[Lana] The moment we had waited for finally arrived. Élise gathered the group together and, after a short introduction, the tour was officially under way. I was so into the stories as we made our way along the Rideau Canal and over to Byward Market that I want to share every little detail but I will try to hold myself in check. We should leave some tales for the professionals, after all.
After some brief stops along our walk through the beautiful downtown area, we found ourselves at the Carleton County Gaol much sooner than I had expected but was soon to discover why…the building had such a haunted history of its own that we needed all the remaining time and then some to fit in all Élise had to share.
[John] The walk through town was really nice and we had some stops along the way to hear some different ghostly tales. While on our way to the County Gaol, we had a very nice chat with an incredibly accommodating Élise, who shared with us her years of experience doing these tours and her acting career also. We were disappointed to learn that we would not be in town for a show that Élise and Margo were doing that weekend. Hopefully another time we will be able to participate as audience members in one of their performances.
I always marvel at the ability to memorize lines and recite stories. Élise graciously shared with us that while it isn’t always easy, she has been doing it long enough that the Haunted Walk stories are somewhat second nature now. It was also nice to learn that each guide takes on different tours from time to time, so they learn new stories and are able to share different tales with their groups, preventing the material from becoming stale for the storytellers.
[Lana] For someone like me with a “Swiss cheese” memory, it is more than impressive.
[John] Oh but you are a drama geek with a brain for lines… you could easily remember the stories and the fact that you would tell them as exciting tales versus simply memorizing a recitation, you would fit in perfectly. I’m the one who doesn’t really do the costumes and the dramatic readings. I’d feel completely out of place and would definitely screw up the stories. I could never do that job.
[Lana] I think you are totally confused. Drama yes, lines never and you would totally rock at it.
[John] You neglect to realize that in the few minutes we have been sitting here, you have recited lines from about three different movies and shows and in the appropriate voices too. It’s so natural for you that you don’t even realize it.
So there. I win.
[John] Sore loser much?
The other piece I enjoyed learning was that the tour guides themselves are involved in some of the research as they learn about new potential stories of the area. This is a company that verifies the stories they tell, including speaking to potential witnesses whenever possible. The stories become that much more real when you know that the people sharing the information with you, have done the research, spoken to witnesses and sometimes they have even experienced a ghostly surprise of their own while on tour.
[Lana] This is a good time to interrupt our experiences to bring you this brief historical note…
From the Haunted Walk and from the Dictionary of Canadian Biography we learned that one of the founding fathers of Canadian Confederacy, Thomas D'Arcy McGee staunchly spoke out against American expansionist motives towards Canada. Although an Irish nationalist, McGee denounced the Fenian Brotherhood in America because they felt a forceful takeover of Canada from Britain by the United States was necessary. Many believe it was these very actions that led to the only political assassination on the federal level in Canada’s history. On April 7, 1868, after a parliamentary debate that went past the midnight hour, McGee returned to his boarding house on Sparks Street. Finding the door locked from the inside, he had to wait for his landlady to greet him at the entrance. No sooner had Mary Ann Trotter opened the door, than a brilliant flash went off. A .32 caliber bullet sliced through McGee’s neck and exploded out his jaw, sending his dentures flying by sheer force. Thomas D'Arcy McGee fell into the street dead.
By the next night, over 40 Fenian supporters were being held for questioning (including Patrick Buckley, stable hand to Sir John A. Macdonald, who named Patrick James Whelan as the assassin). Whelan maintained his innocence the entire time but, even though the evidence was circumstantial, he was found guilty and sentenced to what would be the very last hanging at the Carleton County Gaol. In front of 5,000 onlookers on February 11, 1869, Patrick Whelan told the crowd one last time that he was innocent and that he knew who had killed McGee, before being hung by the neck until he was dead.
We now return you to our regularly scheduled blogging.
[John] Hearing this story told on the walk does greater justice than what we can provide here on the blog. The details gained in the tour truly add a level of intensity that cannot be gained by reading the story itself or reading it here as we have just recounted for you. Being in the locations of the murder and the hanging also add another level to the entire experience. I cannot say enough times that you should all make a point of taking this tour when you have an opportunity.
[Lana] Upon entering the building that is now used as a hostel, we bypassed the main desk and directly made our way up the eight flights of stairs.
[John] I’m glad we didn’t know ahead of time that there would be eight flights of stairs to ascend, or we may have reconsidered the decision. Though we enjoy our walks and I am an avid hiker, we are nearing old fogey status (really… Lana is nearing old fogey status) and eight flights of stairs can be intimidating (for Lana). I am proud to say that we made it to the top neither fainting nor experiencing heart failure… congratulations Lana… I’m very proud of you. I’ll carve you a special cane for your next birthday. (heh heh)
[Lana] *Wheeze* *Wheeze* I’m still young enough to tell you where you can put that cane.
[John] … and I’m still younger than you…
[Lana] The eighth floor is the one with the claustrophobic single cells. So much unexplained activity occurred on this level (footsteps in the hall, cell doors slamming closed and disembodied voices), that no one could spend the entire night and would always leave, demanding their money back. It got to the point that the hostel even offered the rooms free to anyone who managed to remain the entire night. They’ve never had to give a complementary stay.
No sooner had Élise finished telling us these details when a door slammed somewhere down the hall in the unused section of the floor. She genuinely looked startled. I wanted to explore down the walkway but wasn’t sure if we were allowed and hesitant to leave while needing to stay with the tour, we moved on to death row.
[John] A number of us jumped when that door slammed, including Élise. My own heart was racing and I grabbed onto Lana’s sleeve (remember in this partnership I am the girl and Lana is actually the guy… and I had a very typical girl moment of burying my head in Lana’s shoulder and then gripping his hand tightly) and then my brain immediately wandered to thinking that either a staff member had been in that hallway, or that the tour guides had set up the experience just for us. After the tour, I did ask Élise about the use of the hallway and she said that the door is never used. Élise also confirmed that they hadn’t set anything up to falsely surprise us. The skeptic in me is still unsure it was a true paranormal experience but I will not deny the thrill of the moment with such impeccable timing. I also proved to myself that I am indeed a typical girl who almost cried when a door was slammed in a creepy environment. Le sigh.
[Lana] John’s reaction was completely adorable in the best ways possible.
On death row, the first cell was walled off to keep the next in line for the gallows separated from the other prisoners. I felt a darkness emanating from this area in the brief moment as I passed through. John confided in me afterwards that she too was affected there, which confirmed the sensation.