Culture

5 ghost tour guides share their favourite haunting tales from across Canada

Haunted hotels, back-alley apparitions and more terrifying local lore.

Haunted hotels, back-alley apparitions and more terrifying local lore

Blurry hands and body figure abstraction that looks like a ghost standing behind a glass pane with with her hands on it
(Credit: iStock/Getty Images)

Just as pumpkin spice lattes pair perfectly with leaf peeping, there's perhaps no better way to get in the Halloween spirit than with a good old-fashioned fright night.

In fact, Canada has plenty of its own nightmare-inducing campfire tales to keep you lying awake in terror — take it from some of the nation's top tour guides who specialize in spinning cobweb-covered yarns from the crypt.

To celebrate spooky season, we asked five of these pros to share their favourite sinister stories with us — many of which are associated with regular, real-life ghost sightings. So, read on, if you dare.

These stories have been edited and condensed for clarity.

Apparitions in Blood Alley

As told by Lydia Williams, owner and guide, Ghostly Vancouver Tours

I love all my ghosts equally, but what I love to talk about is the Woman in Black and the Man in Black of Gaoler's Mews. 

The Alhambra Hotel was completed in 1887, the year after the Great Vancouver Fire. It was an opulent hotel and it also had a reputation for being a full-service hotel — meaning, you could get any kind of room service you might desire (wink, wink). I'm sure the building has its fair share of ghosts, as do many old hotels, but its most prolific ghost makes her appearance on the back stairs in Gaoler's Mews. She seems to have a preference for dark, rainy nights, however, that is not absolute. She materializes as a stunning woman in long black dress with long black hair, and is often seen clutching her waist. Then, she straightens, glides down Gaoler's Mews and disappears into Blood Alley. People theorize that she is a widow walking toward the hangman's noose that once stood in Blood Alley. But was there ever really one there? I have doubts.

But what of the ghost that follows? The Man in Black? He is a well-dressed gentleman in a long black coat and bowler hat. He usually makes his entrance via the front door of the restaurant that backs onto this alley — now known as L'Abattoir. He's so solid that the host or hostess will try to give him a menu but he simply walks forward, through the restaurant, often disappearing in the alley behind the atrium. So what's his story? Since he is often seen seconds after the Woman in Black, one can reason the two had a relationship, but we can only speculate on the nature of it. Is he watching out for her? Or is he a customer still hoping to visit his favourite mistress? 

Back in April of this year, I had a mother and young daughter from Calgary on the tour with me. Once we got to Gaoler's Mews, even before I began telling any ghost stories, the young teen looked up at the window above the Twisted Fork, and said, "there's a man in an old top hat looking down at us." I couldn't see anyone so I asked her, could he be wearing a bowler hat? She didn't know what that was, but it was an old-fashioned black hat. Apparently, he watched us the entire time we stood in that spot. The Man in Black often disappears into that very building, and the second floor was once a brothel.

Experience it in person: Ghostly Gastown Tour, 90 minutes, $27

The tale of the headless nun

As told by Shawn McCarthy, co-founder, Character Matters Miramichi

The legend of the ghost in French Fort Cove proceeds in this way: one night, around 1758, after having helped a woman through a difficult childbirth, Sister Marie Inconnue was returning to the settlement at the cove — at the time home to a battery of 16 cannons and a small detachment of soldiers. As she crossed the footbridge over Crow Brook, she was set upon. 

Some say it was a pair of leprous sailors from L'Indienne de Morlaix, out for revenge on those who had imprisoned them. Others insist that it was a mad trapper, wild and desperate from years living in the woods. Whoever he was, he was looking to extort the location of a buried treasure from the young nun. Sister Marie adamantly refused to divulge the whereabouts of the treasure, uttering only prayers for the redemption of the poor wretch's soul. 

In a fit of rage, the maniac severed her head with a violent blow. Some say he severed the head so he could dig into her throat, thinking she had swallowed the map as she saw him approach. The head was thrown into the waters of the cove, and her body was left on the bridge. 

The settlers mourned the loss of Sister Marie for months. The militia attempted to find the man who had perpetrated this terrible crime, but were unsuccessful. Sister Marie's death could not be avenged. Her body was sent to France for burial, but her head was never recovered. Since that day, it is said that the ghost of Sister Marie still roams the cove, still diligently protecting the treasure — and searching for the head that will make her whole again.  

Experience it in person: The Headless Nun Tour, 60-75 minutes, $15 Email CharacterMattersMiramichi@gmail.com to book.

Winnipeg's ghost bride

As told by Kristen Treusch, owner and guide, SquarePeg Tours

This story takes place at the Fort Garry Hotel in Room 202. The urban legend is that the spirit of a woman haunts this room. She looks like a bride and lets people know she's in the room in several ways. People have reported hearing footsteps in the room, feeling someone sitting on the foot of the bed, and occasionally, lying beside them when they were half asleep. She has also been known to leave wet footprints in the bathroom, turn the light on in the closet and mess with the TV and phone. If you are fortunate enough to actually see her, she'll chat and then exit the room through the window.

It is said that this bride was either murdered by her new husband or witnessed him being struck down by a trolley car on Broadway when he went across the street to get something. When she saw this, she was torn apart with grief and guilt and [died by] suicide in the room.

I carry a K2 meter on my tours and it lights up whenever I talk about her; that's how she lets me know she's around.

Experience it in person: Broadway Ghost Walk, 90 minutes, $15

The ghost ships of Lake Ontario

As told by A.A., storyteller, Haunted Walk of Toronto

One of the most intriguing ghost stories I tell is honestly one of my favourites. It also happens to be tied closely to our history. While the Canadas were still colonies of the United Kingdom, we became the front line for the War of 1812. Lake Ontario was frequently populated by both American and British warships — with more than a few battles fought on the water.

One fateful day, the wind had died down. Unable to move their ships without the aid of the air, both sides were forced to wait on the peaceful water. The winds returned as a violent storm in the early hours of the morning. Two American schooners, the Scourge and the Hamilton, sank under the weight of their top-heavy guns. Over 50 sailors were sent to the bottom of the lake with them. The intense storm, filled with rain and lightning, only lasted a few minutes.

Today, the ships still lie at the bottom of the lake, their wrecks officially considered a national historic site — but that's not where their stories end. A local legend has since emerged among some older mariners. This tale suggests the ships continue to set sail from time to time. One might see two ghostly ships emerging from the mist on dark nights with thick fog. The sailors who died that day, still on board, are forever trapped in their final moments on deck. Some even say that to see these ships may lead to a death on your own crew.

Experience it in person: Original Haunted Walk of Toronto, 75 minutes, $24.99

The haunting of Room 207

As told by Ghost Guide Daniel, overseer, Ghost Walks

I love to tell the story of Molly McGuire at the Prince of Wales Hotel. The legend talks about the house, which once stood on that land. During the War of 1812, as the American soldiers marched in, one soldier was sent into the house to check it for the British. It was dusk and there were no electric lights. Upon entering a second-floor bedroom, he mistook a shadow for a British soldier. He rushed in and ran the person through with his bayonet — only then realizing it was an innocent woman.

The woman was Molly McGuire, and the bedroom is said to be where Room 207 at the Prince of Wales Hotel exists today. Room 207 is considered the most haunted room in the hotel. 

A manager told us the story of a couple who stayed in the room. In the middle of the night, they awoke as something fell in the bathroom. Getting up together to investigate — neither wanted to do it alone — the wife opened the bathroom door, flipped on the light and saw a woman with long, dark hair staring at her from inside the bathroom mirror. 

One of our guides had a similarly spooky experience. While telling Molly's story, she noticed a swing across the street in Simcoe Park. One seat was swinging violently back and forth. There was no wind. It was nighttime, so also no kids.  

She ran into the park to check it. The swing continued swinging, until a guest took a photo. After the flash, it slowed, then stopped on its own. The best part: in the photo, there was a big, bright orb on the swing seat.

Experience it in person: Ghost Walks' Niagara-on-the-Lake tour, 90 minutes, $16

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jen O'Brien is an award-winning editor and freelance writer based in Toronto. Follow her on Instagram @thejenobrien.

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