Have you ever spent a night in prison? (I hope not). Well, last week while traveling in Canada, we did.
The Ottawa Jail Hostel was named for its origins a real, functioning jail from originally 1862 up until 1972. After the jail closed, due to conditions of the cells, Hostelling International purchased and converted the building, leaving the interior structure intact, giving guests the closest experience possible to spending a night in jail.
The building itself has a commanding presence on the street, despite the large shopping mall that frames the block. Parking is available, and inexpensive ($12 CAD) but very limited (and even more so now due to construction), so we parked in a garage a few blocks away for $24 CAD.
Check in is pretty standard, with the exception of a mandatory hostel fee ($5 CAD) and bed linen distribution – yes, you have to make your own bed. There are traditional 8, 6, and 4 bed same sex dormitories, private double cells, and for the most brave, a single authentic jail cell. Our cell was not surprisingly, tiny, and had bunk beds.
Also not surprisingly, the jail is reported to be haunted, and though I am not certain where I stand on my beliefs, I can say that I woke at around 4 a.m. in a cold sweat, terrorized (I refused to look down to the end of the bed where a spirit has been reported to lurk).
The hostel offers quite a few amenities, including WiFi and complimentary breakfast, but since the walls are made of stone and brick, accessing that WiFi is extremely difficult within the cells. My favorite part of the experience was the free tour (daily at 11 a.m.), which covers the history of the jail, and leads guests through the death row floor and up to the gallows.
The location is perhaps the hostel’s best attribute, being centered downtown and walking distance to Parliament Hill, and the popular Byward Market area.
So, if you’re looking for a unique place to stay in Ottawa, I would recommend spending the night here, if sleeping well isn’t high on your priority list.