About the Hotel
While good, comfortable accommodation is pivotal to a good vacation, not everyone can afford to take lodging in five-star hotels with state-of-the-art amenities. Besides, most avid globetrotters find that there are much more pocket-friendly options that contribute to a comfortable stay while providing a more fulfilling experience.
Designed by Kingston, Ontario architect Henry Hodge Horsey, the HI-Ottawa Jail Hostel in Ottawa, Canada is the perfect specimen of affordable accommodation, providing an unforgettable experience all the same. If you love offbeat hotels, there’s nothing that rivals HI-Ottawa Jail Hostel in the whole of Ottawa because it is a refurbished 150-year old jail! It is a hub for budget travelers and backpackers from all around the world because of its eccentric vibe and historical heritage value, in addition to being a steal deal.
You’ll experience firsthand what it is like to live in confinement, the paradox being that you’re free to leave any time you want! The erstwhile Carleton County Gaol was built into a hostel in 1973 and has been preserved as a heritage site for posterity. Stay in the hostel, comes with a pleasant realization to all those who think that it’s just a “cool hostel with a grim history”. It is in fact much more than just an average backpacker’s hostel. An interesting fact about Hi Ottawa jailhouse is that in the initial few years of the hostel’s operation, guests actually paid to sleep in unaltered jail cells. These cells were roughly 9 by 3 feet; just big enough to fit a narrow bed behind a barred door.
HI Hostel is not only steeped in prison history but is also replete with the revolutionary and inspiring kind. Back in the year 1930, the Royal Commission on Public Welfare called for an instantaneous replacement, owing to the gaping inadequacies at the Carleton County Gaol. And so, in 1970 Gaol’s imminent closure instigated the Heritage Committee of ‘A Capital for Canadians’ to put up an emphatic fight to save the jail. Sure enough, this resulted in the Carleton County Gaol being leased to the Ottawa Youth Hostel Committee, and the rest is history.
This was the first notable public building built after the Parliament Buildings, and the powerless yet spirited conservationists succeeded in saving hundreds of thousands of dollars it would have cost to build a new youth hostel from scratch. R.A.J. (Bob) Phillips, chair of A Capital for Canadians, called this battle to save the jail ‘farsighted’, in a special feature in the 1981 December issue of the Ottawa Magazine. Now budget travelers and families from all around the world are reaping the benefits of those conservationists’ hard-work.
If you have a keen eye for good architecture, you’ll find that this stone building has a delightful façade sporting a front main-floor elevation and beautiful vintage ashlar masonry. Entering into the lobby, you’re greeted by a cheerfully checkered floor and colorful, eclectic pieces of furniture. There is an assortment of dormitories to select from – like a ‘Historic Double Cell, ‘Deluxe Double Room’, ‘Double Jail Cell’, etc. equipped with cozy and minimalistic bunker beds that give a whimsical flavor to space. Some rooms, on the other hand, have normal beds and other paraphernalia to mimic the comfort of an actual hotel room in a jail cell!
The rooms and dorms come in all shapes and sizes; literally, and albeit almost every room being unique there are certain parallelisms that are characteristic of the look and feel of the hostel in general. For instance, the white-washed ashlar walls, and simple, austere furniture forms a general recurring theme across all rooms. And as funny as this sounds, these confinement cells are not at all confined! They’re in fact quite spacious and uncluttered. One very striking fact about the building is the wooden doors. These doors are actually very heavy and still iron-barred. They still have suicide bars on them which back in their prison days, prevented inmates from jumping to their deaths; or pushing someone else to death. Even the windows have bars on them to this date.
Another special feature of the Carleton County Gaol were the drum ceilings or arched ceilings that gave the walls fantastic acoustics. A guard could sit at the end of the hall and hear the softest of noises from the furthest cell.
Despite being a former jailhouse, this place is far from inhospitable. It is warm, quaint and has a rustic feel. It is safe to say that it has a homespun vibe with a touch of sophistication. This overhaul of the jailhouse does not extend to the crime and punishment jail area. There’s a special tour of the place conducted by the staff of the hostel which takes you through the low-lit, sepia-toned stairwell to witness the jail death row and the gallows. It is said that the presence of Patrick Whelan, hanged for the assassination of Thomas D’Arcy McGee, is still felt by some who visit or stay in his quarters.
For those seeking some thrill and adventure, Ottawa Jailhouse Hostel has plenty of it to offer. As for the fainthearted shaken by the palpable presence of a spirit, don’t worry. There’s nothing like a few drinks from HI Hostel’s courtyard turned outdoor bar ‘Mugshots’ to settle even the most severe case of nerves. An open mic night at Mugshots can help you connect with fellow bathroom singers and if you’re a bookworm, you can spend the night poring over books in the hostel library instead. Also, as per most public reviews, HI Ottawa Hostel provides the most wonderful, delicious breakfast. So, don’t miss the most important meal of the day at the jailhouse.
As unusual as this may sound, a lot of travelers book their accommodation before booking their flights. It is a well-known fact that an accommodation accessible to all the famed tourist spots around, is the best way to save precious time and get the most out of your trips. Accessibility to tourist spots is of paramount importance and HI Ottawa Hostel is conveniently accessible to the main tourist spots in Ottawa. The hostel is adjacent to the Ottawa Convention Centre and the picturesque Rideau Centre. The Parliament Hill is at a distance of 1 to 2 km which is just a leisurely evening or morning stroll away from the hostel. Parks, museums, rivers, cycle trails, etc. are within a 500-meter radius of the hostel.
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The idiosyncratic vibe of HI Ottawa Hostel, its austere, non-pretentious exterior, quaint interiors and enigmatic mystical aura have made it a tourist hot-spot. It is appealing to not only the frugal but also to the affluent due to its unique setting and mesmerizing historic architecture.
Now there are a few thingsabout HI Ottawa that tourists should keep in mind for a seamless and enjoyable experience at the hostel. To do so, it is first important to address the small and seemingly insignificant things out of the way.
- The place is not wheelchair friendly; it is a bit of a hassle to haul wheelchairs into the hostel so it is good to be prepared for such a situation beforehand lest it becomes a nuisance afterward.
- Sleeping like a log is difficult. The prison was originally designed to be loud, i.e. you could hear what happened in the cell next door. So, you might want to carry some earbuds with you if you want to enjoy a sound sleep in your dorm ‘cell’.
- Pets are not allowed and even offering to pay extra to accommodate them won’t do anything.
- Don’t opt for a single cell room if you are claustrophobic. This is a no-brainer but a single cell room has a very confined space which is not suitable for claustrophobic people.
- Not every room comes with a bath. There is a common bath (separate for men and women) in the hostel for those whose rooms don’t have the facility. So if it bothers you, consider buying a room with an attached bath if available.
So now that everything important is addressed, it is time for you to set off on a new adventure in the capital of Canada – the world’s most educated country, without breaking the bank. This Canada hotel is perfect for those thrifty travelers, looking to leave footprints around the world on a budget, but in style. The hostel is equipped with the most helpful, efficient and polite staff as is evident through the feedback and reviews of thousands of satisfied lodgers. There is no better opportunity to make like-minded friends for a lifetime than in a hostel like this. So, on your next trip to Ottawa, consider living in this beautiful jailhouse hostel for a remarkable and refreshing experience.