Carleton County Gaol, ca. 1870 – 1880. Photo: William James Topley / Library and Archives Canada / PA-012371
It was called the Carleton County Gaol (pronounced jail), and was better known as the Nicholas Street Goal, located on Nicholas Street close to the Parliament Buildings and the Rideau canal in what is now known as Ottawa- which is the capital of Canada.
Construction of the stone structure began in 1860 and doors opened in 1862. The architect was Henry Hodge Horsey from Kingston, Ontario. Prior to its opening the Court house had used their basement area as a jail, better known as the “wretched and poisonous basement” Carleton County Goal / Heritage Ottawa (C.C.G. I H.O).
The prison’s administration building faces Nicholas Street and included the apartments that had housed the prison’s governor. That portion of the building’s architecture was inspired by 16th Century Italian Renaissance.
In comparison, the cell block wing, located at the back of the building is a stone structure that is 4 floors high There is also a gallows and exercise yard all surrounded by an 18-foot stone wall. Although the stone walls are 6 meters high the fully functional gallows stand visible for all to see.
Galllows (left) and Jail building behind prison wall. Photos: Jeff Johnston, Wikimedia Commons
Henry Hodge Horsey’s design was to “convey its intent of imposing punishment and deterring crime while reflecting 19th-century principles of prison reform which sought to rehabilitate prisoners while providing safe housing”. (C.C.G. I H.O.)
The term safe housing meant, each person was initially to have their own cell albeit very small, without heat, ventilation or plumbing however compared to the previous basement prison of the courthouse these new digs were considered airy perhaps due to the fact that the cell windows had no glass only bare bares on them, which would have been unbearable in an Ottawa winter. The lack of such amenities and then later over-crowded conditions contributed to sickness and death but of course that was by no means the only cause of one’s demise.
Apparently during that time, it was congratulated that no prisoner was ever tortured there, in the form of whipping or any other physical type of punitive measures…Really? Well, you can be the judge and jury of that.
Men, women and children stayed at this prison. There was a mix of hardened criminals, murderers, thieves, debtors, prostitutes, drunk and disorderly and those who had mental health issues. If a family were in debt, they could find themselves incarcerated or if the father was able, he could work while his family members stayed in prison until the debt was cleared and children that thieved stayed until their family was able to pay to have them released. It is said that the cries of children and weeping of women
The Underground Tunnel:
Let’s begin this metaphorical walk of the prison by starting at the courthouse. There is an underground tunnel built to transport prisoners from the courthouse to the prison, from the prison to the courtyard.
Those found guilty and sentenced to jail where blindfolded prior to being taken from the courthouse to the prison via the underground tunnel. This tunnel travelled underneath prison structure and led to a trap door of the prison’s basement floor, from there prisoners were intentionally taken passed the solitary confinement area and from their sent to either their cell or to be processed, in the Mug Shot area. According to the Mysteries of Canada website the tunnel was also used to transfer the bodies which were left in the prison’s designated Quarantine Room to die.
Those bodies were wrapped in sheets and then taken En-route to be buried in mass graves on prison property or cremated, not sure where they did that deed. Claims have been made that when all is, I guess, hushed, audible sounds believed to be from some of those spirits, now plague that tunnel with their cries.
The Basement: Ah basements.
The basement of the prison was also utilized for at least two other nefarious deeds– It was the area used for solitary confinement plus for holding those in quarantine – oddly enough the kitchen was next to the quarantine section. I guess the smell of more than just the food or the food itself could make one sick.
The basement, know as “The Hole” was used for confinement. Prisoners were sent to confinement in order to…what would they have called it?..to be reformed. The inmate was stripped naked, chained, face-down spread eagle on a stone cold floor and left in the dark for almost 24 hours with only one 15 minute break per day for an average of 6 months. And that 15 minutes may have consisted of having to wear an ankle bracelet.
New immigrants and inmates suspected of being infected with one disease or another where also put into quarantine in the prison’s basement. Those in quarantine rarely saw the light of day…ever again and as mentioned the majority of those bodies were disposed of via the tunnel.
Sidenote: I heard or saw information pertaining to torture chambers in that prison which have been sealed with brick and will not be unsealed until a number of years have passed. Also. there are “whispers” about an instructional booklet on torture that were for the guards or perhaps certain guard’s education. This booklet had been discovered after the prison was decommissioned. Is there any truth in this? If you know let me know.
The ceiling of the designated chapel was designed with enclaves which carried sound along to all corners of that space, allowing for the clergy’s sermon to be heard. As time moved forward perhaps the space was commandeered for both guard and clergy to have their pronouncements heard while being able to maintain their distance from the prisoners.
In recent history, overnight guests of the prison hostel were/are providing a free breakfast in the chapel area, which consists of more grub than was allotted to the prisoners. Some guests of the hostel claim that they have heard the weeping of women and children in that area.
Let us now make our way through to the stairwell.
Paranormal activity reportedly occurs in at least one of the building’s stairways, known as the “secret staircase” It is referred to as a secret because it connected to the governors’ residence. The reported paranormal activity may be occurring due to the murders and suicides that occurred by way of prisoners chucking themselves or someone else off the stairs in between the stairwell’s guardrails.
I muse that the etymology of the word guardrails surely came from such actions as the one that occurred in 1910 when a posse of prisoners chucked a guard over the stairwell’s railings sending him to his death. It was afterwards that the cage gates where installed on each level of the stairwell in order to prevent further such incidents.
The paranormal activity that is said to occur in the stairwell may be due to the types of deaths that occurred there. Legend has it that one of the spirits is a vampire ghost, yes you heard right. The legend may have manifested due to an inscription that was noted after renovations began.
If you’re interested in what the inscription states.
“I am a non-veridical Vampire who will vanquish you all. One by one I will ornate your odorous flesh with famished fangs. But Who? Are there 94 or 95 steps to the ninth floor? A book on the top shelf will lead you on the right path.”
Female prisoners, February 1895, Carleton County Gaol. Photo: William James Topley / Library and Archives Canada / PA-027437
The 9th floor was once home to the prison’s hospital which had to be converted to a women’s only floor. With all different types of incarcerated peoples and the over-crowded and in humane conditions let’s take a moment and thank what seemed to be a progressive act. Not sure where the hospital was relocated, but hopefully it was re-established on site. Guest that stayed on that floor report hearing women and children crying so perhaps the women here were those with children who were incarcerated due to family debt.
The 8th floor was home to death row. The prison had a total of 3 hangings. It is said that one of the three may have been the last
public hanging in Canada and that event just so happened to draw up to 5 thousand people due to the infamous nature of the case. Well, I guess you get your entertainment where you can.
The person at the end of that rope was to be Patrice Wallen who had been convicted of the murder of D’Arcy McGee and sentenced to hang.
I will circle back to the paranormal activity that has been reported on this 8th floor but first a bit more background to set the stage as to why some of the reported paranormal activity may be occurring.
Thomas D’Arcy McGee: April 7, 1825 – April 13,1868
Thomas D’Arcy McGee born April 13, was originally from Ireland. In his youth he wrote about Irish emancipation and aligned himself with those that had wanted independence for Ireland, a group known as Fenian.
When things went a muck, in others words a plot gone sideways, he left Ireland for Boston but as his political views started to shift, he then headed for and landed in Montreal in 1857and soon after that he was elected to the Canadian legislature and became one of the founding Father’s of Confederation (associated with the Dominion of Canada).
On Tuesday April 7,1868 after a late 2 a.m. Session had been adjourned in the House of Commons, Mr. McGee walked the two blocks back to his residence and stopped in front of the door to retrieve his keys. It was then that he was shot in the back of the head by an assassin using a 32-caliber pistol.
McGee never knew of the surprise portrait that WAS to be for his 43 birthday..
Smith & Wesson .32-calibre Model 2 – Images courtesy of Canadian Museum of History-
Above 4 Images Courtesy of Canadian Museum of History
First States Funeral, April 1868 -Images courtesy of Canadian Museum of History. McGee’s funeral attracted tens of thousands of people to the streets of Montréal, where he was buried on what would have been his 43rd birthday.
Patrick James Whelan:1840-February 11,1869
(courtesy Library and Archives Canada/MIKAN 3194915)
Patrick Whelan, born in 1840 in Ireland. When he was young, he too, like Mr. McGee, was in favour of Irish Nationalism and similar to McGee denounced the Fenian group.
Whelan was a tailor by trade but in April 1868 within 24 hours of the shooting of Mr. D’Arcy McGee he was arrested and charged with carrying out a Fenian conspiracy to murder. During his trial he claimed to be a loyal British subject and stated he never shot McGee. He was convicted, although evidence was a little sketchy, in April 1869 he was found guilty of the assassination of Mr. D’Arcy McGee, and he was sentenced to be hung at the Carleton County Jail. Whelan was incarcerated on the 8th floor on death row for 10 months in cell number 4 of the Carleton County Jail.
Some say while he was in prison he was “overheard” stating that he knew who the real murderer was and the day prior to his execution he wrote a 3-page letter to Sir John A. MacDonald, the first prime minister of Canada proclaiming his innocence in hopes of an appeal, not sure why as the last two landed on deaf ears. Perhaps he wanted to set the record straight.
The Gallows – Photo cutesy of Saintlo
The Day Of
At 5.00am on the 11th of February 1869. Whelan was aroused, attended mass which was held in the chapel, afterwards he had breakfast, although I can’t image that he had much of an appetite. He was then taken down the hall passed the cells, hands tied behind his back moving towards the door that led towards the gallows.
Meanwhile outside the prison gates, despite a snowstorm…TO BE CONTINUED
For the rest of my narrative, please listen to Orbicle Times Podcast Episode 11 – Carleton County Gaol- Metaphorical Walk-About -simply go to the menu and open the “podcast” tab or go here to hear
A Quick History of the Ottawa Jail – Extremely Haunted for a Reason (ghostwalks.com)
Blood On The Moon – Trailer – Brick Wall Theatre – YouTube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EqU-D5uqLsI&lc=UgwM-eqX9gZGHKyH3KV4AaABAg.9hh0mVYCBT19iS8R4sBMIK
Canadian Museum of History https://www.historymuseum.ca/history-hall/thomas-darcy-mcgee/
Carleton Jail ~ Romancing Travel Magazine
Creepy Canada – Episode 1 – YouTube
HistoricPlaces.ca – HistoricPlaces.ca
Home | The Canadian Encyclopedia
Ottawa Allows You to Stay in Jail for a Night Even If You Haven’t Committed a Crime, and 6 Things to Look for When You Do | by Robin Nemesszeghy | Mediu
On TV, a one-man play packs greater punch – The Globe and Mail
Ottawa Ghost Stories and a Chilling Late Night Walk Through the Old
Ottawa Jail Hostel – Wikipedia
Patrick James Whelan | The Canadian Encyclopedia
The Hanging of Patrick Whelan – The Historical Society of Ottawa (historicalsocietyottawa.ca)
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