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?

A Ship with Ghosts Older than the Titanic

The S.S. Keewatin in Port McNicoll, Ontario.

If you are looking for a local ghost tour you don’t need to drive as far as Toronto.

My sister-in-law’s Father was a part of the group who keep this ship in good repair and run the tours and other public events around it. I haven’t visited it yet so the photograph here is not my own.

Photo Source: Older than the titanic with more ghosts & spirits than anywhere in the world – Barrie 360

I Love a Good House

If my life had gone differently in my earlier years I think I would have become an architect. I love buildings and all the trimmings. I’m still trying to teach myself all the right names for the parts of buildings. I go out and take photos of old buildings, mainly derelict farm houses here in Ontario. I also like going to the main street of a small town or city and looking up. That’s where you see the fancy parts of old stores, homes and banks. Most of the old parts below have been renovated away.

Maybe I never would have been a great architect. I like the old stuff too much to make the modern looking type of building with more right angles than curves and more sensible and practical elements than elegant columns, gargoyles and gingerbread trim. It would be hard to design something just to stand there rather than to pose there.

I am still very attracted to anything building/ house related. Art with houses draws my eye. Even fiction about a house stops me long enough to at least skim it. The old woman living in a shoe caught my imagination from a young age. How did she live in that shoe? Did she use the laces to cool the house off in winter and then tie them up tight again to keep warm in winter? How did she put a roof on the shoe, was the sock still around to be stuffed over head? Did she make the eyelets for the laces into windows? Did she put the door back at the heel where it would have been strong but had that higher step down or somewhere else? So many questions. Living in a shoe didn’t seem that appealing all things considered.

I’d rather live in a castle, except I’d like a much smaller and cosier version of a castle than a real castle. A castle like Dr. Who’s Tardis, bigger on the inside than the outside could work well. Like the Tardis, no one ever seems to need to clean it either.

I have drawn my perfect house. It was harder to pick the location than the decide on what I wanted inside the house. But the harder part still was to limit myself to less rather than more when it comes to how the outside of the house will look. There are so many great old things that could be added. Small like old iron doorknobs to huge like a dragon sculpture taking up a large part of the garden.

I enjoy drawing unusual houses. I’ve drawn the shoe house. I’ve drawn a house made in a teacup. I’ve drawn a plan for how very small people would live in the standard sized world. I’ve drawn magical houses for elves, fairies and of course dragons too.

There is something special about a house, any building really. People make them, plan them, live and work in them. Keep them. Repair them. It’s saddest of all when a place is abandoned and left to the elements. There is a mystery to the abandoned places. Something time and people forgot. I never feel they are creepy or haunted. just sad and yet still dignified and majestic in some way. We give a house a power by it’s creation and everything we put into it beyond that point. You can’t just lose that when the house is empty. It’s there, right in the very design.

I think I would have been an amazing architect.

Ontario History in Rocks

I’d like to read the books by Nick Eyles, about Canadian geology. Two of his books are about Ontario history and places to see for the rocks.

Road Rocks Ontario and Ontario Rocks.

I have always liked rocks, one of the oldest and most enduring things on our planet. Really, is there anything that can top a rock for endurance and long life?

I studied physical geography in high school. A lot more than rocks and geology involved in geography but everything involves or stands on rocks at some point.

As an explorer of old places I especially like seeing the wear and tear caused by weathering. Bricks, stone, glass, wood are all changed by the wind and rain. One of the things being swept up by wind and water are rocks (sand, pebbles, etc.). Weathering of rocks forms the very ground we rely on. How can anyone not have a fascination with rocks and their history?

Killing Art for Politics

Demolishing art (and architecture) bothers me. The history does not go away, but the art does. Losing art and architecture due to changing politics is not a good thing.

How will people in the future understand the past if it is all whitewashed?

In a letter to the Mayoral Advisory Commission on City Art, Monuments, and Markers, the signatories advocate for the removal of monuments to Christopher Columbus, J. Marion Sims, and Teddy Roosevelt.

Source: Over 120 Prominent Artists and Scholars Call on NYC to Take Down Racist Monuments

Stop Calling them Uniforms

mountiecostumeWhen a uniform becomes customized for various cultures it stops being a uniform. A uniform is… uniform. When it isn’t uniform, all the same, then it becomes similar, not uniform. If the Mounties, police, fire fighters, etc. want to adapt their uniform doesn’t it become a costume? I think allowing various cultures (I am purposely not being specific because the specific culture is not the issue) to have different uniforms makes the uniform mean less.

The original point of a uniform was identification, everyone looking the same, being recognizable and having respect. You see the Mounties and know who they are by the uniform. If you see someone wearing a Mountie costume, you think they are on the way to a party and you don’t consider them someone you need to pay much attention to. Badges don’t mean much from a distance, behind a door or to anyone who couldn’t tell a real badge from a fake one.

People in authority like Mounties, military and government employees need to be recognizable in order to have that authority and be trusted. Since we were children we have seen Mounties in their dress uniforms and we expect a Mountie to be in that uniform.

But, more than the public, what about the Mounties themselves? Why change the uniform which has severed generations of Mounties of all cultures up until now? I’m assuming all Mounties have two arms, two legs, one head so they should all be able to wear the standard uniform. What is the real need for change in this very old tradition worn with pride by generations of people.

I don’t know. But, I do think they should stop calling them uniforms, because they aren’t uniforms any more. That tradition has been lost. mountie

Photographing the Obsolete as it Happens

What could you find to photograph for history? Typewriters, wrist watches, maps on paper… so many things which have been made old fashioned, and obsolete. I miss the mechanical things like the old phones, watches and a compass. Inventions which were treasured while their time lasted.

The Obsolescence Project. 2013 – Ongoing.

Initially begun as a 30 day photographic blog project, it became a 365 day blog documenting things that are obsolete or about to be, about the nature of obsolescence and occasionally a modest and brief history of stuff.

Source: The Obsolescence Project – Photography by Deanne Achong

Tapestries: An Exploration of World Maps

Reprinted from an article directory. I couldn’t resist posting information about maps in history.

Article by: Angela Dawson-Field

People have always been curious about the world around them and the development of maps has echoed this historical fascination. Maps were once considered to be valuable objects and were treasured by their owners and regarded as works of art in their own right. These objects attracted the attention of artists as well as skilled draughtsmen and maps became quite ornate and decorative items, capturing the imagination of those who wondered what lay beyond the horizon.

Early maps tended to reflect what people knew or remembered and were largely topographical in nature. Often, these early pieces depicted myth and lore, combining to create “living maps” that were passed form generation to generation. Formalising the topography into early maps, knowledge became standardised and sowed the foundation of early cartography.

By the Middle Ages cartography had slowed in that accuracy became replaced by religious depiction through maps. Examples of strong belief can be seen in some maps where the Holy Land is shown to be at the centre of the earth. Another example is Europa Regina by Johannes Bucius which shows an early and elongated map, depicting Europe as the Queen of the World.

The Age of Seafaring during the 16th and 17th centuries saw new interest in map making, particularly the British and the Dutch taking to the seas and exploring new lands. At this time maps became increasingly artistic. An East Indies map in tropical colouring with pineapple trees and other exotic flora and fauna, designed to capture the imagination and evoke the scent of spice in the air is a typical example. As the demand for cartographers grew in the 17th century the artistic nature of maps from a purely functional item to a work of art began to evolve.

Maps were often decorated elaborately with sea creatures or mythical characters. Many of these very accomplished draughtsmen created quite unique works of art from map making. Maps designed by Petrus Plancius (1552-1622) or Abraham Ortelius (1528-1598) were frequently found embellished with intricate pictorial content. A successor to Abraham Ortelius was the Dutch cartographer Jan Baptist Vrients (1552-1612) who designed Obis Terrae Compendosia. The world is split into two hemispheres and surrounded by ornate and detailed pictorial decoration. The map brings a perception of how the world looks and a plethora of exotic creatures and landscapes from the far flung shores of the globe.

Another famous example is Nova Totius Terrarum, designed by Henricus Hondius (1597-1622), a Dutch Cartographer. This 17th century map is an ornate depiction of the world and is surrounded by detailed nautical scenes, perhaps reflecting the age and drama of exploration by sea as mythical creatures rise from the ocean and men are seen contemplating their journey.

Antique maps are increasingly popular in the modern home and make elaborate tapestries in home décor. There are a number of ways in which an antique map can add charm and elegance to the home, whether in poster, print or tapestry format and are much appreciated by connoisseurs of good taste.

Copyright © The Tapestry House, all rights reserved.

About the Author: Angela Dawson-Field writes extensively on home
decor and tapestry & textile art. The Tapestry House
http://www.thetapestryhouse.com/products/index.html
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