Simcoe County’s Haunted Past

Originally posted to the Barrie Advance – Oct 29, 2009. I don’t know who wrote it, the name wasn’t with the article when I found it. But, I wanted to keep the information saved and available.

Welcome to any one of countless chilling experiences from the numerous spooky locales across Simcoe County. These sites may seem innocuous during daylight hours, but once the sun dips below the horizon and shadows begin to stalk across the landscape they can take on a darker, creepier taint. That’s when ghosts and ghouls crawl out from their graves to frighten the unwary. Or so legend goes.

Collingwood

Our exploration of Simcoe’s spooky sites begins in Collingwood, home of two famous tales of the paranormal. The first begins with the sound of creaking wood out on the water. Moments later a steamship emerges from the mist. The vessel appears to be a derelict; it lists badly, its hull rotted. Not a soul moves aboard. Then, without warning, the ship simply fades away. Countless encounters of this kind, with startled witnesses observing an ageless ship plying the waters of Georgian Bay, have occurred over the past century and a quarter. Many speculate that the spectral craft might be the Mary Ward, a steamship that ran aground in 1872, drowning eight crewmen who were swallowed by the inky depths and never recovered.

Collingwood Caves [www.sceniccaves.com] is home to an even older spirit, that of Leuantido, a beautiful Indian maiden cursed to walk among the rugged hills for all eternity. Though she was already promised, Leuantido fell in love with a handsome chief from another tribe. Disobeying tradition and her own father, she began a torrid affair with her beloved. She cherished the stolen moments they shared. Tragically, Leuantido’s brothers found out about her deception and took matters into their own hands, bludgeoning her lover to death. They rid themselves of the body by throwing it over the edge of the cliff, and watched in satisfaction as it plunged to the rocky ground below.

Leuantido couldn’t bear the thought of living alone, so she threw herself off the cliff. Her body crashed on the rocks below, beside the man she loved. Legend says her spirit is tied to Suicide Rock, and can be seen on moody days when grey clouds blot out the sun.

Penetanguishene

Penetanguishene has its share of ghosts, many of them concentrated on the grounds of the recreated 19th century military establishment, Discovery Harbour [93 Jury Dr., www.discoveryharbour.on.ca]. At least four spirits linger after death. The recently restored Officer’s Quarters is home to Private Drury, a young soldier who froze to death while standing sentry duty one bitter New Year’s Eve. An unidentified headless figure aimlessly wanders the grounds after dark, looking perhaps for his missing skull.

The most heartbreaking story is that of John and Samuel McGarraty, soldiers of the 79th Foot, whose weathered headstones are the only identified graves on site. They marched from Barrie to Penetanguishene in the sweltering heat of 1831. The detachment was about halfway through its trek when one of the McGarraty brothers became ill and fell to the side of the road. The officer in command refused to hold up the company for the sake of a single soldier, and so ordered his men to press on. Unwilling to leave his brothers’ side, the other McGarraty remained behind as well.

When a relief party was dispatched from Penetanguishene the next morning they found the lifeless bodies of John and Samuel McGarraty. One had succumbed to illness, while the other was claimed by the terrors of night, literally scared to death. They were found lying in each other’s arms. The brothers cling to each other still, appearing to startled witnesses as a misty pair.

Midland

Sainte-Marie among the Hurons [off Highway 12 in Midland, www.saintemarieamongthehurons.on.ca] is also reputed to be haunted. And why wouldn’t it? The bones of the tortured and murdered Jesuit missionary, Jean de Brebeuf lie here. Elsewhere, there are tales that the spirit of Etienne Brule, the French explorer who was killed by Indians in 1633, wanders the forests in search of vengeance. Indian legend says he’s often accompanied by his sister who appeared as a specter and breathed the smallpox pestilence onto those responsible for her brother’s death.

Orillia

Orillia has its share of ghostly tales as well. The Stephen Leacock Memorial House [50 Museum Drive, www. leacockmuseum.com] is a major tourist attraction and literary shrine, but it’s also a hotspot for paranormal activity. Some believe Stephen Leacock, the great Canadian writer, remains in the home he considered his sanctuary. But there’s said to be a darker presence as well that is responsible for a sense of foreboding and unease felt by some visitors. This malice is most often felt in the upstairs bedroom that belonged to Leacock’s son, Stephen Lushington Leacock, whose growth was stunted from an early age and led a troubled life.

Just across the lake is the hamlet of Uptergrove and St. Columbkille Church [4993 Highway 12, at Muley Road], one of the most famously haunted buildings in Simcoe County. Ghostly tales began almost as soon as the church was built more than a century ago. Eerie music will waft down from the organ loft, a figure in black hat and white face will float through the choir area, and mysterious candlelight will be seen flickering from the windows on stormy nights. Many believe the spirit responsible is that of a former priest, either the one reputed to be buried in the basement or the seemingly cursed Rev. Henry McPhillips, who lies in the graveyard and once found paperwork he was working on mysteriously completed in blood.

Barrie

Some ghost stories can be easily dismissed as hallucination, misinterpretation, or outright fabrication. Others, however, are far more difficult to discount. Such is the case with Barrie’s Simcoe Hotel [31 Bayfield Street], where fact, fantasy and history have come together to tease the imagination.

People have sworn they’ve seen a woman wearing a long dress standing motionless and deathly pale standing amidst the shadows of the historic building, or that sudden cold breezes without obvious source can suddenly caress one’s face. On one occasion, an ethereal woman was momentarily seen stretched out on the floor stretched out on the floor inside the hotel. What these eyewitnesses couldn’t possibly know is that in the bitterly cold winter of 1872 a woman named Elizabeth Meyer had frozen to death outside the hotel after a lengthy bout of drinking and her corpse was brought into the Simcoe Hotel to be examined by the coroner. It seems the poor woman is bound to the spot where she died more than a century ago.

Fort Willow

Take a brief side trip to Fort Willow [Grenfel Road, north of Highway 90], a partially reconstructed War of 1812 military supply depot where a young soldier was said to have been flogged and hung for desertion. The tragedy of his death ensured the soldier would not rest peacefully in his grave. Instead, he walks silently beneath the partially reconstructed palisade and through the eerie woods to this day. For those perceptive enough to see or feel his presence, he invokes sadness and fear, no doubt reflections of those the ghost himself experienced as he was sentenced to death.

Thornton

In the village of Thornton, a former hotel serves up fine fare under the watchful gaze of a tragic female spectre. The Thornton Village Inn [238 Barrie Street, www. thevillageinn.ca] is a beautifully nostalgic Victorian building and a fine dining establishment, its pleasing appearance and excellent food masking the dark stains of a terrible crime.

During the 19th century, the building was host to many travelers, but among the masses one pair, a young couple, stood out. She was beautiful and gentle, he abusive and unfeeling. One night, the woman and her cruel husband began to quarrel, and as it often did, the fight soon turned violent. The woman fell under a rain of insults and punches that left her body and spirit bruised. She was either thrown down the stairs from the second floor or fell as she ran from the assault. In either case, by the time her body had come to rest at the bottom, it was broken and lifeless.

Since then, “The Lady of the Stairs” is said to haunt the second floor of the restaurant. She can be seen standing atop the staircase, walking along the second-floor mezzanine, and looking mournfully down upon the village below from the second-floor balcony. Tradition states she appears most often on the anniversary of her death.

Ballycroy

Simcoe’s spooky tour ends in the real ghost town of Ballycroy, located near Alliston [off Highway 50, about one-kilometre north of Highway 9]. Though the village and its inhabitants have long since faded away, it feels as if time has stood still here and one swears the echoes of those who lived and died in the village can still be heard among the trees, along the empty street, and in the foundation holes.

One of the few original buildings to remain in Ballycroy is the former McClelland general store and hotel, now lovingly restored as a private residence. The handsome two-storey structure, itself a relic of a bygone era, is home to a woman from the past that refuses to pass on to the other side.

An elderly woman who stayed here was awakened late at night by a female spirit in a Victorian gown standing over her bed. The ghost stared at the groggy woman for a time, then asked in a hollow voice, “Why are you in my room?” Before the woman could give a response, the spirit faded from view.

Others have seen this spectre, presumably a former resident, over the years as well. Was it some forgotten tragedy that causes her to remain tied to the building all these years later, or is it perhaps an unusually strong affinity for the building?

Missing Buildings

I often get a haunted feeling when I notice these ghosts left on the side of a building from one which was there but demolished now. I was happy to see someone else thinking about them and even getting a collection of photos. These come from London, UK. How many have you seen in your own area? Did you ever stop and get a photo? Or, see what you can find out about the building no longer there?
Source: London’s ‘Missing Buildings’ by Thom And Beth Atkinson | Amusing Planet

Would you Walk Through these Gates at Night?

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Great photo of ellaborate gates from somewhere. Posted to a Halloween group on Facebook. The photo came up in my Facebook feed from a friend. This was my comment:

I explore and photograph abandoned houses. You can see a lot more in the daylight. Seems a shame to go at night just to freak yourself out about ghosts.

Halloween Wallpaper

I especially like images of Halloween which include an old house, possibly haunted. The haunted part doesn’t matter to me. I just like an old house with a lot of detail and weathering. Here are a couple I found today. Not the detail of some but they do look weathered.

Note: Yes, it is the same image, just reversed in the second one. I found these on a wallpaper site this morning.

halloween_2014-1225 Halloween-2014-HD-Wallpapers

Just Empty Space

I think of space when I think of that day. Kind of odd I guess. But space as an element, a thing you can almost reach out and touch, something that you could hear if you listen during a quiet time.

An empty space is mysterious and unknown. That’s likely why we fear it. Around the corner, at the other side of a dark room, the backseat of the car when you know no one is sitting there. Our hitchhiker was like that. Something in the space that you could almost feel but not actually see, smell or touch. Just something sensed enough to give a creepy feeling and start us looking into dark corners expecting to see her there.

Her, was the girl who died, of course. Alone, in the rainstorm, under a bridge, she drowned in her over turned car. I thought it was a sad way to die. Hoping to be found and yet time passing with no help. Could she see the clock on her dashboard, watch the seconds and minutes pass as she died. The water rising but not filling the car quite enough to ease the pressure so she could force open a door and escape. Or was she already gone when she hit the water? Did she never even know she was dying until she was dead?

Did she now wait on the bridge, looking at the world of the living and want to come back, to join us again or just finally get home.

My husband parked the car there, at her bridge. He’d noticed the floral offerings at the side of the road and wanted to take a look. We often made road trips to cemeteries, abandoned farms and houses. He liked to put them in a more gruesome and haunted light. He’s into horror. I’m not a horror fan, not someone who’d stay up after midnight to watch movies about murderers, violence and gore.

He remembered hearing about the accident and her death on the news. We talked about it. I was sad for her. There was nothing left of the car of course, it had all been towed away, put away and dealt with. He wanted to take a better look, maybe find some car part left over or something of hers which had been overlooked. So he picked his way down the weeds and stepped around the muddy shore searching for a souvenir.

I took some photos of her flowers. They were looking pretty weathered and shabby but I was glad her family and friends had given her a memorial, a tribute. Then we got back in the car, thinking of how welcome a hot chocolate would be. The girl was in my mind, as any tragic figure lingers awhile before becoming just a memory and passing thought.

Did he look over his shoulder first or did I? I’m not sure. More likely my husband did, he was driving and had a reason to check the rear view mirror now and then. He didn’t say anything. Just drove on down those wet dirt country roads, splashing through puddles but not laughing about the spray of water as he usually would have. I decided he was feeling a bit somber, as I was myself. When I noticed he was a bit jumpy I laughed and asked if we were being followed, maybe he wanted to play at being secret agents and spies as he sometimes liked to do on drives along quiet roads.

He didn’t answer right away. Then he asked if I could see, or did I feel, anyone in the car, in the backseat. I gave a quick look, humouring him. I was all set to say “Of course not”, but I did catch something out of the corner of my eye. Just something in that space. I turned around in my seat, pushing the seat belt off my neck, for a better look. Nothing. Of course nothing. We hadn’t brought anyone else along, not a dog, not so much as a goldfish.

“No”, I said. I didn’t laugh or make a joke about it though.

We drove farther, closer to the road into town. Each of us would sneak backward looks. I could see him look in the rear view mirror several times on a road where we were the only traffic.

He pulled the mirror down to focus on the back seat. I scrunched down to watch the back from the passenger side mirror. It began to feel really creepy in that car. Something was in that space of nothingness, something we couldn’t see.

Just behind my head I could feel eyes, keeping silent, soundless as the dead, ironically. We hardly dared to breathe ourselves. I wished my husband could find the bravery I lacked and flip on the radio. Surely something as normal and ordinary as the radio could chase away the skin crawling creepiness of whatever lurked in the backseat.

She must have been so cold, dying in that deeply chilled water. How desperate she must be now to find some warmth, something human, to not be alone and quite so dead. If you believe in ghosts surely you could see how she might want to sit in our warm backseat with the heater making the car so toasty warm. Only now I was getting chilled just thinking about heat sucking ghosts sitting just out of sight, right behind me.

Another quick flick of my eyes to the backseat. My imagination pictured her sitting there. Her eyes dark and haunted, bruised looking. Her body so cold, right through, unable to feel warmth. Dripping water. I imagined hearing the little plop, plop, plop of water as it dripped from her cold, dead self. Maybe she would shiver, not knowing that a ghost isn’t alive and wouldn’t need to shiver.

It was a long trip back to town, we didn’t speak again. How can you speak about what isn’t there.

At the coffee shop, back in the living world where the spaces are all filled with artificial light, noise from the living and the smell of bacon and eggs, it was very easy to shake off the creepy feeling and put it down to just imagination. But, the feeling came with us when we got back in the car. I feel it still.

It’s been days since we took that road trip. I’m often alone in our apartment after my husband takes the car to work. Those spaces of time which I used to do laundry, make dinner, wash dishes and vacuum are no longer just the passing of time. My space is captured by something I only feel, see out of the corner of my eye. It’s her I’m sure. I think she is sad, missing the people she knew and the things she liked to do.

Since that day at the bridge I’ve stopped looking in the backseat when I’m in the car. I avoid mirrors especially, they give me a very creepy feeling. When I brush my teeth each morning I look down, avoiding my own eyes and anything that might be in that space behind me. I never take that space for granted any more.

You see, she isn’t the only one there now. I think they followed her to our home. Someday they’ll fill all that space. Taking it all. I hardly dare to take a real breath any more. I never look into corners and I always have the lights on. Someday they will suck out all the space around me. I don’t know what will happen then, when the dead fill the space of the living. My husband thinks I’m crazy so I just don’t talk to him about it any more. But I can see he gets nervous too, sometimes after dark when the apartment is quiet and he gets that creepy sense of something else, something that hitchhiked back into the living world with us and won’t now let us go.


My Halloween story. By me.

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