16 May 2009
Haunts of Niagara-on-the-Lake
Posted By KARENA WALTER , STANDARD STAFF
There are staff members at the historic Pillar and Post Inn who do not like the portrait of Lt.-Col. John Butler in the lounge and bar.
Not at all.
It has nothing to do with the artist's ability and everything to do with the feeling Butler evokes.
It's been said the Niagara-on- the-Lake pioneer and war hero follows people with his eyes. The door next to the painting opens and closes inexplicably. Cutlery and plates move from table to table.
"Some servers have felt hair on the back of their necks rise as if they could sense someone unpleasant watching them," staff member Bill Putman says in the new book, Ghosts of Niagara-on-the- Lake.
The book, by Bradford authors Andrew Hind and Maria Da Silva, is being officially launched in the region Tuesday.
For Hind, a historian and self-described rational guy, the Butler ghost story -- one of several haunted legends at the upscale inn -- is more than just a curiosity.
It's a way to get people interested in local history.
Details about the landmark inn, a former 1890s fruit canning factory, and Butler's significance are woven through the ghost story.
"What I think is great about ghost stories, and why I believe historians should embrace them more, is the fact you're more likely to get someone to read about history without knowing it by telling a good ghost story," says Hind, 35.
The authors focused on 16 Niagara-on-the-Lake ghost stories and the history of their locales after spending a year writing, researching and conducting dozens of interviews.
But narrowing their focus in what is said to be Canada's most haunted community proved to be a challenge.
"We ended up with about 50 or 60 really i n t e re s t i n g stories, but to do them justice we would have had to have a book about 400 pages long," Hind says.
"So we had two options. You either make it skimpy or you do each one justice."
The 198-page book includes legends of hauntings at the Niagara Apothecary, Prince of Wales, McFarland House, Laura Secord Homestead and St. Mark's Cemetery.
The authors hatched the idea after passing through Niagara-on-the-Lake while researching travel stories and unintentionally hearing about ghosts.
"Maria's really into ghosts and I'm into history," Hind says. "It just struck us as a great opportunity to merge both our interests."
Although the town has been the subject of countless other haunted books, Hind says they tend to focus on entertainment, ghost hunting or history, but not all three as their book does.
What made the writing experience so interesting, Hind says, was finding so many people in Niagara-on-the- Lake willing to share their ghost stories. While some tellers could benefit from a marketing standpoint, others had no vested interest.
"People would volunteer themselves without even asking," Hind says. "People who were very respectful people, people in an important position who had nothing to gain by telling you a story."
Once someone told them a story, Hind says they did a lot of historical research to see if there was any basis for the legends.
Queenston Heights, for instance, has stories of ghosts of
American soldiers walking around its grounds. That's something that can be said of any battlefield, Hind says.
But the fact is, there are American soldiers buried in shallow pits all over the park.
"When you're walking there you're actually walking over gravesites and they have no idea where they are, they're unmarked, they're just scattered where they fell," he says.
Da Silva, 43, who says she has the open mind and Hind is the one who needs authentication, has always been fascinated with ghost stories.
In Niagara-on-the-Lake, she was most touched by stories about child ghosts, such as the little girl in red who is said to play practical jokes at The Pillar and Post and Sarah Ann who giggles in the barracks at Fort George.
"There is so much that is unknown. There is activity that happens and people dismiss it. You can't dismiss it all the time," Da Silva says.
"I think with a lot of us, we like to think that there is something more to our life than this. There is afterlife as well."
But even if you're not into ghosts, Da Silva says the book has really good stories.
And there are so many ghost stories in Niagara-on-the- Lake, the authors are planning a sequel.
"I think some of the stories are gripping, but by the end of the story without even realizing it, you've read history," Hind says. "To me, that's one of the things that's interesting about ghosts. It's a way to bring history alive in a really emotional way."
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What:Book launch for Ghosts of Niagara-on-the-Lake by Maria Da Silva and Andrew Hind
When:May 19 from 2 to 4 p. m.
Where:Angel Inn, 46 Market St., Niagara-on-the-Lake, which is one of the featured locations in the book
Authors:Da Silva and Hind will be on hand to sign copies, talk about their experiences and answer questions
Article ID# 1571730