Though Halifax has long established itself as a down-home, good-time burg — a place to unwind to a toe-tapping Celtic tune and a dram of whisky — those thirsty for spirits of the paranormal kind won’t be disappointed.
One of the city’s most infamous spooky sites is the Five Fishermen Restaurant and Grill, perched on the bustling corner of Carmichael and Argyle Streets. Having once served as a mortuary, it’s perhaps not surprising that the 194-year-old structure is equally known for its hauntings as well as its halibut.
The four-storey, brick-and-wood building opened in 1816 as a schoolhouse and was eventually taken over by a local family and turned into a funeral home.
It became the last stop of sorts for victims of two significant disasters of the 20th century — the sinking of the Titanic off Newfoundland in April 1912 and the Halifax Explosion of 1917.
Shane Robilliard, the Five Fishermen’s general manager, says tales of cutlery moving on its own, disembodied voices and shadowy figures have actually been good for business.
Robilliard recalls a recent instance when diners tried to send a text message from their table. But instead of the intended message, Robilliard says only one word flashed on the recipient’s mobile phone: death.
"People dine at the Five Fishermen to experience something or to be a part of the history of this building," he says.
More eerie experiences await just up Carmichael Street at one of the city’s most recognizable sites, the Halifax Citadel National Historic Site.
The British fort, completed in 1856, offers 90-minute tours exploring every dark nook and cranny where the ghosts of former soldiers are said to lurk.
A steep walk down some 33 stone steps on the southwest demi-bastion leads to a pair of dark, dank rooms with a half-dozen metal cots and grimy, barred windows — a former prison for soldiers.
Hal Thompson, the site’s visitor experience officer, remembers one visitor to the site who said she spied a uniformed man enter a room and seemingly vanish. The woman was unaware of the site’s ghostly reputation and wanted to know how the man — whom she presumed to be a staff member — managed to leave undetected from a room with only one exit.
And there was another problem: no one at the Citadel was wearing the type of uniform the woman described.
At first, Thompson says he joked that perhaps the woman had seen a ghost. But then he began to wonder.
"It doesn’t make any sense. There should not have been anyone there wearing that uniform and disappearing into thin air like that," he recalls. "So that’s a fairly convincing story."
Other sites that are rumoured to be haunted can be found in and around Halifax harbour.
Alexander Keith’s brewery is said to be inhabited by the ghost of the brewmaster himself. McNabs Island, accessible only by boat (ghost ship not required), is reputed to be haunted by the ghost of a former resident who was found drowned.
At least two companies in Halifax offer ghost walk tours for visitors eager to learn about the creepier side of the city.
One popular stop for ghost-hunters is the oldest building in Halifax — St. Paul’s Anglican Church, just across from city hall. From a sidewalk on the right side of the church, the shadowy silhouette of a man’s face can easily be seen in an upper-level rounded window.
According to the church’s website, the window shattered in the Halifax Explosion in a profile that is said to resemble a one-time assistant at St. Paul’s — an image that has been known to send shivers down many spines.
Andrew Aulenback, a folklore expert at the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic, isn’t convinced the window is haunted. But he says everyone loves a good ghost story, whether or not it’s true.
"Enjoying the story, learning from the story, whether or not it definitively proves the existence of ghosts doesn’t seem to be nearly important as the story itself," he says.
There has been speculation the museum, located on Lower Water Street, is also haunted. Some visitors to the museum’s Titanic exhibit swear they’ve felt the presence of the ill-fated vessel’s victims.
Aulenback says he’s never seen anything that can’t be explained, though the museum does have a number of artifacts connected to popular ghost stories.
Among the items are charred pieces of the Young Teazer, a privateer schooner that exploded in Mahone Bay, west of Halifax, in 1813. The vessel is now said to sail those waters as a ghost ship, its rigging in flames.
"Some will say you can hear