October = cooler temps, colorful leaves that crunch as you walk over them, and all things spooky. What better time to explore a haunted jail?
Exploring a haunted jail was one of the things that tipped the scales in favor of Ottawa as I searched for a city to travel to last fall. My plan was to go on two of The Haunted Walks of Ottawa, but in the end I only went on one. (One of the perks of solo travel: you can change plans on a whim. I saw a Facebook post that an author I like was speaking at the writer’s conference in Ottawa one evening, so I went to that instead.)
In October, I chose to go on The Original Haunted Walk of Ottawa, and wished I had more time to go on more, so when my mom and I decided to go back this spring, I scheduled in the other walks that were available. Here’s a recap of the three walks I went on to help you choose the right one for you.
A Brief History of the Carleton County Gaol
The Carleton County Gaol opened in 1862 and housed inmates that were jailed for a wide variety of crimes: some violent and some not. Inmates included men, women, and children. (Yes, even children were held at the jail for a number of reasons.) The jail was eventually shut down in 1972, due to the terrible conditions the prisoners lived in. When you hear about the conditions, it’s not a surprise that many prisoners died during their stay–the exact numbers aren’t known. Not only that, the jail also has a working gallows, and there were a few prisoners who were executed on the grounds. Most notable was Patrick Whelan, who was executed for the assassination of Thomas D’Arcy McGee, an Irish-Canadian politician who is known as the Father of the Canadian Confederation. Due to the large number of deaths that took place in the jail, this building is believed to be haunted. After the jail was shut down the future of the building was unknown for quite awhile, until it was purchased by Hostelling International and renovated into a hostel. Yes, if you’d like you can rent a cell and spend the night in a haunted jail. Guests have reported spooky experiences and there have been claims that Patrick Whelan has visited guests in their cells at night. I didn’t stay at the Ottawa Jail Hostel, however I looked into it. I think this is a hostel you stay in for the experience of sleeping in a jail.
All three of these haunted walks end in the jail, so if you’d like to see the building, but don’t want to spend the night, you’ll definitely want to go on at least one of these tours!
The Original Haunted Walk of Ottawa.
Dates: April – November
Price: $19.75 – $21.75
Duration: 1.5 – 2 hours
Details: This walk starts at The Haunted Walk ticket office and takes you through the city. You’ll look over the Rideau Canal/Bytown Museum and walk through the ByWard Market on your way to the haunted jail. It ends close to ticket office at the Bytown Museum.
I Liked: This tour takes you through some of touristy parts of Ottawa and your tour guide shares eerie facts about the city, as well as some stories about supposed hauntings in different buildings. I thought this tour matched up really well with the Ottawa Walking Tour that I had gone on earlier in the day and provided additional information about some of the sites that I found to be both fascinating and spooky. You’ll get a chance to see the regular cells, death row cells, and the gallows while learning basic facts about the prison.
Ghosts and Gallows
Price: $19.75 – $21.75
Duration: approx. 1.5 hours
Details: This walk starts at The Haunted Walk ticket office, where you’ll learn about the assassination of Thomas D’Arcy McGee. As you walk to the prison, you’ll learn more about the investigation. This tour ends with a tour of the jail.
I Liked: This was interactive; there were skits that you were invited to participate in if you wanted. It was a lot of fun to watch some of the people on the tour who really got into acting out their parts. (Don’t worry, if you don’t want to be involved in the skits, you don’t have to be!) As with the last tour, you’ll get a chance to see the regular cells, death row cells, and the gallows while learning basic facts about the prison.
The Crime and Punishment Tour
Price: $19.75 – $21.75
Duration: approx. 1.5 hours
Details: If you’re looking for a jail tour sans ghosts, this is the one for you! This walk starts at The Haunted Walk ticket office and follows the same (or, at least, similar) path to the jail as the Ghost and Gallows tour, but the focus is definitely on the history of the building and of crime in Ottawa. Once you reach the prison, you again tour the regular cells, death row cells, and the gallows, but the tour goes into much more detail about what it was like to be a prisoner.
I Liked: After touring the jail a few times, I was ready to dig into the history. This tour is the one to go on if you want to learn about the history of the prison, the history of death row in Canada, and the not-so-pleasant details about what it was like to be imprisoned in the Carleton County Gaol.
My favorite tours were definitely the Ghost and Gallows and the Crime and Punishment Tour. If you’re not into the ghostly stuff, I’d highly recommend you go on the Crime and Punishment Tour just to learn the history of this historic structure. If you are into the ghostly stuff, I’d definitely recommend going on at least one haunted tour and the Crime and Punishment Tour. The haunted tours are a fun way to learn some of the history, especially with the way the Ghost and Gallows tour is set up. However, if you really love the idea of haunted walks like I do and you’re able to go on all three, I’d definitely recommend it. I loved each one and each tour had enough new information that I thought it was worth going on all of them.
Also, if you’ll be there in October and November I definitely recommend looking at the website for The Haunted Walk of Ottawa because they have some fun haunted adventures (including a Stranger Things adventure and a Zombie walk). Also, this year they have a special tour that takes you into the ByTown Museum in honor of Canada’s 150th anniversary. I suppose it would be crazy to go to Ottawa for the THIRD time in a year just to go on more Haunted Walks? 😉 (Not going to lie, it’s really tempting!)
Keep in mind that these are walking tours, so you will be walking for an extended period of time. You’ll also be walking up and down stairs when you’re in the jail, so keep that in mind if this is something that might be too demanding physically.
The tours end at the jail. The tour guides always go back to the ticket office, so they’ll walk with you if you’d like to return to where you started. You can also leave from the jail on your own if you’d like. It was a five minute walk from the jail to my hostel, so after my tour last fall I walked back. My mom and I opted to take an Uber back to our Airbnb both nights since the walk from both the ticket office and the jail was long enough that we didn’t want to do that.
There are also Haunted Walks in Kingston and Toronto, so definitely check out the tours if you’re visiting either of those cities. I know I will if/when I make it to them.
Have you ever been The Haunted Walk of Ottawa? (Or Kingston? Or Toronto?) Would you be interested in checking them out? And have you been on haunted walks in other cities? Tell me all about them! I’d love to go on haunted walks in other cities that I travel to!
Note – I have no connection with The Haunted Walk of Ottawa and paid for all of the tours I went on. They don’t know that I’m writing this post. I just enjoyed the experience, but also had questions when I was choosing tours, and wrote the guide I would have been interested in reading when trying to decide which walks to go on and if it was worth it to go on all three.
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