jail hostel Ottawa

You can now sleep overnight in what was once Canada's most notorious prison

What is now the HI Ottawa Jail Hostel was formerly known as the Carleton County Gaol jail and Ottawa’s main detention center for over 100 years. 

Opened in 1862 next to the city courthouse, this model prison was later closed in 1972 due to inhuman practices. It was terribly overcrowded and up to 150 prisoners would be forced to share about 30-60 tiny cells.

Also, men were mixed with women and children and those arrested for drunk and disorderly conduct would often be forced to share a cell with murderers or the mentally ill. 

After sitting abandoned for a year, the building was bought and reopened as a youth hostel by Hostelling International in 1973. 

Guests can stay in shared dorm rooms or deluxe private suites, all of which come with free WiFi and continental breakfast in the morning.

The most popular option for accommodation however, is the authentic single jail cell.

These confinement cells are completely unaltered from their original conditions. The tiny 27 square foot spaces come with just enough room for a narrow bed behind the barred door. 

The experience is far from what you'll get at any other average backpacker’s hostel, but the unique opportunity to sleep in a cell is the draw for most of the visitors who find refuge at this historic landmark. 

There are rumours that the halls of this building are haunted due to the inhuman practices, sentenced deaths, as well as the many deaths by illnesses that occurred here during its prison days. 

Whether that's true or not, it certainly makes staying here even more of an adventure for travellers who love a good ghost story. 

There are also areas that are still set up as they were when prisoners occupied the jail.

The top floor of the building, which used to be the prison's death row, has also been restored to its original conditions and is open daily for free tours.

Located downtown and right next to the Ottawa Convention Centre and Rideau Centre Mall, the hostel is within walking distance from the Parliament Buildings, Byward Market and National Gallery of Canada.

Lead photo by


Join the conversation Load comments

Latest in Travel

10 places in Canada with the most breathtaking fall colours

This massive corn maze might be the largest in Canada

Canada's 4 biggest airports will now check temperatures of domestic passengers

Barbados wants Canadians to work there for a year

These are the interprovincial travel restrictions in Canada this summer

You can now take a virtual tour of some of Canada's most beautiful national parks

United Airlines just suspended all flights to Canada

10 of the most remote places in Canada to get away from it all