I am all a-shiver. It’s late October — the time of year when spirits lurk in lonely alleyways, mouldering graveyards and ruined mansions.
Along with other seekers after the macabre, I listen to a man wearing a flowing cloak, his eyes shadowed under the brim of a top hat.
His name, appropriately, is Jonathan Black, and he will lead us by the light of his lantern through the foggy gloom of this very dark and stormy night in Old Quebec City to revisit scenes of bizarre murders, executions and torture.
Umbrellas aloft against a chilly drizzle, we stand in historic Place Royal, which Mr. Black tells us had been the scene of grisly occurrences as far back as the 1700s.
“Murderers and thieves swung by the neck here,” he intones, “and this is where a ruthless hangman even went so far as to execute his own wife.”
A flash of lightning followed by a crackle of thunder adds a fine touch of melodrama to his story.We huddle a little closer together when we re-group alongside the mist-shrouded St. Lawrence River.
According to our guide we are now looking at a scene of terrible tragedy — the sinking of The Empress of Ireland, which went down on a foggy night such as this one.
“But it was no ordinary fog,” Mr. Black says ominously. “Because no sooner had the ship sunk into the depths of the river, when the mists cleared away completely. It was a curse placed on the head of Captain Kendall, by that notorious English murderer, Dr. Crippen.”
According to the story, Crippen, arrested and handed over to the police by Kendall, at this very spot, had glared at the captain and spewed, “You sir shall pay for this treachery.”
As we continue our tour, the rain turns torrential and a howling wind drives icy rivulets down my back. Although it is reputed to be one of the most haunted buildings in Quebec, I’m relieved to take
refuge in the dimly lit, but mercifully dry Anglican Cathedral of the Holy Trinity.
We don’t meet the ghostly narcoleptic woman who was buried alive here, nor the poor wraith who moans in grief over her dead baby, but the tales are eerie enough for me to avoid peering too closely into the shadowy corners of the naves.
A few days later, I go in search of the spectral inhabitants of Old Montreal. As it turns out they are a far more aggressive bunch than those lurking in Quebec city.
I join a group on a New France, Ghost Hunt Walk and our first “apparition” lurches out of the darkness near Place Jacques Cartier. She is a very drunken Mary Gallagher, brandishing a wine bottle in one hand, and peering closely with unnerving intensity at each of us in turn. Her eyes are on fire and she has a bloody gash across her neck.
Mary’s murder was gory. She, and her friend Susan, were entertaining a gorgeous-looking Irish guy, Michael Flanagan, in Susan’s apartment. All three had drained several bottles of booze, when Susan, enraged by his attentions to Mary, picked up an axe and in a fit of jealousy, hacked her girlfriend to death.
On hearing this, a young girl standing near me, utters little twittering sounds and shrinks in horror against her boyfriend.
She is even more aghast at our next ghost. He is Pierre Lefebvre who died back in 1735 as a result of vicious torture in the hands of an arbitrary judicial system in New France. Lefebvre glares at us, hisses and screams with fury while recounting the injustice of life.
This just about causes the young visitor, to pass out in terror, and her boyfriend smiles at us sheepishly while laying a reassuring arm around her shoulders. As we file out hurriedly to our next appointment, Lefebvre follows us, yelling and shaking his fist.
Fortunately our last two phantoms are much more amiable characters. Paul Chomedey, Sieur de Maisonneuve, the co-founder of the city of Montreal, is a harmless braggart; Nicholas Vallières, an easy-going soul, was a go-between the fur trading colonists and the Iroquois Indians in the 17th century.
Leaving the undead to their own devices we return to Place Jacques Cartier, where the living are enjoying a brisk Saturday night.
At ten o’clock the place is buzzing with street musicians, lovers strolling hand in hand and sounds of merriment floating out from night-clubs.
I step into a pub where the only spirits I encounter are those poured out of a bottle.
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