My cell is 3’ by 9’
The door is made of thick, steel bars,
There are no windows.
I get the feeling that I am not alone…
I am spending the night in Jail!
When I heard that there was an old, haunted prison in Ottawa that you could visit and sleep in, I knew I had to check it out! The Carleton County Gaol has been transformed into HI – Ottawa Jail Hostel and has been named one of the “Spookiest Buildings in the World” by Lonely Planet.
The Carleton County Gaol first opened in 1862. The building housed a permanent gallows, which served as a way to deter the public from committing crimes. This was also the reason the executions were open to the public. There were only 3 public executions at the Goals, the most famous being of Patrick Whelan. He was accused of assassinating Father of Confederaton – Thomas D’Arcy. Whelan maintained his innocents until he was hung in 1869, his being the last public execution in Canada. It is rumoured that the ghost of Patrick Whelan haunts the hostel. The Goal was closed in 1972 because of awful and inhumane living conditions for prisoners and now is a place for budget travellers to spend the night!
Being in Jail
You really do feel like you are in prison when staying at this hostel. The original big thick doors and barred windows really add to the experience. The stair cases still have ‘suicide gates’ which would prevent prisoners from jumping or pushing guards over the rails. For my stay, I opted for the authentic jail cell experience in my own private cell. It was just big enough for a cot with a thick, blue mattress and a couple of hooks. I had to put my suitcase on the bed to be able to change in the morning. The barred cell door was mostly covered but the bottom and the top were open to the prison corridor.
The cells were built with arched ceilings (or what is known as a drum cell), this allowed guards to hear even the tiniest whisper in any cell, even one that was at the end of the hall. As you can imagine this makes it pretty hard to do anything in the hostel without everyone knowing about it. I stayed here on a Monday so the noise wasn’t too bad, but being the light sleeper that I am, I did wake up a few times – even with headphones on the entire night. I am sure that on a weekend the bar in the basement (Mugshots) has some noisy groups coming upstairs into the early hours. I would recommend bringing a strong pair of ear plugs so you are able to minimize sleep disruption.
A Move into the 21st Century
When I first arrived I was greeted with a friendly staff member who took the time to go over everything I needed to know. The Ottawa Jail Hostel has a 24hr desk and key pad security into the dorms. It offers free Wifi, a FREE continental breakfast and cheap parking ($7). You can choose to stay in an authentic 3×9 private jail cell, a double room or in a shared dormitory. All the bathrooms are shared. There is a common room and a kitchenette. The bar downstairs, Mugshots, offers decent priced food and drinks and runs a number of theme nights, including a pub crawl on Fridays. During my stay there was a range of visitors – groups, solo travellers and families.
Free Jail Tour
Also included is a jail tour, it is offered at 11am every day and is free for hostelers. It is short, maybe 20mins, the guide tells you a little bit about the history of the Jail and shows you parts of the original Gaols that have not been renovated. The Gallows up on the 8th floor of the building is certainly the most interesting part.
The Facts – HI – Ottawa Jail Hostel
Address: 75 Nicholas Street, Ottawa, Ontario
Cost: fair, I paid under $40 for my private cell and parking
Location: Close to Byward Market and an easy (15mins) walk to Parliament Hill
Worth It? It was a neat experience but I probably would not stay here again because of the noise.