By Diana Condolo
In looking for things to do in Ottawa, I saw a tour that features a lantern-lit trip inside one of the most haunted buildings in Canada. Since a few friends recommended I visit this jail, I decided to take Haunted Walk Ottawa, a spine-tingling adventure. It’s a fun thing to do in the dark, afterall. [Disclosure: I received a complimentary pass to Haunted Walk Ottawa in order to write this review.]
Briefly, Patrick James Whelan was arrested and convicted for the murder of Thomas D’Arcy McGee, Father of Confederation. It is the greatest murder mystery in Canadian political history. Thomas D’Arcy McGee was murdered on an Ottawa street in the early hours of Tuesday, April 7, 1868. Our guide pointed to the area where he was shot. Just an aside, I saw the very handgun found in Whelan’s pocket at the Museum of Canadian History earlier that same day.
Our guide gave us some of the facts of the case, coaxing us to take part in a mini-mock trial and decide for ourselves. Guiding us along, we paused every so often, and she would ask for a volunteer to read from her cards. Each card had someone’s statement. Each reading of the evidence made us wonder whether an innocent man was hanged for a crime he did not commit.
Our final destination was a thick-stoned building that was known as the Carleton County Gaol. We could see that it was an imposing hell, designed to imprison the city’s most notorious offenders, though some were there for some minor offenses, like debt. The building is now the HI Ottawa Jail Hostel, so if you have always wanted to try a night in jail, without having to do anything against the law, here is your opportunity. But beware! This is one of the most haunted buildings in North America!
Inside, we got to tour the former jail and try out the cells. We learned what life in jail was like back then – who went to jail and what they could expect. We visited death row and stood before the gallows (one of the last in Canada, if not the last).
So was Whelan guilty or was he just a scapegoat? The group was asked to decide. I’m curious to hear what you think.
Even if you don’t believe in ghosts, it is worthwhile to set aside your beliefs and be swept away by the story. Your skin will crawl. You’ll be wondering about shadows you see out of the corner of your eye. Or you can just enjoy the eerie history.
Whether ’tis the season for spooky or you just like an interactive history lesson, the Haunted Walk Ottawa will thrill.
Haunted Walk Ottawa is a short, 10 minute walk focused mostly on storytelling.
Haunted Walk adventures are in Kingston, Ottawa and Toronto.