If you ask someone mid-summer if they believe in ghosts, they’re likely to say no. But ask in mid-October, and you may get a different answer. In this month dedicated to the macabre, the lines between our world and the supernatural seem to get a little blurry, and it’s hard not to get sucked into the seasonal spirit.
Many people celebrate Halloween by going to haunted houses for cheap thrills—think bowls full of peeled grapes masquerading as eyeballs, or people in costumes jumping out from behind a corner. But there are also lots of creepy (and possibly haunted) places in Canada that weren’t just set up for Halloween. These sites usually have a lot of history behind them, and they remain linked to their creepy (and sometimes bloody) pasts.
So if you want a more authentic Halloween experience, this year, skip your neighbour’s DIY haunted shed with a fog machine and “creepy sound effects” CD, and check out one of these real-life haunted houses instead.
Gibraltar Point Lighthouse — Toronto, Ontario
Lighthouses are already a bit creepy. They’re stark, isolated towers, shining their lights through the fog, and they’re often the only thing keeping sailors from a watery grave. But the Gibraltar Point lighthouse is particularly scary because of what happened to its first lighthouse keeper. John Paul Radelmüller was murdered at the lighthouse in 1815. It’s not just a rumor—Radelmüller’s death at the lighthouse has been confirmed by historians. Apparently, some drunken soldiers from Fort York came to see him one night looking for bootlegged beer. A dispute broke out, and Radelmüller was killed. Murdered for a case of beer — it’s no wonder his spirit is said to linger at the lighthouse, despairing of his fate.
St. Francis Xavier University — Antigonish, Nova Scotia
A university dorm may not be the first place you think of when you think “haunted house,” but SFX’s Gilmora Hall has a resident ghost: the blue nun. Gilmora Hall is in Mount Saint Bernard, a building that used to be a ladies’ college presided over by the Sisters of Notre Dame. Legend has it that one of the sisters was in love with a priest, but she was so overcome with guilt over the affair that she jumped from a balcony to her death. Students who’ve lived at the hall have reported slamming doors, shadowy figures, mysterious telephones ringing, and electronics turning themselves on and off.
The Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel — Banff, Alberta
A haunted hotel? Now we’re talking. Hotels are transient spaces, buildings where affairs are carried out behind doors, where mysterious strangers lurk for days then disappear, and where, beneath the atmosphere of hospitality, simmering resentments and rivalries build up among staff. Naturally, the illustrious Fairmont hotel in Banff is rumoured to be home to not just one, but several ghosts. One is Sam the bellman, a bellhop who died in 1975—and yet has reportedly been helping people with their bags and opening elevator doors for years since. Another is “the doomed bride,” who is said to have fallen down the stairs to her death on her wedding day. There’s also the strange phenomenon of the missing room 873. Each floor of the hotel has a room ending in 73, but not the eighth floor. Some say a family was murdered in the room, and it has since been blocked off.
Nahanni National Park Reserve — Northwest Territories
The Nahanni National Park Reserve is a beautiful area of protected land that contains part of the Mackenzie Mountains, the South Nahanni River, and several canyons. However, it’s also where some gold prospectors met a very grisly end. The McLeod brothers, who went to the park to look for gold, were found headless along the river in 1908. To make matters creepier, nine years later, another gold prospector met a similar fate: Martin Jorgenson lived in a cabin in the area and when the cabin mysteriously burned down and Jorgenson died in the fire, his body was found headless. Another decapitation occurred nearly thirty years later. The reserve’s spooky history actually dates back even earlier than the 1900s—hundreds of years earlier. An indigenous group that once lived there, the Naha, is said to have abruptly disappeared, and the Dene people who lived in the area believed it was a place inhabited by many spirits.
HI-Ottawa Jail Hostel — Ottawa, Ontario
Start a hostel in a jail, and you’d better believe it’ll be haunted. From the 1860s to 1972, this building was a maximum-security prison, and apparently quite a brutal one. Executions by hanging were carried out there until the 1940s, and prisoners were kept in overcrowded cells with virtually nothing to do but wait out the long days of their sentence—or if they were unlucky, they were put in solitary confinement, where they were chained face-down on the ground for over 23 hours per day. In recent years, the property has been excavated, and many unmarked graves have been found. When the jail closed in 1972, the building was bought by Hostelling International, who turned cells into hostel rooms without making many changes, and inviting people to spend a night “in jail.” But the jail’s dark history has led many to believe it is haunted. Some have reported seeing a man appearing at the foot of the bed, supposedly the ghost of Patrick James Whelan, who was hanged for the murder of journalist Thomas D’Arcy McGee in 1869.
The Tranquille Sanatorium — Kamloops, BC
In the early 1900s, the Tranquille Sanatorium is where people with tuberculosis were treated — and often where they shuffled off the mortal coil. About 1,600 patients reportedly died of the disease there. The MTV show Fear did an episode about the sanatorium, claiming that they heard children’s voices and saw inexplicable lights in the building. However, the historic site’s manager, Tim McLeod, says it’s not a place of “ghosts and goblins,” but rather a building whose real history makes it spooky. There are about two kilometres of underground tunnels on the site, which are mostly dark and eroded, but were opened to the public a few years ago. Ghosts or no, this place is definitely haunted by history.
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