Haunted Tour of Muskoka


For many Torontonians, Thanksgiving weekend means one last trip north to board up the cottage. But while kayaks, life jackets and other summer accoutrements are laid to rest, some things in Muskoka aren't. They are ghosts, legions of them, if you believe Terry Boyle, a "haunted" historian who leads tours and who has written several books on the hidden weirdness of cottage country. "I believe that ghosts are entities from another time who have crossed over into ours. And so it doesn't mean, when we see a ghost, that we are seeing a dead person. It's a living being, and its residence is elsewhere." Mr. Boyle's latest, Haunted Ontario Revisited, describes in eerie detail the presence of apparitions in the bedrooms and hallways of well-known Muskoka establishments, and features photographs in which ghosts are seen as phantasmagorical orbs of light. Recently, we caught up with him in mid-spook and asked him to tell us where to find the best ghosts in Muskoka.

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THE BALA BAY INN

History: Built in 1910. Muskoka's first brick hotel originally occupied 10 hectares and included riding trails for its posh guests. Three swastikas (symbolizing well-being) that had been engraved into the exterior were cemented over in 1939, followed by a name change from the Swastika to the Sutton Hotel.

Significant event?: Founder Ephraim B. Sutton died on the site in 1917.

Hauntings:

- An apparition of a little girl, said to be Mr. Sutton's daughter, haunts the original staircase and is allegedly seen in photographs taken by guests.

- In Room 319, where Mr. Sutton died, the television goes on and off and housekeepers return to find their work undone.

- In the main-floor Ghost Lounge, named for the gusts of cold air that touch patrons on the shoulder, dishes laid out for banquets break when no one is in the room, lights flicker on and off, and an ashtray has been seen flying off the back of the refrigerator.

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THE SEVERN RIVER INN

History: Built in 1861. Originally a general store that also served as Muskoka's first post office, it was the centre of social activity. It burned down in 1906, and was rebuilt as a store, hotel and family residence in 1907 by the original owner's son, James H. Jackson. After his death in 1942, the inn became a boarding house.

Significant event?: In 1972, the designated heritage site sold for the first time outside the Jackson family. Hauntings began soon after.

Hauntings:

- Children's laughter can be heard when no children are present.

- A woman in period dress, perhaps the original owner's mother, Ida, who had died in an upstairs room, is sometimes seen walking across the roof.

- Steps can be heard on the back stairs and upstairs when no people are present and lights inexplicably go on and off in upstairs rooms.

- Furniture is moved when no one is around, and cutlery drawers open and close by themselves.

- A former housekeeper felt a tap on the shoulder while no one was present.

- In 2006, members of Toronto's Ghosts and Hauntings Research Society recorded the presence of light orbs in rooms.

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THE INN AT THE FALLS

History: Built in 1870. Originally a private residence, it changed hands several times until the 1930s, when it became a hotel called Holiday House. The current owners bought it in 1988 and renamed it Inn at the Falls.

Significant event?: In the 1930s

a Mrs. Kirk fell down the stairs to her death, killing her unborn child.

Jackie Niven, who owned the hotel at one time, died there from cancer.

Hauntings:

- In Room 105, the former bedroom of Judge William Cosby Mahaffy (second owner of the property), the television and shower turn on and off and missing keys turn up under the bedcovers.

- Room 105 was also Ms. Niven's bedroom, and a woman is sometimes seen looking from the window (her image has been captured in photos).

- A woman and man can be heard pacing outside the door of Room 105, speaking anxiously about an unborn child. Guests often ask about the woman they heard crying during the night.

- An older man, in black tails, is seen walking through the main floor hallway and into the bathroom, where he disappears.

- A ghost known as Sarah appears on the main floor and on the lower level near the Fox and Hounds Pub (her image has also been captured in photos).

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THE GRAVENHURST OPERA HOUSE

History: Built in 1901. The 152-seat opera house was home to Good Companions, Canada's first summer theatre company, in 1934. Numerous theatrical notables, such as Barbara Hamilton and director Ted Follows, worked here. In 1993, the Ministry of Labour closed the theatre because of structural damage. It reopened in 1995 after a $3-million facelift.

Significant event?: A member of the 1900 construction team fell to

his death from the bell tower, reportedly after being spurned by an actress.

Hauntings:

- Since 1900, witnesses have experienced sudden door openings, unexplained footsteps, lights turning on and off, and cold breezes rushing down the stairs into dressing rooms. Actors say they won't dress alone

in the opera house.

- An apparition known as Ben is said to occupy the premises. In January, 2000, Ben wrote a message on the office computer late at night when no

one was in the building and all the power had been turned off, then printed the message - "What's happening to me?" - for office staff to see.


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