ottawa

Rideau McMadness

Ottawa is filled with plenty of buildings rumoured to be haunted. Visitors travel from far and wide to gaze upwards at the green roofs of Parliament, or to speculate about the supposed hauntings of some of the historic buildings downtown. Even the lengthy Rideau Canal draws tourism. In winter, it is transformed into one of the largest outdoor skating rinks. There are plenty of buildings scattered around Ottawa that attract plenty of attention, but one of the most infamous in the area is the Rideau Street McDonald’s.

Positioned by the Rideau Centre shopping mall and close to Parliament, it draws in high numbers of visitors daily. Because of low prices and having both a front and a back entrance, this particular McDonald’s location draws in steady attention.

Photo courtesy of Jenny Thompson via Adobe Stock

Photo courtesy of Jenny Thompson via Adobe Stock

Everyone has heard of the Rideau Street McDonald’s. With perpetual visits from the police and recurring videos trending of brawls, it is legendary. One can hardly manage to complete four years attending an Ottawa university without watching the poorly filmed video of one particularly large fight, where a raccoon is pulled from a man’s jacket.

The popularity of this McDonalds location is primarily based off of its physical location. By sitting close to Parliament and other government buildings, it is also nestled close enough to the University of Ottawa, which attracts a high number of students. With student budgets, positioning in proximity to Rideau Centre and the Byward Market, this location is clearly very attractive to consumers.

You might notice, visiting the location, that classic music unexpectedly plays over the speakers. Perhaps management is attempting to psychologically tame the savage beasts with their choice of background music? Who knows. Despite this music, however, police officers visit this location daily to handle issues involving drug use and violence.

Violence is a staple of the Rideau McDonald’s experience. Dinner with a show is a key description of this location. Guests frequently verbally assault workers and begin physical brawls that are often caught on camera and uploaded to YouTube within hours. The wise visitors travel in groups, as chaos is a constant attribute to the Rideau McDonald’s location, and can quite swiftly pull any innocent bystander into the mix.

mcdonalds

Because of this aggressive reputation, the Rideau McDonald’s restaurant has changed their open 24 hours reputation and instead, has shifted into being open from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. Because of the constant need for police backup and numerous aggressive encounters within the store, they have also opted for hiring trained security. Safety has finally become a priority, after a lengthy history of assault and brutality on site.

Despite the alleged hauntings in nearby buildings like the Bytown museum or Chateau Laurier, the Rideau McDonald’s is somehow far more terrifying than a few ghosts. If you feel like you’ve missed out on the prime 4 a.m. to 6 a.m. experience, don’t worry. Plenty of wild incidents also occur throughout the day.


Leave us a comment if you’ve experienced a terrifying encounter at the Rideau McDonalds, or risked your life venturing into the bathroom down the hall.


rachelitme+.jpg

Rachel Small

Rachel Small is not a small person and might be the present day reincarnation of Lizzie Borden. She crawled to life one night after midnight in the basement of a bookstore.

Weird: A Review

In February, we here at Voices In The Attic did indeed leave our dark hovel for a night out at the Gladstone Theatre in Ottawa, where we watched a performance of Weird: The Witches of Macbeth.

Weird is the flagship show of Theatre Articus, a performance company based in Kitchener-Waterloo. You might recognize this show from the 2016 Toronto Fringe Festival, where it was the recipient of the Cutting Edge Award. The Ottawa Fringe Festival also gave Weird a glowing review, and awarded it the Best of Fest in 2015. So we knew we were in for a pretty great show.

As the name suggests, Weird is based on William Shakespeare’s tragedy, Macbeth. It combines both the famous verses from the original play, and new verses in Iambic pentameter by writer and director Phillip Psutka. However, Macbeth is just an invisible character on the sidelines of this play, because the Weird Sisters are centre stage, as they rightfully should be.

The Witches of Macbeth are iconic characters in both theatre and literature. To many modern women, they are a symbol of female power. However, at the time of their conception, post-Elizabethan Britain had descended into a hundred-year witch panic. Dissident women were put to trial, burned or taken to the gallows for something as small as a birthmark. So, naturally, the original Weird Sisters were supposed to represent evil and spiritual treachery.

That’s not the case in this play though. Philip Psutka and co-creator Lindsay Bellaire masterfully present the witches as multi-dimensional characters, who are anything but evil. Instead, they are servants to nature. The three sisters—played by Lindsay Bellaire, Lauren Fields and Emily Hughes—are incredibly compelling women.

All in all, Weird truly is a unique composition of aerial acrobatics on crimson silks, imaginative storytelling, fantastic acting, and expert use of Shakespearean language and rhythm. And we didn’t even need a translation book to understand it! I would absolutely recommend this show to anyone looking for innovative Canadian theatre. If you see it around, go see it!

I will leave you with a particularly potent (and some might say relevant) line from Weird: “The earth doth rot, when power is had and reason is not,”


Check out Theatre Articus’ website for more information.


Do you love the Witches of Macbeth as much as we do, because we really love the Witches of Macbeth. Talk to us in the comments!


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Natascha Wood

Say her name three times and she will appear.

Twitter: @oldvvitch

Bytown Museum Hauntings and Disturbances

This post was originally published on SPINE Online, October 10th, 2018.


Photo courtesy of Patrick Tomasso via Unsplash.com

Photo courtesy of Patrick Tomasso via Unsplash.com

Rattling doors and crying porcelain dolls are the stuff that ghost stories are made of. Ottawa as a city is a fantastic area filled with activity and heritage. However, one of Ottawa’s most unique attributes is its long history of ghosts. With so many heritage buildings located in the city, it isn’t strange to consider their morbid history. The Bytown museum, located next to the similarly haunted Chateau Laurier, is rumored to be haunted by Duncan McNab, a previous supply manager.

Despite being dead for over 150 years, his spirit remains active within the museum. The Bytown museum is known for cold spots and the peculiar sound of footsteps that persistently follow workers and visitors.

Originally designed to act as a storehouse for supplies, it eventually underwent a drastic transformation in the 1950s, turning into a museum that would host the history of the Ottawa area and the Rideau Canal. However, despite any alterations that the building underwent, ghosts seemed to cling to the building. The Bytown Museum has gained notoriety for its haunting, bringing in a host of paranormal experts and even the local haunted walks of Ottawa, all seeking to unveil the secrets of the building.

The Bytown Museum is famous for more than just cold spots and the sound of footsteps, though. Porcelain dolls have often appeared to be crying, items move freely of their own accord, and strange experiences with orbs of light that flash in rooms. Rumors say that the museum isn’t haunted by a single ghost, but at least two, due to an encounter with Lieutenant-Colonel John By having controlled a computer within the building, bring up his name again and again on a document. By was an engineer who supervised the construction of the Rideau Canal and the founding of Ottawa (originally known as Bytown).

However, an argument can be made that the ghosts are neither McNab or By, but rather the hundreds of Irish workers who died during construction of the canal. With little ceremony and burial rituals, bodies had often been disposed of freely. Not until 2004 was a plaque commemorated to mark their passing. Irish workers had taken jobs digging the canal due to the limitations they faced during their time, and they suffered from illness, exhaustion, and hunger while working on the canal. Death rates were high and it wouldn’t be unlikely for a spirit or two to be restless still. The Bytown museum is perched beside the canal and could play host to the Irish. As Tony O’Loughlin said, canal workers were “despised in life and forgotten in death”.

Who knows what or who is behind the disturbances in the Bytown Museum. It could be a disgruntled previous worker as a manager, or it could be dozens of restless souls, rattling at the doors and stomping across the rooms.

Check out the museum here: https://bytownmuseum.com/

Photo courtesy of Steinar Engeland via Unsplash.com

Photo courtesy of Steinar Engeland via Unsplash.com


rachelitme+.jpg

Rachel Small

Rachel Small is not a small person and might be the present day reincarnation of Lizzie Borden. She crawled to life one night after midnight in the basement of a bookstore.

More Tales from Jail

Welcome back to the Attic.

This will be our final post on the Ottawa jail for now, as our stay was unfortunately only for one night. However, while we were there, we experienced some things and learned even more about the happenings on the property, both past and present. To begin, we sat in a cell on Death Row with an audio recorder, which returned some sounds that did not come from any of us, that we know of. The recording is below, including the time codes of the unexplained sounds.

1:26 → Distant scream.

6:34 → A long breath.

7:30 → A low ‘Ooooo’ sound.

Some of the Voices went to the explore the jail before midnight, when the noise of traffic outside had died down. Two of them got lost in the maze of cells and hallways before they too got separated. Michelle, sensing that she was being followed or watched, called Joseph from her phone, while Rachel was looking for the source of what she believed to be rain. She never found where the sound was coming from, but it certainly was not raining outside. When they found one another again, both of them described feeling the same thing: that they were not alone.

ca. 1910, N.D. Wilson  / Library and Archives Canada / PA-044706

ca. 1910, N.D. Wilson / Library and Archives Canada / PA-044706

Meanwhile, in the guards’ quarters, I learned about some more interesting stories associated with the jail. First off, the vampire. And no, not the Dracula-kind.

The story of The Jail Vampire began with a cryptic note left in one of the walls in a Death Row cell. It’s something of a legend, which you will read about in books or hear on the Haunted Walk, with various bits of misinformation. So we asked a member of staff at the hostel and they did indeed verify that there had been a note discovered during renovations. It was apparently placed there at some point in the sixties, but not actually discovered until some time later.

The message read like this:

“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 9th floor? A book on the top shelf will lead you on the right path.”

In the book Haunted Ontario’ by Terry Boyle, Haunted Walk guide Carol Devine revealed that even while the jail was in operation, prisoners described the vampire as a spiritual entity which “tries to push your soul out of your body”.

“They say it feeds on the sick. No one knows for sure whether this creature’s territory extends throughout the jail or not.” She said.

Two stories in particular are associated with the ‘non-veridical’ vampire. The first occurred in 1994, and the second occurred while the jail was still in operation.

The 1994 incident involved two men who were staying overnight in the Governor’s quarters. One of the men woke up in the night to see a shadow in the doorway, so he turned the light on. As he did so, the light bulb exploded, and the shadow darted into the wall. Later workers discovered a passage behind that same wall, which subsequently led to theories that the vampire spirit was using the old passageways to travel around the jail.

The second ‘non-veridical’ vampire story also took place in the Governor’s quarters. At that time, the warden’s family, including his eight year old son, had moved into those quarters. I know, a jail probably isn’t a great place for a boy to grow up, but then, the management at this jail had a long record of bad ideas. As most little boys do, the son often played in the stairwell outside the quarters. But, after a while, the warden’s son changed. He developed an intense fear of the dark, a mysterious illness, and a rather swift change of personality. His sudden decline is attributed to the vampire.

Spirits such as this are not at all uncommon. They have been well-documented all over the world, often described as parasites, which suck the energy and life out of their victims, or anyone who resides in their vicinity for too long. So it’s safe to say that the Governor’s quarters are not a great place for an extended stay.

Views of Ottawa, published by J. Hope & Co, 1884. Courtesy of  Urbsite .

Views of Ottawa, published by J. Hope & Co, 1884. Courtesy of Urbsite.

The stairwells are also rather notorious for their violence. The first stairwell, which we used to go from reception up to our room, was allegedly the sight of an incident between two inmates and a guard. The inmates overpowered the guard and pushed him over the railings, where he fell to his death. Subsequently, steel railings were placed down the middle of the stairwells to prevent such things from happening again.

At the back of the prison, there is another stairwell, and they lead from death row down to the gallows, then further down to the gallows courtyard. Both stairwells, though they are now lit by emergency lights, would have been extraordinarily dark, but at least the front stairwell has a little illumination from the skylight, whereas the gallows stairwell does not. And it’s absolutely frigid in the winter months.

The beam in the gallows stairwell.

The beam in the gallows stairwell.

It is said that several prisoners voluntarily jumped to their deaths there. I say voluntarily because other prisoners were not lucky enough to choose how or when they perished, as they were the victims of illegal, undocumented executions.

We looked up above the stairwell, to see a thick wooden beam cemented into the walls on either side. It’s clear that the beam serves no structural purpose, and that it was placed there after the wall’s completion. What’s even more clear are the rope marks in the beam.

Deaths at the jail often went undocumented, left up to mystery. Inmates either died with a noose around their neck, hanging from that beam, or they perished from neglect. This was also the case for immigrants—men, women, and children who came to Canada seeking a better life, then found themselves locked in the basement of the jail, exposed to the elements. They were in the dreaded quarantine, because it was believed that they carried foreign diseases.

Until recently, it was unknown how many people really died at the jail. But construction next door on the Mackenzie King Bridge gave a harrowing indication as to what really went on behind the six metre high walls. The courtyard, which now serves as a parking lot, was uncovered, revealing one hundred and fifty charred skeletons, one of which likely belongs to Patrick Whelan. Later deaths were interred at Beechwood Cemetery in unmarked graves, so the courtyard corpses could be just the tip of the iceberg.

If this place sounds like a medieval dungeon, as it was so accurately called in 1972, then you are getting the right idea. As a jail, it was a cold, overcrowded hellhole at the best of times, and it would’ve likely been shut down much earlier had word got out about the unrecorded deaths and burning of bodies on the property.

However, as a hostel, the Carleton County Gaol is a wonderful place to stay. There is so much to learn from the walls around you, from the heavy prison doors, and the creaking floorboards. They all tell the grim tale of Ottawa’s past, and the poor souls who endured their sentences inside. But somehow, despite the many horrific things that happened at the jail, there’s something warm about the building, and it’s not just the radiators blasting heat into the rooms. There’s a new life there which exists alongside the darkness of its past, which I attribute to the care and positivity given to it by the staff members and the much needed renovations.

In conclusion, long may the Ottawa Jail stand, and long may we learn from its lessons.


If you’ve heard stories about the jail, or experienced something on the Haunted Walk, let us know in the comments! If you haven’t spent the night before, book a bed at Hostels International and stay a while.


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Natascha Wood

Say her name three times and she will appear.

Twitter: @oldvvitch

The Voices Go to Jail

Ladies and gentleman, it is February 20th, and tonight, we are going to jail.

Well, not exactly. We are going to the Ottawa Jail Hostel, formerly known as the Carleton County Gaol. If you’ve been on the Ottawa Haunted Walk or stayed here yourself, then you’ll know all about this place.

It seems lost now, as a brooding and austere five-story Victorian building amongst the modern high rises and shopping centres. There’s still a pillory on the front lawn, and a faded sign above the courtyard gate saying: ‘Jail Entrance, Entrée De La Prison’. But no prisoners have passed through the doors in forty-five years now, or not a living one at least.

Photo: ca. 1870-1880, William James Topley  / Library and Archives Canada / PA-012371

Photo: ca. 1870-1880, William James Topley / Library and Archives Canada / PA-012371

Yes, you guessed it. The building is very, very haunted. In fact, Lonely Planet calls it the ninth most haunted place in the world, and that is what we call a good review.

But first, before our stay begins, the story of the jail itself.

The Gaol was constructed in 1861, with a four story cell block to the rear, the administration block facing directly onto the Rideau Canal, a gallows yard surrounded by walls up to six metres high, and an underground tunnel going to the Courthouse next door. Its architect was Henry Hodge Horsey from Kingston, who also designed many of Ottawa’s notable Victorian buildings like the Banque Nationale and the original City Hall. At the time, the Gaol was considered ‘state of the art’, but as we all know, the standard in the nineteenth century tended to be quite low.

For starters, men, women and children were all doomed to serve their time within its walls—some of them murderers, others pickpockets and the like. They shared sixty cells with one hundred and fifty of their fellow inmates, in unsanitary conditions and without heating in the frigid winter months. Inmates only received one meal per day if they were lucky, while some of them were placed in solitary confinement, naked and alone. So it should come as no surprise that some inmates died before their sentences were up.

Photo: ca. 1910, N.D Wilson  / Library and Archives Canada / PA-044698

Photo: ca. 1910, N.D Wilson / Library and Archives Canada / PA-044698

Seven years after the Gaol began operation, an important part of Ottawa’s history took place between one Patrick Whelan and the Minister of Parliament for Montreal West, Thomas D’Arcy McGee.

Patrick J. Whelan  / Archives of Montreal.

Patrick J. Whelan / Archives of Montreal.

McGee was coming back from a Parliamentary debate just after midnight on April 7th, 1868. He ascended the steps towards the boarding house on Sparks Street where he had been staying, and greeted the owner of said boarding house, when he was suddenly shot through the neck. The shot reportedly knocked his dentures right out of his mouth. When others came to the scene, they found McGee dead on the street, with no sign of his assassin.

But it only took the police a day to find the culprit, in a tavern, with a .32 Smith & Wesson pistol in his pocket—allegedly the very pistol that had taken the life of McGee the previous night. The assassin was Patrick J. Whelan of County Galway, a man suspected of sympathizing with an Irish militia called ‘The Fenian Brotherhood’. When brought before the Court, however, Whelan insisted upon his innocence, but it was to no avail. In September, the Court found him guilty and sentenced him to die. Upon receiving the verdict of the Court, Whelan spoke these words:

"I am held to be a murderer. I am here standing on the brink of my grave, and I wish to declare to you and to my God that I am innocent, that I never committed this deed."

It’s not entirely clear if Patrick Whelan was indeed the man who killed D’Arcy McGee, as the evidence against him ended up being circumstantial at best. Nevertheless, not six months after the murder, in front of a crowd of five thousand spectators, Whelan again declared his innocence, before being hung from the Gallows at the Carleton County Gaol.

His body was buried on the property, where it presumably still remains with all the other men, women, and children who perished there. Afterwards, only two more executions took place there, the last being in 1945.

Eventually, in 1972, the outdated and infamously inhumane County Gaol closed for good. However, unlike most of the beautiful buildings designed by Henry Horsey, the Gaol was not demolished. It was instead turned into a hostel, after enjoying a much needed renovation. Guests stay in former cells, tour-goers pass by on the Ghost Walk and spirits linger alongside them. According to the stories, Patrick Whelan is unsurprisingly the most prolific phantom at the jail-turned-hostel. Guests often describe waking up to find Whelan standing over them, or he is seen walking towards the gallows. His spirit is certainly not alone though. There have also been many reports of disembodied screaming and crying, a feeling of intense negativity, and even violent encounters with the more aggressive spectral residents.

So we are going to spend the night with them.


If you’ve stayed here and experienced some spooky stuff yourself, tell us about it here, on Facebook, or tweet @AtticVoices! Remember to check the #VoicesInTheGaol tag on Twitter for our live-tweets and stay tuned for more terrible tales from the Carleton County Jail.


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Natascha Wood

Say her name three times and she will appear.

Twitter: @oldvvitch

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