|photo © Janice Lang|
Ask anyone who knows me. I do not enjoy scary books, ghost tales, or frightening movies. Maybe it’s the creepy music in the flick added to augment the buildup to a blood-curdling moment that sends my heart thumping to near lethal levels and my blood pressure rising. My husband and daughter love them. Even coming through a closed door, that sinister music has its desired effect on me.
Not to say I don’t believe in the unexplainable. Two days after our beloved springer spaniel Casey crossed over the Rainbow Bridge at the age of 14, I was watching TV. Something in the periphery of my vision caused me turn away from the Yankees game. Not trusting what I thought I saw, I did a double-take. To my astonishment, there was Casey standing in the open doorway, her head hanging, ears forward, attention focused on me—a familiar posture in life when she wanted something. We made eye contact for a long moment. And then she dissipated like smoke in the wind. Some have told me that Casey probably just wanted to say goodbye.
Years ago, when I was still living in my parents’ home during summer breaks from college, I was having trouble falling asleep one night. Maybe I was suspended on that fragile boundary between dreams and consciousness when something tangible brushed my cheek and rustled the hair falling over my ear. And then a woman’s whispered voice announced (to whom or what?), “She’s asleep now.” Shortly after, a deep, sonorous baritone from beyond my open window began intoning what sounded like “Pil…grim’s…Pri-i-ide.” If I wasn’t 20-something at the time, I probably would have high-tailed it into my parent’s room and begged to let me sleep with them.
OK. This is supposed to be about ghosts, ghoulies, and other bump-in-the-night stuff from Quebec Province. As a Connecticut Yankee, no one deserves a mention here more than Mark Twain. This is from a piece by Mark Abley in the Montreal Gazette (October 17, 2014)
In December 1881, one of the most celebrated writers in North America came to
Montreal on a lecture tour. Mark Twain … was then near the height of
his fame. …
“That afternoon, a reception had been held for him in a long drawing room of the Windsor Hotel on Peel — recently built, and at the time the most palatial hotel in Canada. There, Twain noticed a woman whom he had known more than 20 years earlier, in Carson City, Nevada. She had been a friend, but they had fallen out of touch. … She seemed to be approaching him at the reception, and he had ‘a full front view of her face’ but they didn’t meet.
“Before he gave his evening speech in a lecture hall, Twain noticed Mrs. R. again, wearing the same dress as in the afternoon. This time they were able to speak, and he told her that he’d seen her earlier in the day. She was astonished. ‘I was not at the reception,’ she told him. ‘I have just arrived from Quebec, and have not been in town an hour.’”
All right. I agree. This is kind of “woo-woo,” but hardly the stuff that inspires goose bumps. But both Quebec and Montreal, with their long and illustrious histories, are rife with tales of the mysterious and macabre. There are so many such stories that I’ll limit them both by time and necessity.
As a writer of historical fiction, I’m drawn to some of these older stories. For example, McGill University is Montreal’s oldest (founded in 1821) and also one of the most haunted in a city of multiple haunted places. Its Faculty Club was once the opulent mansion of the German-born sugar magnate, Baron Alfred Moritz Friedrich Baumgarten.
|Baron Alfred Moritz Friedrich Baumgarten|
At the turn of the 19th century, the Baumgarten house was a center of social activity, so much so that it became the favorite stopping place of Canada’s governor-general when in Montreal. The start of World War I ended all that when anti-German hysteria forced him to sell off his assets and lose his standing in society. He died in 1919, a broken man. In 1926, McGill University bought the mansion to house the school’s high chancellor, General Sir Arthur Currie. After Currie’s death in 1933, the building was repurposed for use as a faculty club.
From the beginning, faculty and staff at the club reported feelings of unease when in the building, while others experienced some truly strange happenings. A piano in the basement began playing itself and no manner of trying to stop it succeeded. Doors opened and closed of their own accord. Elevators ran between floors with no one inside to operate them. In the billiard room, balls moved on the table and into the pockets as if a game were being played, and portraits on the walls appeared to follow people with their eyes as they walked past them down the halls. Even its phones had a life of their own, calling college offices late at night when no one was in the building. And then there’s the fireplace, closed off for decades, still emitting the smell of ash and smoke. There are tales of murder, particularly that of a young servant girl whose untimely death had been covered up and whose spirit has been seen wandering aimlessly, apparently seeking justice. Some postulate that many of ghostly happenings are the work of Baumgarten himself, whose restless soul attempts to regain what had been lost.
On the Plains of Abraham in Quebec on September 13, 1759, the battle between France and England for supremacy in the New World ended with the death of the charismatic British General James Wolfe and took his opponent, Louis-Joseph de Montcalm, who died of his injuries the following day. Here some 258 years later, ghosts of the dead from both sides can be seen drifting across the battlefield, particularly one lone soldier at the entrance to Tunnel 1, accompanied by the acrid smell of sulfur smoke and the sound of cannons.
From Montmorency Falls in Quebec comes a sad story and one that seems to have many similarities to other tales of such nature. That of a beautiful young woman whose fiancé was called off to war and died in 1759 during the French and Indian War. Legend has it that the grief stricken maiden donned her wedding dress and went out in the evenings calling his name in hopes that he would return. The Lady in White has often been seen in the mist of the falls, tumbling to her death.
Of course there are more such stories, many more, but for now that’s all folks.
Wishing you all a ghoulishly Happy Halloween...but please keep the music down.
Kathy Fischer Brown is a BWL author of historical novels, Winter Fire, "The Serpent’s Tooth" trilogy: Lord Esterleigh’s Daughter, Courting the Devil, The Partisan’s Wife, and The Return of Tachlanad, an epic fantasy adventure for young adult and adult readers. Check out her Books We Love Author page or visit her website. All of Kathy’s books are available in e-book and in paperback from a host of online and brick and mortar retailers. Look for Where the River Narrows, the 12th and final novel in BWL’s Canadian Historical Brides series, coming in July 2018.