Possession or Reflex? Ouija Boards Explained

Photo credit: cultofweird.com

Photo credit: cultofweird.com

When it comes to exploring and communicating with the paranormal, one device has stood out amongst the rest for years: the Ouija board. Commercialized in 1890, the Ouija board has fascinated and terrified people all over the world. But can it really bridge the gap between our reality and another, or is it just a simple parlour game designed to deceive gullible players?

If you happen to be unfamiliar with the concept, a Ouija board is a flat board, often made of wood, marked with the digits 0-9, the alphabet, and the words “yes,” “no,” “hello,” and “goodbye” in its corners. Participants place a small heart or triangle-shaped piece of wood or plastic with a hole in its centre (a planchette) on the board, touching it only with their fingertips. They then address a spirit or entity, and the planchette seems to magically move around the board to spell out an answer. This typically requires two or more people so that no one can take the blame for moving the planchette themselves to spell out their desired answer. 

But how does it really work? There are two main opposing theories about Ouija boards: the spiritualist theory vs. the ideomotor effect. 

The spiritualist theory is fairly straightforward, but obviously bears much more of a ghostly appeal than its adversary. Mediums and psychics often use ouija boards to communicate with the dead. The idea is that the spirit itself is controlling the planchette, and using the many hands of the participants as its vehicle for a message from the beyond. If all participants are honest, and maintain only a light touch on the planchette, it’s very easy to believe that it is being controlled by a disembodied power. People can find comfort in the fact that a passed loved one is communicating with them from the afterlife, while ghost hunters and amateurs alike can use Ouija boards to enhance their exploration of haunted places, or even pursue contact with demons or other ethereal visitors. 

The second theory behind the mystery of the Ouija board is based on scientific research. While much less spooky than our other topics discussed on this blog, it is still extremely interesting (and perhaps reassuring) to learn of the psychological phenomenon that is the ideomotor effect. The ideomotor effect is essentially your body communicating with itself, without your mind consciously being aware of it. When it comes to using a Ouija board, your mind is subconsciously taking in suggestions, and producing the answers on its own through tiny, reflexive movements. This is also why the Ouija board seems to work much better in larger groups. With the lack of responsibility for who is moving the planchette, everyone’s minds become free to generate a strange and ominous message. The planchette itself further helps this process, as it points to and directs the flow of a sentence, prompting your muscles to form something coherent. If Ouija board users were to, for example, roll a marble randomly across the board, the effects would most likely be much more disjointed. In several studies, researchers had participants control the planchette on their own, or use the ouija board blindfolded. They were not able to find any messages. 

Whether you believe that Ouija boards are a portal to communication from the beyond, or just a big fat hoax, they will always remain an important and fascinating cornerstone of occult and supernatural history. Why not give it a try with some friends? Just remember, always say Goodbye. If you manage to contact a spirit or demon, it’s best to keep those portals closed when the conversation is over.


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Grace Mahaffy is a 19-year-old Professional Writing Student who has lived in Ottawa virtually forever. She enjoys visual art, music, literature, and spending quality time with her dog. She also has a healthy enthusiasm for exploring unsolved crimes and all things eerie and mysterious.

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Grace Mahaffy

Grace Mahaffy is a 19-year-old Professional Writing Student who has lived in Ottawa virtually forever. She enjoys visual art, music, literature, and spending quality time with her dog. She also has a healthy enthusiasm for exploring unsolved crimes and all things eerie and mysterious.

The Unusual Interests of a Canadian Prime Minister

Did Canada have its own Minister of Magic? Not quite; but we did have a prime minister with a deep interest in mysticism and spiritualism.

Library and Archives Canada/Credit: William James Topley/William Lyon Mackenzie King collection/Archival Source C-027645

Library and Archives Canada/Credit: William James Topley/William Lyon Mackenzie King collection/Archival Source C-027645

William Lyon Mackenzie King was Canada’s prime minister for a total of twenty-two years. While he expertly guided Canada through difficult times, like the Great Depression and the Second World War, his reputation was that of a self-controlled leader who lacked the outspoken and passionate characteristics of some of his global counterparts. It was only after his death, when his diaries became public, that his otherworldly interests became apparent.

Mackenzie King held frequent séances at his Ottawa area homes (Laurier House and the Mackenzie King Estate), either alone or with a few friends and a medium. He often used the method of table rapping, a widely debunked method where participants place their hands on a light table and interpret any movements or tapping noises as spirit communication. These séances, according to Mackenzie King, were usually successful. Along with his deceased mother and dogs, with whom he frequently connected, he held conversations with his grandfather, brother, Wilfred Laurier, William Gladstone, and even American president Franklin D. Roosevelt, among others.

Along with these interactions with the afterlife, Mackenzie King read his tea leaves, saw images in his shaving cream and had frequent visions and dreams. Despite his deep interest in the spirit world, he kept this part of his life seperate from his career and insisted that he never made political decisions based on his communications with the beyond.

While it might seem strange that a man of Mackenzie King’s station was dabbling in the supernatural, it wasn’t entirely unusual. Séances and divination practices were popular—and even considered fashionable—during the 19th century, and that popularity trickled into the early 20th century.

Mackenzie King with psychic etta wriedt and friend joan PAtTESON at his estate.  Library and Archives Canada / C-079191  

Mackenzie King with psychic etta wriedt and friend joan PAtTESON at his estate.  Library and Archives Canada / C-079191

 

Lucky for those of us in the 21st century, both of Mackenzie King’s former residences are accessible to the public. Laurier House, rumoured to be haunted, is home to an eclectic group of artefacts once belonging to Mackenzie King.  In 1977, a CBC reporter recorded a séance at the house which supposedly connected with the former prime minister. The Mackenzie King Estate, which Mackenzie King spent 50 years perfecting, is located in Gatineau Park and it was there that he died on July 22, 1950.

Mackenzie King’s interest in connecting with the deceased shows us that sometimes it’s not just the places that are haunted—it’s the people. 


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Michelle Savage is a second-year Professional Writing student at Algonquin College who is hoping to turn her love of writing into a career. When she’s not buried in a book, she can be found on her yoga mat, on a hiking trail, or exploring one of Ottawa’s museums.

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Michelle Savage

Michelle Savage is a second-year Professional Writing student at Algonquin College who is hoping to turn her love of writing into a career. When she’s not buried in a book, she can be found on her yoga mat, on a hiking trail, or exploring one of Ottawa’s museums.

The Haunted Walk Celebrates 20 Years of Tours

Did you know that our nation’s capital is a hotspot for paranormal activity? The most historic cities often harbour the darkest pasts. Tag along on a Haunted Walk to visit the locations and landmarks that are home to Ontario's most infamous ghosts.

This year the Haunted Walk is celebrating 20 years of tours in three of Ontario’s oldest cities: Ottawa, Kingston and Toronto. The Haunted Walk offers a number of themed tours tailored to the unique histories of these three cities.

Photo as seen on hauntedwalk.com

Photo as seen on hauntedwalk.com

On the eve of Halloween, my fellow bloggers and I decided that it was the perfect night to hit the streets for a Haunted Walk. It was a cold, dreary evening (I say that reluctantly considering the weather we’re experiencing now) when we met up downtown, full of angst and hope for a spectral encounter.

We decided that we would go on the Original Haunted Walk of Ottawa, as it focuses on Ottawa’s most famous ghost stories in the downtown core. You too can participate in the Original Haunted Walk of Ottawa from April-November for roughly $21.75 per person. Many of the stories we’ve chosen to blog about were actually influenced by the tales we heard on this walk.

The tour began with a story about the uncovering of human remains belonging to 79 bodies during construction of the LRT in downtown Ottawa in 2013 and 2014. It turns out there was once a massive, poorly-marked graveyard that existed where the city sits now. We’re likely still walking over the remains of many more who established the original city of Bytown.

We continued on, stopping at the mysterious fountain in Confederation Park, which was imported from Trafalgar Square in London. The fountain, along with its twin, had been salvaged after the Blitz. One of the fountains ended up in Regina, Saskatchewan, while the other sits here in Ottawa. It is unknown which of the two fountains is haunted. To learn more about the fountain’s mysterious happenings, read The Twin Fountains of Trafalgar Square.

Next, we gathered in front of the iconic Fairmont Château Laurier where the Ghost of Charles Melville Hays is said to reside. Hays was the hotel’s commissioner who died tragically in the sinking of the RMS Titanic in 1912. If you dare, read Hays Haunts Hotel Halls for more information.

We visited Ottawa’s most haunted school, Lisgar Collegiate Institute. It’s still unknown whether their ghost is that of the head girl who was killed by falling ice, or the janitor who fell from the roof. If you want to delve deeper, read The Haunted Heights of Lisgar Collegiate Institute.

photo as seen on hauntedwalk.com

photo as seen on hauntedwalk.com

We walked along the world-famous-waterway, the Rideau Canal, which took the lives of approximately one thousand workers during its construction. When bodies began to pile up, oftentimes they would dig mass graves along the Canal Bed. To learn more about the Canal’s somber past, read Loss and Locks: The Dark Side of the Rideau Canal.

If you’re feeling spooky this Christmas and looking for a last-minute activity in Ottawa to get you out of the house, check out the Haunted Walk's Nightmare Before/After X-mas! Explore Christmas themed ghost stories and win presents at the Bytown Museum, one of Canada’s oldest and most haunted buildings.

The Haunted Walk is a great group activity for friends and family, skeptics included and encouraged! The Haunted Walk is sure to bring everyone closer together, a step-on-each-others-feet, hop-into-each-others-arms kind of closeness. Fear has that effect on people.


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Alexa Scott is a Carleton University Graduate currently in second year of the Professional Writing program at Algonquin College. When she's not in class, she can be found watching Law & Order and perfecting her guacamole recipe. She also loves to spend time at the park with her best friend, a mini Goldendoodle named Maple. 

The Twin Fountains of Trafalgar Square

It was one of the first truly cold nights of the fall. The wind whipped over the canal, stealing the warmth from our noses and toes.

The night before Halloween seemed like the best night for the writers of this blog to embark on Ottawa’s Haunted Walk (a wonderful attraction for longtime residents and tourists alike in Canada’s capital—our associate editor, Alexa Scott, details the rest of our experiences from that night later this week!)

Ottawa has dozens of homegrown ghost stories; the woman at Manotick Mill, the men of the Rideau Canal, Charles Melville Hays, and Patrick Whelan are just a few that we’ve covered so far on this blog.

But my favourite, and in my opinion the most compelling ghost story we’ve come across, is imported.

COURTESY OF URBSITE

COURTESY OF URBSITE

Before the London Blitz, two fountains were built in Trafalgar Square. These twins were installed and, like their countrymen, survived the Blitz with grit and vigor. One fountain lost about a quarter of the structure to the bombings and had to be rebuilt, but the pair made it through the war.

In the 50s the twins were brought to Canada; one to Regina, Saskatchewan, and the other right here to Ottawa, where it sits in Confederation Park.

The fountain itself is beautiful and intricately designed. If you get close enough, you can see all the nicks and dents in the stonework from the damage the structure took from its experience with the bombings.

Upon moving to Confederation Park, strange rumours began to arise concerning the fountain. A girl would float face down in the shallow water, but once her would-be rescuers approached, her body would disappear.

PHOTO COURTESY OF THE GLOBE AND MAIL

PHOTO COURTESY OF THE GLOBE AND MAIL

The origins of the haunting is lost to history. Some have speculated that a murder occurred near the twin fountains back in Trafalgar Square. There are even those who have questioned whether we even received the haunted fountain, or if its spooky events are because of its link to the truly spectral landmark, its twin in Regina. Either way, our tour guide on the Haunted Walk left us with this:

“If you see a body floating in the fountain and it disappears call us. If it doesn’t, call the police.”


Beckett, Emily_Bio Pic.jpg

Emily Beckett is an enthusiastic geek and writer who spent her childhood summer nights poring over Canadian ghost stories with only a flashlight and nylon tent to protect herself. She is fascinated by the chilling events that lend themselves to the birth of alleged spooky encounters—despite her scaredy-cat status.

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Emily Beckett

Emily is an enthusiastic geek and writer who spent her childhood summer nights poring over Canadian ghost stories with only a flashlight and nylon tent to protect herself. She is fascinated by the chilling events that lend themselves to the birth of alleged spooky encounters—despite her scaredy-cat status.

The Mysterious Haunting of Dinah Mclean

Photo courtesy of Supernatural Magazine

Photo courtesy of Supernatural Magazine

Not too far across the Quebec border is a small farm outside the town of Shawville, where George and Susan Dagg had many happy years with their children. Until, in 1885, they adopted a young girl named Dinah Mclean.

Dinah was a participant in the child immigration scheme—an endeavour to place underprivileged children from the United Kingdom in Canadian and Australian homes. Though often described as an orphan, Dinah’s mother remained alive in Glasgow until 1894.

The first few years of Dinah’s placement were apparently peaceful ones; the poltergeist didn’t appear until the fall of 1889.

The first indication something was amiss was the disappearance of money George gave to his wife. The two-dollar bill showed up under the bed belonging to their farmhand, Dean, who had no idea how it got there. Later, Susan found fecal matter from the outhouse in her kitchen, and George dragged the boy in front of a judge in Shawville to explain himself. While he was away, Susan found more filth spread throughout the house, absolving her of any notion Dean was involved with this particular act of mischief. He never returned to the Dagg’s farm.

Photo courtesy of pexels.com

Photo courtesy of pexels.com

Items were thrown across rooms. Dinah’s hair was cut while she slept. Windows shattered with no visible cause. Spontaneous fires erupted throughout the house. The poltergeist appeared to the children in various forms, including a man with a cow’s head and a creature akin to a large black dog.

What made the Dagg poltergeist unique, however, is that it spoke and held conversations with individuals brave enough to engage. The caveat is he would only speak when Dinah was present.

The stories made their way to a man named Percy Woodcock. Accounts describe him as an artist, a paranormal investigator and a journalist. Upon his arrival at the Dagg farm in mid-November, Dinah shares that she had just heard the poltergeist moments before in the woodhouse. True to her word, Percy not only heard the telltale gruff voice but immediately engaged in debate with it as well as chastised the being for cursing in front of a child.

Around this time the voice announced its plans for a final goodbye and word spreads. Accounts vary, but Woodcock was sure to have all witnesses sign a statement before publishing his experience in the Brockville Recorder and Times.

The next morning, the poltergeist appeared to the children as an angelic figure, and in a burst of light, travelled upwards towards the heavens.

The Daggs quickly shuffled Dinah off to stay with George’s father, and eventually the Fairknowe Home in Brockville. The poltergeist is never heard from again.

The tale of the Dagg poltergeist leaves us searching for plausible explanations of the events of autumn 1889. Could a maladjusted Dinah, a girl who appears in records as Dinah “Burden” Mclean, somehow have fabricated these events to challenge her adoptive family? Is it possible that Percy Woodcock was an opportunist, and upon uncovering Dinah’s actions, played along and exaggerated the tale?

After 128 years it is difficult to pick out the truth from local legend and lore, and even more so to parse through events baked in over a century of superstition, rumour and hyperbole. But there is no doubt something sinister took place on the Dagg property all those years ago, and I’m sure we can all sleep a little easier knowing Dinah and her poltergeist are both long gone.


Beckett, Emily_Bio Pic.jpg

Emily Beckett is an enthusiastic geek and writer who spent her childhood summer nights poring over Canadian ghost stories with only a flashlight and nylon tent to protect herself. She is fascinated by the chilling events that lend themselves to the birth of alleged spooky encounters—despite her scaredy-cat status.

Comment

Emily Beckett

Emily is an enthusiastic geek and writer who spent her childhood summer nights poring over Canadian ghost stories with only a flashlight and nylon tent to protect herself. She is fascinated by the chilling events that lend themselves to the birth of alleged spooky encounters—despite her scaredy-cat status.

The Haunted Heights of Lisgar Collegiate Institute

photo source: centretown.blogspot.ca (An Old Postcard)

photo source: centretown.blogspot.ca (An Old Postcard)

Ottawa’s most picturesque high school, Lisgar Collegiate Institute, has stood at 29 Lisgar street in the Downtown area since 1873. Despite having hosted many notable alumni (including Tom Cruise, Alex Trebek, and Matthew Perry) the school harbours a much darker history. 

Lisgar lives in infamy as one of Ottawa’s most haunted buildings, but few know the true stories behind its hauntings.

Should you visit the campus during one of Ottawa’s notoriously frigid winters, you may notice that a certain section of the courtyard is blocked off. This barred area lies directly beneath the drastically steep roof of the fourth floor attic, where snow and ice tend to accumulate.

In the early forties, Lisgar’s head girl was walking alone beneath this same window. A recent heavy snowfall followed by a frost froze  the mountain of snow atop the roof, turning it to ice. Due to the weight, a slab of ice slid from the roof, killing her. To this day, passersby often claim to see a slim girl’s figure standing watch from the attic window.

The attic is technically the only room on the fourth floor. Or rather, it would be, if it actually had a floor. Instead of a floor, the attic has a few parallel wooden planks. It was once used as a shooting range for the Lisgar Rifle Club and the Lisgar Cadet Corps, who had to lie flat on these planks to practice their shooting. The attic was also used as storage for janitorial and sports equipment. In the past, janitors had to exit a door at the far end leading out to the roof, to brave the harsh elements and remove ice and snow. 

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But there is some debate as to who truly haunts Lisgar’s attic. One day, a certain janitor (who had earned the malicious nickname The Asp from students) was out shoveling the roof when he lost his footing on the ice and fell 100 feet to his death. 

Staff and students began to notice a strange presence shortly after. Other janitors said they would feel a drop in temperature when they approached the door to the attic, and would avoid going up there at all. Others experienced feelings of being watched, strange noises from above, and strange lights coming from the attic window late at night. 

Perhaps the most compelling piece of evidence arose in the the 70s, when the school was being renovated. Inspectors discovered traces of several electrical fires that had began in the walls of the attic, but had seemingly been put out on their own. This was a strong confirmation for many of the staff and students that The Asp was still present in their school, as during his time there he was well-known for his ability and fervour to fix anything and everything that was broken. 

Whether it's the long lost head girl or The Asp that continues to possess the topmost tower of Lisgar, I believe it only adds more interest and mystery to the rich history of the school and the city itself. 


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Grace Mahaffy is a 19-year-old Professional Writing Student who has lived in Ottawa virtually forever. She enjoys visual art, music, literature, and spending quality time with her dog. She also has a healthy enthusiasm for exploring unsolved crimes and all things eerie and mysterious.

Comment

Grace Mahaffy

Grace Mahaffy is a 19-year-old Professional Writing Student who has lived in Ottawa virtually forever. She enjoys visual art, music, literature, and spending quality time with her dog. She also has a healthy enthusiasm for exploring unsolved crimes and all things eerie and mysterious.

Hays Haunts Hotel Halls

The Fairmont Château Laurier may not be the best choice for those wishing to get an undisturbed night’s sleep. A ghost has been known to create quite the racket in the wee hours of the morning; light sleepers beware. Charles Melville Hays is arguably our capital’s most iconic ghost and his spirit resides in the oldest hotel in Ottawa, the Fairmont Château Laurier. The Château Laurier comes in third on Reader’s Digest's list, 9 of Canada’s Most Haunted Places.

photo by tsaiproject                      https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

photo by tsaiproject                      https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

In 1899 our eighth prime minister, Sir Wilfred Laurier, yearned for a railway hotel that would establish Ottawa as the metropolis of the North. He sought the help of the president of the Grand Trunk Railway, Mr. Charles Melville Hays. Hays was born on May 16th, 1856, in Illinois, USA, and was only seventeen when he began working for the Grand Trunk Railway.

After two years of construction, the Château Laurier’s grand opening was set for April 26th, 1912. A few weeks prior, Hays had secured a room aboard the RMS Titanic. He was required to travel to England to tie up loose ends and purchase the luxurious decor that would furnish the Château Laurier. Tragically, Hays, along with a number of his family members, never set foot on Canadian soil again. On April 14th, 1912, the RMS Titanic struck the iceberg off the coast of Newfoundland which would ultimately decide its fate at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean. The original furniture purchased for the hotel would never arrive, and what remains of it rests somewhere deep on the ocean floor.

June 1st, 1912, was a bittersweet day as Sir Wilfred Laurier officially opened the Château Laurier’s grand doors to the public. Over the next hundred years, the hotel would go on to become a hustle and bustle of businessmen, senators, actors, and sportsmen.

Photo by ross dunn https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

Photo by ross dunn https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

I recently went on a Haunted Walk of Ottawa to hear the spectral stories from the Fairmont Château Laurier for myself. A couple from Brazil let out a gasp of disbelief when the tour guide mentioned that most of the paranormal activity occurs on the fifth floor, where you can find the Charles Melville Hays Memorial Suite. Not only had this couple checked into the Château Laurier, but their room was also on the fifth floor. The tour guide was quick to reassure the couple that Hays is widely regarded by staff and guests as a friendly ghost. I still find myself wondering if this couple slept soundly through the night. Were they woken by Hays' ghost? I guess I'll never know. 

The most talked about supernatural occurrences at the Château Laurier are those that were recounted by Patrick Watson, chairman of the CBC. Watson stayed at the hotel for some time in the 1980’s. Watson claimed to have heard a crack early one morning and when he got out of bed to see what it was, he noticed the glass ashtray on the table had split in half, yet had not fallen. On another occasion, Watson woke to the sound of a thud in his bathroom. He found his shaving kit–which had been wedged between the faucet and the wall–had fallen, its contents sprawled on the floor. Voices singing in the stairwells, ghostly apparitions, shoulder taps, and poltergeist-like rearranging of furniture are occurrences often reported by staff and guests at the Château Laurier. As commissioner of the Château Laurier, it's no surprise that Hays' spirit chose the hotel as his place of rest.

For those looking to silence their inner skeptic, to finally experience proof that ghosts exist, a night at this hotel could be your ticket. On your next visit to our nation’s capital, book your stay at the Fairmont Château Laurier to experience both history and the supernatural. That is, if you’re prepared for a restless night. 


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Alexa Scott is a Carleton University Graduate currently in second year of the Professional Writing program at Algonquin College. When she's not in class, she can be found watching Law & Order and perfecting her guacamole recipe. She also loves to spend time at the park with her best friend, a mini Goldendoodle named Maple. 

Otherworldly Advice: Seeking Answers through Psychics and Mediums

Photo by rirriz: https://pixabay.com/en/tarot-cards-fortune-symbol-mystery-2414239/ 

Photo by rirriz: https://pixabay.com/en/tarot-cards-fortune-symbol-mystery-2414239/ 

I can guarantee you that you can find at least one psychic or medium in any Canadian city. Ottawa is no exception. It makes sense. Humans are constantly wondering (and obsessing) about the future. We want validation that we are on the right path. We also want to believe that there is something beyond this life and that our deceased loved ones are at peace.

I understand the skepticism and I will admit that I’m prone to it myself. After taking a psychology class in university, I learned how remarkably complex the brain is. Suddenly things that teenage me would have deemed supernatural could easily be explained by science. For example, the sensation of waking up with the feeling of a spirit holding you down is actually just sleep paralysis. It is also quite normal for people who are experiencing grief to have bereavement hallucinations where they see their deceased loved one.

Despite all of these scientific explanations, mediums are something that I can’t easily rationalize. Some will argue that the psychic uses the power of suggestion or relies on vague statements that can be applied to anyone. In some cases, this is probably true. However, I’ve witnessed psychics deliver messages with such specificity and accuracy that it forced me to contemplate the possibility of it being real. While some claim that mediums are taking advantage of those in mourning, it’s important to remember that people deal with grief in different ways. If someone finds comfort in the belief that they are hearing from a departed loved one, perhaps the validity behind the message matters less.

If you’re looking to meet with a psychic or medium, Ottawa has a wide variety of practitioners to choose from, all with different areas of interest or expertise. Some may focus on connecting with the deceased, while others may connect with angels or spirit guides. Be sure to do a little research and find someone who you think will best help you find the answers you seek.

If cost is a concern, Algonquin College’s Student’s Association periodically hosts psychic fairs. I decided to attend the most recent one on October 19. While the set up was less than ideal, and the sessions are only approximately ten minutes, the whole event is free. One young woman left her session with tears running down her face. I overheard her explaining that she connected with her grandfather. Say what you want about mediums, but those tears were real.

Whether you seek to connect with the beyond or are looking for some reassurance that you’re on the right path, speaking with a psychic or medium will almost always result in some form of self-reflection and that, in my opinion, is never a bad thing.


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Michelle Savage is a second-year Professional Writing student at Algonquin College who is hoping to turn her love of writing into a career. When she’s not buried in a book, she can be found on her yoga mat, on a hiking trail, or exploring one of Ottawa’s museums.

Night at the Museum: The West Wing Ghost

Who is the entity haunting the exhibits at the Canadian Museum of Nature? 

It was a rainy evening last spring when my boyfriend and I, having heard nothing but great things about the exhibits at the Canadian Museum of Nature, decided to go and check it out for ourselves.

By Chester Oakley from Ottawa, Canada (Canadian Museum of Nature  Uploaded by Skeezix1000) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By Chester Oakley from Ottawa, Canada (Canadian Museum of Nature  Uploaded by Skeezix1000) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

The Canadian Museum of Nature—formally known as the Victoria Memorial Museum—was built between 1905 and 1911. The original mastermind behind the European-inspired design was architect David Ewort.

Aside from the beautifully arranged exhibits, the elegant staircase—which extends from the first floor to the fourth—caught my attention. Made of marble and encased by the recently constructed glass tower, the staircase merges the castle-like architecture of the original building with a touch of modernity. 

As with any old building of grandeur, it’s not uncommon to experience an eerie aura as you walk throughout. Others have experienced the same gut-sinking feeling as I did when climbing that staircase, nearing the fourth floor of the museum. In fact, both staff and visitors of the museum have documented a number of supernatural occurrences. Incidents of classic poltergeist behaviour such as doors slamming and elevators moving on their own are commonly shared tales among residents here in Ottawa. Ghostly encounters in the west wing on the fourth floor have been so abundant that this portion of the museum remains closed to visitors. 

Again, the question begs, who is the ghost haunting the west wing on the fourth floor of the Canadian Museum of Nature?

"The Honourable Sir Wilfred Laurier" by William James Topley

"The Honourable Sir Wilfred Laurier" by William James Topley

Not surprisingly, there exist a number of ideas surrounding the identity of this lost soul. One theory is that David Ewort himself leapt from the roof of the building in 1912 upon its completion and is now making his presence heard. It is believed that he is in disarray over the museum’s original tower being demolished due to its instability in 1916. This theory has been deemed unlikely as David Ewort did not in fact plunge from the museum’s roof in 1912, but rather died of old age nine years later. 

Another theory is that of an aboriginal spirit who has latched onto an artifact in one of the museum’s exhibits. Could he be spending his afterlife wandering the upper west wing in shambles, choosing never to rest because a sacred artifact has been put on display rather than returned to its rightful owners?

Interestingly enough, Sir Wilfred Laurier, our eighth Prime Minister, was lain in state in the auditorium of the museum after his death in 1919. This occurred when the museum housed the Canadian Government after the parliament buildings were damaged in the fire of 1916. Could Sir Wilfred Laurier still be present in the capital, by way of his endlessly roaming spirit at the Canadian Museum of Nature?

The Canadian Museum of Nature offered me a first taste of Ottawa’s supernatural history and has since sparked my interest in experiencing all that our capital has to offer from beyond the grave. If you’re sceptical, sign yourself up for one of Ottawa’s Haunted walks to hear more haunting stories from the Canadian Museum of Nature.


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Alexa Scott is a Carleton University Graduate currently in second year of the Professional Writing program at Algonquin College. When she's not in class, she can be found watching Law & Order and perfecting her guacamole recipe. She also loves to spend time at the park with her best friend, a mini Goldendoodle named Maple. 

The Woman in the Window: The Haunting of the Manotick Mill

It is one of the oldest and most-acclaimed ghost stories in Ottawa, older than Canada itself. But why has the young spirit of Ann Crosby Currier stuck around Watson's Mill for over 150 years?

Along the Rideau River, in the heart of the community of Manotick, lies Watson’s Mill. Built in 1860, and originally owned by Moss Kent Dickinson and Joseph Currier, this notorious historic building is possibly one of the most haunted sites in the Ottawa area. 

Shortly after Watson’s Mill’s official opening on Valentine’s Day, 1861, Joseph Currier decided to bring his young bride, Ann Crosby Currier, for a visit. They had just returned from their honeymoon and had only been married six weeks when tragedy struck. 

Ann was ascending the staircase between the second and third floor when her dress became caught in the spinning works of the mill. With no time to free herself, she was flung against a wooden pillar and killed on impact.

After her death, Joseph cut all ties with the mill, moved to Ottawa, remarried, and built a house that is now the primary residence of our prime ministers. Although he escaped the misfortune of that awful day, some say his late wife never did, and that her spirit remains where it left her body.

It’s difficult to say when the signs of the mill's haunting began. One of the first accounts comes from a fisherman who visited the mill during a storm in 1921, claiming he heard unearthly screams and bolted immediately. Over the following decades many people have also reported hearing a woman’s scream and seeing the shadow of a woman in a white dress in the second floor window. Several visitors to the mill have claimed they felt a touch on their ankles or arms while walking on those same second floor stairs.

The Haunted Ottawa Paranormal Society (HOPS) has investigated the mill several times. They have experienced a number of unexplained sounds such as footsteps, knocking, disembodied voices, as well as strange lights, tugging on clothing, temperature change, and batteries draining without explanation.  In 2010, HOPS founder and operations director Daniel Touchette insists that he was physically pushed by Crosby’s spirit while attempting to contact her. He had been asking the spirit whether she had been courting anyone other than her husband when he received the startling answer. “It was not an attack; it was a warning,” he says of the incident. 

Perhaps this spirit only wishes to warn us, hoping that no one will end up like her in the dangerous works of the mill. Perhaps she mourns the fact that her husband settled down with another woman so soon after her untimely death. Or perhaps she simply believes she is still alive, still trapped between the second and third floors of Watson’s Mill, where she will remain for eternity.


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Grace Mahaffy is a 19-year-old Professional Writing Student who has lived in Ottawa virtually forever. She enjoys visual art, music, literature,  and spending quality time with her dog. She also has a healthy enthusiasm for exploring unsolved crimes and all things eerie and mysterious.

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Grace Mahaffy

Grace Mahaffy is a 19-year-old Professional Writing Student who has lived in Ottawa virtually forever. She enjoys visual art, music, literature, and spending quality time with her dog. She also has a healthy enthusiasm for exploring unsolved crimes and all things eerie and mysterious.

Loss and Locks: The Dark Side of the Rideau Canal

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The Rideau Canal: the perfect place to have a picnic, take an evening stroll, or see a ghost. When most people think of the world-famous waterway, they conjure up images of Beavertails and ice skates or the leaf-strewn bike paths along the sparkling water. What some may not realize is that the Canal claimed many lives during its construction, making it the perfect place for paranormal activity.

Building of the Rideau Canal began in 1826 under the direction of Colonel John By, leading to the formation of Bytown—now Ottawa. It is estimated that 2,000-4,000 men worked on the Canal per year. Bush, swamp, and rock made construction difficult and the dangerous work and unhygienic living conditions contributed to approximately 1,000 deaths between 1826 and the waterway’s opening in 1832. Disease was the biggest cause of death, particularly malaria.  For more detailed information, read “History of the Rideau Canal”.

To accommodate these deaths, cemeteries were built close to the worksites.  Three are still accessible to the public; the rest have disappeared over the years. While it is safe to assume that graves would have been relocated before new construction began, the recent discovery of bodies near Queen Street hints otherwise. How many other bodies unknowingly lie below us? I think about the times that I’ve taken a book and spent blissful afternoons lounging under trees. Perhaps those solitary outings were not as solitary as I thought.

I have spent many hours along this iconic landmark and I have yet to experience anything paranormal but several ghost stories have popped up since its existence.

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An old supply manager, Duncan McNab, and Colonel By himself reportedly haunt the former supply storehouse and treasury—now the Bytown Museum. Both visitors and staff have reported odd occurrences such as the sound of children crying, men’s voices, winking dolls and rattling doors.

Not all Canal-related deaths occurred during its construction. Davy Davidson was murdered after pack peddlers who were travelling along the canal invaded his home on Lake Opinicon—a lake that was formed during the building of the waterway. It was a grizzly murder but it’s rumoured that Davidson’s spirit is friendly. Several people have claimed to see the ghost canoeing across the lake.

The Rideau Canal is a beautiful feat of engineering and should be enjoyed by those who visit it but we should remember the sacrifice that was put into its construction. Next time you're admiring it, keep your eyes open and your senses alert; your peaceful walk might turn into a paranormal experience. 

 


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Michelle Savage is a second-year Professional Writing student at Algonquin College who is hoping to turn her love of writing into a career. When she’s not buried in a book, she can be found on her yoga mat, on a hiking trail, or exploring one of Ottawa’s museums.

Locked in for the Night: Ottawa's oldest jail is the city's hottest haunted hostel

The Carleton County Gaol still steadfastly stands in downtown Ottawa, but instead of inmates, the jail now hosts guests looking to spend a haunted night in the city’s oldest prison. The hostel is on Lonely Planet’s list of world’s spookiest buildings—with good reason.

William James Topley. Library and Archives Canada, PA-012371

William James Topley. Library and Archives Canada, PA-012371

Starting at $72 a night, hostel guests at the Ottawa Jail Hostel are granted the privilege to sleep in cells with bars still intact, with the last working gallows in the country just a short way from where you lay your head (though Canada removed capital punishment in 1976) and a few spectral cellmates to keep you company.

The history of the building is as compelling as it is tragic. Built in 1862, the jail didn’t have glass windows to protect from the elements, and the result was an undocumentable number of inmate deaths. The cells were built to allow the acoustics to bring any whisperings to the guards, which may explain some of the eerie experiences guests have shared.

This, however, doesn’t explain the experience of a group of German tourists. The guests were upset that they hadn’t run into any spectral beings and asked for a refund from the front desk. During their exchange, a drawer from the register behind the counter opened, and a single coin rose slowly until it reached eye level. After briefly hovering, the coin dropped back down. The Germans left without their refund.

Floating coins, disembodied voices, and rattling windows lead to an uneasy night’s sleep, but they’re not the only paranormal phenomena the old county jail has to offer. Perhaps its most famous—and sinister—claim to fame, is the execution of Patrick James Whelan.

Thomas D’Arcy McGee, a member of Parliament and Father of the Confederation, was assassinated in April 1868. Within 24 hours Whelan was arrested, and though there remains reasonable doubt to whether he was the murderer, McGee’s relationship with Sir John A. Macdonald ensured his sentence was swift and final. Despite two rejected appeals to higher courts, Whelan’s fate was capital punishment—death by hanging.

William James Topley. Topley Studio. Library and Archives Canada, PA-027438

William James Topley. Topley Studio. Library and Archives Canada, PA-027438

After spending ten months in the jail, on February 11th, 1869, Whelan swung. 5,000 people came to watch. As they lowered the hood to cover his head, he said his last words: “I am innocent.”

Whelan requested to be buried in Montreal, but officials decided his remains would occupy an unmarked grave on the jail’s grounds. Guests describe a spectre appearing at the end of their beds holding a bible, and many believe it’s Whelan expressing his displeasure about his final resting place.

Whelan wasn’t the only inmate buried on the grounds. Due to the inhumane conditions the jail offered, countless inmates perished there and their bodies—and possibly their spirits—never left.

At 75 Nicholas Street, the hostel is conveniently within walking distance of several of Ottawa’s most iconic attractions, including Byward Market and the Rideau Canal. The price is affordable—but your stay might cost you a good night’s sleep.


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Emily Beckett is an enthusiastic geek and writer who spent her childhood summer nights poring over Canadian ghost stories with only a flashlight and nylon tent to protect herself. She is fascinated by the chilling events that lend themselves to the birth of alleged spooky encounters—despite her scaredy-cat status.

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Emily Beckett

Emily is an enthusiastic geek and writer who spent her childhood summer nights poring over Canadian ghost stories with only a flashlight and nylon tent to protect herself. She is fascinated by the chilling events that lend themselves to the birth of alleged spooky encounters—despite her scaredy-cat status.

Spectres and Haunts

Photo courtesy of stocksnap.io

Photo courtesy of stocksnap.io

Have you ever felt like you were being watched or witnessed something that you can’t explain? Whether you believe in the possibility of a ghostly afterlife or remain sceptical, Ottawa’s rich history makes it the perfect place to explore the supernatural. In the coming months, we’ll be unearthing the city’s mysteries and featuring them on this blog. In Haunted Landmarks, we’ll look at historical sites and reveal why they are prime places for otherworldly activity, while Ghost Stories will delve into the terrifying tales that plague our region. Paranormal Activities will showcase frightening things to do around town that promise to bring us closer to the afterlife, and document our experiences trying them out. Read this blog with caution; this sleepy government town may end up giving you nightmares.

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Michelle Savage

Michelle Savage is a second-year Professional Writing student at Algonquin College who is hoping to turn her love of writing into a career. When she’s not buried in a book, she can be found on her yoga mat, on a hiking trail, or exploring one of Ottawa’s museums.