An image of the Peterborough Lift Locks, treated with vignettes and aging techniques to appear spooky

Halloween Haunts: Lore and Legends of Kawarthas Northumberland

It can take the better part of a century to rack up enough stories for a spooky reputation. Fortunately for lovers of a good ghost yarn, Kawarthas Northumberland is rich in historical sites that—at least according to those with an inclination towards the supernatural—resonate with the spectral echoes of years gone by. As Halloween approaches, we thought the time was right to don our darkest cloaks and step into the twilight for a tour of the region’s eerie side.

Market Hall Performing Arts Centre (140 Charlotte St, Peterborough)

Most people know Market Hall as a bustling cultural centre that welcomes a diverse range of talent. As the story goes, however, it also plays host to the restless spirit of a former employee who haunts the catwalks above the stage. The building dates to 1890, and staff claim their records shows a young man died during construction. Or maybe ghosts just can’t resist a good clock tower—either way, the creative energy of Market Hall shows seems to be a balm to this phantom, who restricts himself to brief appearances and gentle pranks. One of his most memorable tricks is rumoured to be turning on a children’s toy after the batteries were removed, causing an uproar at a kid’s camp.

The Peterborough lift lock, as seen at night

Lock 21 Peterborough Lift Lock (Hunter Street East & Ashburnham Dr, Peterborough)

Lock 21 has been described as “the most haunted spot in Peterborough,” meaning its ghostly reputation matches the historic importance of the site. Completed in 1904, it is the highest hydraulic lift lock in the world and a marvel of engineering. It also has a melancholy air in the right light at the right time of day. With its imposing concrete walls and iron grates, it’s not hard to believe the accounts of those who say they’ve heard eerie footsteps, or even spotted wet bootprints leading straight into a blank wall. Staff have even named the paranormal residents: in 2009, a lock operator identified the three ghosts as a Bumpy, Billy, and Art.

Visitors hoping for a sighting might leave disappointed, as most of the stories originate from the tunnels beneath the lock accessible only to staff, but you may still feel a little frisson as you explore this imposing structure.

Exterior of Victoria Hall, Cobourg

Victoria Hall (55 King St W, Cobourg)

Ghosts have a flair for the dramatic, which may explain their tendency to haunt theatres. Cobourg’s Victoria Hall, a lovingly restored town hall that now includes a concert venue and art gallery, has quite a pedigree. Opened in 1860 and declared a National Historic Site of Canada ninety-nine years later for its striking neoclassical architecture, the resident apparition is suitably well-dressed. The “green lady” is often glimpsed backstage in the concert hall area, wearing a green velvet dress.

Like Market Hall’s erstwhile employee, the green lady is more mischievous than hostile. Acts attributed to her include unplugging electronics, turning taps on and off, and watching rehearsals from the shadows at the rear of the room.

Exterior of Proctor House, Brighton

Proctor House (96 Young St, Brighton)

Proctor House is one of Brighton’s most important historical attractions, mostly thanks to its mid-nineteenth century grandeur and the Proctor family’s influence on the development of local industry. A fascinating ghostly footnote doesn’t hurt, though. In 1900, Brighton residents began reporting a fiery ball hovering near the property. One of the most common explanations is that the ghost of John Nix Jr., a debtor who felt burned by the family patriarch William Proctor during loan negotiations, returned to settle a score. Others speculate that the fires were the lanterns of rumrunners secretively approaching Proctor House during the Prohibition era… either way, the tales add a certain spice to this august estate.

Academy Theatre (2 Lindsay St S, Lindsay)

Lindsay’s Academy Theatre is known for its nearly 130 years of performing arts history, superb acoustics—and the tragic tale of Mary, its otherworldly tenant. Legend has it that the capacious theatre required three furnaces to keep warm through the winter, so a live-in caretaker was hired for the job. While rushing down the stairs from her third floor apartment to shovel some more coal, she lost her footing and fell to her death. Like the Market Hall and Victoria Hall spirits, Mary now passes the time harmlessly by moving objects and flicking the lights. She’s said to enjoy taking in shows from Seat 13, so if you’re sitting in 12 or 15, she might just whisper a little unexpected commentary in your ear.

A person walks down a hall of cells in the Olde Gaol Museum
Family weekend activities at Old Gaol museum in Lindsay 2017 Fred Thornhill photo

Olde Gaol Museum (50 Victoria Ave N, Lindsay)

Penal institutions always have a gloomy history, so Lindsay’s Olde Gaol Museum is probably the least surprising inclusion on this list. The president of the Victoria County Historical Society has gone on record saying something about the third floor makes “the hair stand up on the back of my neck.” Not coincidentally, the third floor houses prison cells. The gaol was in use from 1893 to 2003, giving it plenty of time to amass stories. Most of the museum’s content covers the daily lives of inmates and gaolers, as well as Lindsay regional history, but ghosthunters may come away with some intriguing anecdotes about lights that turns on and off and other inexplicable phenomenon.

Honourable mention goes to 172 Simcoe St. and the Hutchinson House in Peterborough, Monkey Mountain in Port Hope, and the MacKenzie Inn in Kirkfield. Happy Halloween and good luck in your ghost hunts!

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