Summer 2003

Ottawa Jail Hostel

This hostel exhibits the appearance of an ordinary building, but in fact it was a prison and the site of Canada's last hanging.

By Kaidian Smith



This hostel looks like an ordinary building, but in fact it was a prison and the site of Canada's last hanging. This imposing gray stone structure, built over a two-year period at a cost of $60,000 is a fine example of Georgian architecture.

The Carleton County Gaol (a kind of jail) opened in 1862. Although it was esteemed as a progressive, modern facility in 1862 by 1972, however, it was considered utterly inadequate for housing prisoners. The jail accommodated 150 prisoners. In 1972, John Wylie made a proposal to the regional government to convert the prison into a hostel. The prison was renovated, and on August 2, 1973, the Ottawa International Hostel opened in the presence of Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh. In 2002, the Ottawa International Hostel's name changed to the Ottawa Jail Hostel, preserved as a historical landmark.

Lyndelle Lebruin and other members of the Center for Diversity, Pluralism and Inclusion's Mentor Program at Plattsburgh State University recently experienced their first overnight trip at the Ottawa Jail Hostel. On their arrival, Lebruin stated that the prison resembled an ordinary old building. With the exception of the sign off to the side of the entrance, the hostel's true identity remained a secret to the first-time visitors.

"It wasn't first class facilities," said Lebruin. " The hostel felt a bit strange because it was a building that people visited and toured everyday, and it was once also a place where people were imprisoned and hanged."

Vanessa Elton-Smith, a hostel international member, explained that although the jail was renovated, its solitary confinement and some of the cells were maintained for the tour. The Jail tour highlights many architectural and security details and gives an idea of what it was like to be a prisoner or a guard in this facility. Elton-Smith said that prisoners who returned were amazed at how big the Ottawa Jail Hostel was because it doesn't look very big from the outside. Once inside it is cavernous.

Numerous suicides and accidental deaths, some quite suspicious, occurred at the penitentiary. Patrick James Whelan was hanged on Feb. 11, 1869, for the murder of the Hon. Thomas D'Arcy McGee (Apr. 7, 1968). McGee was a Father of Confederation. William George Seabrook was also executed Jan. 10, 1933 for the shooting death of Paul Lavigne (Dec. 11, 1931). Lavigne was shot during the robbery of the Domestic Service Station, where he was employed. Eugene Larmont was executed Mar. 27, 1946, for the shooting death of Thomas Stoneman (Oct. 2, 1945). Stoneman was a police detective who intercepted Larmont during a robbery. These are the only three executions on record and all were by hanging.

Lebruin explained that prisoners were placed in small cells without bathroom and only bunk beds on opposite walls. They were also hung in their cells. The floors were short and weren't very far apart.

The visiting males and females from Plattsburgh were separated, males slept in the cells, while the females were given regular rooms. The hostel didn't have that warm homey feeling because it had the cold sensation of a jail. There were bathrooms for everyone, though the light switch had a timer on it. There were nine floors, but we used only two floors. The other floors were apart of the tour with rooms such as the solitary confinement room.

Our guide told us that once a woman was making fun of the tour guide while she was walking towards the door and it slammed in her face and broke all her fingers on one hand. Also a group of people on a tour started to bleed from their nose after passing the cell of a man that was hanged. During the tour, the guide said that she have seen the ghost of people who died or was hung on the floor she lives on.

The ghost of a little girl and old man has been seen on the floor. The warden lived there with his family on a section of a higher floor. Old prisoners often don't want to talk about everything that happened to them and get very scared when they pass the warden's door after so many years. Prisoners were chained to the floor and fed through a small opening in the door. One prisoner was there for six months at a time.

Although the Carleton County Gaol is haunted with the misery, depression, and sorrow, it a great place for cheap accommodation right in the heart of Ottawa. The lure of spending the night in an authentic living piece of history and to have a very unique experience at a bona fide Ottawa jail serve as attractions for the thrill seeker or penny-pinching student.

Want to spend time in jail?

Historical Jail Tour

Step back in time to experience prison life in the 1800s. Learn about the HI - Ottawa Jail, a hostel, formerly the Carleton County Jail. View the solitary confinement cells, visit death row and see the gallows used for Canada's last public hanging! Cost is $5 per person, $4 for HI members. Tours run every single day at 7pm. Please call the hostel to find out which tours are bilingual.

Program Cost: $4.00 for HI members, $5.00 for non-members.
Booking Info: For groups, call the Groups Coordinator at (613) 235-3457. For all others, call the HI - Ottawa Jail at (613) 235-2595.

A Haunted Walk of Ottawa

Prepare to be spooked on a Haunted Walk of Ottawa. Learn about the city's ghostly past and take a tour of the HI-Ottawa Jail hostel, formerly the Carleton County Jail. For times and prices, contact Haunted Walks of Ottawa at: (613) 232-0344. Tours leave from the booth at the corner of Sparks St. and Elgin St. HI members receive a discount, so don't forget to bring your membership card!

Spaghetti Dinner

Are you hungry? Well, when hunger strikes, check out the spaghetti dinner at the HI-Ottawa Jail! Fill up on pasta - it's the only way to go! Spaghetti dinners take place on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 6pm-7pm
Program Cost: Only $4.00!
Booking Info: Sign up at the front desk of the HI-Ottawa Jail hostel, or the HI-Ottawa Sandy Hill hostel.

Ottawa's Famous Market Crawl

Check out Ottawa's nightlife on the best night out in the city! Enjoy "a few", tour the nation's capital and meet your fellow travelers every Thursday night at 8pm.
Program Cost: Only $5.00!
Booking Info: Sign up at the front desk of the HI-Ottawa Jail hostel, or the HI-Ottawa Sandy Hill hostel.



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