CM . . .
. Volume XVI Number 15. . . .December 11, 2009
Ghosts of Niagara-on-the-Lake.
Maria Da Silva & Andrew Hind.
Toronto, ON: Dundurn, 2009.
196 pp., pbk., $24.99.
Ghost stories, Canadian (English).
Grades 7 and up / Ages 12 and up.
Review by Ronald Hore.
"I went to the cemetery late at night with a bunch of high-school friends. As we got close to the cemetery I found my mind going back in time, but I'm not sure why," he explains. "There was something intangible about the chill I suddenly felt creeping along my spine, something I couldn't put a finger on, but it wasn't the cold."
Nick slowed his pace as he got closer to the cemetery, each step seemingly bringing him closer to some imperceptible evil. He stopped at the fence surrounding the grave site, suddenly unwilling to proceed. Even the taunts of his friends questioning his bravery couldn't convince him to go further. That's when he saw the figure looming in the shadowed entrance to the crypt.
"He was grey... I couldn't make out any features, but I could feel evil eyes boring into me," Nick says. "I felt threatened even though it just stood there, not moving. Then a wind picked up and, weird as it sounds, seemed to blow the figure away, just like the wind would blow away smoke."
Ghosts of Niagara-on-the-Lake is a collection of ghost stories divided into 17 chapters and centered around the historic part of Ontario at the mouth of the Niagara River which is known as the town of Niagara-on-the-Lake. A nearly 200 page trade paperback, the book includes two pages of the usual acknowledgments, a three page preface about the inspiration for writing the book, and a five page introduction giving an outline of the history of the town. The next 139 pages cover the 17 chapters, followed by 27 pages of notes that go into more details of the backgrounds of each story, either additional historical information or some background on the material the authors used in compiling the tale. There is a three page bibliography, a four page index, two pages of information on the authors and a page listing similar books on the subject. The book includes 31 black and white pictures, ranging in size from a third to half a page, and which depict some of the locations and characters, as well as the authors.
Chapter one opens the collection with a story based on the Canadian heroine Laura Secord. It tells the story of her going through the American lines during the War of 1812 and the subsequent strange goings-on at the Secord homestead, now the property of the Niagara Parks Commission.
The next chapter is based on stories from the Olde Angel Inn and the ghost of Captain Swayze, a British officer who was in love with the innkeeper's daughter. He died in 1813 at the hands of the invading American troops, and his spirit is said to still haunt the inn.
Chapter three takes the reader out on Lake Ontario where a group of seven young men set out from Toronto in 1874 to sail to Niagara-on-the-Lake for some drink and dancing. The yacht foundered in a sudden storm. Since then, the yacht has apparently been seen several times, sailing, deserted on the lake, before it disappears.
This ghost-yacht story is followed by a tale that goes back to one of the major battles of the War of 1812, the Battle of Queenston Heights. After telling of the carnage of the battle, the chapter ends with the modern sightings of the troops still fighting the ancient engagement.
The next chapter revolves around a fairly recent gazebo constructed on the shores of Lake Ontario and the story of the weeping woman seen wandering the nearby shore.
"Prince of Wales" introduces the Prince of Wales Hotel, tells its history and the details of a beautiful woman said to wander the hallways. This is another sad story of young love: a bride, and her groom who did not return from the trenches of World War One.
Chapter seven, which takes readers back to the War of 1812 and Fort Mississauga, tells of the action that swirled around it, and the spirits said to haunt it to this day.
The Niagara Apothecary, the building featured in the following chapter, is one of Canada's oldest continuing serving drug stores. Restored to how it would have appeared in 1865, the building is now a museum where strange noises are heard and strange figures seen.
Chapter nine revolves around another building, the Old Court House. The third building on the site, this structure was build in 1840, and some of the hauntings are described.
"Pillar and Post" is the story of a historical structure built in the late 1890's as a fruit cannery and now converted to a five-star country inn. It is also ranked as one of the most haunted hotels in the region.
The next chapter leads the reader to a popular restaurant, the Buttery, and the site of a double murder that took place in 1850. The story is told of the murders and the haunting that followed.
Chapter 12 continues with a story that revolves around a building, the McFarland House. Turned into a hospital during the War of 1812, the restored house was one of the few buildings to survive the burning of the town during the retreat of the American forces. Unusual lights and sounds are said to be some of the strange goings-on here.
"Butler's Burial Ground" describes the activities of Lieutenant-Colonel John Butler during the American Revolution. Butler was considered a hero by the Canadians and a traitorous murderer by the Americans. This small cemetery is the burial place for Butler and his fellow Rangers from that conflict. Some of the locals consider this the spookiest place in Niagara-on-the-Lake.
The Fort George National Historic Site has the reputation of being the most haunted place in the Niagara Region. Almost destroyed in the fighting during the 1812 war, the fort was later rebuilt, and the spirit this chapter concentrates on is a child said to belong to a sergeant major stationed there in 1840.
Chapter 15 takes readers back to another cemetery, established in 1792, at St Mark's Anglican Church. One of the considerations here is the fact that the church was used as a hospital during the war, and the marks of the cutting instruments can still be seen on some of the tombstones.
The book's penultimate chapter is a collection of eight separate stories too short to warrant their own separate chapter. It is covered in six pages.
The final chapter, titled "Experience for Yourself," provides detailed information for the reader who wants to visit the locations covered in the earlier chapters or who may want to obtain additional information. There is a paragraph on and contact information for each location.
These stories are well-written in plain language without an attempt to add mystery or unnecessary fantasy. The authors have added research and detailed historical information. The book will appeal to lovers of "supposed-to-be-true" ghost stories, history buffs, or those planning a trip to that part of our country and looking for local colour. This volume can be skimmed or read in depth. The historical information alone is well worth the read.
Ronald Hore, involved with writer's groups for several years, retired from the business world in Winnipeg, MB.
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