Are you ready for a little truth or scare? Canada has some seriously spooky haunted stories. Learn about 5 fascinating and frightening tales: British Columbia’s “The Ghosts of Gastown”, Manitoba’s “Red River Trail”, Québec’s “Marie-Josephte Corriveau”, Yukon’s “Caribou Hotel” and Nova Scotia’s “The Grey Lady of the Citadel”.
The Ghosts of Gastown (Vancouver, British Columbia)
What’s one of the most haunted neighbourhoods in Canada? Believed by psychics to be a portal to the otherworld, Vancouver’s Gastown district wins cold clammy hands down.
In 1867, former riverboat captain John Deighton arrived in Burrard Inlet, British Columbia, with his First Nations-born wife, her mother and her cousin, a yellow dog, two chairs, and a barrel of whiskey. While the area was home to several mills and lumber yards, the closest bar was 20 kilometres away in New Westminster. Recognizing a business opportunity, Deighton recruited a handful of thirsty labourers and the Globe Saloon was built within 24 hours. Locals and visiting sailors gave Deighton the nickname “Gassy Jack” and the surrounding area became known as Gastown.
Rowdy and dangerous, the area was home to more than 300 bars at its peak. Today, it is both a National Historic Site and an entertainment destination for Vancouverites and tourists. It’s also the location of a large number of paranormal sightings and stories.
At Waterfront Station, numerous security guards have witnessed dancing ghosts, phantom passengers, and, in particular, a headless brakeman who is said to have been decapitated while making repairs in the rail yard. Since his unfortunate demise in 1928, the shuffling spirit has been spotted roaming the tracks with his glowing lantern in his hand, searching for his missing head.
Other Gastown locations have also shown evidence of restless spirits. Glasses have shifted in their racks and smashed to the floor, unaided, at the Lamplighter Pub. Doors have slammed and items have flown across the room upstairs at a menswear shop, and a woman dressed all in white has been seen in the window of the Landing on Water Street. The ghost of architect J.S. Hellyer supposedly walks the steps of a haunted staircase in the old Dominion Building. Legend has it that Hellyer was cursed because the building had 13 storeys and died falling down a stairwell during its opening celebrations (despite clear evidence that he died at his Vancouver home, nine years later).
The Gaolers Mews, built in the mid-1800s, housed Vancouver's first jail, next to which was a cobblestoned courtyard where more than 40 people were publicly executed. This site—now a restaurant called L'Abattoire—is home to the spirit of a woman dressed in black who has been seen gliding along the outside passageway where the scaffold once stood. The ghostly figure of a man in black was also often spotted by the staff of a pub that once occupied the site.
Red River Trail / Red River Ox Cart (Manitoba)
“Ghost Scene at the Fort: Nightly Vigils of the Sentries Made Hideous by an Apparition” read the headline in the August 29, 1903, issue of the Morning Telegram. The newspaper said “panic had seized the soldiers” at Lower Fort Garry as a result of the haunting and surmised that “the first owners of the Red River Valley are resenting the intrusion of the North-West Mounted Rifles upon the grounds sacred to their dead and making their displeasure severely felt.”
The Red River Trails were a network of ox cart routes connecting the Red River Colony and Fort Garry in British North America with the head of navigation on the Mississippi River. These trade routes ran from the area that is present-day Winnipeg, Manitoba, across the international border, over what is now eastern North Dakota, and through western and central Minnesota to Mendota and Saint Paul, on the Mississippi.
Travellers began to use the trails by the 1820s, with the heaviest use from the 1840s to the early 1870s, when the railway finally became available. Until then, these routes provided the most efficient means of transportation between the isolated Red River Colony and the outside world.
In the summer of 1903, a lone soldier was on sentry duty outside Lower Fort Garry when he saw something approaching his post. It was a little past midnight but he didn’t suspect anything out of the ordinary – and certainly nothing paranormal – when he realized it was a cart drawn by a team of oxen and driven by a Métis man and woman. However, when the same cart passed him several times between midnight and 2 a.m., he became suspicious and finally ordered the travellers to halt.
At his words, the entire party – man, woman, oxen, even the cart itself – disappeared in thin air.
Shaken, confused and more than a little frightened, the sentry tried to brush the incident off as a result of indigestion. He blamed the regimental cook for what he had seen and returned to his post.
But when the same apparition returned shortly thereafter and disappeared once more when he ordered the cart to halt, the sentry flung his rifle to the ground and ran in sheer terror back to the fort.
His fellow soldiers erupted into laughter when he described what he had seen, but no one laughed the following night when a different soldier was on duty and saw the same terrifying vision.
A plan was put into place to try to either capture the spirits or, at the very least, to soothe their wrath in the hopes that they’d stop their midnight parade. Nothing worked, however, and the ghost cart returned nearly every night, terrifying the men stationed at Lower Fort Garry.
There’s no telling how many souls perished along these lonesome routes or in battles fought in the Red River Valley, but it’s said the dead sometimes rise from their final slumber to travel the ox cart trails, seeking revenge on those who took their lives.
Marie-Josephte Corriveau (Lévis, Québec)
“La Corriveau” is the infamous nickname of Marie-Josephte Corriveau (or Corrivaux)—who was executed on charges of murder in the late 1700s. Born on a farm in St-Vallier, near Québec, in 1733, she was the daughter of Joseph Corriveau and Marie-Françoise Bolduc. She was married twice, both times to farmers: in 1749, to Charles Bouchard, who was buried on April 27, 1760, and by whom she had three children; and in 1761, to Louis-Étienne Dodier.
When her first husband passed away, there were questions surrounding the circumstances of his death. When her second husband was found in their barn with fatal blows to his head just three years later, originally Marie-Josephte was the obvious suspect. After appearing before a military tribunal of 12 English officers, Marie-Josephte’s father was convicted of murdering his son-in-law and sentenced to death, while Marie-Josephte was to be flogged and branded for assisting him.
After Joseph confessed to his priest that his daughter was solely responsible for the killing, a second trial was held. Marie-Josephte admitted that she had bludgeoned her husband to death with a hatchet while he was sleeping, claiming he had mistreated her. Her punishment was an unusually harsh one, usually reserved for those guilty of particularly heinous crimes: she was to be hanged and her body suspended in an iron cage known as a gibbet.
The execution took place on the Buttes-à-Nepveu, near the Plains of Abraham, on April 18, 1763, and the gibbet was erected at Pointe-Lévy (Lauzon). Marie-Josephte Corriveau’s remains were on display for more than a month before an order from the governor authorized their removal—possibly after locals began to complain of the smell.
The people of the area had other reasons for wanting the cage to be taken down: the sight of the woman’s decaying body caused children to have nightmares, and merchants complained that people going to Québec City now preferred to travel by water rather than road, so were by-passing their shops.
It’s said that while still in the roadside cage, the body—possessed by the woman’s evil spirit—would open its blood-red eyes and reach out to grab anyone passing nearby with its claw-like hands. After the cage was removed, the rotting corpse was said to walk the road at night, accosting travellers.
The gruesome details of the murder and punishment have become the stuff of local legend. There are still reports of Marie-Josephte Corriveau’s ghost walking the roads and forests near Lévis. Embellishments also abound, with the number of husbands she killed varying from two to seven, depending on the storyteller.
There’s something about this story that simply will not…die. In 2011, the gibbet believed to have held Marie-Josephte’s corpse was discovered at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts. The item, anonymously donated by a collector, is in the process of further authentication and possibly, eventual repatriation to a Canadian museum.
Caribou Hotel (Carcross, Yukon Territory)
Before the town of Carcross was established at the narrows between Bennett and Tagish Lakes in the Yukon Territory, the area was known as Caribou Crossing for the large herds of caribou that crossed the narrows twice a year on their annual migration.
When the first prospectors came through the Chilkoot Pass following the discovery of Klondike gold in 1896, the crossroads became a popular resting place for those headed to and from Dawson City, 600 kilometres north. Caribou Crossing was also a station for the Royal Mail and Dominion Telegraph Line and served as a communications point on the Yukon River.
The Anderson Hotel opened in Carcross in 1901 on Christmas Day. Originally called the Yukon Hotel, it was built in Bennett in 1898, at the start of the Klondike Gold Rush, and later floated down Lake Bennett to its final location by then-owner W.A. Anderson.
In January 1903, the hotel was sold to “Dawson Charlie” for a reported $9,000 and was once again renamed—this time as the Caribou Hotel. After Charlie's death on January 26, 1908, Edwin and Bessie Gideon rented it from his estate. Shortly after they took over, the hotel burned down, and a new building was erected in 1910.
Bessie died on October 27, 1933, and although she was reported to have been buried in Carcross, a 1998 cemetery survey was unable to locate her grave. Since her passing, it has been said that the hotel has been haunted by her ghost—a shy spirit who is neither friendly nor unfriendly. Along with reports of doors slamming and floors creaking, Bessie herself has been sighted—mainly on the third floor of the hotel, where she has been heard knocking or banging on the floorboards and seen looking out the windows.
Over the years, the Caribou was home to a number of famous characters, many of whom are buried in the town of Carcross. They include Anglican missionary Bishop Bompas; renowned guide and packer “Skookum Jim” Mason of the Tagish First Nations, who is credited with co-discovering the find at Bonanza Creek that unleashed the Gold Rush; Mason’s sister Kate Carmack; and Polly the Parrot, who lived at the hotel from 1918 until his death in 1972. Known for singing opera and shocking guests with his coarse language, Polly has one of the finest bronze markers in the local cemetery.
The Grey Lady of the Citadel (Halifax, NS)
Completed in 1856, the Halifax Citadel is a national historical site and the fourth in a series of forts to occupy the hill overlooking Halifax harbour since 1749.
A haunted well where body parts were once found is now boarded up, and a ghostly shed that was torn down, speak of the grisly past of the Citadel. But the most persistent spirit is the Grey Lady who wanders the site, mourning for her lost love. According to reports from security guards, she strolls the second floor at night, smelling of roses and wearing a 19th century dress.
So the story goes, one night, the Gray Lady went to the Holy Trinity Church expecting her groom to arrive. He never did. The carriage driver rode up to the Citadel to pick up the groom, only to hear from the guard that the husband-to-be had shot himself, unable to find any other way to hide from his past. The driver went to the church to break the news to the bride, who refused to believe him and became hysterical. Clearly, the truth was too hard for her to accept, as her spirit still searches the grounds of the Citadel for her beloved fiancée.
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