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27 September 2021

Haunted Walks And Eerie Tales

Chalmers United Church is located on a triangular piece of land that is intersected by three old streets in Kingston: Clergy, Barrie and Earl. By day, this church is a good example of Romanesque architectural style. Built in 1890, the church has a large tower and soft rounded windows — an impressive building in a pretty city.

But visit here in the evening, when the streets are quiet and the buildings are shrouded in darkness, and the church gives off a decidedly more spooky vibe. Maybe it is the looming tower or the pale exterior that seems to reflect the moonlight. Or maybe it’s the terrifying ghost that lurks in the organ section, haunting and taunting generations of unsuspecting organists.

Chalmers is one of the stops on the Original Haunted Walk in Kingston, an evening adventure that takes visitors on foot through the city’s historic Sydenham Ward. Known as the Limestone City, Kingston has its fair share of ghostly tales — could the theory that limestone attracts the paranormal be true? — from the grave-robbing past of Skeleton Park to the ill-fated love story at the heart of the Old Prince George Hotel. The guide, cloaked in black and holding an old-fashioned lantern, weaves together tales of hauntings, ghosts and terrors in one of Canada’s oldest cities.

Glen Shackleton started Haunted Walks back in 1995 when he was a history student at Queen’s University. Over the years, as his business grew to also include walking tours in Ottawa and Toronto, Glen has heard and researched plenty of ghost stories, but Chalmers still remains one of his favourites.

Glen Shackleton has been telling ghost stories for more than a quarter-century as owner of Haunted Walks.

“Sometimes the most dramatic stories are the easiest ones to disbelieve and therefore are not scary,” Glen says. “My favourites are not the stories that are going to startle you, but the ones that you are going to be thinking about a week later as you’re lying in bed.”

The Chalmers story certainly fits the bill. During his early research into hauntings in Kingston, Glen heard about a story of an organist that had experienced feelings of being watched while playing. He got a list of former organ players and started cold calling them with one simple question: has anything odd ever happened to you while playing at the organ at Chalmers Church?

“The thing that really put the hairs up at the back of my neck is that call after call after call, they would describe to me in great detail, almost the exact same story,” he said. From the phone calls and discussions with one organist who attended the church when she was a young girl, Glen wove together a tale of a disgruntled former organist who disliked women playing at his instrument. While male organists did not seem to have any problems, female organists described feeling like someone was standing behind them, watching them and meaning them harm. Some have even fled the building in fear.

Tales of Terror

At its heart, Haunted Walks is about storytelling. Glen is neither a ghost fanatic nor is he a disbeliever. He approaches his work as a historian, unearthing interesting stories and weaving together mysterious tales that are equal parts creepy and interesting. He researches his stories in the archives but also by speaking to security and cleaning staff — the people who are frequently inside these buildings when they’re otherwise empty. These are often the people with the best tales to tell. Some sites are just a magnet of paranormal activity — like Fort Henry in Kingston or Black Creek Pioneer Village in Toronto — and others have a cool history or story that begs to be told. And who doesn’t love hearing a spooky ghost story, especially around Halloween?

Glen takes pride in creating itineraries that are interesting and lighthearted, with just the right amount of creepiness. He finds it most alluring when he can discover a link between the reported ghostly activity and the history of a building.

A perfect example of this is from the old city hall in Ottawa. It had at one time been a teacher’s college (the Normal School) and was associated with a few different ghost stories. One particular story stood out to Glen: an apparition seen wandering the halls, back and forth, and peering into rooms that had once held classrooms. From photographs, multiple people identified the spectre as Eliza Bolton, a former school teacher. When Glen began to research her name in the archives, he came across a yearbook from the 1920s in which Ms. Bolton had decried the practice of having one teacher supervising multiple classrooms on either side of the hallway because it meant teachers spent their days wandering back and forth between the classes. And here she was for all eternity, wandering the halls in that same routine she disliked so much.

The story had already been included in the Haunted Walk in Ottawa for a number of years when a security guard from that building approached Glen. The guard had been doing security checks one night and found himself alone in the attic when suddenly, Ms. Bolton drifted over to him and said in a stern voice, “Get back to class!” He quit the next day.

“What I love is when the jigsaw puzzle between the history of the places and the ghost stories of the places fit together in unexpected ways,” Glen says. “That’s the most satisfying thing to me.”

Get Into Halloween Spirit

The Haunted Walks in Kingston, Ottawa and Toronto are busy year round, but are especially sought out by locals and visitors alike during the weeks that lead into Halloween. What better way to get into the Halloween spirit than with tales of gruesome accidents while walking the cobblestoned streets of Toronto’s Distillery District? Or with ghostly tales told on moonlit nights in atmospheric Fort Henry? And if you’re after even more fright, the company has started hosting ghost hunting evenings where participants work with a paranormal investigation team to seek out ghosts at historical locations known for their supernatural activity. And they do it all in the dark, of course. Would you dare?