A Walk on the Haunted Side
Public hangings, ghouls and body snatchers – not exactly the type of2 stories you would expect to hear in the dignified university town of Kingston, Ontario.
As one of Canada’s most historic cities and Ontario’s oldest settlement, it’s a town steeped deep in a rich political past. Kingston was the first capital of the united Upper and Lower Canadas before the national seat of government moved to Ottawa in the 1840s. It was also home to Canada’s first Prime Minister, Sir John A. Macdonald.
The only disturbing fact that visitors may have is that some of Canada’s most infamous and notorious criminals call this city home, as they do their time at the Kingston penitentiary. But there’s an even more sinister side. Since 1995, Glen Shackleton has been running the Haunted Walk of Kingston, a walking tour that takes you to the city’s most eerie locales. Shackleton says he got the idea to conduct historical and haunted tours in Kingston after going on one in England.
“It was a lot of fun, so I thought I could do the same thing back home. It was just a hobby, but it grew so quickly, it became a full-time business.”
The walks take place at night and consists of a small group following a guide fully clad in proper haunted tour attire: black cape, black clothing and an old candle-lit lantern in hand. The group nervously follows the caped figure through the quiet, shadowy residential streets of Kingston, which suddenly seem a lot darker as the fantastic tales unfold.
Among the ghoulish retellings is the story of the public hangings that took place a century or so ago at the Frontenac County Courthouse and Jail. The executioner was so busy that Kingston quickly began attracting tourists from all around the lake to witness the grisly justice being meted out.
The executed were buried on the premises, but when the jail was moved, some say not all of the bodies went with it. There is one tale of a mysterious man with a strange piece of neckware. Local inhabitants claim to have seen this poor soul, with a noose still around his neck, always leaning up against the same area of a wall at the old courthouse.
In 1976 when construction took place on that same wall, a crude coffin with a skeletal corpse was discovered. Local historians suspect the man may have been the victim of an unauthorised jailhouse execution. Kinder souls gave the remains a proper burial and the ghostly presence of the “noose man” soon disappeared.
Even more bizarre is the story of the old burial ground. When the grounds of the cemetery were completely full, mostly with victims of a cholera and typhoid outbreak in the mid-1800s, the local government decided to turn the area into a public park. Rather than deal with the expense and effort of removing the remains and grave markers, it was decided that it would be more expedient to simply topple the headstones and cover them with a layer of soil.
In time people forgot about what lay beneath McBurney Park. Its new name became a place where many would spend their week-end afternoons. It wasn’t until years later that the macabre past of the “park” was remembered as grave markers and the occasional human bone began to poke through the grounds. Even some family pets have been known to dig up the odd ghastly souvenirs.
Speaking of bones, you’ll also hear about the prolific turn-of-the-century grave robbing that took place to meet the needs of medical students’ studying anatomy at the local university.
Are these stories true? Yes, according to Shackleton, who makes sure each tale is thoroughly researched before making its way onto the tour circuit. The guides are specially selected for their storytelling and dramatic skills to bring the stories alive. Various haunted tours are now offered in both Kingston and Ottawa from May to November. Shackleton advises people to book early around their busiest season, Halloween.
“The haunted tours are very popular. We’ve had the same groups of people come back five years in a row. We’re hoping to expand into even more cities in the future.”
For more information on tours being offered, log on to www.hauntedwalk.com.