Exploring Canada’s Most Haunted City
· 22 min. read
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As I stood in the courtyard of Fort Henry, I heard screams emanating from within. Fort Henry was constructed to protect the Kingston Royal Dockyard from the invading American forces during the War of 1812. The threat was so real that the capital of Canada ? which was then Kingston ? was moved to Quebec to protect it. The docks are all that stood between the United States and the St. Lawrence River and both countries were all too familiar with how easily it would turn the tides of battle.
As the screams from inside Fort Henry faded, I turned to the man beside me. He had come with his family. We got talking, trying to calm our nerves as bloodied clowns and undead mimes began wandering out from inside the fort.
"What brings you to Kingston?" he asked.
I explained. Kingston has the infamous title of being the most haunted city in Canada, and I came to investigate these claims. He laughed. Yeah, he said, I don't doubt that. Their own house, he continued, was haunted. When the previous owner died, his wife had his ashes mixed with concrete to make the driveway. The hauntings slowed when they discovered the man's false teeth sitting on the floor of the attic, but they never stopped.
"I may have made it worse though", laughed the daughter. I didn't ask why. I didn't have to. By this time, I had heard enough stories of Kingston to fill a novel. Besides, the gates of Fort Fright were about to open.
From Labour Day until October, Fort Henry is closed to the public. In that timeframe the now obsolete military fort is turned into a house of horrors ? and you are welcome to venture into the bowels of it, if you dare. Your quest is to save a sick little girl from her own nightmare, but soon you realise it won't be that easy. You must venture through junkyards plagued by skeletons, forests inhabited by madmen, crop fields full of scarecrows and laboratories conducting dozens of human experiments. Some of the moving props are robotics, but others are real people. Nothing will harm you while in Fort Fright, but that doesn't make it any less terrifying.
While Fort Fright is fictional, the hauntings outside in the city are not. From the crumbling catacombs below the city streets to the halls of the penitentiary, Kingston is full of ghost stories. A great way to explore the city is to take the haunted walking tour, the haunted trolley tour or even a historical tour by Kingston's very own town crier. Both take you around the city and tell you about the many spooks that haunt the streets.
The stories start in the heart of downtown. Next to the majestic City Hall is the former Prince George Hotel. Today this building is part restaurant and part ticket office. The hauntings of this hotel are well documented. Records say the love-struck ghost of Lily Herchemer haunts the halls of this building, especially the upper floors. In the early 1800s Lily fell in love with a sailor ? something her parents were very much against. They forbade her from seeing him, knowing their love would only end in heartbreak. Lily longed for her lovers embrace and would hang a lit lantern in her window to tell him when it was safe to meet. One night she fell asleep with the lantern lit and a gust of wind knocked it over, lighting the floor ablaze and engulfing her. They say Lily's spirit stills haunts the floors of the building, longing to see her lover once more.
Beneath the former hotel is a maze of catacombs. Through my research, I could not determine the usage of these tunnels. They may have connected to the nearby City Hall, or for transporting goods, or even for storage. Regardless of their original purpose, today they are closed off to the public for being structurally unsound.
Kingston's downtown is almost identical to how it was in the mid-1800s, except for a few minor buildings. All new construction projects in the area first need to undergo an archaeological dig. In any other city, this would seem like an unnecessary step, but in Kingston they have good reason for it. In the past, there have been several instances of apartments or buildings being built above former cemeteries. One of the most famous is that of McBurney Park, which is commonly known as Skeleton Park. The land was originally used as a mass grave for about 10,000 Irish and Scottish immigrants. After the last internment, farmers had their cattle graze in the field and any headstones that existed were trampled. A century later, children would go into the park and dig up skulls and place them on bicycle handlebars, or use them as very temporary soccer balls. Others would use the graves as bases to play baseball. All this fun would end decades later when a monument was placed in the park in honour of those buried there. Today, the tips of remaining headstones can still be seen peaking up from beneath the grass.
The Frontenac Country Court House has a similar story. Prisoners found guilty would be led into the courthouse and into a makeshift tower. A noose would be placed around their neck and a floor below them would drop, having them fall and hang until death. Below the prisoner was an ocean of cheering spectators, with some having come as far away as New York. The executions in Kingston were famous, and people would plan weeks in advance to attend them. Boatloads of curious spectators would arrive the day before, swelling hotels and pumping money into the local economy. Neighbours of the courthouse would even build towers so they could watch the execution from the comfort of their house.
Following the execution, the body would be buried nearby. Where exactly, is unknown. A psychic was brought in with dousing rods to locate the bodies, but he couldn't find them all. After the exhumation of the bodies, this area was turned into a parking lot.
People say the parking lot is still haunted and disembodied voice are often heard at night. One of the most common apparitions was a well-dressed man that was seen leaning against the surrounding stone wall. When they finished the parking lot, they torn down the wall and discovered a casket concealed inside. Once the casket was buried properly, the spirit vanished.
Another popular story is that of Theresa Ignace Beam. Stories say Theresa was having an affair with a local politician, and after discovering Theresa was pregnant, the politician led her into an alleyway and killed her, burying her body nearby.
Since her death, several businesses in the area have reported unexplained knocking on their doors and windows. One business took out a Ouija Board and communicated with Theresa. They learned of her misfortune and, supposedly, where her bones were buried. She asked the shopkeeper to find the bones and give them a proper burial, but they could not find them. Years later the local New Democratic Party moved into the building and experienced the same haunting. They also used a Ouija Board and contacted Theresa and were given the same instructions. They too could not find the body.
Several visual reports of Theresa have also been made, either in the alleyway itself or in the nearby coffee shop. People describe her as short and wearing a black dress, with a black veil covering her face. Witnesses do not describe the apparition as menacing, but instead as very sad.
Another haunted location is the nearby Kingston Penitentiary. Constructed in 1833 and closed in 2013, "The Pen" was the first maximum security penitentiary in the Kingston area. Today, there are 10 pens in the area, with 6 in operation, earning Kingston the title "The Penitentiary Capital of Canada". The Pen has a colourful history of prisoners, such as Paul Bernardo (who killed alongside Karla Homolka; who in turn was imprisoned directly across the street), Wayne "The Vampire Racist" Boden, and the serial killer Clifford Olson. This also included Norman "Red" Ryan and Ty Conn, who are famous for escaping the compound. Men, women and children as young as eight were kept in the prison. Reports say children were often whipped because of their "childlike behavior".
Along with the prisoners, The Pen is famous for its riots. Three major riots occurred in the penitentiary during its existence: one in 1931, another in 1954 and the last in 1971. During the 1971 riot, guards were held hostage and prisoners took control of the prison. Inmates that were considered "outcasts" by the others due to their crimes were pulled from their isolation cells in E Block, tied up in chairs and brutally tortured. Two of these prisoners even died from their injuries. It was after these tortures that the military gained access to the prison and ended the riot. What the military found was a completely gutted building, with E Block unsalvageable. It would take decades to repair and would be transformed into office space.
Murders ? both those of inmates and guards ? were common throughout the prison, especially in its earlier years. Many of these guards were killed during escape attempts and were shot by smuggled in weapons, or stabbed to death with makeshift knives.
Today the prison is a tourist destination, but there have been reports that not all the prisoners have left. Some say the energy of the murdered prisoners still haunt E Block, or even their own individual cells. Witnesses have also reported slain guards making their patrols, their souls forever trapped in a prison they weren't meant to stay in. Another spirit that is often sighted is that of a little girl in a red dress. It is believed she was the daughter of one of the guard captains in the prison's earlier days. Why she haunts the building is a reason nobody seems to know.
When you visit Kingston, you are bound to walk past one of the former houses of John A. Macdonald. Locals claim you can't throw a stone in the city without hitting one of his former properties, or one of his most frequented taverns. As controversial as Macdonald is today, Kingston embraces both sides of his story ?that of Canada's first Prime Minister, and that of a very troubled man. One of his most famous residences is Bellevue House, a National Historic Site of Canada. This building is an Italian style building which is surrounded by over a dozen apple trees. Macdonald moved here with his wife Isabella in 1848. His wife was very sick and would remain sick for the entirety of their marriage. Macdonald believed the fresh air brought in by the nearby Lake Ontario would help her conditions, but they rarely did. Although John was often busy leading his own law office ? and helping lay the building blocks of Confederation ? he would cut trips short, adjust his schedule and do whatever he could to always be by Isabella's side. He even moved his writing desk next to her bed so he could speak to her while he was working.
They would conceive their first child, but he would only live for just over a year before dying. Much like Isabella's illness, historians aren't sure what the child died from. Some say it was Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, while others believe it could have been brought on by all the medication Isabella was on for her own illness. Their child would die a month after moving into Bellevue House.
Bellevue House's original inhabitant, Charles Hales, would have similar misfortune with children prior to Macdonald's arrival. He too would lose a wife and children while living in the house.
While the hauntings inside Bellevue House aren't as common as other locations in Kingston, many have reported feeling like they are not alone when visiting the house.
The Tett Centre is another paranormal hotspot. Thomas Dalton built the first brewery here in 1819, only to sell it to Thomas Molson in 1831. By 1844 James Morton had acquired the then "Mr. Morton's Mammoth Brewery", becoming one of the most prominent breweries in the city. In 1919 it would become a military hospital, and it would be under the control of the military until 1977 when the city purchased it. Today, the Tett Centre focuses on creativity and education through art. Pottery, paint, music and artistic expression can be easily seen when walking past rooms inside this four-story building. A quaint restaurant sits at the end of the building, providing the only restaurant waterfront view of Lake Ontario anywhere in Kingston.
One spirit that is said to haunt the Tett Centre is that of Cornelius Driscol, a former watchman of the brewery. In 1867 Driscol was murdered while guarding the grounds of the building. His attacker was captured by police and executed, but some say Driscol never stopped making his shift. Even today people say you can hear him rattling the locks on doors, making sure the building is locked up tight at night.
Another room of interest is the primary power room. Upon entering the room, one can't help but feel the buzzing of electricity. My guide told me it was here she had felt a spirit that left her feeling very uncomfortable. Many believe ghosts consume electrical energy to manifest into our world and this would be the spiritual equivalent to an all-you-can-eat buffet.
Another possible answer to what is behind the hauntings of the building, and to why Kingston is such a paranormal playground, lies in the basement of the Tett Centre. As the building is so close to the lake front, moisture often seeps along the bottom of it. When they constructed the centre, they added a room to help ventilate this ever-present water away. What remains is a small spring of bubbling water, oozing up from the ground below. The green water that emerges is exhaled by the underlying limestone, which is the same stone used to build the city of Kingston from the ground up. When constructing this area, my guide told me they found many ancient artifacts that gave clues to its violent past, such as cannonballs.
This mixture of ever moving water and mass amounts of limestone could be the culprits behind the hauntings that plague this city. It is often believed limestone has ethereal properties and can hold information, and energy, of those that once lived near them. If an event is violent enough, like a murder or an execution, the energy left behind could seep into the stone. Water, a natural conductor of electricity, could only further agitate this energy, and release it back into the world. However, these random blips of energy would be considered "residual hauntings", and not intelligent ones like that of Cornelius Driscol.
Kingston has much more than just the hauntings I mentioned in this article. Inns, churches, stores and bays throughout the city contain a variety of ghost stories. These hauntings include black masses that swirl around victims, a prominent cadaver trade, crying ghostly children and even the curse of Lord Sydenham. Stories claim Lord Sydenham was so unhappy with the service at St. George's Cathedral that he marched out in disgust, claiming to never step foot in the building again. A few days later, on a trip back from seeing his mistress, Lord Sydenham's horse would be startled while passing St. George's and toss him onto the street below. The impact would snap his neck, killing him instantly. Lord Sydenham would be brought into the church and buried beneath the building, all the while never having his feet touch the floor again.
Every building in Kingston has a story, and every story seems to lead into another haunting. This could be a mix of imagination, spiritualism, superstition, chemistry or something more. Whatever the reason, and whatever the cause, Kingston is most definitely Canada's most haunted city.
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Categories: Canada, Dark Tourism, Ontario, Paranormal