The Haunted House (1929)
I had a lot of fun writing about Five Haunted Places in Canada last year, so I figured why not do it again for this Halloween? Ghost stories fit really well into a history blog. After all, when you’re looking into haunted matters generally it has some historical context to sort through. Also the list of supposedly haunted places across the country is actually a lot longer than these two lists combined so there’s no shortage of stories to tell. This year we’re going to explore the spirits who haunt a famous hotel, well-known landmarks, and a breathtaking national park. (On a latter note, I’m still working at that museum and I still haven’t seen a ghost. Not cool).
1. Montmorency Falls, near Quebec City, Quebec.
About 12km from Quebec City lie the beautiful Montmorency Falls. Samuel de Champlain named them in 1613 after the ill-fated Henri II, Duke of Montmorency, who was viceroy of New France from 1620-1625. It’s not the beheaded duke who haunts the falls, but rather a heartbroken woman known as the “Lady in White.” Tourists have reported seeing a woman wearing a white dress in the mist of the falls falling to her death. Legend has it that in 1759, war dashed the wedding preparations of a young couple. The woman spent the summer terrified that her fiancé would die and unfortunately her fears were realized when he perished at Montmorency Falls. (Sources do not state which battle, but the timing matches with the three-month campaign of Wolfe vs Montcalm during the Seven Years War which culminated at the Plains of Abraham—another supposedly haunted place). Distraught over the loss of her fiancé, the grief-stricken woman went out each night to the falls calling out for him. You can probably guess where this is going. Her despair never eased and the following year she put on her wedding dress and threw herself into the falls. Her body was never found.
Not-So-Fun-Fact: Not to be a Debbie Downer, but white wedding dresses weren’t really a thing until Queen Victoria started the lasting trend in 1840. But hey, maybe the Lady in White was a trendsetter.
2. Fort Henry, Kingston, Ontario.
The grounds of Fort Henry
The fort was first built by the British during the War of 1812 because they believed the Americans would attack the strategically located Point Henry. Enemy control over Fort Henry would have cut off trade to Kingston via the St. Lawrence. Fortunately, they never took the fort. Following the war, the distrust between the British and the Americans did not subside so the original fort was demolished and a second fort, the structure that still stands today, was built. It was meant to defend the dockyard, harbour, and the Rideau Canal. Although it was never actually attacked, numerous men lost their lives here as the site hosted executions. Today it exists as a popular museum that embraces their haunted history. It was also featured on an episode of Ghost Hunters because the following former soldiers haunt the fort.
The first is John ‘Gunner’ Smith, a rifleman who had a most unfortunate death—his gun malfunctioned and backfired on him. Sadly, Smith did not die instantly and spent his last moments screaming for help. His ghost reportedly still haunts the spot where he died. Next there is the Wandering Ghost, a unknown soldier who unlike Smith prefers to float all around the fort. People have only seen him from a distance though so trying to identify him has been difficult. The last ghost is Nils Von Schultz, a Finnish-born nationalist who participated in the Rebellions of 1837. Schultz and company planned to attack the fort but barely made it into Kingston before they were all arrested. He was hanged at Fort Henry in 1838. According to those who have seen him, he haunts “Commanders Room 3” and likes to move things around and makes visitors feel like they are going to faint when first enter.
3. Fairmount Chateau Laurier, Ottawa, Ontario.
Château Laurier under construction (c. 1911).
With the Château Laurier, the only thing scarier than the proposed expansion plan, is the ghost of Charles Melville Hays who reportedly haunts the halls of the luxury hotel. Hays was President of Grand Trunk and the Grand Trunk Pacific railways, oversaw the creation of a second transcontinental railway, and essentially founded Prince Rupert, British Columbia, (the city was to be the terminus of his railway). The railway tycoon also commissioned the Château Laurier and was already planning future hotels like Fort Gerry in Winnipeg and Macdonald Hotel in Edmonton.
Fun Fact: Both those hotels are supposed haunted too, as is the Banff Springs Hotel. Basically if you’re scared of ghosts stay away from the Fairmount chain.
Charles Melville Hays (Date and photographer unknown). [Source]
Hays though never got to see the completion of the hotel. While on a family vacation in England, Hays learned that one of his daughters was having a difficult pregnancy. They had planned to sail back to Canada in time for the opening of the Château Laurier on April 26, 1912, but this news prompted the family to take an earlier ship back home—the Titanic. They were guests of White Star Line’s managing director, J. Bruce Ismay, the guy supposedly responsible for telling the captain to speed up the ship. He survived.
Reportedly, Hays had been smoking in the Gentleman’s Lounge gripping about how the fight to have the biggest and fastest ships would end in tragedy. He probably wasn’t expecting his premonition to happen an hour later. Hays told his daughter Orian, “You and mother go ahead, the rest of us will wait here until morning. Don’t worry. This ship is good for eight hours, and long before then help will arrive.” The Titanic sank less than three hours after it hit the iceberg. Hays’ body was recovered and buried in Montreal. I guess a swanky hotel is a much nicer place to haunt than a cemetery.
4. Old Spaghetti Factory, Vancouver, British Columbia
This popular tourist attraction in Vancouver’s Gastown* district has not one, not two, not three, but four ghosts! Old Spaghetti Factory is actually a restaurant, but inside this particular one is an old trolley car. The first and most well-known ghost is that of a train conductor died in a horrific crash in 1900. Reportedly, he roams about the restaurant messing around with place settings and calls out staff members names. Other times he likes to sit at his favorite dining table within the trolley at night. The second ghost is known as “Little Red Man” because of his hair and ruddy face. He gets a great deal of joy out of pranking women in the ladies’ washroom, (he comes out of a stall and laughs at women’s facial expressions). The last two seem to be lost children who try to hide. Apparently sightings of all these ghosts got so frequent that the staff called in a psychic to investigate.
* For those not familiar with Vancouver, Gastown is the city’s oldest neighbourhood. Back in 1867, the delightfully named John ‘Gassy Jack’ Deighton, a Yorkshire steamboat captain sailed in and opened the area’s first tavern. Gastown grew from there into a notoriously rough area, but skip ahead to today and it’s a super trendy district that tourists flock to.
5. Nahanni National Park Reserve, Northwest Territories
Last but certainly not least is the Nahanni National Park Reserve. Located 500 km west of Yellowknife, getting here isn’t easy (only around 800 people a year visit this national park). Aside from distance the other thing that may or may not be keeping people away is it’s longstanding association with death.
First, oral history of the Dene people contains stories about the Naha people who used to live in the mountains, raid the settlements in the lower lands, and completely vanished one day mysteriously. Jump ahead to the Klondike Gold Rush and instead of gold being found here, prospectors found misery and murder. A number of headless corpses were found during the first half of the 20th century. It was bad that the park now has areas called Deadmen Valley, Headless Creek, Headless Range, and the Funeral Range.
Métis prospectors Willie and Frank McLeod were the first two men found without their heads in 1908. By 1969, a total of 44 people had vanished under mysterious circumstances in the Valley of the Headless Men.
I was going to make a poor joke about perhaps the Headless Horseman had travelled up to the Northwest Territories because the heads of the victims were never recovered, but there are a whole range of theories behind the murders. Some believe the mountain range is cursed and that an evil spirit is behind all of the deaths. Some think it these men were just simply killed by others over gold. Others think the ghosts of the Naha warriors are to blame. Regardless, in honour of Canada’s 150th birthday, all national parks are free to visit in 2017. Doesn’t Nahanni sound like a great place to visit? Just, you know, watch your neck.
Ghost stories be damned, I would so go. Look at those views!
Have you visited any of these locations or any other “haunted” place in Canada? What do you make of all this? Sound off in the comments below!
Also I know this is early but Happy Halloween!
Cumerlato, Daniel, “Fort Henry : Kingston, Ontario,” The Ghost Walks News. Undated. Accessed from: http://www.ghostwalks.com/forthenry-article.htm
“Nahanni National Park Reserve of Canada – Cultural Heritage,” Parks Canada. October 16, 2013. Accessed from: http://www.pc.gc.ca/eng/pn-np/nt/nahanni/natcul/natcul2.aspx
“Old Spaghetti Factory – 53 Water Street” Ghosts of Vancouver. Undated. Accessed from: http://www.ghostsofvancouver.com/haunted-locations/old-spaghetti-factory/
“Quebec: The Lady In White of Montmorency Falls,” Paranormal Studies & Inquiry Canada (PSICAN) Undated. Accessed from: http://psican.org/index.php/ghosts-a-hauntings/quebec/377-the-lady-in-white-of-montmorency-falls
Theodore D. Regehr, “Hays, Charles Melville,” Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 14, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, Accessed from: http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/hays_charles_melville_14E.html.
“Titanic: The Canadian Story – Canadian Stories: Hays Family,” CBC/Radio-Canada. 2012. Accessed from: http://www.cbc.ca/titanic/2012/03/hays-family.html