Hundreds of people cross Canada Square and Dorchester Square every day without knowing that they are walking on an ancient cemetery containing almost 60,000 skeletons, including many victims of cholera.
Others admire the Champ-de-Mars from Place Vauquelin, unaware that crowds gathered there for hangings and that they have under their feet old unsanitary cells where atrocious abuses were committed.
These little-known facts from the past are revealed in the guided tours of Haunted Montreal. “We don’t just tell ghost stories, but dark, hidden stories,” says founder Donovan King.
Last Sunday, at nightfall, we took part in the haunted tour of Old Montreal. The starting point was in La Presse Park! For more than 90 minutes, historical places that are part of our daily lives appeared to us from a completely different perspective. “Montreal is one of the most haunted places in North America, because this is where the history of colonization began,” explained our guide Cara, born on Friday the 13th. of Irish parents.
Why do ghosts exist? she asked our group. “For things not resolved,” replied Philippe, a participant.
We had never noticed the commemorative stone on the Bank of Montreal building, in front of Place d’Armes. Before 2018, it was written: “Paul de Chomedey, sieur de Maisonneuve, killed the Indian chief with his own hands.” If this sentence was replaced by “The founders of Ville-Marie faced the Iroquois who were defeated during the battle in March 1644”, it seems almost inconceivable today to speak of the treatment of Aboriginal people in this way.
Then, we learned that the ghost of Marie-Joseph Angélique has been hovering over the Place d’Armes since her ashes were scattered in the wind. This black slave was tortured, hanged and burned after being accused of the violent fire of 1734 which destroyed the Hôtel-Dieu and numerous houses.
Without revealing everything, our journey ended at Château Ramezay. The cage of La Corriveau (the woman convicted of the murder of her husband) would have been kept there for a long time. Autopsies were also carried out there while the building was occupied by the medical faculty of what was formerly Laval University in Montreal. People have also reported the presence of several ghosts there, including that of the hostess Miss Anna O’Dowd, who died in her bathtub…
Our group was made up of Montrealers and not tourists (more numerous in the visit which followed with an English-speaking guide). A mother and daughter had taken many similar tours abroad, including in Salem. Another mother said she often felt “presences,” and even saw them.
If the founder of Haunted Montreal is more interested in storytelling than in the “paranormal”, we contact him very often as in the film Ghostbusters. He then calls on “investigator” Dominic Desormaux, a professional ghost hunter!
Donovan King points out, however, that some haunted stories are documented. “Newspaper articles tell the story of Mary Gallagher in Griffintown,” he points out, referring to the famous prostitute beheaded by her roommate in 1879 in their apartment on the corner of William and Murray streets.
On his organization’s blog, Donovan King has listed nearly 100 haunted places. “I have 400 others on my list,” he points out. Behind each story or legend lies a grain of truth that teaches us about Montreal’s past.
How did Donovan King catch the haunted gaming bug some 30 years ago? Thanks to Robert Short, Oscar winner for Best Makeup for the movie Beetlejuice! “He came to Montreal for a haunted house project, Château Greystoke, built in the old Decarie Square shopping center,” he says. He hired me to find bilingual actors. »
Then Donovan King moved to London to work at the famous London Dungeon. Before founding Haunted Montreal, he was an employee of Guidatour, which produces tours called Fantômes Montréal. “We do more classic tales,” he explains.
In London, the Jack the Ripper Tour draws crowds. In New Orleans, Ghost Tours are also very popular. Here, although things have improved since the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, there is “a great taboo” towards the darker parts of our history, especially towards Indigenous people, argues Donovan King.
It is not too late for a long-time worker in Old Montreal to learn that several old cemeteries are walked on during their lunch break. Did you know that a regulation prohibited the presence of cemeteries inside fortifications in 1795?