Unusual things to do in Canada: prison accommodation

Looking for unusual things to do in Canada? Visiting Ottawa? Why not incarcerate yourself? 

My cell was mid-way along the corridor. Heavy metal cell doors once confined the prisoners to their overcrowded cells. At the end was a small window. A viewing panel. To see the original, still fully intact, gallows on the other side.

3 official executions took place here. The final one, in 1946. Eugène Larment. Convicted of killing a police detective.

Excavations have found other bodies. Inmates in unmarked graves. The result of starvation rations, disease and brutal treatment.

A place of inhumanity and death. This is now, allegedly, the most haunted building in Canada. 

Unusual things to do in Canada: My Accommodation

I was a young backpacker staying at the Ottawa Jail Hostel. Previously known as Carleton County Gaol.

It was winter. Low season. Eerily, the hostel was virtually empty.

Things to do in Canada - A row of cells at Ottawa Jail Hostel
Things to do in Canada – a row of cells at Ottawa Jail Hostel (my image)

Pre-internet and Google, I made the booking by phone. Assuming the ‘former jail’ tag was just a cute marketing ploy. That only the building’s shell remained. Inside would be fully renovated. I was wrong. Rows of cells, including death row on the top floor, were untouched. Like the prisoners just left. The communal kitchen and bathrooms were the only additions.

Staying here must be one of the more unusual things to do in Canada right?

Now with free wifi

My visit was 25 years ago. Backpackers are now offered:

‘… a unique blend of shared and private jail cells as well as traditional shared and private hostel-style rooms. There’s free Wi-Fi, free breakfast, a large fully equipped kitchen and an onsite bar called ‘Mugshots’. There are also areas that are still set up as they were when prisoners occupied the jail, including death row and the gallows.’

(Source: https://www.hihostels.com/hostels/hi-ottawa-jail)

Things to do in Canada - Ottawa Jail Hostel
Things to do in Canada – Ottawa Jail Hostel (my image)

Unusual things to do in Canada: Ghostly Stuff

The ghost of convicted murdererPatrick Whelan is said to haunt the jail. Protesting his innocence to the end, he was executed here in 1869. 5,000 ‘eager witnesses’ showed up to watch. A hanging was a great family day out.

Personally, I don’t believe in ghosts. But was I scared? Yes. I was crapping myself. Just a little bit.

I slept alone. In that silent, empty corridor of prison cells. Terrifying myself with thoughts of past inmates and executions.  

Unusual things to do in Canada: Crime and Punishment

For cleaning and maintenance, it was common practice for Canadian Youth Hostels to locked out guests during the day. Ironic when you consider the history of the building…

If you’ve backpacked around the world you’ll know there’s time to kill. Lots of it. 35-hour bus journeys. Airport delays. Long flights. Constructively, I decided to read as many classic novels as I possible. I’d become well-read. Holding court, in my imagined future, at dinner parties. Boring friends with tedious accounts of my literary canon. 

In Ottawa, coincidentally, my book of the moment was Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky.  Grim. Gripping. The protagonist, Raskolnikov, murders an shady moneylender. He’s (spoiler alert) found and arrested. Then sentenced to 8 years in a Siberian prison.

Ill-advisedly, I read the long, florid chapters in my cell. It’s no surprise I was crapping myself. 

Are you looking for unusual things to do in Canada? Should you stay at Ottawa Jail Hostel? 

Emphatically, YES.  Ottawa Jail Hostel is a unique experience (unless you’re a convicted criminal…)

This is a sensory, Instagramable, experience you’ll never forget. Don’t be wuss. Go for it.


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