Written by Richard Fiennes-Clinton
The Town of Bracebridge, in the heart of Muskoka, is a town which has successfully preserved its connections with the past, while keeping in step to ensure its own future.
The first white settlers arrived in the area in the late 1850s. In the early 1860s, a road running north into Bracebridge was completed, and this further opened the floodgates of immigration. Finally, the Free Grants and Homestead Act of the late 1860s, which promised 100 acres of free land to would-be settlers helped along a further increase in settlers. Bracebridge became a village in 1875 and a town in 1889.
The earliest industries in Bracebridge were logging, tanning, trapping and hydraulic power. Water was indeed a very important part of Bracebridge's history, and its falls were one of the reasons it was so successful, when other communities in Muskoka were not.
No doubt the panorama of Bracebridge Falls and Bracebridge Bay had a great deal to do with the Inn at the Falls being built where it now stands. The Inn began as a private residence, built in the 1870s, while the village of Bracebridge was blooming up all around. Originally the home of one John Adair, the house was bought by William C. Mahaffy in the 1880s, who was appointed as the first District Judge of the area in 1888. Mahaffy, his family, and his home, became a nucleus of Bracebridge's economic and social activity. His residence, which became an Inn in 1943, stands at the foot of Manitoba Street, which is a prime commercial nerve of the modern town.
There are at least three ghosts attributed to the Inn At the Falls. The management have given these permanent residents nicknames - Charlie, Sarah, and Bob. Many ghost enthusiasts will tell you that renovations of historic buildings play an important part in stirring up the local spirits. From private residence, to derelict landmark, to commercial inn, the Inn at the Falls is no stranger to renovation and redevelopment. The Mahaffy family resided in the house until the 1920s. When they sold it, it became briefly an apartment house and youth home. Afterwards, it was desolate for a time, left abandoned to fall into disrepair. Ten years later, however, in the 1930s, the estate was bought up and turned into an inn. This commercial venture faltered, but it was reopened as a hotel in the early 1940s, and the owners at that time made renovations to accommodate another three dozen guests.
In 1955, fire struck the hotel. The fire spread through the upper part of the building and tens of thousands of dollars in damage was done. Restoration took place quickly, and every attempt was made to respect the former flavour of the landmark. In the early 1960s, a pub was added to the inn, in what was once a furnace room. Renovations were once again required in a very old part of the building. Who is to say what was disturbed in this antiquated part of the building, which is now one of the centres of spectral activity?
In 1975, the business changed hands again, into the care of a married couple who were to oversee the care of the place. The wife passed away in the house, after suffering from cancer. A one time office manager of the Inn, who claims to have had a number of ghostly experiences there, described an apparition that she saw in a corridor. This employee told and retold the story to other employees, with a trustworthy amount of consistency. A longstanding housekeeper did in fact confirm that the description did fit that of the former owner, who passed away in the Inn.
In 1988, the hotel we know today as the Inn at the Falls was established, and it has grown ever since. It now has close to forty rooms. Again, the management is quite open about the fact that their Inn is haunted, and make reference to it on their menus and website.
The kitchen is one area in which there are reports of paranormal happenings. It is here that the spirit which the management have, in good humour, nicknamed "Bob" makes himself known. He has never been seen, but Bob has a fondness for hurling pots and pans across the kitchen, shoving irritable guests down the stairs, and generally making a fuss.
There is a sad story regarding a woman is said to haunt the corridors at the top of the staircase which leads to the upstairs rooms. For a short time in the 1930s, a family had lived in the house before its conversion to an inn. The husband and father of the family had been previously married. Near the end of her pregnancy, his first wife fell down the stairs, and both mother and baby were killed in the fall. On one occasion, a guest from room 106 asked after the health of the pregnant woman who was also staying upstairs. The staff were confused, as the guest was the only person staying on the second floor at the time. The guest insisted that they had heard a conversation between a man and a woman the night before, on the matter of the woman's pregnancy. Similar incidents have been reported time and again. A feminine weeping is often heard in these parts of the inn, accompanied by the desolate sounds of shuffling footsteps around the corridor near the top of the stairs.
The first time I stayed at the Inn at the Falls, in room 105 ~ which is located very near to the top of the stairs ~ I woke up at around 6.00 o'clock in the morning. In my sleepy, half awake condition, I registered a "wet" noise coming from just outside my door. I then remembered having heard the legend of this poor woman, and the reports of her crying just outside the room where I was now staying. I also remembered reading somewhere that most of the activity in this part of the inn is reported either late at night, or very early in the morning. I decided that the sound I was hearing, which could easily have been the ardent sobs of a distressed mother to be, was in fact an inconsiderate neighbour with squeaky pipes, taking a shower. I rolled over and decided to give "sleeping in" my best attempt.
Judge Mahaffy himself has been sited in his old home, on more than one occasion. He has been sited by staff of the Inn, in the pub and the corridors near to it. His spectre is described as appearing very much like he did when alive, wearing the clothes of his day, and his facial features identifiable from his portrait. He wanders through these areas of his home, and then vanishes. Mahaffy actually died in England, a few years before the First World War, but it is not unknown for apparitions of the dead to be reported far from their place of death.
But it is the former master bedroom of Judge Mahaffy that is the most notoriously haunted room in the inn. I first had occasion to stay at the Inn at the Falls in September of 2000. Naturally, having need of an evening's lodging, I arranged ahead to stay at the Inn and asked to be put up in the infamous room 105, already being aware of this suite's reputation. The room itself is rather impressive. On the right, as one enters, is the private bathroom adjoining the room. On the left is an old fashioned, elevated bed. On the far left, is a large bay window overlooking the street. Two armchairs face out over the street.
Here, in this room, a woman can be seen sitting by the window, looking down on to the street. She is a young woman, very beautiful, with long brown hair and a long white gown. At other times, this same apparition is seen wandering the halls and corridors of the Inn, only to dissipate into the air. Legend has it that guests in room 105, have reported waking up in the middle of the night, looking up from their bed, and seeing this woman walk from one side of the room to the other, crossing over to the window. When there, she will settle into her chair, and eventually vanish.
I spent another two nights at the Inn at the Falls, while enjoying an extended weekend in Bracebridge in February of 2001. Every village, town, or city needs at least one person who is the "town historian", and Bracebridge has one in Ken Veitch, the former town clerk. He is regarded throughout the area as the local expert on all things having to do with Bracebridge past and present, and he was kind enough to give me a few hours of his time while I was in town. We were enjoying lunch in the pub at the Inn at the Falls, and our conversation turned to the Inn itself.
I told him that I was staying in the "haunted room", and he told me about his experiences up there. The hauntings at the Inn, of course, had been somewhat of a local legend for a while, and he told me about the time that a psychic arranged to give room 105 a reading. Ken Veitch, already regarded as somewhat of an honorary town historian, was among those present. Arrangements had been made to capture the whole thing on camera, so video recording equipment was brought in to the room, and two banks of lights were set up. Each of these lights were plugged in to separate outlets, but as the clairvoyant gave word and began the proceedings, both lights went out simultaneously. There was no physical explanation for this. The lights, the outlet, the wiring were all checked over, and no malfunctions were found.
Generally, the Inn at the Falls is a place of peace, and a good place to go for a serene get away any time of the year. The view, and the hospitality, would prove hard to surpass. And, if the legends are right, some of its former inhabitants have chosen to remain there in eternity.
We received the following from a reader in September 2013:
"My wife and I went for a romantic weekend up in Bracebridge one fall. We decided to stop in at the Inn at the Falls for dinner as we had a cottage up there I've heard the stories and always wanted to go. We agreed not to collaborate stories or occurrences we experience or do any research on activity within the building until after our visit, this proves what we felt was real. We both reported a foreboding feeling as we entered the Inn. There was a painting of a little girl just in the foyer which also had strong energy around it. We proceeded down the stairs and again we felt a change in temperature to colder and a strong energy change on the 3rd step down. As we entered the stone corridor, it too was strong in energy. Before we were seated I decided to visit the washroom. There was a very creepy sense in there as if I was being watched and the spirit was not impressed of my presence. I returned to the entrance of the stone corridor in which we were looking at the menu. With both of our backs to each other we were standing at the entrance of the corridor just inside the restaurant area and there was two tables between us and the opening. I felt a brush on my back as if someone was trying to pass me with limited space, the movement was across my left shoulder to my right. My wife's left elbow was bumped and we both look up towards the stone corridor and there was no one there. The corridor did not have any door leading off so it was easy to sight a person who was there within seconds.
The next day we did some research on the Inn and it is possible that the spirit that was in the pub area that passed between my wife and I was Jackie Niven a housekeeper who died at the Inn or Sarah, one of the resident spirits of the Inn for decades. The feeling of uneasiness that I felt in the bathroom areas could be that of Judge Mahaffy. The limestone corridor in the basement that connects the pub to the Inn is one of a few places that is heavily haunted by several of the spirits in the Inn. Sarah also walks the stairs up to the Inn from the corridor as well as the upstairs area of the Inn. There is no connection to the painting of the little girl to any of the spirits of the Inn except this may resemble the unborn child of a woman who fell down the stairs and died while at full term. Unfortunately her child also died in the accident. The woman weeps the loss of her unborn child throughout the night and is sometime seen on the stairs where the fatal accident occurred. The painting was also in room 105 which is one of the most haunted rooms in the Inn.
It was a wonderful Inn and very rich in history and architecture. It's humble and warm welcoming is attributed to it's staff and atmosphere. The spirits just add a flare of intrigue and personality that seekers will enjoy and want to experience."