Full Moon Ghost Walks
Behind the bricks and mortar of downtown St. Catharines’ most rustic and time-worn buildings, along the streets and darkened alleys, up and down the water-carved topography, there’s something lurking in the shadows – ghosts of the city’s colourful history, ready to be revealed to those who dare participate in the Garden City’s “Full Moon Ghost Walk.”
Initially developed by the St. Catharines Downtown Association in 2003 for the Halloween season, the Full Moon Ghost Walk has become so popular that the program now runs from spring to fall on each evening of the full moon. Beginning with a stop at the historic fountain located at King and James outside the old Courthouse, the Ghost Walk is a guided tour that combines historical facts about the core with macabre tales of murder, suicide, deadly explosions, local folklore and unexplainable phenomenon taken from local newspaper reports dating back to the 1800s. It’s a unique journey through the past that is becoming increasingly popular with both locals and tourists looking to discover the spooky history of St. Catharines.
“I believe the ongoing appeal of our ghost walks comes from the curiousity people have about ghost stories,” suggests Carolyn Watson, Events Coordinator for the St. Catharines Downtown Association. “People like the idea of being just a little bit scared, and it seems safe to explore this with a guide and within a group setting in your own community.”
For long-time residents of St. Catharines, The Ghost Walk is an often bittersweet reminder of the downtown core’s halcyon days, full of glorious stories about the buildings and businesses that used to be the lifeblood of the city. Walking along St. Paul Street, for example, an almost unnoticeable logo etched into the sidewalk is the last vestige remaining of the city’s most renowned café, Diana Sweets, forever immortalized by St. Catharines’ born author Howard Engel in his Benny Cooperman detective novels. At James and St. Paul, ghost walkers are directed to an empty lot and told the seedy story of the Russell Hotel, former home to the assorted freaks and geeks who brought Jerry’s Ally its nightclub notoriety. At the old Court House, the guide draws attention to the head of a large bull on the James’ street façade overlooking the stairs, a trademark of the slaughterhouse that once operated in the basement.
It’s the sordid tales of the downtown core’s haunted history, however, that continue to lure participants out every full moon. The Ghost Walk is rife with tragic stories about murderous spouses, missing children and fiery explosions that left behind a trail of dead bodies and lingering spirits, spectres of the past that continue to send shivers up the spines of believers on the walk. The most famous of these tales is that of John and Barbara Page and their son Peter, who for 10 days in February 1970 were terrorized by demonic forces in Apartment 1 at 237 Church Street. The case now remembered as “The St. Catharines Poltergeist” brought international attention to the city including mention on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson.
If horror movies have taught us anything, it’s that spirits don’t like to be disturbed. With much needed construction changing the face of the downtown, repurposing the Canada Hair Cloth factory and reshaping the old canal valley, is there a chance those bulldozers could be digging up long dormant spirits? Watson believes that is a definite possibility.
“This former canal area was the scene of many tragic deaths in the late 1800s according to newspaper reports,” she said. “Many were industrial accidents, or accidental drownings of adults or children. We will certainly be on the lookout for reports of any unexplained disturbances in the new facilities, as we are always adding to the stories shared on our ghost walks.”
Despite the spooky content, including a tour through a secret cemetery hidden in the core, the Full Moon Ghost Walk is appropriate for ghost lovers of all ages. Jessica Mucciante, for example, celebrated her 17th birthday with a group of friends at this year’s inaugural Ghost Walk April 4th. She says the Ghost Walk shines a whole new light on her home town.
“I’m a fan of all things macabre,” she said. “I’ve visited all the local haunted places, including the Screaming Tunnel. (St. Catharines) is a peaceful place, so you never think about things like murder happening in your town.”
The Full Moon Ghost Walk is a well-spent $10 and requires advance registration. There are two different routes and four different guides leading the Ghost Walks, which begin at 8:00pm and is limited to 20 people. Walks depart from Market Square and last approximately 75 minutes. Next walk is May 3rd, so register early. For a full list of upcoming Ghost Walks, check out the St. Catharines Downtown website at http://mydowntown.ca/events/ghost-walks.
By David DeRocco