“Tis the season for ghosts, goblins and ghouls. Niagara-on-the-Lake may be lacking in goblins and ghouls but we seem to have plenty of ghosts.”
Ghost Walks, which start from 126 Queen Street, started in 2004. According to Daniel Cumerlato, guide and overseer, the walks “originally began out the side door of the Angel Inn,” then, “in 2011, the Museum of the Paranormal was created, and evolved into today’s shop space in 2012.”
As for the stories told on the walks, Cumerlato explains, “at the start, it’s research, taken from personal experiences (books, articles and interviews), and some are found through historical research. As the tours grow, stories tend to flow in from guests, and focus on the most haunted places featured on the tour or around the area.”
As for the older ghost stories, he adds, “legends are always taken with a grain of salt. We attempt to give them validity through historical research, but many times it’s just a great story passed through generations.”
Sometimes, the stories come from guests on the tour, locals or even the guides. “For personal stories, we either gauge the teller, or link it to other unrelated experiences. To gauge the teller is to question the source. This is a talent gained over the years from hearing countless ghost stories, then mixed with the likelihood the story is possible. Some are very over-the-top.” When they link it to other seemingly unrelated experiences, he continues, they must ask, “is the story similar to others told in the past by others?” This step adds validity to the story. “This is the most powerful and fun.”
But it is not enough just to have a ghost story. What makes it a great ghost story lies in the way it’s told. Each guide must go through an audition process, says Cumerlato, then train with a veteran guide and develop that ability to tell a great ghost story, and make it come alive for the audience.
The guide for Sunday evening’s walk has honed her ability for telling a great ghost story. Susan Reichheld has a surprisingly effervescent personality for a maiden of the macabre. According to her bio, the PEI native grew up with “ghost ships, haunted houses, and graveyard tales.” She indulged her passion for performing arts by studying theatre at Acadia University, and also developed an interest in history and culture while working at the Halifax Citadel. She has worked as a historical animator, and used her talents to teach English in Japan. Eventually, Reichheld became an elementary school teacher, but continues to don her custom-made costume with cape, hoist her lantern and reprise her role as Lady Stella Marie on chilly autumn evenings.
Lady Stella leads her masked group of 15 ghost-seekers through the streets, and through the history of the Old Town. Each tour begins with a brief lesson to bring the group up to speed on the specific historical significance of the area. The tour includes stories of Captain Colin Swayze at the Olde Angel Inn, paranormal activity at the historic Court House, unfortunate tale of mistaken identity at The Prince of Wales and the legend of the Headless Soldier of Old Fort Niagara.
The ghostly walking tour lasts for about 90 minutes, with the most interesting and chilling stories left for the end, before Lady Stella Marie says her goodbyes and disappears into the darkness of Gate Street.
Tickets can be purchased at ghostwalks.com or by calling 855-8GHOSTS (855-844-6787). Tours run most evenings, starting at 8:30 p.m. and continuing until the end of December. One last piece of advice is to wear a comfortable pair of shoes, since there is a fair amount of walking during the tour. You may also be grateful for those shoes, as this reporter was when the tour is over, the streets are empty and you get the odd feeling you are not as alone as you hurry back to your parked car.