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Ottowa's Haunted Hostel

Halloween sends many people out in search of evil spirits. And there are plenty of businesses that specialize in ghost sightings and haunted tours. But among the most convincing, and possibly the cheapest, is the youth hostel in Ottawa, Canada. It used to be one of the toughest prisons in that country. Karen Kelly reluctantly took a tour and has this report.

Ottowa's Haunted Hostel
by Karen Kelly

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I would never say that I believe in ghosts. But the fact is, I do, because I'm afraid to see one. It's kind of embarrassing, but I try to avoid places that are thought to be haunted. So, as I got ready to visit the youth hostel in Ottawa, I was feeling a little anxious and secretly hoping I wouldn't see anything unusual.

I meet Roxanne Guerette in the lobby. She's the assistant manager of the hostel and the resident expert on ghost stories. She shows me around, pointing out the phones and the Internet kiosks. There's something comforting about the clutter. But this usually isn't where the ghosts spend their time. So, we head upstairs to the hallways filled with prison cells.

We walk through one of the main dormitory floors. It's lined with prison cells where hostellers can spend the night. Roxanne stops in front of an empty one that's just three feet wide. She walks in, and shudders.

Roxanne: "This one here, it just freaks me out. This cell here. It just, 'Oh. I don't like his cell'."

There are places in this building where lots of people feel that way. Hostellers and staff members say they've seen shadows passing through the wall and heard footsteps when there was no one around. But the most famous ghost is the spirit of a man who allegedly visits hostellers in the middle of the night.

Roxanne: "Some people have seen some man standing next to their bed when they were sleeping. They woke up and someone was staring at them. And what's funny about that is different people have told me the same story and always give me the same description, but they never actually met each other."

Roxanne says it sounds like they're seeing the ghost of Patrick James Whelan, the jail's most famous inmate. He was the last person to be publicly hanged in Canada and it happened here. He spent almost a year on death row on the top floor of the building. Roxanne says some staff members are afraid to go up there. The truth is that, as we prepare to head up to the place, I'm nervous in broad daylight. She admits she used to feel the same way.

Roxanne: "I always had a bad feeling that something was watching me or I was not alone and the air was funny. Sometimes it was so bad, I just had to leave because it was making me very nervous. Now I just walk through and I don't feel anything."

Roxanne thinks she may have had her last experience with the hostel's ghosts about a year and a half ago. It happened when she went up to death row with a friend.

Roxanne: "We felt the air was so hot, on death row only, and we felt there was a pressure on our back, pushing us in one direction and you couldn't turn around. As soon as we walked through the doors, that feeling disappeared."

We continue up the stairs to the top floor and death row. On our way, we pass through the women's dormitory. The cells here are made of dark, red brick. The only daylight comes through the iron bars on the door. And each one has just enough room for two bunk-beds. It only costs about ten bucks a night, and it looks adventurous, but I can't imagine actually sleeping in there. Thankfully, there are a few regular rooms for the weak-hearted.

Finally, we reach death row, and we move into what many staff members see as the ghost's territory.

Roxanne: "That's the one thing I've always found weird. Every time I come here and lock the doors, I come back and there's always one open. I don't know if somebody comes with the key afterwards and opens the doors."

Roxanne is laughing and cracking jokes while I'm feeling terrified. I suspect she's compensating. So, I ask her how she's really feeling.

Roxanne: "I don't feel anything. Really. It's like I've been walking on any other floor. So, yeah."

Karen: "That's okay. It makes me feel a little better that you don't feel anything."

It used to be that hostel guests could sleep on death row for free. Roxanne says most people couldn't make it through the night.

We leave death row without experiencing any strange sights, sounds or temperatures. Hostellers can't sleep up there anymore, but they do have access to the floor 24 hours a day. They can also go in the solitary confinement cells and see the gallows. But Roxanne says most people keep to their cells at night. And, unlike other hostels, they aren't excited to have their own room. Instead, they often come back asking if they can have another cell, with a living person to keep them company.

In Ottawa, Ontario, I'm Karen Kelly for The Savvy Traveler.


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