New Year's Clean-Up

As a new year's resolution, I've opted to revamp my writing habits. I used to be a daily writer and 2011 was the year that habit flew out the window. Writing a blog is for my own pleasure, so it's simply a bummer for myself if I give it up (I assume nobody is losing sleep over a lack of thoughts from Frankie).
With this resolutions, I realized I need to do a bit of a cleanup and so I'm deleting an old blog I created while in college. It was about working at the Ottawa Jail Hostel and the cooky things that go on there. Since it was created as a school assignment I only wrote two blog entries and never kept it up to date.
So, for the curious and posterity this is the now-defunct "Hostel Life."

Thursday, February 26, 2009
They say it's haunted
One particularly strange thing about working in an old so-called haunted building is not the people who tell us their creepy stories, but the way I’ve come to react when hearing these stories.

Admittedly in my first few months, I would get a little jittery if someone told me they had seen a ghost or felt a spirit. If I was working the overnight shift I was constantly on alert for unusual activity. It got to be an exhausting state of being. For about one full month soon after starting my job, I woke up every night at the same hour, 3:17 a.m., with the feeling that there was “someone” in my room. It was like the ghosts were following me home. To be honest, I thought I was a little nutty to even fathom this idea. I never would have thought that I’d see a ghost, but I think my common sense eventually took over my nuttiness as the 3 a.m. wake-ups came to a halt one day and since then I have never thought that ghosts would bother me. My simple solution was that I realized ghosts are figments of the imagination.

I realize that I don’t believe in ghosts, but when people come to me saying they’ve experienced a ghostly moment I listen to their stories, fully aware that everyone has different ways of interpreting experiences.

Over this past weekend, I was working the late shift on a particularly quiet night. The Haunted Walks guide had just finished her Crime and Punishment tour and guests were mingling around reception comparing photos and sightings. A South American lady came to me and asked to purchase three t-shirts for her family, all of which read “HI-Ottawa Jail Hostel, a great place to hang.” She got a lovely pink one for herself, brown for her husband and bright red for her son.

About one hour or so later, the nice lady came downstairs, a little more subdued this time and asked if she could talk to me. So I stepped aside with her and she went on to tell me that the night before had not been a good one. She had awoken to the feeling that someone was touching her feet. When she opened her eyes, there was a figure standing beside her bed. Unsure if it was her roommate she rolled over and tried to sleep again, until a moment later her roommate got out of the bed above hers, which meant the figure she had seen was someone she did not know.

Without a doubt, the nice lady thought this was a restless spirit who had died in the old Carleton County Gaol. For that reason, she thought it was not wise for her to keep the t-shirts. “I can’t keep these when this person might have been killed for the wrong reasons,” she said, obviously worried about the figure she had seen. Holding onto hostel memorabilia saying “A great place to hang,” just didn’t sit well with her if she wanted peace of mind.

Telling her I understood completely I took back the t-shirts and gave her a full refund. After that I imagined myself attempting to return a dress at Le Chateau for the same reason – that excuse would never work anywhere else!

I talked to the lady a little longer about past guests who have seen figures in their room and assured her that any spirits still left in the building are purely residential ghosts and have never hurt or bothered anyone.

The fact is, I’ve heard similar stories hundreds of times before and it has just become a part of being an HI-Ottawa staff member. I’ve heard of figures sitting at the end of beds, ladies walking around with clothes over their faces, creaking footsteps in empty halls, jingling keys, banging bars, voices behind doors, feeling of being pushed, children in old clothes, the list goes on and on. I don’t believe any of it, but I believe that people see things and let their imagination take them to paranormal places.

Being so desensitized to these stories has made me a great listener for nervous hostellers and I love that I can talk to people about their experiences and provide them the assurance they need to get a calm and good night’s sleep.
Posted by Ottawanderer at 7:45 PM 0 comments
Wednesday, February 25, 2009
This is my job...
“You must meet a lot of interesting people.” I hear that sentence on a weekly basis, if not daily. And it’s true – I do meet a lot of interesting people, although I don’t seem to notice as much anymore.

For the past two-and-a-half years I have been working in a hostel. (Brief definition: Accommodation for budget travellers seeking simple comforts at a cheap rate) I could probably fill a book with some of the stories that come out of there. And for the past few months I’ve not only worked in the hostel, but I’ve been living there as well. I am fully immersed in hostelling life. The reason being, this past summer while tending to my full time duties in the travellers’ haven, I was on a full time hunt for an apartment. As time was dwindling down I found myself caught in some inconvenient situations brought on by disorganized landlords. In short, I was homeless. But timing is everything and my spurt of bad luck was happening just as the need for a houseparent came about at the hostel.

The building is around 150 years old and has a few characteristics about it that make it a unique place to stay while in Ottawa. It’s known for being one of the most haunted places in Ontario, so imagine living there. Formerly the Carleton County Gaol (that’s old English for “jail”), the ominous brick building was built in 1862 and housed some of By Town’s roughest criminals. Back in those days, this city of ours was one of the most dangerous places in North America. After 110 years, three official hangings and a few hush-hush executions the building was deemed unfit to serve as a prison any longer and was shut down due to inhumane living conditions.
The following year, 1973, the building was purchased for a few bucks and transformed into a youth hostel. Over the years the former clinker went through several face-lifts to make it the cozy, happy, welcoming hostel it is today.

My job as the hostel’s houseparent is to remain in the building between the hours of 2 a.m. and 7 a.m. in case any emergency should occur while the front desk is closed (during the summer months we stay open 24/7). But this isn’t the time when the best stories are created. So far the only overnight event to take place came in November when a guest seemed to unknowingly pull the fire alarm at 4 a.m. As a result I had to call the fire department, attempt to sputter out my explanation as to why I was calling, despite being half asleep and unable to form a proper sentence, and lead all the hostel guests to the front courtyard for a drawn-out impromptu pyjama party. The culprit was given a bit a guilt-trip on my behalf and proceeded to suck-up to me for the remainder of his stay. It was one of those “oh we’ll be laughing about this tomorrow,” kind of situations.

The most unique experiences come when I’m working my regular job at the front desk. For 28 months I’ve checked-in hundreds if not thousands of guests from all corners of the world. Writers, reporters, mediums, ghost hunters, filmmakers, even Seth Green has been here, but the best stories come from those unknown people. And the characters that have walked through that front door are innumerable. Sometimes they’re on the kooky side sometimes they warm your heart. Sometimes they’re downright odd.

As a front desk clerk I’m somewhat a bartender. Guests come to me and chat for hours. They confide in me, tell me their stories and seek my advice. It’s a job that often leaves me wondering whatever happened to them.

Happy New Year,

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