We Went to Jail. Directly to Jail.


That’s where we stayed in Ottawa — in jail. A haunted one, no less. The Old Carleton County Gaol, which is now the HI-Ottawa Jail Hostel. We stayed in cell #8.

Outfitted with twin bunk beds, a desk, a storage locker, and a fan (Hallelujah!), we had it much better than the prisoners ever did. In fact, our small cell was actually three combined. Back when it was an actual prison, the cell was basically only as large as a lice-ridden cot.


To get our bearings and learn more about accommodations for the next few nights, we took a Crime and Punishment Tour of the jail.  ($13.75 for tickets. You can buy them in the lobby hostel.) Here we learned about the horrendous conditions of this “model prison” which housed prisoners as young as 7-years-old from 1862 until it finally closed in 1972. 1972! It’s almost unimaginable.

Suicide screens filled the gaps from floor to floor so that no one could throw themselves (or a guard) over the staircase. Our tour guide also pointed out the holes in the backs of the stairs, which served their own purpose. The holes allowed the guards to see the shoes of anyone going up or down the stairs, which was telling, since prisoners and guards wore different shoes.

We were taken up to Death Row: three small cells that were separated from a 4th cell. The prisoner facing execution was kept in the 4th cell until he was walked in front of the other three on his very short path to the noose and trapdoor at the end of the hall. The guards would announce, “Dead man walking,” while the crowd outside waited. Then a bag was placed over the prisoner’s head, the noose placed around his neck, and then the executioner stepped on a pedal, releasing the trap door where the prisoner dropped to his death. You can still see the trapdoor of the gallows in the hostel’s courtyard.

Only three men were executed there; all proclaiming their innocence until the end, and all having very little evidence against them. So it would be no wonder that their ghosts (and others) are rumored to wander the halls of the hostel.

So, did we encounter any ghosts, you ask?


I can’t say for sure that it was a ghost, but a strange thing did  happen while we were there. We woke up the first morning to discover that all of our toiletries were open and oozing out. Now, these could have come open in our bags on the road, though I don’t know why they would have. Especially my husband’s deodorant. Taking off that lid takes a little effort. It doesn’t seem like something that would happen from a little jostling on a smooth car ride on a highway. Nor did it make sense that our screw-top shampoo was open, and most of the shampoo had poured out. The toothpaste came open and was squeezed all over my husband’s deodorant. The toiletries were a mess.

Our cell had been locked. There was no one else there. Was it ghosts? I don’t know. Maybe they were tossing our toiletries since they rarely got to take showers. Or maybe a playful ghost was just curious. I guess we’ll never know. But stranger things have happened — and have, at the HI-Ottawa Hostel. We know, because we read the guest ledger.

What about you? Would you stay here? Or in any other haunted place, for that matter?


9 responses to “We Went to Jail. Directly to Jail.

  1. After hearing about the mysterious opening of your toiletry bottles, I’d stay far away from this place! An interesting experience though!

  2. How very bizarre about your toiletries. I’m thinking Ghost too! From all the horrifying things that have happened there, they sure did spruce it up for the tourists. What a crazy thing to do on holiday!

    • Yes, it has definitely been spruced up since its days as a prison. As far as hostels go, I found this one to offer much more privacy than most, but is also a little more expensive. Still, it was a kitschy place to stay, and we’re always up for a good ghostly atmosphere. It was fun.

  3. That’s definitely the most interesting hotel I’ve heard of in a while. Based on the photos, I can’t believe it operated as a jail until 1972.

  4. Pingback: Weekly Photo Challenge: Solitary | Browsing The Atlas·

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