This is the story of how I ended up in jail. Well, sort of.
And if you must know, it was my fourth time spending the night in jail… The Ottawa Jail Hostel that is.
Did I fool you? No? 😉
After my most recent stay there, I decided it was definitely time to let you in on my favourite hostel to stay at in Canada’s capital. And let me tell you, staying in this place is a wonderfully creepy experience, not for the faint at heart.
About the Jail
This hostel was originally Ottawa’s first jail, the Carleton County Gaol; a building that now ranks among the top most haunted places in Canada. It’s on Lonely Planet’s 10 Spookiest Buildings Around the World list, ranking at #9, just after Chernobyl’s Reactor #4.
The jail was opened in 1862 and wasn’t closed until 1973 when it was decided that it no longer met Canada’s guidelines for the humane treatment of prisoners. The prison was often overcrowded housing approximately 1000 prisoners, when the jail was only designed to hold about 150. Amongst other problems, this meant that diseases spread rampantly.
There was also no light and no heat in the jail. The windows did not have glass panes in them, and the prisoners slept directly on the stone floor until at least 1888. The jail got terribly cold in the winter, so its very likely that many of the prisoners suffered from hypothermia and frostbite. In fact, when the Mackenzie King Bridge (next to the jail) was under construction, they found over 100 unaccounted for bodies.
Freaked out yet?
Hostels International bought the building shortly after the jail was closed, reopening it as a hostel less than six months later. That’s not a lot of time to let the building’s scars settle.
They now run daily tours of the jail for hostel guests, where they show you around the building and tell you all about the creepy history of the place. I highly recommend going on the tour if you can, it’s as interesting as it is terrifying. You get to stand in what was once solitary confinement, where they still have pieces of the original chains hanging from the walls. You can also check out a cell on death row, that has been left untouched since the jail closed.
One of the most impressive features of the tour is that the building houses Canada’s only still-functioning gallows. According to the records, there were 3 people officially hung at the jail, but another 7 unofficially hung.
All four times I’ve stayed, I’ve had in a cell on the 4th floor. I’ve stayed in both the 1 x 3 metre single cells (by myself as they hold only one person) and once in a double cell (when I dragged Dylan along). The first time I stayed at the hostel, I was completely alone on the entire floor. I’m really glad I hadn’t gone on the tour yet, and didn’t know anything about the history of the jail! Still, I had a restless night, sure that there was someone standing at the foot of my bed watching me.
Have I convinced you to check this place out?
Some good things to know:
- The hostel is in a great location, just across from the Rideau Centre in downtown Ottawa. It’s also less than a five minute walk to one of my favourite areas in the city, the Byward Market.
- On the lower level, in an area that used to hold the jail’s chapel, there’s a kitchen and a common area that even features a wall where you can take your very own commemorative mug shot. One of the walls is still lined with original pews from the chapel.
- They also use this area in the mornings to serve up a free continental breakfast. Many of the items were vegan including: cereal (looked like corn flakes and multi grain Cheerios – both vegan, however there was no dairy-free milk), fruit (sliced oranges, sliced grapefruit, sliced cantaloupe) bread/toast, bagels, peanut butter and jam, coffee, tea, orange juice and water.
- The communal bathrooms and showers, while on the older side are clean and well cared for. Still, I recommend following the usual hostel plan and bringing flip flops if you’re going to shower.
- Not all the rooms are cells, they also have large mixed dorms without the exposed brick, bars and jail aesthetic so make sure you double check what you’re booking.
- Light sleepers be warned! The vaulted ceilings were designed to carry sound, so that the guards could hear who was talking and what they were saying. On the upper floors of the jail in maximum security, speaking was forbidden. The hostel staff have earplugs at the front desk if you need them. Its also very bright, as light from the hall spills into the cells through the bars at the top. I highly suggest an eye mask.
The Ottawa Jail Hostel is certainly of the most interesting hostels I’ve been lucky enough to stay at. I’d highly recommend checking it out… As long as you’re not afraid of ghosts.
What do you think? Have you stayed at the Ottawa Jail Hostel? Do you know of any other unique places to stay? I’d love to hear in the comments below.