It was a dark and stormy night … the windows rattled … a door slammed from the other side of the house … a mournful howl from a dog could be heard … time for some tales from beyond the grave.
With ghosts and goblins and things that go bump in the night, welcome to Niagara-on-the-Lake, a place that may just be one of the most haunted towns in Canada.
At the Shaw Festival theatre, workers talk of a few ghostly happenings and a lovely habit of theatres, a ghost light, which is brought out after the last performance of the night and placed downstage of centre.
The theatrical superstition is this light will appease any ghost that might come out and perform during the night, thereby discouraging them from sabotaging live performances.
In 2015, the Niagara Area Paranormal Society did an investigation of the Niagara historical museum.
NAPS investigator’s report stated the museum felt very still, with little activity. There were some noises, a bump, a voice saying “hey” and a possible orb, but all in all very quiet.
Several present and past staff say they had not experienced anything. Very disappointing to say the least.
At Fort George, the ghost tours are run by Kyle Upton, who started them 25 years ago.
One story Upton tells is of his own personal experience. He claims to have seen a young girl while he was conducting part of the Fort George tour know as the “tunnel.”
It was a warm summer night, he recalls, with thunder and lightning rumbling around NOTL, and though there was no rain, it felt like it wouldn’t be long before the storm came.
He had a tour group heading into the tunnel just south of the ammunitions building. It was a small group, so he could see up the passage way to the door. Every time he looked up the tunnel he could see a small girl in the doorway watching.
At first he thought it was someone from the group who was nervous about entering the tunnel, so he asked if everyone was accounted for, and they were. But the little girl was still there.
When the lightning lit up the sky outside of the tunnel, the little girl was not there, though Upton noticed something peculiar — he could see her shadow.
Upton is positive he was seeing Sarah Ann Tracy, who died in 1840 at the age of seven and was buried at St. Mark’s Anglican Church.
Sarah Ann lived with her parents Hannah and Thomas Tracy. Thomas was the troop sergeant major of the king’s dragoon guards. It was not unusual at that time for the fort children to live and play about the grounds.
No one knows how Sarah Ann died, but we do know that she is alone in St. Mark’s graveyard. Maybe this is why she comes to the Fort, where she once lived, to enjoy the company of all the visitors.
Many visitors claim to have seen her playing inside the barracks or just outside the officers’ quarters. She has also been seen skipping along side of tour guides in a white gown with curly hair, always cheerful with a big smile.
Of course, at the Angel Inn, there is the legend of Captain Swayze, and another popular tale is of the weeping lady at the gazebo, both souls mourning lost love. But there are a few others less known that are very much a part of NOTL history.
On a spring day in 1998, when the Niagara Apothecary was filled with tourists, one couple noticed a pleasant looking gentleman dressed in period costume, possibly from the 1860s. The gentleman was very interested in the display cases and would occasionally look up and smile at other visitors. One group of tourists took pictures of this gentleman thinking he was part of the museum display.
Of course this was at a time when you had to wait for pictures to be developed.
When the visitors finally looked through their photos, the couple claimed the gentleman was nowhere to be found. Only one picture gave a possible explanation of what they had seen — a vague misty shape.
Who might have been this ghostly visitor to the museum?
The Apothecary was the oldest continuously running drug store in Ontario, operating from 1865 until it was purchased by Henry Paffard in 1964. Prior to that, it was the customs house and also the office of a judge.
Staff and visitors also say they’ve heard footsteps on the second floor or from the stairs, complained of cold spots in the building, flashing lights from the back of the store and reported an odour of belladonna — a poison sometimes called nightshade.
Several psychics have visited the apothecary and have always confirmed a presence, but one that is “warm and welcoming.”
Just maybe this friendly spirit is Henry Pafford himself, or possibly the judge.
A very sad human tale emanates from the building that now hosts Corks restaurant. When it was a private home in the 1850s, it was the residence of Lloyd and Kate Burn. Kate had been a depressed young woman whose parents had died, leaving her a spinster with a brother — Philip — to care for.
Philip was a little unusual, and when Lloyd courted Kate, she agreed to marry the suitor on the condition her brother would be part of the package.
Lloyd knew Philip was not quite right and agreed with his own condition — Philip would be permitted to live with them but only in the basement of the home.
Although not quite the ideal arrangement, as the story goes the three managed to co-exist for many years. However the day came when Philip managed to free himself from the basement. In his frantic hurry to escape, he raced up the stairs only to collide with his sister Kate. She was knocked off balance and fell down the basement stairs, breaking her neck.
Philip, in his agitated state of mind, felt his sister’s fall was the fault of his brother-in-law, who was in the upstairs bedroom. He took a kitchen knife, went upstairs and killed Lloyd in a rage.
Philip then proceeded back down to the basement where he tried to help his sister. However by now she was dead.
Philip was so distraught and probably in a panicked state of mind, he buried his sister and brother-in-law in the basement. For two days, Phillip sat by his sister’s grave not knowing what to do. He was found there by the neighbours — dead from what some say was a broken heart.
To this day, people have heard noises of someone falling down the basement stairs, shadows lurking in hallways, music from upstairs, furniture moving, and staff being tripped by something unseen.
Could the spirit of Kate be lingering about for her lost family? Or it might be Philip still in a rage?
There have been several reported ghost sightings at the Pillar and Post. One is a young girl in a red dress who would like to enter the lovely Carriages and Cannery restaurant, but does not. She has most often been seen on the staircase, unwilling to venture into the room. The staff like this young girl and have given her the name Laura. Although the staff have said that Laura is sweet she does likes to play tricks on them by pulling on their hair or aprons or knocking over a wine glass, some servers say.
Then in the adjacent lounge the portrait of Lieutenant-Colonel John Butler hangs above the fireplace. Staff have said they feel Butler’s presence in the room, sitting in one of the chairs under the portrait. At times the staff have said Butler’s eyes follow them around the room.
Butler was long gone before the building was ever built so why is he there? Perhaps the portrait of himself was one of his favourites and his spirit is attached to it. Perhaps not.
There are also two rooms at the Pillar and Post, in which staff and guests claim to have had sightings — some worse than others.
Room 222 is said to have quite the ghostly activity happening, and none of it pleasant. There seems to be a very ill-tempered guest in there that has refused to check out, figuratively and spiritually. According to the stories, he seems to dislike the invasion of mortals into his space, causing doors to slam, items to disappear, TVs and radios to turn on and off, and even waking sleeping guests. Not a pleasant ghost at all.
However in room 118 are apparently two wonderful women with English accents who enjoy having guests visit them, and will quite often turn on music for everyone’s entertainment. One such radio with music playing was unplugged by a cleaning woman, who then took the radio to maintenance, all the while the music kept on playing.
It is said that staff, after cleaning room 118, tell the “ladies” they can play music until the guests arrive. Some say music plays from the room until the moment a guest opens the door.
Fort Mississauga is a place many visitors never manage to explore. Tucked away on the NOTL Golf Club, you can only access the fort using a path from the corner of Front and Simcoe Streets.
The fort has many good reasons to have some ghostly tales. It is on the site of the first lighthouse of the Great Lakes. It was also the encampment of the native allies for the British prior to the War of 1812.
After the war, the British decided to remove the lighthouse and build a fort on the land using materials from the lighthouse and from many buildings in town that had been destroyed on the retreat of the American forces in December of 1813. Some say many ghosts might be attached to the site.
One of the first sightings of a ghost was that of a young British soldier, stripped to the waist with blood covered pants. Some speculate he was a young man — so young that he wasn’t even shaving yet — who had been conscripted into the British army.
They say during a battle, he had panicked and hid in a hole. As a punishment for being cowardly, his superior officer decided to make an example of him had him whipped. He was lashed so much that he died of blood loss. Some say they’ve seen the young man on top of the fort, looking out over the golf course.
There is also the story of a headless man walking around the grounds of the fort.
The story goes that a group of native allies was watching the cannon exchange between the Americans in Fort Niagara and the British in Fort George, amazed at the cannon power, when a cannon ball struck exactly where they were standing.
It’s said that one unfortunate man had his head blown right off, and that his body walked around before finally falling to the ground.
It has been reported that the sounds of canon fire, musket shots and screams of wounded men can still be heard to this day around Fort Mississauga.
Maybe, like Lt. Col. Butler, these poor souls attached themselves to the very building materials that were used to build Fort Mississauga.
The town of NOTL is filled with tales of the paranormal, but who is to say whether there is any truth to it. I personally am quite happy to just write about the tales.
I would like to thank my friend Briar Collins for giving me a tour of the Festival Theatre, to Kyle Upton for his stories of Fort George, and a special thank you to Conor MacNeil for the use of his rendition of Sarah Ann.
To learn more about the topic of this story you can visit the Niagara Historical Society & Museum website at, www.niagarahistorical.museum, or visit the museum for yourself.
The Niagara Historical Museum is located at 43 Castlereagh St. in Old Town, in Memorial Hall. Visit, or give them a call at 905-468-3912.
Ascenzo is a regular Niagara Now contributor. Her full profile can be found here.