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Niagara Day Trip

by Matthew Didier

What a wonderful day.

On June 16th, twenty-four brave souls trotted out with Jennifer Krutila and myself to do a road trip down to Niagara-on-the-Lake. It seemed simple enough for us, start from Toronto's Lakeshore Psychiatric Hospital and then roll into Burlington's Ireland House, then off to Ancaster to see the ruins known as The Hermitage and our last "official" stop was at Historic Fort George in beautiful Niagara-on-the-Lake for a private and extended ghost tour of the fort thanks to Kyle Upton.

It seems simple, right?

Believe it or not, this had been in the works for over a year and a half and even then, final plans didn't get solidified until three weeks before our departure. (Even then, we were working out details the night before we left!)

I was personally very pleased with the turnout as, although it was clear that this was going to be a "rain or shine" day, it was indeed raining in the early morning and sometimes, that kind of thing has put a "damper" on people's willingness to travel but people braved the rain to enjoy what turned into a nice, warm, sunny day by the time we arrived in Burlington.

Ireland House is one of our favourite haunts. It's not a terribly well known museum outside Burlington but is easily one of the most fantastic. The house was constructed and remained the property of the Ireland family from the early 1800's right up until the last member of the family passed away in 1985 and left the house and the land to the City of Burlington to be run as a museum.

The home is set up to represent three periods in history... The early 1800's, the Victorian Era and the 1930's. Each room is set up and appropriately furnished to one of those eras.

The Ireland House came to our attention about a year and a half ago when doing some research on the Joseph Brant Museum (which is also in Burlington and much better known "haunt",) many of the staff at Brant told us we should look into Ireland House as, in their eyes, it was far more active and also far more original in history than the now re-built and moved from it's original location Joseph Brant Museum. In fact, the staff were far and away more convinced that Ireland House, of the two, had something "going on".

With that endorsement ringing in our ears, we ventured to the little known museum and were quite taken with it's decoration, artifacts and the fact that not only did it have a strange "air" about it but our guide, while we were on the tour, had difficulty keeping the main entrance door closed as it kept unlatching and opening by itself.

On this first occasion, all five intrepid investigators agreed that there was something about the house and tried very hard to convince the people from Burlington Museums to allow us to come back for an after hours "look about". Sadly, it's never come to pass but even on this past visit, we asked again and are going to try to accomplish a more thorough investigation.

On our June 16th, 2001 visit, we asked our group to go in with an open mind and NOT ask the guides too many "ghost related" questions. This being said, one of our guides was a charming lady who we had dealt with before about both the Joseph Brant and Ireland House Museums and she took through the first group of nine people. Our group, making up the remainder, had the benefit of going through with the woman who took us on our first tour with the "mystical" door.

After a quiet tour, both groups met outside the house on the beautiful grounds to discuss our feelings. Now, through our discussions with staff and former staff, a few of us knew which of the areas/rooms of the home were most active but didn't want to "stir" people in one direction. (The power of suggestion has ruined more than a few good investigations.) Sadly, we found out that the most active room had been announced thusly by the first guide... "This is THE room" but that was the entire statement before going through the standard tour speech. "The Room" is a bedroom done in the period of the 1930's right at the top of the stairs to the second floor. Without alerting the ghost enthusiasts, we knew that staff had reported "creepy feelings" and objects being moved overnight by unseen hands. Toys and hairbrushes left on a dresser could end up on the floor or the bed where the rest of the home was undisturbed. When I asked the group of (at this point,) 25 people which room/area was the most "active" in their eyes, twelve chose this room of which more than half were in the second group that was not told the "This is THE Room" line.

Seven people out of the twenty-five said they felt nothing throughout the house, three chose the 1930's kitchen and apparently we had four "abstentions".

Of note, ALL BUT THREE participants (and no, not the "abstentions" but these three were in the "I experienced nothing and got no feelings" group,) when asked if interested to go back in for a THOROUGH look around late at night said yes without hesitation.

Next up was The Hermitage.

The weather was now VERY hot and my directions to those intrepid drivers was poor but somehow, all who wanted to attend and see this very pretty spot were able to make it. (We did lose two people to other commitments.)

There isn't much to say about the Hermitage as we had planned for Daniel and Stephanie from Haunted Hamilton to accompany us to this site and tell us the stories of the ghosts in the ruins. Sadly, as we found out after getting home from the road trip, Stephanie canceled due to an illness and we were left to fend for ourselves. Luckily, I did remember some of the key points of the hauntings and a smattering of the history. People wandered through the ruins and snapped a TON of pictures from this very picturesque spot as I rattled off the tales of Col. Otto Ives' niece and her forsaken love for a stable hand who did himself in at the gatehouse.

Nobody rushed me with stories from this site BUT Patrick Cross, a ghost enthusiast, said he distinctly heard voices at the Gatehouse and stayed back to take recordings. I haven't heard if these recordings yielded anything but I'm sure Patrick will have them on his website if they do.

Then, four hours separated The Hermitage and Kyle's tour at Fort George. A couple of people went to meet with relatives and the rest of us headed to "Crabby Joe's" in St. Catharines for lunch. After a meal, the bulk of us went to Niagara-on-the-Lake with lofty goals of shopping and then a visit to Lundy's Lane before heading into Fort George while Jennifer Krutila and her daughter left for ice cream in Port Dalhousie.

Those of us in NOTL were able to get fudge and jam (our two favourite things to grab while there,) and due to the lateness of the hour, most folks did a brief walking tour of this wonderful and VERY haunted village. Sadly, most of the "ghost friendly" places are not shining up and discussing their more unearthly friends anymore. Even the venerated "Angel Inn" has removed it's plaques, signs and re-printed it's menus sans Captain Swayze's story and, needless to say, no longer offer the certificates it once did to people who "spent the night" in the old Inn. Although the print and legend will not forget the ghosts of Niagara, it seems some folks out there are trying hard to erase what I think is a GREAT and interesting heritage of ghosts and hauntings.
Update Note: The Angel Inn has put back it's plaques and seems to be "ghost friendly" again! The power of people, no doubt, saying "Give us our ghost story!" changes the business! (I assume.)

At 6:30pm, we all met in the parking lot at Fort George, (a walk away from Niagara-on-the-Lake's main strip,) and the idea WAS to eat a small potluck meal and head into the fort but "Crabby Joe's" had done such a wonderful job of filling us, it was pretty much a "relax and lay on the grass" kind of moment.

At the appointed hour, Kyle and Mark (another ghost-tour guide,) walked up to us and welcomed us and three extra visitors to the fort for this GHRS private and extended ghost tour.

For over three hours, Kyle shared his tales as we wandered, took photographs, had recording devices going and generally "enjoyed" the atmosphere of this impressive reconstruction. Although the plan was for Kyle to tell us the story and then give us time for photos and our own look around, the enthusiasm and energy of the night was such that several people wandered about regardless. It's sad for those folks, though, as they missed Kyle's impressive abilities to tell a REALLY good story!

By the time of getting to the tunnel, however, most people were enjoying what Kyle had to say and were enraptured with his tales of the fort. Aside from one person's inability to understand that a powerful flashlight need only be flashed onto the chest of a person you wished to address as opposed to the face (and therefore the eyes,) everything went VERY well! (Don't get me wrong, this person was not being malicious, just new to late-night investigations!)

Now, from what I have gathered, most people enjoyed Kyle's stories and the tour and almost all said they planned to come back for the normal 90 minute affair BUT overall Ireland House had affected the majority more than any other place. This, however, is not the case in your humble correspondent's views of what happened to himself.

While inside the officers quarters and standing beside Mark, the other guide, near the Junior Officer's bedrooms listening to Kyle discuss the haunted mirror, (for those who were there, there's a GREAT story about the pianoforte that Kyle tells in his book,) I noted Mark was anxiously looking behind himself into the pitch dark of the sleeping quarters. After turning his head to look in several times, I offered him "The Intruder", my enormous Mag Lite, to look in and see whatever it was, he whispered in my ear, "I'm a little deaf but do you hear something moving in there?"

I admitted I had not but after switching places (to get a better "ear" view?) I listened waiting to hear the movements. A few minutes passed and I did indeed hear the sound of clothe or fabric being moved about. I admitted that I finally had heard it but it was obviously the wind blowing the sheets and curtains around.

It's about that time, Mark brought me up to speed and reminded me of something... The Officer's quarters are the home of many of the fort's more valuable antique items and is therefore sealed from the elements. The windows do not open.

Breaking with my own rule of trying to NOT take pictures during Kyle's speeches, I poked my head inside the doorway and quickly took about four pictures. More on this later...

We finished the three hour tour (hmmm... shades of Gilligan's Islands?) and were comparing feelings and stories while some did a "bathroom run". We had decided after that workout, the pot-luck lunch would be PERFECT for a midnight snack and a few made there way back to the parking lot.

It was then, I remembered my first experience at Fort George and wanted to take a picture of the area for the website. Okay, I know this has been LONG winded but I'm going to have to take you back AGAIN almost three years to Kyle, Sonja, my friend Mike and his wife Val, myself and a band of YTV people doing a shot on the ghosts of the fort. YTV had brought us in for affect more than anything which was fine with us, (no interview, no cameras on us and the fort, more or less, to ourselves!)

Please remember, I was just starting out the GHRS then!

Kyle was YTV's main interest and therefore his wife, Sonja, was stuck babysitting us and while we waited for "who knows what", we got a VERY extended tour by Sonja for ourselves which included a lot of relaxing in the staff quarters.

Sadly for me, at about 2:30am, I ran out of film and realized that my spare rolls were in my friends car. (It was this incident more than any other that prompted the first purchase of the original "Black Bag of Death" in which I carry loads of extra film, tapes and batteries.) Even though I was not scared and sensed no "ghostly" elements, I realized that without the aid of a flashlight, I needed to stroll about 200 yards in pitch dark out of the fort and another 60 yards to the car to retrieve the precious film.

HOPING I wouldn't have to play brave, I told Mike, "Dude, I'm out of film and need to go to your car." hoping he would pick up on this subtle cry for company. NOPE! He flipped me the keys and I was on my own.

Realistically, I had TWO options. One was be brave and sally forth with confidence in my own abilities to brave the unknown and the second was to admit that I was scared senseless and meekly ask for assistance. Guess which I did?

While walking to the gate alone, passing the first blockhouse and losing what little ambient light I had from the crew filming at the far end of the fort, I felt an overwhelming sense of panic and increased my pace. By the time I arrived at the gate, I was in a full sprint.

No, nothing got me and on my way to the car, I quietly chastised myself for silly fear!

I got to the car, loaded my film and then with a sense of "oh crap", I realized I now had to make the return journey.

While walking towards the main gates of the fort, another, different feeling got to me. The only way to describe it is the same feeling a kid gets on his way to the principal's office for being naughty. Just pure dread. About sixty feet out from the gate, again, I came to my senses!

"Matthew, you MORON! Your walking up a dark path towards a FORT! It's not SUPPOSED to feel like walking into a country inn, it's been DESIGNED to scare and intimidate! Look at those tall pointed stakes that make up the wall! There are also TWO cannons (hmmm... I think they're the big 32 pounders to boot!) facing you on either side in the bastions! You big goof! You're feeling dread because you're SUPPOSED to feel dread!"

I felt much better. It all made sense and I strolled forward, laughing at my own stupidity!

By this point, YTV was done with Kyle and the four folks that didn't get a paycheque from YTV were gathered by the fence near the officers quarters. I laughingly told Kyle about my trip OUT to the car. He interrupted me...

"The only time we've known of someone getting knocked down by a ghost is where you started running."

Hmm... I figured that was more coincidental than anything so I laughingly told him about my trip back with the long pointed logs and two cannons.

"Are you sure it was THAT bastion?" Kyle asked.

"Yup!" I cheerfully replied.

It was then he told me that there was no cannon there and to boot, Sonja had seen her first "ghost(s)" at the same site. A gun crew with cannon.

That phased me. I had only seen the cannon but I'd seen it well enough to "calibrate" it if you will. I'd noted it's size. 32 pound shot.

Now, jumping BACK to June, 2001!

Folks are going back to their cars and food is being served, I am waiting for Jennifer and Elizabeth (my sister and my niece,) who are waiting for the return of a couple of flashlights used for people using the "facilities" and I decide to take a picture of the bastion "with no gun" from the path.

Alone and as of now, VERY unafraid of the dark and the fort's elements, I stand getting ready for my camera's flash to engage. Suddenly, I see someone who was a little under six-foot with curly hair (only in shadows,) coming towards me. At first, I think it's one of my group and lower my arms to greet them and tell them what I'm up to but no one is there. I write it off as odd and bring the viewfinder back up to my eyes. The figure re-emerges heading towards me at a quick pace on my right. Again, I'm perplexed and my flash is finally giving me the green light but as the figure rapidly gets to about (I'd reckon,) five feet away from me (and probably no less than a two second delay in colliding with me,) I take a step back, watching my "auto-focus" lights going mad obviously trying to compensate for this person's "shadow" approaching me, and CLICK-FLASH! get my picture as I stumble two steps back to allow them to pass at their fast walking pace except... no one was there.
Infrared Image of Fort George looking at the Guardhouse
Thanks to Peter Coffman

Now, get ready to HATE me... I haven't developed the film YET but should have it done by next week (the week of June 30th). It could have been a bat or something but I got the DISTINCT impression of a person not "running" towards me but walking VERY quickly and with purpose towards me and yes, it unsettled me a LOT!

I ran back, told Jennifer who seemed less than impressed but hey, if my film CAPTURES something! Well...

Jennifer wasn't overcome, with my encounter because a bit of a humorous play was in the process of being acted out. Not to tell tales TOO far out of school but Mark, the intrepid ghost-tour guide and daytime interpreters was waffling. He did NOT want to go to turn out the one remaining light inside the fort by himself. Sadly, when he asked for company initially, too many people wanted to go back with him so he decided against it. Apparently, an odd "glow" (described as looking as if a fire was burning in the officer's quarters fireplace,) was seen by Mark, Jennifer and Elizabeth. Mark has reasons for not liking to visit the officer's quarters alone in the dark and I'll cover those in a second.

Finally, he was FORCED to enter by himself borrowing two "ticklers" (Mini-Mag Lites) for his sojourn.

After a time, I realized he was REALLY late in coming back, I poked my head around the enormous gate of the fort and there was Mark... standing at the end of the path looking at the officer's quarters.

"Mark! You okay there, big-guy?" I yelled.

"Oh yeah, I'm fine. Wanna come with me?"

He didn't get into why he had a fear of the quarters 'til later but I went in, turned off the lights and bid an adieu and a thank you to the ghosts in the quarters as Mark and I ventured back to the parking lot to partake in some (as of now,) much needed food.

It was too bad that most people either left or didn't pay attention to Kyle and Mark in the parking lot. As I've often said, the BEST stuff always comes out AFTER hours and during the "burn down". A few people heard Mark's stories and those of us that did, laughed VERY hard. Mark, it turns out, is a former non-believer but Fort George was his epiphany.

The stories he told are recounted in Kyle's book, Niagara's Ghosts at Fort George but to hear it from the source... Oh, this was PRICELESS! I don't want to tell all of Kyle's tales but this one had me in stitches so I hope he doesn't mind me paraphrasing it here...

Fort George had recently acquired some new artifacts and antiques and Mark and a co-worker had spent the early evening arranging the new furniture and stuff in the officer's quarters. They retired to the staff blockhouse, (off limits to the general public,) and although Mark, like myself, is a bit temperate, his coworker did have a "couple" for the night.
Infrared Image of Fort George looking at
Blockhouse One and the Officer's Quarters (in the background)
Thanks to Peter Coffman

During the evening, they noticed a strange "green glow" in the officer's quarters and went in to investigate. They found all their furniture arranging and the new artifacts had been "mysteriously" moved. Both men surmised it had been a trick played on the by fellow workers and simply laughed, re-arranged everything back and retired to the outside of the building.

It wasn't long before the green glow returned and assuming they would catch the would-be joker in the act, they burst into the officer's quarters to watch the items moving, apparently, all by themselves.

Mark made a point of re-iterating that this was FURNITURE and was not something easily moved by wind.

So, with this sight to greet them what did they do??? What else! Ran out of the fort to the police station and told the cops.

On hearing this story, I burst into laughter. My comment was "Oh yeah, THEY can help!" His response was that the local constabulary was wondering what they'd been smoking. Since only one of the two was drinking, the cop at the desk begrudgingly decided to check it out and back to the fort they went.

Worried about the new artifacts, the two brave guardsmen handed the cop a list of the new items at the gate and bravely stayed put outside the fort as the police officer wandered in with keys and the papers.

Mark said...
Infrared Image of Fort George
looking past Blockhouse Two and Three
Thanks to Peter Coffman

"In the time it takes a normal person to walk from the gate to the building only," the cop frantically returned, thrust the paper and the keys into Mark's hands and said...

"I don't know what's doing that or why but when it's done, my advice is to LEAVE it the way it like's it! ...and if anyone asks, I was never here."

The policeman left in a hurry and never returned.

I told Mark after he shared a few more GREAT stories to those few of us intrepid ghost enthusiasts who had now become determined to stay past "The Witching Hour" that when I came back, it may be specifically to take the tour as given by Mark. I like Kyle and his tours are my faves but it was obvious to me that Mark's tour is also more than worth the price of admission.

Most of us headed back, tired, full of GREAT food and experiencing that odd combination of being exhausted and exhilarated by our experience.

I know I've left out QUITE a lot and other's on the trip have their own take on it BUT this is MORE than long enough for just me, I think.

I do wish to invite those of you who also took this trip to write a report like this one (or shorter,) and send it to me to post up on this page. Send your report to \n This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it and I promise no editing (except bad language and possible personal jokes,) even if it's not as glowing a report as my own is.

To answer ONE last question... Will we be doing this again? Yup but probably next year. It was a GREAT trip and I do believe everyone had fun and more importantly, everyone is jumping to go back and do Niagara's ghosts! If we do do it again, it will be an all day affair but we will see a few other sites as well as the ones mentioned so it'll never get boring!