Our justice system is designed to protect you from society’s most vile criminals, but what if that same system turned against you?
Before Cornwall Jail (or Gaol, as it was spelled over 100 years ago), there stood an army barracks that was used during the war of 1812. However, in 1826, the building caught ablaze and burned down; several soldiers and livestock died while trapped inside.
Seven years later, the jail was built to help incarcerate the worst that society had to offer; murderers and thieves alike to keep the community safe. Unfortunately, that’s not all that filled the cells.
There was a group of people that locals affectionately nicknamed, “undesirables”, which consisted of anyone with mental or physical disabilities. Back then, there were no hospitals to help treat these poor people with special needs, so they were simply thrown in jail.
Children also became regular occupants of the cells. Why you may ask?
Simply because they were without a home or were too troublesome within the community.
Now, all of this wouldn’t be so bad if it weren’t for the morally-corrupt guards walking the halls.
Hired guards would often come to work with corrupt thoughts swimming around their heads. They would often subject the inmates to horrible violence, ignore inmates with deadly and/or infectious diseases and would even sometimes drive them to suicide.
Back then, when the system was looking for guards to hire, they didn’t bother training them, looking into their psychological background or anything like today. They just needed someone to keep the inmates in line.
Unfortunately, there were no rules or laws on what punishments could be inflicted on prisoners, so it was usually up to the guards on what suitable punishments were needed to keep them in line. At the end of each day, prisoners would consider themselves “lucky” to survive another day in the most inhumane living conditions.
The jail was a lose-lose scenario for each of the prisoners. If they managed to survive and leave the prison, their mental state would constantly be anger-fuelled by their experiences and memories. If they died, they were simply buried in unmarked graves nearby the jail, forgotten by a society that turned their backs on them.
For decades, the prisoners would scream and cry for help, but there were no sympathetic ears to hear them.
It wasn’t until the early 1900s that prisons started separating men and women, children were sent to work houses and the insane were sent to hospitals. Soon, the jail started operating like a normal correctional facility.
Cornwall Jail was eventually shut down in the fall of 2002 in favour of newer, larger facilities in Ottawa and was turned into a museum. Just because the jail is gone, doesn’t mean the suffering and tormented souls went with it.
People have said that whistling can be heard when there is no one else around. Others say they’ve encountered horrible odours walking through the corridors.
Staff say that disconnected phones will ring and doors will slam when they least expect it.
Barbara Matthews, the jail’s visitor’s services manager and general curator, went on the record saying that her first supernatural encounter occurred when she was walking down the hall to put on some lights. She said that she heard a sound like metal wheels on a trolley behind her, getting louder and closer, and when she turned to look, nothing was there.
Over the years, after more and more of these stories spread, the museum has become a hot spot for ghost hunters to investigate the corridors, hoping to have their own ghostly encounter.
Do you think you’re brave enough to visit the Cornwall Jail? Just remember, if you do, you might be outnumbered.
Check back each week of October to read another harrowing haunted tale from eastern Ontario and check off your list by visiting each site this month, if you dare.
Reporter/Photographer for Chesterville Record and Eastern Ontario Agrinews. Currently working on Record segment, “Chilling Tales from Beyond”