HI Ottawa Jail Hostel

One of the main things I wanted to see was Ottawa was the Carleton Jail that closed down in 1972 and later become a travel hostel.   With the hostel offering the unique experience of getting to sleep in a jail cell, it was the obvious place to stay.  

 The place is still very jail like with bars at the windows and cell doors.  The hallways have big heavy doors to access each floor.  Prisoners and officers wore different shoes and the stairs all have holes which were put there so you could see who was approaching from above.  

My cell for the two nights was the width of the narrow single bed in it  with a light switch, plug socket and a shelf.  There was standing space at the end of the bed and a heavy iron door.  The door did have a covering from around head height down for privacy.  The top being open bars meant that you could hear all conversations, coughing and footsteps on the floor.  People have asked me if my cell was claustrophobic… And the answer is no.  I actually really enjoyed it! It was really warm and cosy like a snug little nest. No space for mess or distractions, just sleep. 

 As far as it goes as a hostel, breakfast was included, it was clean and really warm and welcoming.  The staff were super friendly and helpful and didnt seem to mind my endless questions.  If you stay there, you get to go on a tour of the jail and hear more about the history and see bits that are closed off.

As a prison geek, I loved the tour and did it twice so I could make sure I read everything properly.  The jail housed men, women and children, in separate areas where possible.  It was interesting to see the solitary confinement cell where prisoners would be stripped and chained spreadeagled for more than 23 hours a day, the old dorm cell which became a chapel and is now the dining room/ hostel bar with the pews still there for seating and the individual cells.  The basement was the place where anyone considered diseased would be put in quarantine for three months.  Those who werent diseased would inevitably catch the diseases down there and over 140 unmarked graves were found.  

  We got to see the death row bit and the cell where prisoners would go before being hung.  The jail has the only set of working gallows left in Canada.  I found it really interesting that they had a ritual of hanging people on the 13th day of the month, on the 13th hour and the noose would be tied around 13 times.  There were only actually three people hung there officially.  In addition to the gallows, there was a hallway with a big beam accross the top of the 8th floor landing where they say people were beaten, hung and thrown over the railings.  Morbid curiosity in me wanted to spray luminal on the walls. 

 The most high profile person to be hung was a chap called Patrick Whelan who it seems was hung for killing a policition.  He was hung on the 11th day at the 11th hour and the noose was wrapped around 11 times.  The day change was an attempt to keep the high profile hanging from attracting tol many crowds.  Word got out and 5,000 made it to watch.  The population of Ottawa was only 10,000 at the time.    For whatever reason, he didnt die from the drop and was left hanging for four minutes before death.  His last wish was to have his body sent to his family.  They found a body in an unmarked grave at the jail site wearing his wedding ring.  Poular belief in Ottawa back then, and now, is that he was innocent.  All evidence was circumstantial.

The youngest person to stay there having committed a cardinal crime was an 8 year old boy, for murder.  It was a crime to be in debt, homeless or swear in public, so many people were in and out.  The most commom female crime was prostitution. 

The jail features near the top of many lists of most haunted places.  I didnt experience anything that pointed to this being true.  Whether a true believer in the supernatural or a cynic like me that likes to find a black and white explanation for things, the jail was a great fun and such an interesting place to visit.   



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