ottawa will leave you haunted — and not just by your tax returns
“Bytown, the first name of the city, was considered to be one of the most dangerous places in North America,” explains Jim Dean, creative director of Haunted Walks, speaking about the rise in violence, including murder, during the Rideau Canal’s construction in the 1800s. We showcase Ottawa’s dark past including ghostly restaurants, haunted museums, and spirited estates.
This restaurant serves up a famous ghost, heritage architecture, and a tantalizing menu — making it the perfect haunt for the living and the dead.
The previous longtime tenant, Friday’s Roast Beef House, could have inserted the word Haunted into its official name. Dr. James Alexander Grant built the threestorey masterpiece in 1875, practised his craft on-site, and was even rumoured to maintain a morgue in his basement. Today, the only surgery being done in the old Grant House is by talented chefs.
Owner Stephen Beckta: “Most of the stories come from before Beckta moved in. They involved seeing a figure in the window or staff hearing coughing
[Dr. Grant was both asthmatic and loved to smoke cigars]. When we took occupancy, I left a glass of champagne on the mantle in an heirloom Grant family glass. It was partially gone [the next morning] and we’ve been haunting-free ever since, so [Dr. Grant] likes us in his space… One time we had a problem with lights flickering, and we thought it might be the ghost, but it turned out our dimmer switch was faulty.”
The Courtyard Restaurant
Appetizers and apparitions, together at last! Located in the ByWard Market’s Clarendon Court, a cobblestoned hotspot for ghostly activity, the building is said to be haunted by Mrs. Evans, a woman who reportedly died during an 1872 fire when the site was an inn.
Cynthia Verboven, senior
events coordinator: “Few privileged staff have had the opportunity to encounter our resident ghost. One employee, while burning the midnight oil, reported seeing a ghostly apparition standing next to the third window of the Loft Room on the second floor. Others have reported experiencing extreme chills and an overwhelming sensation to flee the building or the sound of tinkling glasses when left alone in the dining room. Some have even seen salt shakers move swiftly on their own across the tables!”
Railway executive Charles Melville died on the Titanic en route to the grand opening of the landmark hotel. He never got to see the completed French Gothic-style building he commissioned, and his name has been linked to supernatural phenomena — reported by both famous guests and staff — ever since. “It would make sense that he believed in this project so much, that he was so passionate for it, that he would want to see it through,” explains Creepy
Capital author Mark Leslie.
William Lyon Mackenzie King
The spectre of the former prime minister and avowed spiritualist haunts two famous buildings open to the public. He inherited Laurier House and is said to have conducted séances on-site with everyone from his mother and his dog to famous personalities like Leonardo da Vinci and Franklin Delano Roosevelt. The ghost of Mackenzie King himself is associated with his Gatineau Park retreat, Mackenzie King Estate, where Leslie’s book describes sightings of a glowing, spectral figure.
Juan Sanchez, site manager of
Laurier House: “Every summer at least one of our employees has some supernatural experience: the sound of someone sneezing when no one was around, doors opening… objects being moved. King owned a crystal ball, [which] is hooked up to its own alarm system. For a few weeks
in June , the alarm was being triggered in the middle of the night. On several occasions, the alarm company was called, the ball was inspected and nothing was detected. The next day the same thing would happen. Perhaps the spirits were trying to get in touch with us!”
Carleton County Jail
(now the Ottawa Jail Hostel)
Patrick Whelan — alleged assassin of politician D’Arcy McGee — was executed on-site in 1869, taking claims of innocence to his deathbed. He wasn’t the only one. “The jail is recognized as one of the most haunted buildings in North America, and new reports continue to come in,” says Haunted Walk’s Jim Dean. “Several years ago some newlyweds joined us on a tour of the old jail and took photos of each other inside some of the cells. After taking a photo of the husband, they noticed the face of another man with an oldfashioned haircut in the photo.”
The Canadian Museum of Nature is normal by day, but Creepy
Capital’s Leslie says the site’s supernatural nature reveals itself at night. Security guards have reported unexplained sounds and activity — from cold spots on the fourth floor to elevators moving and doors opening of their own accord. Leslie says one female employee reported seeing the faint outline of a man forming in a mirror before passing through her body, and even daytime visitors have allegedly had the uncanny feeling of being watched. But it’s likely just another Casper; Leslie suggests the ghost could be that of original architect David Ewart. But given the ancient artifacts and relics that have been housed on-site over the years, who knows what forces may have tagged along with an exhibit? The museum’s castle-influenced design is practically a ghost welcome mat.
Dan Smythe, head of the museum’s media relations:
“Perhaps the spirit of Sir Wilfrid Laurier graces the museum. When the Parliament Buildings burned in February 1916, Parliament moved into the museum for four years. Under Laurier’s leadership the museum was built; when he died on February 17, 1919, his body lay in state in
the museum’s auditorium. An estimated 50,000 people passed by to pay their respects.”
Fittingly, the Bytown Museum is the oldest — and one of the most haunted — buildings in the city. Eerie experiences range from the sound of footsteps on an empty staircase to objects seemingly moving of their own accord. Leslie suspects “some of the ghosts at the museum are the spirits of those that died building the canal.” Nearly 1,000 labourers, mainly Irish and French Canadians, lost their lives due to accidents and disease, including malaria.
Canadian Museum of Nature