Senem and I woke up around 9:00 am so we would have time to catch breakfast in the hostel’s restaurant, Mugshots, then hung around for a bit while we waited for the tour of the jail to start.
The tour totally spooked all of us out, and I now understand why most people recommend going on it on the morning you check out. It started out showing us the solitary confinement cells in the basement (they still have some of the ball and chain restraints in the cells), where prisoners could be chained spread-eagle and facedown on the floor for anywhere from a few days to six months. We moved from to the restaurant, which used to operate as the debtor’s prison and the chapel. Then we went up into the stairs that lead to our rooms, where the guide told us that the suicide bars installed between flights were less to prevent prisoners from killing themselves and more to save guards whom escaping prisoners would try to throw over the stairs; three guards died this way before the bars were installed. She also told us that the basement level was used as the city’s quarantine facility; most of the people who went down there died due to lack of adequate care. She told us that 140 bodies were discovered near the jail when the ground as excavated for a construction project before telling us that only three people were ever hung at the Ottawa Jail to give us an idea of just how many died in quarantine and from guard’s punishments. We then went up to the upper cell blocks to see death row. The guide actually locked us in the cell that held Patrick Whelan — the first man hung at the jail and one of the rumored resident ghosts — to tell us all kinds of stories about people’s encounters with ghosts. She talked about ghost hunters whose cameras’ batteries went from fully charged to dead, were totally erased, and even filmed the footage upside down, as well as stories about a ghostly girl whose image was allegedly captured in a photo and how many guests claim to have seen a girl whose description matches that of the girl in the photo, without having ever seen the picture. Freaky. I was very eager to get out of the cell, though our next stop, the gallows and the stairs that led to them, was even creepier. Gallows are nasty in their own right, but the guide told us about the many times guards had been caught tying unsanctioned nooses for prisoners around the banisters of the staircase, and with that I was ready to not be in that staircase anymore; she said that other than the solitary cells downstairs, that staircase was the place prisoners feared the most. We ended the tour in the courtyard where the public would come to watch executions, and as soon as the guide told us the tour was over, Senem and I ran out of there, very ready to continue on with the less terrifying part of our day.
We walked up to Parliament Hill, passing the Rideau Canal on the way, and got tickets for one of the tours of the Centre Block. Unfortunately all the English tours were totally booked out, but I thought I had enough French to be able to understand a bit. My real focus was just seeing the inside of the building, so I wasn’t too concerned about the tour’s language. Tickets in hand for a tour at the end of the day, Senem and I walked around the lawn on the hill, checking out the Centennial Flame and enjoying the tulips still out from the Canadian Tulip Festival, which brings us to…
Weird Things I Learned from Other Travelers (or Tour Guides) Today:
Every year, the Dutch government gifts 10,000 tulip bulbs to Canada as a show of appreciation for Canada’s friendship to them during WWII. The Dutch royal family spent their exile during the war in Canada, and Princess Margriet was born in Ottawa. That day, the Dutch flag flew above the Peace Tower, the only time a foreign flag has ever done so.
We had a few hours to kill before the museums became free, so we walked up to 24 Sussex Drive, the residence of the Prime Minister. From what we could see, which really wasn’t much at all (there are way more trees shielding the property so you can’t get a good view of it like you can at the White House), Justin Trudeau wasn’t home. Bummer.
We made a quick swing back by the hostel after going to 24 Sussex to rest our feet, then grabbed a quick lunch from a bagel place in the ByWard Market so we could make a picnic in Major’s Hill Park. Our timing was perfect, because once we were done it was time to make our way to our first museum of the day.
We walked across the Alexandra Bridge and in two minutes we were across the river and in Québec. It was amazing to see how quickly everything changed. I had noticed how much more bilingual Ottawa was than anywhere I had been before, and while Gatineau was still bilingual, their focus was noticeably on French.
The museum we went to see in Gatineau was the Canadian Museum of History. Senem and I went down to the first floor to see the exhibit on the First Peoples of Canada, which was really well done. They had a collection of totem poles, as well as a set of long houses in the styles of different groups that had different cultural artifacts inside of them that explained the history, culture, and lifestyle of First Nation groups. The exhibit also had a section on prehistory of First Nation groups that included a reconstruction of an archaeological dig and a hall that featured stories about the role of the First Peoples in Canada today. They even had a theatre that was showing animated films by First Nations filmmakers that depicted different groups’ creation stories; the one Senem and I watched was actually one that I studied in my Canadian history course in school this year about how people first got fire. The Museum of History also had a display of Canadian stamps, which was pretty hilarious. The museum is also home to a children’s museum, but Senem and I decided to skip that part to go to our next museum.
We walked back into Ontario, past Parliament Hill, and down to the Canadian Museum of Nature. We were under a bit of time crunch to make it back to Parliament Hill in time our tour, but we still managed to see almost all of the galleries there, including the fossil gallery, mammal gallery, water gallery, and earth gallery. It was a really nice museum, but much smaller than the ROM.
We walked quickly back up to Parliament to get to our tour, or at least as quickly as we could since our feet were starting to turn on us after all the walking we’d been doing all day. We made it in time to have a few minutes to sit while we waited for the guide to pick us up.
We had to go through airport-style security to get into the Centre Block, but you could tell we were doing this in Canada, because the guards actually had a sense of humor about the whole thing. One of them actually joked with me by asking if I had any bazookas in my bag after asking the normal questions about pocket knives and mace — definitely not anything an American guard would have said.
Munro, our guide, was totally bilingual, so even though the tour was in French, she was abel to clarify questions I had in English as we walked from stop to stop within the tour. I was able to understand enough of what she said that I didn’t have too many questions and was even able to answer some of the questions she asked in French, which gave me a little confidence boost as I’m on my way to Québec tomorrow.
The Parliament building was totally gorgeous. We didn’t get to see the House of Commons, because they were in session, but we were able to see the rotunda, the Library of Parliament (one of the only original parts of the Centre block that didn’t burn in a fire years ago), and the Senate Chambers. I can’t compare it to the American Congress buildings, because I’ve never been there, but I can say that they were gorgeous and it was almost overwhelming to be in a place so obviously central to this country that I love so much.
After the tour, Senem and I had one thing and one thing only on our minds: food. We walked back up to the ByWard Market to see which of the pubs looked lively and settled on the Highlander Pub. They were playing the Blue Jays vs. Twins game and the Raptors vs. Cavaliers game, and they had live music, so it was a fun spot to spend part of our night.
After a few drinks and what may have been the most satisfying meal I’ve had in a long time, Senem and I were both feeling totally knackered. We walked back to the hostel to get ready for bed and to leave tomorrow. I took a shower and had what I briefly thought was a ghost encounter: my sandal fell off my foot and disappeared; I freaked out for a bit before realizing that my shoe had not been stolen by a ghost, but had just fallen into the shower next to mine through a gap between the wall and the floor.
Now that I was slightly wigged out, I ran through the dark hallway into the cell, packed up my things, and settled in. I’m feeling confident at the moment that I’ll be able to sleep fine tonight as long as I keep the tour out of my mind. Tomorrow morning I leave for Montréal, so I’m hoping to get a decent night’s sleep!