Episode 14: Haunted Places – Southern Ontario (Part 1)

Welcome back to the dark side! In this episode, Brianna takes us to some of the most haunted and ghoulish places lurking in her own backyard of Ontario. Join us while we journey to Gibraltor Point Lighthouse in Toronto, Screaming Tunnel and Blue Ghost Tunnel in Niagara, and Dundas Valley.

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Haunted Southern Ontario

Welcome to episode 14!

This week we’re changing it up again! This month we’ve talked true crime, disappearances, and today we’re getting spooky with it… we’re talking haunted shit. This will be the first part of an inevitable sporadic and continuous series of haunted places, and this week we’re focusing on southern Ontario. Our home turf.


Ontario is arguably the most haunted place in Canada – specifically Southern Ontario.

Gibraltar Point Lighthouse

Speaking of the war, let’s head to Toronto Island – to the oldest lighthouse left on the Great Lakes and the second oldest in all of Canada.

Gibraltar Point Lighthouse was built out of limestone bricks in 1808 and was used to guide ships to Toronto’s harbour.

This means the lighthouse was there during the Battle of York in 1813 when American ships invaded the town of York because the British had retaliated in the War of 1812 and burned the White House down. During the war, the first lighthouse keeper was a 52-year-old German immigrant named John Paul Radelmüller. He kept watch at Gibraltar Point for enemy ships and friendly vessels returning to a safe harbour. Sadly, he didn’t live to see the end of the war (February 18, 1815) because on January 2, 1815, he disappeared under mysterious circumstances and his disappearance formed the basis of Toronto’s most enduring ghost story –the lighthouse is haunted by its first keeper, John Paul Radelmüller.

The story goes that he was murdered by two soldiers who had been enjoying his home-brewed beer. Allegedly, Radelmüller was killed after the soldiers bought the beer, but grew angry when it froze on the cold winter night and assumed that the alcohol content was so low that the lighthouse keeper was trying to rip them off. One version of the story says the soldiers had dismembered the body and buried the body parts around the lighthouse. But it’s commonly believed the body was not dismembered, it was buried in a makeshift coffin.

George Durnan, the lighthouse keeper from 1854-1908, had apparently gone looking for the body with his Uncle, and 500 feet west of the lighthouse they actually discovered bone fragments, including a jawbone, and fragments of a coffin. They believed the bones and coffin belonged to Radelmüller.

Recent research has verified aspects of the legend and has even identified the soldiers charged with but ultimately acquitted of the murder. According to this most recent study of the murder, Eamonn O’Keeffe identified the two soldiers involved with Radelmüller’s murder as John Henry and John Blueman, both Irishmen of the Glengarry Light Infantry, a regiment that saw heavy action in the War of 1812.

The 10 keepers of the lighthouse, including George Durnan and his father, James, who kept watch before him, saw many changes from Gibraltar Point. The city grew, new immigrants arrived in ships, the peninsula became the Islands when a storm fully separated the sand bar in 1858, families moved from the mainland, and, in more recent years, the Islands became a park and popular summer destination.

The light in the Gibraltar Point lighthouse was turned off for the last time by lighthouse keeper Dedie Dodds in 1957 and it was decommissioned in 1958.

Today, the lighthouse is occasionally open for public tours. It’s no longer in use but it still has a keeper. Manuel Cappel has been the honorary keeper since 1999 when he volunteered to keep the lighthouse tidy.

Screaming Tunnel

Let’s head across Lake Ontario to Niagara.

Beneath the old Grand Trunk railroad tracks in the Niagara Region lies an arched stone tunnel. Legend says this short and spooky tunnel still echoes with the dying screams of a girl who burned alive over 100 years ago.

The tunnel was built in the 1800s and has since become known as the Screaming Tunnel. It was originally built as a drainage passage to keep the train tracks from being flooded but it also allowed local villagers a path to avoid the oncoming trains. The tunnel is made from limestone bricks, a very porous stone, so the tunnel took on an eerie vibe early on because of the moss and algae that immediately took hold of its walls. There was once a small village behind the tunnel, and to this day, remnants of foundations from old houses and farms still exist among the trees.

According to legend, this little village was home to an abusive, alcoholic man with a wife and young daughter. His wife was fed up with his violent temper and abuse and told him she was leaving with the girl. He flew into a rage and knocked her unconscious. Scared, their daughter fled the home, ran through the woods, and hid in the tunnel. She wasn’t there long when she heard her father approaching, but in the darkness, she couldn’t see much, she could only hear him breathing. She felt liquid being poured over her. Then she saw the small flame from a match as it fell to the ground beside her. Her father had lit her on fire. She was burned alive.

Another version tells of a local farm catching fire in the middle of the night and a young girl ran screaming from the house, her hair and clothes on fire. She collapsed in the middle of the tunnel and burnt to death before she could find help.

Lastly, people say there was a young girl who was attacked and raped in the tunnel and her body was set on fire to destroy any evidence.

Fun Fact: Director David Cronenberg created a film adaptation of Stephen King’s novel Dead Zone. There’s a scene where Christopher Walken examines a dead body in a tunnel – that tunnel is the Screaming Tunnel. The movie was shot in the Niagara Region and the GTA, including Canada’s Wonderland.

Blue Ghost Tunnel

Let’s move from the Screaming Tunnel, roughly 10 minutes away to St. Catherine’s, where another tunnel sits. Except this one has been abandoned for over a century.

The Merritton Tunnel was also built using limestone. It was completed in 1875 to provide a way for trains traveling along the Grand Truck Railway to traverse the Welland Canal. The Canal was created as a way for ships to travel between Lake Erie and Lake Ontario without having to deal with Horseshoe and Niagara Falls. The tunnel was only in use until 1915 because a new double-tracked swing bridge was constructed nearby, so the Merritton Tunnel was abandoned and has sat on private property for years – deteriorating and with one end sinking into the silt-filled wetland.

This entire area seems to be shrouded in dread and some believe it’s cursed because of the countless tragedies that have occurred.

On Saturday, January 3, 1903, Engine Number 975 left Niagara Falls at 6:00 am for a trip to Hamilton. A second train, Engine Number 4, was an express train set for Merritton. A bit after 7 am, the two trains collided at full steam. Luckily, the Engineers escaped alive with a couple of broken limbs and minor cuts to their faces and arms, but not everyone was this lucky.

When the trains collided, Abraham Desult, a fireman aboard Engine 975, smashed into the boiler receiving burns to 90% of his body. They rushed him to the St. Catharine’s General Hospital where he died 5 hours later.

Charles Horning, the fireman from Engine 4, was killed instantly in the collision. According to the reporter on scene, Charles was “jammed in the boiler and mangled”, and when rescuers tried to pull his body free from the wreckage, his limbs broke off. They took the limbs away, but his mid-section was wedged in the wreck and couldn’t be freed. His wristwatch, still attached to one of his arms, ominously ticked away.

On June 20, 1912, the Canadian survey steamer La Canadienne veered out of control while traveling through the canal. It rammed into the gates of a canal lock close to the Merritton Tunnel causing a surge of water that resulted in the deaths of 3 boys who had been fishing along the canal.

Near another canal lock, there once stood St. Peter’s Anglican Church. As the church fell into disuse, so did its cemetery. A new cemetery called Lakeview was opened nearby and though St. Peter’s Cemetery remained, it didn’t accept any more burials. When construction began on the fourth version of the Welland Canal, it was determined that the land on which St. Peter’s Church and Cemetery stood would need to be flooded in order to allow the canal to operate properly. In 1923, a message went out stating anyone who had relatives interred in the old cemetery and wanted to move their remains to Lakeview Cemetery would have to do so ASAP. Any remains that went unclaimed would remain where they were. Apparently, only 250 of the 913 graves were moved, leaving 663 graves lost in the flooding. To this day, the cemetery still lies submerged, just off the coast of the Welland Canal Service Road.

On August 6, 1928, 8 men were killed in a construction disaster at another canal lock. 2 others injured in the disaster later died from the injuries they sustained.

During the construction of a bridge, a 14-year-old was crushed to death by a boulder.

During the time it took to construct the canal, over 100 people died.

Because of all of these and other stories, this area around the Welland Canal is a paranormal hotspot, and it’s believed the Merritton Tunnel houses many spirits within its depths.

This tunnel is difficult to see from the abandoned road, but there are trails leading to it if you can find them. If you’re lucky enough to find the trails, be careful security hired by the Welland Canal doesn’t spot you trespassing on the private land. If you find the tunnel and make it inside, the base is slippery with mud and there’s a constant dripping from the water above. Even in the dead of summer, the deserted tunnel is cold enough to see your breath. People report hearing screams and voices that don’t belong to anyone, the sound of heavy footsteps when no one else is around, and soft music playing without a source. People have felt cold breezes, oppressive energy, and someone pushing, touching, and shoving them. Brand new batteries, flashlights, and electronic equipment will stop working. Some people have even seen a creepy ghost dog prowling around, mysterious balls of light, and blue mist – which is where the more commonly used name comes from – Blue Ghost Tunnel, because there’s a blue haze that’s seen hovering at the entrance and within its depths.

A paranormal investigator named Russ inspired the now-famous name Blue Ghost Tunnel.

Apparently, he was given directions to the Screaming Tunnel but got lost and stumbled upon a pathway past an abandoned canal lock which led him down a hill, to a gravel-lined path, and to the eerie tunnel entrance. Upon discovering it, he returned many times to investigate and take photos. During one visit he snapped a photo of an ominous mist floating at the entrance of the tunnel. It was shaped like a person and was a light shade of blue.

Remember, if you’re brave enough to venture to the Blue Ghost Tunnel and even luckier to find it, beware. One wrong turn could send you plunging 100 feet into the depths of the Welland Canal.

Photo: “Blue Ghost Tunnel 1886” – Note the sailing ship above the tunnel. The caption reads “G. T. R. Tunnel under Canal. Lock 18.”   The photo is from a manuscript plan entitled “1886 Dominion of Canada Department of Railways and Canals” – Photo from Archives Canada

The Hermitage

Let’s head over to Dundas Valley, at the bottom of the Niagara Escarpment. Today, Dundas Valley is a conservation area with a 40 km trail system where people go hiking, movies are filmed, and haunted walks and ghost tours are conducted.

But back in the day, the area was home to a popular hotel, a train station, and a magnificent stone mansion called the Hermitage. A sulphurous spring was found in the area in the mid-1800s, which was a huge deal back then because sulphur was believed to possess curative powers. So the Sulphur Springs Hotel opened in the late 1880s and featured a mineral spa, and it quickly became a very popular summertime destination. Sadly, just as quickly as it opened and gained popularity, it closed in 1910 after it was ravaged by fire. TWICE.

The majority of the hauntings and ghostly things happen where the Hermitage stood.

Legend goes: Greek immigrants Otto Ives, his wife Magdalene, and her niece moved to the modest home in 1833. Otto hired a coachman named William Black who also briefly worked as an English tutor since the women only spoke Greek. Being around the house so much and spending so much time with the ladies, William fell in love with the niece, and they began a love affair. William finally asked Otto for permission to marry the niece, but Otto grew really angry with the request and immediately rejected the proposal. The next morning, Otto and his wife had plans to go out, so they went outside where William was to be waiting for them with the carriage, but he wasn’t there. Otto went to the barn to see why their coachman wasn’t out front with the carriage, and that’s when he found William hanging from the rafters in the barn. He had hung himself. Suicide was a huge no-no, and it was illegal for anyone who died by suicide to be buried in a catholic cemetery. So, Otto cut William’s body down and buried him in an unmarked grave at a nearby crossroads, which is now a Lover’s Lane.

On a moonlit night, you might see William Black walking between the carriage house and the Hermitage ruins, calling out and grieving for his lost love. People parked at Lover’s Lane have sometimes seen William arm-in-arm with his lost love, walking into the woods and vanishing.

The Hermitage doesn’t stand as it used it. The interior was destroyed in a fire in 1934, leaving only the walls standing, but slowly deteriorating. Recently, the old ruins were dismantled, and a new reconstruction was made by the city. Some of the original ruins remain in parts of the reconstruction and are scattered throughout the area. Wandering through Dundas Valley to get to the Hermitage, you’ll hear disembodied voices if you listen closely. Near the ruins, people have seen glowing corpses that slowly sink into the ground and disappear. Where the second story of the Hermitage used to exist, people have seen a woman pacing the invisible floor. Some people have even seen the mansion appear to them as it looked 100 years ago – fully intact and glowing with candlelight.

The Winking Judge

Hundreds of reports of spooky sightings have been made from both employees and patrons of the pub. The most popular sighting usually happens on the second floor, where people see an elderly man in a dark suit wearing an old Lincoln-styled top hat whose been called “Gord” or “the judge”. People have seen him walking the hallway, appearing near windows, and hovering outside the frosted glass of the men’s washroom. People hanging out on the second floor will sometimes hear the stairs leading up to the forbidden attic creak with footsteps. Yet, no one is there.

A man whose grandparents used to live in the house said when everyone was downstairs, they’d hear mysterious footsteps and creaking floorboards coming from the second floor. His grandfather used to say, “Never go in the attic because the man will get you.”

Multiple patrons have said they’ll be in the pub and feel the distinct sensation of a cat rubbing up against their legs. And when they reach down to pet the cat, nothing is there.

People see wisps of smoke, and the Southern Ontario Paranormal Society investigated the pub and when they were recording in the basement, they captured the voice of a ghostly child saying, ‘I can hear you.’”

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