What do you get when truth is mixed with fiction?
A night full of bone chilling scary stories at the Guelph Civic Museum.
The annual History Haunts ran for a second year, offering visitors an evening of unusual tales by local storytellers eager to tell and relive some scenes of Guelph’s scary past.
The event put on in collaboration with Guelph Museums and the Guelph Guild of Storytellers attracted a full house.
“These storytellers know how to tell a good story and they put so much work into it, from the research to the presentation. Some even reached out to some local people who were in the stories. Together, with the storytellers and with our history, it makes for a great combination. It’s all about sharing,” says Val Harrison, supervisor of visitor experiences at the Guelph Civic Museum.
“There are elements with true bits of history and a few bits of fiction. It can’t get any better than that.”
Sya VanGeest, a veteran storyteller and member of the guild, helped prepare and direct her fellow storytellers in their haunting roles as they prepared to share some stories from Guelph’s mysterious past.
“The storytellers are all ghosts and the research, is taken from books and archives. There are so many wonderful resources at the museum. It’s so great that we are able to work together,” VanGeest said.
Participants split into groups and visited four separate ghostly stations scattered throughout the museum.
To set the scene, Anna Patterson from the Guelph Civic Museum, told the fist tale.
“The museum was originally the house of the Loretto Sisters. History goes back a long way, and sometimes that history comes back to say hello,” Patterson says.
She went on to tell of one mysterious evening a month ago, when she and other staff members were cleaning up after an event.
“We heard a sound. It was unrecognizable. It was so distinctive. And then from the other side of the room, a computer just turned itself on. I have never felt such shivers run down my spine. And this was only the first episode,” Patterson said.
And since then, it continues, sounds of doors closing and footsteps….
As visitors entered each station during History Haunts, a ghost was waiting.
Storyteller Ellen Webb played a very strong but physically bruised woman named Nellie, a proud member of Guelph’s Temperance movement.
“We are so proud as members and we continue with our fight,” she said.
In 1878, prohibition was in full force in all provinces except Quebec, where 80 per cent of the population voted against it. Soon after, all provinces followed.
In Guelph, George Sleeman had a thriving business selling beer to the U.S. and even had ties with American gangster, Al Capone, who loved Sleeman beer. It is said that Capone may have been a regular visitor to the Royal City.
But temperance groups became concerned with increased cases of child abuse and neglect at the time.
“There was one tavern for every 75 citizens,” the ghost said. “The alcohol flowed freely here.”
Unfortunately for Nellie, her life ended abruptly when her alcoholic husband beat her to death, leaving her body in a forest.
The creepiness continued as visitors met with another ghost, ‘Millie’, played by storyteller, Jenny Kaspira.
Searching high and low for her baby, the ghost recounts her days working in one of the bawdy houses on Crimea Street, well known to Guelph in the 1870’s, and run by a woman known as Lina.
“One day I was riding in a carriage with Lina and Jacob Martin, a very wealthy man in Guelph,” Millie says.
Suddenly, Lina’s bustle on her dress caught on fire. Millie said the devil was there that day.
Lina was burning right in front of Millie, but she didn’t die. Severely burnt, she continued to run the bawdy house and Millie continued to work for her trying to make a living as a single mother.
“This may not be something a great woman would do, but it’s something a good mother would do,” she said.
She could not say how she died. But she did say that when she wanders through the streets of Guelph, she and the other women from the house, are still walking with you.
“We protect our women,” Millie said.
And the spooky stories continued as visitors made their way around the museum.
Mike Doherty told a story about the Infectious hospital which was built in 1912.
“When the Second World War broke out, soldiers were in need of treatment for tuberculosis,” Mike said.
Today, the same building located at 55 Delhi St., is a chiropractic office, but in 1999 it was Guelph’s recreation centre.
In 1999, a young woman named Kate received a job at the centre and one night, a chilling feeling came upon her. The room fell dark and her dog, barked viscously.
The lights suddenly turned on.
After doing some research, Kate discovered the Graham Family from Guelph. In 1943, the father who was a doctor, signed up for the war.
His young daughter, Victoria, became a nurse at the infectious hospital. She was engaged, but soon after died of tuberculosis.
Her father returned from the war having to plan for a funeral, not a wedding.
It is said that Victoria comes back from time to time looking for a life, taken from her at such a young age.
And in the darkness by a makeshift campfire, sits the last ghost, waiting for his guests to arrive.
Brian Holstein tells of the Ontario Reformatory located along York Road and of the many prisoners who tried to escape.
But if they succeeded, it wasn’t easy to survive.
In the 1950’s and early 1960’s, children regularly attended camps in the area.
One night, working to get their badges for orienteering, a group ventured away from the camp.
It was said that a man named “Orville” lived in the bush. Was he an escapee from the reformatory or was he mentally unstable?
He wielded his crowbar and screamed and shouted that night and whenever anyone was to cross his path again, he was ready to swing.
“So, if walking around at night, I’ll tell you one thing, don’t be last,” the ghost said.
The Guelph Guild of Storytellers promotes the oral tradition of storytelling for adult audiences and welcome tellers with all levels of experience.
The organization holds various events throughout the year. In fall, winter and spring, on the first Wednesday evening of each month at 7pm, the Guild hosts storytelling at the Guelph Civic Museum.
And on Wednesday Nov. 6, the storytellers will present stories of remembrance in advance of Remembrance Day on Nov. 11.
As for the ghosts, they have concluded their haunting for another year. Or maybe not.
“This is where fact and fiction meet,” Harrison said.
“Some stories are true, some are tales. We will let you decide.”