Ghost stories scare and fascinate me all at the same time; and the ghosts of Niagara-on-the-Lake are no exception. Whenever I sign up to head out on a ghost tour, I am usually feeling a combination of fear and anticipation. For something that I find fairly terrifying, I seem to gravitate towards this type of tour wherever it is I happen to be travelling. Some of the tours have been scarier than others, but either way it’s the perfect opportunity to hear some of the more interesting tales of a city’s past; stories never told on a regular walking tour. The more history a place has, and the bloodier that history is, the more fitting a place it is for ghosts to wander in the night, stuck between worlds.
To understand why Niagara-on-the-Lake got its reputation as Canada’s most haunted town, it is necessary to delve briefly into its history. Niagara used to be the site of an old Neutral Indian village known as Onghiara. This Neutral Nation eventually lost their land to the Mississauga’s, another native tribe. The land was soon purchased from them by the British government, all for “300 suits of clothing”, and by 1792, the town, then named Newark by Governor Simcoe, became the first capital of the newly established Upper Canada. It was home to the area’s first library, courthouse, post office, pharmacy, newspaper and church. Niagara set the stage for the War of 1812, saw many battles, and during this war, the entire city was burned to the ground. Throughout the cities lively history, many people have died, and many of them were brutal and violent deaths.
Daniel Cumerlato, Owner of The Haunted Shop and Ghost Walks notes, “Niagara-on-the-Lake has the most rich and unique tales. Rich because we’re able to connect many of the ghost stories with their historical and legendary subjects, and unique because of their vivid and real nature.”
It is with this long history in mind that I set out on a walking tour with Niagara-on-the-Lake Ghost Tours to experience the haunted side of the city. Lady Cassandra was our tour guide for the evening, and as she told us tales that mixed history and hauntings, she held a glowing red lantern to help light the way. What better time for a ghost walk than fall, when the nights are cool and the leaves crunch under your feet as you stroll down streets that at one time echoed with the sound of musket and cannon fire?
This isn’t a tour where masked monsters jump out from darkened alleys to scare unsuspecting tourists; this is a tour that revolves around real people, real lives lived and the souls that still linger in the town. Forget cheap thrills, sometimes, real life is the scariest thing of all.
Cumlerlato speaks of one tour when the guide was standing on the corner across from the Prince of Wales Inn, near the entrance to Simcoe Park telling the story of Molly McGuire, a woman who died a tragic and abrupt death during the War of 1812. “A lady in the group noticed a swing in the park moving back and forth. Just one of the three swings was moving and there was no wind.” He continues, “the group ran into the park to investigate and everyone stood in front of it as it continued moving. Somebody from the group snapped a picture, and right after the flash went off, the swing stopped moving.” When the photographer looked at the photo later in the evening, right in the centre of a swing, was a giant orb. In the ghost-hunting world, an orb is said to be a concentrated ball of energy.
Our 90-minute ghost walk covered numerous stops throughout historic Niagara-on-the-Lake; but as not to spoil the fun, I’ll only highlight a couple of my favourite stories here.
The Olde Angel Inn was once upon a time known as The Harmonious Coach House and was operating as early as 1789. During the War of 1812, a militia solider by the name of Captain Colin Swayze decided not to retreat with the rest of the British troops but to instead head to the local pub to meet up with his love. After he arrived, American
soldiers raided the pub, and Captain Swayze decided to hide in an empty barrel in the cellar. The American soldiers combed through every nook and cranny of that pub, eventually reaching the cellar. They approached each barrel, turned the spigot, and waited to see if alcohol would pour out. When they reached the barrel Swayze was hiding in and turned the spigot, nothing came out but a rush of air. With one quick movement, the American soldier thrust his bayonet straight through the barrel, killing Swayze. Blood dripped out of the still open spigot. It is said that the Captain haunts the inn to this day. People report hearing noises coming from empty rooms, place settings being rearranged and other strange occurrences. As the story goes, the ghost will remain peaceful as long as the British flag continues to fly over the doorway of the Olde Angel Inn.
Another interesting stop was in the gazebo that is located at Queen’s Royal Park, right on the edge of the Lake. The gazebo looks historic, but it was actually built in the 1980s for the filming of The Dead Zone, and then gifted to the town upon the wrapping of the film. However, when the sun has set, the shadows dance in the darkened structure, and the waves lap the shore in the background, it makes for a pretty creepy setting. Picturesque by day, haunted by night. As we stood inside the gazebo, Lady Cassandra regaled us with the tale of the Woman in White; a ghost many people have reported seeing pacing up and down the path by the lake, as if waiting for somebody or something. Legend goes that it is the ghost of a woman whose husband drowned when his boat capsized in the lake. She’s been seen waiting for him ever since.
These are just two of the creepy stories we heard as we walked the streets; other stops included the Court House, the Royal George Theatre, and the Apothecary to name a few. There really are countless stories of ghost encounters, and in a town as historic as Niagara-on-the-Lake, it’s almost expected. Cumerlato notes that all the stories told on the tour are ones that were “conveyed to us by locals in Niagara-on-the-Lake and others who have visited and had experiences in the hotels and inns. Many have come into the Haunted Shop to tell us their stories”.
So, if you are looking for something a little bit different to do during your time in Niagara, why not head out on a ghost tour…if you’re brave enough of course. As Cumerlato says, “if there is one thing in this world we love…it’s ghost stories”, and on this tour, you’ll hear tales that will cause the hair on the back of your neck to raise, your heart to pound, and best of all, your mind to open.
Want to go on a Niagara-on-the-Lake Ghost Tour?
Throughout September and October, tours run daily at 8pm and various other times. Check out their website at ghostwalks.com
By Megan Pasche