Ghosts in the Graveyard

spectral soldiers walking on the grounds, clo

Ghosts have been seen in all manner of locations. A cemetery might seem a bit clichéd, if you’re a non-corporeal citizen, but I imagine you wouldn’t have much choice in the matter.

If the cemetery in question has an additional layer of drama, such as Drummond Hill Cemetery in Niagara Falls, Ontario, ghost sightings are inevitable.

The natural rise in the landscape where the cemetery lies was part of a 23-acre parcel sold to a young couple in 1799 by the wife’s father, James Forsyth. Forsyth had received a crown land grant of 388 acres along the Niagara River at the Horseshoe Falls and became one of the first ten families to settle into the Niagara Falls area.

The husband, Christopher Buchner, was a United Empire Loyalist, i.e. a loyalist to the British side during the American Revolution. He’d fled to Ontario around 1786, and married Sarah Forsyth, James’ daughter. At some point, Christopher and Sarah decided to set aside some of their land as a burying ground for themselves and neighbouring settlers.

It would soon prove prophetic. Within three years of the happy couple settling on their homestead, the War of 1812 broke out. A dispute over trade issues between the United States and the United Kingdom, it naturally spilled across the easiest access points in and around Lake Ontario and Lake Erie. After the American armies tried to cut off military supply lines at Montreal but failed, in the summer of 1814 they tried again at Niagara Falls, in what would become the infamous Battle of Lundy’s Lane.

This battle took place right on the peaceful, orchard-flanked hill where the Buchners had decided to allow people to lay their loved ones to rest, and it became known as one of the bloodiest battles of the War. Hundreds of soldiers fought at very close quarters;  Lieutenant General Gordon Drummond reported that:  

“Of so determined a Character were [the American] attacks directed against our guns that our Artillery Men were bayonetted by the enemy in the Act of loading, and the muzzles of the Enemy’s Guns were advanced within a few Yards of ours”.

Both sides suffered heavy of casualties, but the British had won a strategic victory.

Today the battlefield lies like a phantom below the green grass of Drummond Hill and the same-named Cemetery. It’s a nationally recognized heritage site, and an interesting stroll as Halloween approaches.

There have been accounts of five spectral soldiers limping around the grounds, clouds of vague ectoplasm, as well as the sounds of boots and shouting. Since the cemetery is cheek-by-jowl with one of the busiest tourist sites in the world, however, noises heard in the vicinity may be coming from the boisterous living.

I visited the cemetery on a chilly day shadowed by dark, heavy clouds with occasional piercings of sunlight. The colonial origins of the place show in numerous tombstones so weathered that it’s impossible to read their entire inscription.

The cemetery is in itself a time capsule of the region — old headstones of early settlers that fractured when they fell over and have been respectfully encased in a stone bed for preservation,

while those still upright have been given steel sleeves to keep them in situ,

One interesting find was the burial place of a survivor on the Underground Railroad.

Burr Plato went on to become a free, prominent citizen in the Niagara Region. One of the most famous residents is Laura Secord, a local heroine who famously walked 20 miles through hilly, tree-studded terrain to warn British forces of an impending attack by American troops.

In 1895 the Canadian Parliament contributed a battle memorial to mark the remains of 22 British soldiers who were buried in the vault below it. The tall monument is flanked by stacks of cannonballs and two large cannons (the provenance of which I haven’t been able to find out).

There appears to be an entrance to the under-croft that’s shrouded in locks and iron fencing; it’s not a spot I’d like to wander near in the dead of night.

The age of the cemetery gives a certain amount of gravity, and the atmospheric old cairns among the trees supply an inherent eeriness.

One headstone that I came across was surprisingly creepy. The figure at the top, where you might expect to find an angel or a religious statue, is instead something completely encased in a draped shroud — perhaps the deceased on the next stage of their journey?

I can’t report any ghosts, orbs or strange feelings while I was there, or any spectral shapes showing up in my photographs. I wish the area surrounding the site had been better preserved; it’s hard to get a sense of the battle or the time period. Unfortunately Niagara Falls has been subjected to rampant tourism development, so this little remnant of history sits like a ghost town in the middle of the city. May all the people who fought valiantly for their cause find a tranquil rest there. On the other hand, judging by the photo below, this place would make a great film site for a zombie horde 😉

All photos are by me and all rights reserved.

A ghostly hike

I’ve never seen a ghost. I’m not saying they don’t exist, and I’d love to see one (except in my own residence). We love to go on ghost walks pretty much everywhere.

We even requested tickets to the nightly locking-up ceremony at the Tower of London, which is reputedly one of the most haunted places on the planet – given the number of people who went in but never came out. I really wanted to see the ghost of Anne Boleyn, who reportedly runs around carrying her severed head under her arm, but no luck. Not even a glimmer.

Ah well, I keep persevering. When my hiking buddy suggested a look at an abandoned railroad tunnel colloquially known as the Blue Ghost Tunnel, I was in like a dirty shirt.

The official name was the Merritton Tunnel, in honour of William Merritt, the ‘father of the Welland Canal system’. It was built in 1875 as a way to cross the third version of the Welland Canal, the famous transportation canal system by which cargo ships traverse from the St. Lawrence Seaway, through Lake Ontario, and then down to the lower Lake Erie. The tunnel was placed between locks 18 and 19, and spans 713 feet (including stone work capping the ends).

Historic photo of the newly-constructed Merritton Tunnel, source unknown.

It’s astounding to envision hundreds of men excavating the tunnel with picks and shovels. People died during the construction, including a 14-year-old boy, and two employees were killed in 1903 at 7:03 a.m. when two trains, Engine Number 4 and Engine Number 975, had a head-on collision about one-third of a mile from the tunnel’s western entrance. It was reported that both engines in “full steam” at 22 miles per hour, which doesn’t sound like much in modern times, but the two firemen for the trains were gruesomely injured; one died instantly, the other in hospital just a few hours later.

The tunnel received its more colourful name from a young paranormal investigator, Russ (last name undiscoverable) who visited the tunnel several times. He reported intense feelings of fear, dizziness and something like an electrical charge; on one occasion he states that something invisible was barring their access to the tunnel and that he and his group felt their lives would be at risk if they proceeded.

Russ believed he saw a bluish mist at the entrance, which transformed its appearance from a pretty little girl to a dog/wolf to a demon. His compatriots apparently didn’t see it, and photos from the visit are said to be explainable as pictures of Russ’s own breath in the chilly tunnel. From what I could find, Russ planned on selling his story to the movie industry, and perhaps got caught up in his own haunted creation.

Ghost tours are occasionally run at night, which would be an eerie experience indeed, as the tunnel is quite chilly, as well as partially flooded. Water drips constantly from the ceiling and the footing is very uncertain.

My buddy and I visited in broad daylight on a hot summer day. After a long walk down an old factory access road, one looks for an indicator marked on a metal railing.

Then it’s a steep skid down a bush-studded hillside to where the old railway tracks used to run. I wouldn’t want to try this after a good rainfall.

Unfortunately vandals have rather spoiled the entrance with graffiti, and we saw a fair bit of garbage around the entrance.

As soon as you enter the arched tunnel, you can see substantial flooding on the left side — it runs the entire length of the tunnel.

There are still remnants of the wooden parts of the tracks, but they’re very worn and really slippery from the pervasive moisture. The footing in general is quite treacherous. There are no lights inside the tunnel, so a good flashlight is essential.

The water along the side wall is at least a foot deep — not something to stumble into in the dark!

There are ceiling supports in several spots to shore up the collapsing roof, and we had to duck under them to move onward.

Supports also run to the walls in a few places; we weren’t sure what they were for. Between those and the water dripping down, however, you’re left with the distinct feeling that you don’t want to linger too long.

The far end of the tunnel is completely flooded, and impassable. It looked several feet deep, with no hint of what might be underfoot in the cold water.

We didn’t experience any feelings of dread or being watched by something. As we returned to the entrance, I took this photo of what looks like mist just inside — not surprising given the chill of the tunnel meeting the heat of the day outside. It does look vaguely bluish, I will admit.

According to records, a total of 107 men were killed during the construction of the tunnel and the canal, so the Blue Ghost Tunnel seems like the kind of place that would be haunted. It would be interesting to see at night, if you’re up for seriously wet and chilly discomfort; if you decide to try it, please do wear hiking shoes with a good tread and be very careful while you’re walking through. All kinds of debris litter the water, and I can only imagine what could be caught by falling into it. And if you experience any kind of haunting there, please do let me know 🙂

All photos by me (unless otherwise specified) and all rights reserved. E. Jurus

Dark and Dangerous

Our neighbour remarked the other day, smiling, as he watched my hubby and I string eyeball lights along the roofline of our front portico and hang a moaning ghoul on one corner, “There’s another sure sign of fall – the two of you putting up Halloween decorations!”

Just two days until all of us pretend-ghosts and other creatures of the night (or whatever your favourite alter-ego might be) get to have a little fun. There’s been a lot of debate about whether Halloween should be celebrated this year, and I’m firmly on the side of Absolutely! There are so many ways that it can be done safely, and this year in particular I think we need to celebrate whatever we can to bring a little lightness into our lives.

We’ll be out front handing out treat bags with ‘mad-scientist’ tongs while fog creeps out from our bushes and a Bluetooth speaker spins out my favourite Halloween playlist in the background.

I’ve been bingeing on old sci-fi movies all week, but on Halloween night it’s time for something special – something like the best remake I’ve ever seen, the 2011 version of an old cult favourite, Fright Night.

If you’re not familiar with either, the 1985 original told the story of a teenager, Charlie Brewster, who notices that a mysterious gentleman has moved into the old Victorian house next door. Eventually he becomes convinced that his new neighbour Jerry, played deliciously by Chris Sarandon, is a vampire. Unable to convince anyone else of that, and terrified for his life, Charlie enlists the reluctant help of an aging horror movie actor and late-night host named Peter Vincent (played by the superb Roddy McDowell) whose persona was that of a vampire hunter. A young Amanda Bearse (Marcy in Married…with Children) played Charlie’s pretty girlfriend, who catches the dangerous eye of Jerry as well. With quirky charm and a credible plot of a likeable teenager faced with evil who can’t get anyone to believe him, plus the dark and sexy Jerry, some gore and mounting suspense, and an atmospheric music soundtrack, the movie became a cult hit that showed up regularly on television around Halloween.  

Fright Night (2011) did an amazing job of updating the plot to modern-day Las Vegas, where Charlie and his mom, played by the fabulous Toni Collette, live in a remote suburb in which half the residents have night jobs on the Strip and no one really pays any attention to the new neighbour who never appears during the day. Charlie, trying to be cool for his girlfriend, one of the class hotties, brushes off the vampire ravings of his geeky former friend Ed until he begins to notice all the classmates who’ve started disappearing, including Ed one day. This time Colin Farrell is a sexy but very sinister Jerry the vampire, and Dr. Who no.10 himself, David Tennant, is delightfully outrageous as Peter Vincent, a dissipated and blasé Las Vegas illusionist. A hip and edgy soundtrack, clever plotting that upends quite a few horror clichés, a fair bit of humour and some truly frightening scenes make this a much better movie than the 6.3 rating posted on IMDB. Chris Sarandon even makes a surprise appearance, but you’ll have to keep your eyes peeled – I didn’t spot him the first time around.

If you’re a fan of vampire movies and you have the time, you may want to watch them both – there are enough differences between the two that you won’t be bored. Turn out the lights, pour yourself some red wine, and enjoy Halloween!

“For ‘Fright Night’, we really want to convey the fun attitude of the movie and show the intensity of Colin Farrell as a predator. He’s not a brooding vampire – he’s dark and dangerous.” Stacey Snider

Pandemic-style fall mini-adventure pt 2 – dark frights!

I read an interesting analysis today about why we like to believe in unexplained phenomena, like Bigfoot, UFOs, ghosts, and other things give us shivers: that as science increasingly tries to explain everything, we respond by looking for ways to find enchantment in things that can’t be so easily explained.

I think that’s quite true, but the real question is why we continue to search for enchantment.

When I was growing up, cities were a lot darker than they are now – smaller footprints, longer distances between them, fewer businesses with lights drowning out the stars. Now it’s hard to find a dark quiet spot anywhere, even in the small city I live in, but when I was a kid, every turn in the night promised all kinds of possible adventures. Today all the bogeymen are real (some of them are even in governments), but back then they were all in our imaginations, populating the shadowy borderland between what we could see and what could be lurking just beyond.

I suspect that the more reality gets in our face, the more we want the fun of imagining things that would make us gasp in wonder and trepidation. I’ve never seen a ghost, although I know several people personally who say they have, and I want to believe that there could be, because it would mean that there’s more dimension to our world, more to find and explore. I want that sense of mystery – especially around Halloween, the night that the Celts believed opened the doorways between our world and the unseen realms beyond.

The final day of our fall mini-adventure earlier this month took us to the city of Kingston, Ontario, an area that has been inhabited since for perhaps 10,000 years by various groups, becoming the first capital of the ‘United Province of Canada in 1841. The modern city grew out of a lot of history, and there are areas where you feel as if you’ve stepped back in time.

Kingston was a strategic military outpost, particularly during the War of 1812. We’d visited its massive Fort Henry, which broods imposingly over the entrance to Lake Ontario, briefly a few years ago when we were in town for a family wedding, so on this trip we decided to give it a better look during the daytime before it turned into the haunted Fort Fright in the darkness of the October nights.

The Fort has the perfect setup for a haunted attraction: a wide walkable ditch between its outer and inner fortifications. Lit by an eerie red glow as you walk up the long pathway, you enter the upper portion of the fort and line up at safe distances to wait your turn to embark on the frightful journey through the lower levels. A bald zombie-type creature with a Don-Rickles sense of humour keeps you entertained while you wait; for some reason he fixated on my choppy hairstyle and called me “Porcupine Lady”, so when he bemoaned the fact that he couldn’t achieve the same result I kindly suggested he try out Hellraiser’s approach and stick spikes into his head.

My hubby and I have been to many haunted attractions. We aren’t frightened by the jump-scares, so for us it’s all about the ambience and the creativity, of which there were plenty at Fort Fright – some scenes below.

These attractions give us a chance, just for a while, to pretend that we’ve stepped into that shadow border between reality and imagination. The more immersive the better, and we also like snickering at touches of macabre humour – even Zombie Rickles, who spotted me as we were walking back out and threw a few more cheeky insults my way. I waved and recommended duck tape 😊

Pandemic-style fall mini-adventure – it can be done!

Well, my day started off with a bang today.

The keyboard on my laptop, which was perfectly fine when I shut things down last night, decided it wasn’t going to work today. After much cursing followed by research, I believe it may be fixable, but in the meantime I spent half my day running around to buy a new laptop with an SSD drive that was on sale at Best Buy (since the one I’ve been using is about 4.5 years old and nearing the typical lifespan of its HDD drive, and I also have a 40-minute tea talk to do via Zoom next week which I hope the upgraded equipment will make smoother), and a small wireless keyboard that I hooked up to the old one so I could type this blog without using the slow onscreen keyboard.

So, a few dollars poorer now, I’m a little less aggravated sitting on the couch typing this post. (Wish me luck setting up the new one tomorrow and transferring all the files.)

Hubby and I were very fortunate to be able to take a little vacation break last week. We decided to head to eastern Ontario for the fall colours and some Halloween-themed events. As you might expect, a lot of autumn events have been cancelled this year, but I found a few that were still running. Here’s how the planning went:

  • Checking lodging websites throughout the summer. It was challenging to find accommodations for a week – evidently a lot of Ontarians were travelling within our own ‘backyard’ in order to stay safe. We ended up booking basic rooms at the lodge associated with the golf course we wanted to play a round or two at – sadly all the rooms with fireplaces were booked up, but the basic rooms looked nice enough in photos and frankly we were delighted enough to be able to get away from the house for a few days.
  • Recurring checks on activities from August to September. They seemed to be pretty variable, depending on how the prevailing health wind was blowing. Some places opened in June/July and then closed up again within a few weeks. (I imagine there must have been cost-benefit issues with staffing, maintenance, etc.)

In September I was thrilled to see confirmed October dates for three activities we really wanted to do : Pumpkinferno at Upper Canada Village, Fort Fright at Fort Henry in Kingston, and a 1000 Islands cruise, although we did get a subsequent email from the cruise line that our original choice of date had been cancelled and we needed to pick a different date. We’d kept our itinerary really flexible around the blustery fall weather and any surprises, so it was a minor inconvenience. I did happy dances on the day I secured online tickets.

  • Several hours over the summer researching how many restaurants were still open and offering something gluten-free. A few places that we wouldn’t have minded trying out seemed to have shut their doors due to the pandemic, and others had very limited menus, so I needed to know just how often we might have to forage for meals in local grocery stores.

Here’s how it turned out. On the Saturday morning we threw our luggage into the vehicle and hit the road. We stopped in at a great gluten-free bakery in Oakville called Kelly’s to pick up an assortment of muffins for in-room breakfasts and a tray of their fabulous pumpkin scones for the picnic lunch we’d be having enroute to our final destination. It was a beautiful fall day, a mix of sun and clouds with a cool breeze coming off Lake Ontario.

Our picnic spread
The scones, with a vegan spiced maple frosting

We hurried past Toronto, which always has heavy traffic, then got off onto a more rural road through an assortment of pretty small towns dating back to the 1800s that we’d never explored before. On the outskirts of Port Hope we found a picnic area overlooking the lake and a walking trail, and spread out a plaid blanket on which we laid our lunch fare – a thermos of hot tea, scrambled egg + cheese + bacon sandwiches on gluten-free buns, and the pumpkin scones that had been calling my name for the previous two hours.

A view of Lake Ontario from the walking trail

After a good lunch and leg-stretch along a bit of the trail, we resumed travels with hardly anyone else on the road besides us – one upside to the pandemic, at least. We reached our lodging at dusk, checked in and settled into our riverview room on a hillside, and walked down to the main building for dinner.

Checking into the lodge

Glen House was obviously designed for groups of male golf buddies – our room was essentially a small cabin with a door in back off the parking area and a front door stepping out onto a balcony and a view across a lawn to the riverfront the lodge property sits on the edge of.

Rear entrance to our cabin-style room
Our sleeping & seating area
View from our balcony

There was a small kitchenette with sink, mini-fridge and coffee/tea maker, a nice-enough bathroom with a walk-in shower and a vanity that could have been a bit larger for my taste, and a small flat-screen TV with just a handful of stations. Our seating area/bedroom held two queen-sized beds, and there was a separate bedroom with another two beds. The love-seat in the seating area was actually a fold-out bed, which explained the odd tilt forward the seats had – I had to prop myself up on it to play on my laptop and my hubby in one of the tub chairs had to keep retrieving my mouse for me every time it slid off my lap. All in all, it was clean, comfortable and had good heating, which we really appreciated on the cooler nights north of Lake Ontario. Housekeeping was not allowed to enter our rooms for the duration of our stay, but there were plenty of towels and the front desk gladly supplied anything we ran low on.

Key lime cheesecake

The dining room was warm and welcoming, and the tables were well-spaced. There were indeed several groups of male golfers staying there, so as the rare female guest I was an anomaly, but most of the dining room staff were female and everyone was very nice. The menu was small, but all the food we had, whether breakfast or dinner, was quite delicious, especially the key lime cheesecake that was the featured dessert that week.

Waiting to board our cruise boat while the crew disinfected it between sailings

The next morning we woke to cloudy skies, but the weather held out and we were able to take our 1.5 hour cruise among the famous 1000 Islands that straddle the St. Lawrence River between Ontario and New York State. It was a lovely way to spend an autumn afternoon, with an excellent commentary by the crew as we wound through resplendently rustic island estates.

Gorgeous island shorelines
Gannets perched on rocky outcrops
One of the many ‘cottages’ tucked away on their private islands

The only thing we weren’t able to do was disembark at Boldt Castle, a famous manse with a tragic history that’s on U.S. soil, but the cruise circumnavigated the island and we got a pretty good look at the exterior and grounds, including the huge ‘yacht’ house on its own separate island.

Boldt Castle on Heart Island
The humble yacht house

In the strong chill breeze aboard the boat we’d worked up an appetite, so afterward we decided to have an early dinner at the cozy Cornwall Pub in the tiny town of Rockport where the cruise boats were based. I had an excellent barbecued-chicken pizza on a gluten-free crust – the advantages of a tourist town, even off-season during a pandemic! We doggie-bagged the leftovers for noshing on that evening back in our room.

Cornwall Pub
My delicious g-f pizza

Monday was golfing day, on a beautiful course called Smuggler’s Glen, made spectacular by the brilliant fall colours. The course was busy – a lot of people enjoying what was left of the end of the season here in Ontario (although if we’re lucky we might get a couple more mild days to squeeze in a final round back at home). All of the golf courses in our province have received a lot of bookings this year, since golf as a sport is both amenable to social distancing and a great opportunity to spend time outdoors.

Smuggler’s Glen Golf Course

On Tuesday evening we headed about an hour farther east to the highlight of the trip, Pumpkinferno! Spread through 1 km of historic Upper Canada Village are vignettes built of about 7,000 carved and lit pumpkins that (this year at least) you can slowly walk through and explore in the velvety darkness of a cool autumn night.

The entrance to Pumpkinferno

We’d had to prebook tickets with a specific entry time, and only 360 people total were allowed in for the entire evening, 60 at each entry time with wide spacing between groups. Even the parking spaces were arranged with space between, and there was plenty of parking close up without a long walk just to get to the entrance.

Ticket-holder entrance points

The darkness and dearth of people gave the village an eerie atmosphere, and the wide paths around the property allowed for space to enjoy the displays and music without being crowded at all – even to take my time photographing as many as possible. It was truly impressive and quite magical. It has also sold out for the rest of the month, so I’m glad we booked when we did.

Under the Sea
Superheroes
“Double, double, toil and trouble…”
Psychedelic 60s
A T-rex roars his dominance
The Enchanted Forest

These are just a few of the fantastic creations we saw. Next week, the rest of the trip, especially spooky Fort Fright, the annual haunted attraction at historic Fort Henry, where the dead walk and a sarcastic zombie keeps visitors entertained as they wait their turn to enter!

All photos by me and all rights reserved.