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.