasant part of history.

HI Ottawa Jail Canada
Back Stairwell
HI Ottawa Jail Canada
Unofficial Hangings

Patrick J. Whelan is one of the ghosts that guests and staff have apparently seen in the corridors of the jail. You would think with this dark past the place would be rattling with ghosts each night, but alas I am sorry to tell you despite spending a number of nights there I saw no apparitions, nor heard anyone walking the corridors in the dead of night (other than late night revelers). Bit of a disappointment in that regard, but a cool place to stay if you can stand the close quarters! The hostel is right near downtown too, so it is a perfect and cheap place to explore the wonderful city of Ottawa.

Carleton County Gaol Ottawa Canada
The old Carleton County Gaol
Carleton County Gaol old front entrance
The old front entrance

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