Just a few days removed from our celebration of All Hallows' Eve, I am sharing with you some of the ghost stories from my annual heritage walk for charity in downtown Newmarket.
To my way of thinking, most ghost stories have a firm footing in history, whether it be an event, a historic structure or a figure from our past. We are fortunate to have a rich history and, thus, a fertile base for stories of ghosts and things unexplainable.
The qualities I believe make a good historian also tend to be important when looking at stories of the unexplained: have an open mind; an interest in all things around you; and the patience to dig deeply into things not readily apparent.
A good place to get started is the Hill House, generally considered Newmarket’s oldest house, which was relocated from beside Fairy Lake, where the hydro building was located, west to Church and Eagle streets. The ghost story revolves around Mr. Hill, who returns to the area around Cachet Restaurant, lantern in hand, looking for his home and presumably something he has lost. The premise is that his home was relocated after his death, and he is searching for it or something that was in it. The ghost here is considered benign.
Our second story centres around Dye’s Inn, on Eagle Street just east of the Hill house. It was one of the first public houses or taverns in Newmarket and was the scene of our first murder. It seems during a boisterous celebration in 1819, Robert Selby was shot by David Cummings by accident while riding along Eagle passing Dye’s Inn.
There have been many stories of strange happenings here, from mysterious cats showing up on the doorstep, only to disappear into thin air, to an electrical system that has a mind of its own. Owner Agnes Pretty tells the story of a calculator that kept turning on by itself — even after it was unplugged. Also, dishes rattled, doors slammed, and a cold spot on the main stairway could never be explained. An energy reader tested the spot and registered a massive surge in energy. In this case, the entity was playful but perhaps a nuisance.
Our next stop is the Cawthra building, on the northwest corner of Main and Water streets, where there was once a bank attached to the house on the north side (the Bank of Nova Scotia). I have been told the story of the ‘accounting clerk’ seen walking through the wall from the building next door periodically, carrying a ledger and seemingly unaware of others in the room.
Former town councillor Diane Springstein operated a fur studio on the east side of Main Street, across from the Grey Goat. She tells the story of hearing the sound of the rocking chair even though there was no rocking chair. Again, a cold spot of about 15 inches was identified in the centre of the old house and a monk-like apparition walked the halls. This entity seems benign.
Across the street is the Grey Goat Inn, which lays claim to at least two ghosts, one considered benign and one quite troublesome. The building was initially a heritage home that had a funeral business in its basement before becoming a tavern in the 1980s. Staff and patrons alike speak of the second-floor ghost, named Georgette, who hangs out in a second-floor office, wearing a long, full black dress, and resembles a woman in a picture that once hung in the house. This lady was said to have spent most of her life alone in the house, her husband having died when she was young.
The basement is said to house a much different ghost, living in the area that was once the funeral parlour. This entity terrifies the staff who describe the presence as negative, perhaps foreboding, and speak of ghostly fingers gripping at their ankles as they climb the stairs. Note that this is our first angry ghost.
Another building said to have multiple ghosts is our Old Town Hall. A ghostly figure of an old woman in period garb and holding a lantern have been seen standing in the window over the Botsford Street entrance. The basement, where the old jail was located, is said to contain a spirit that bangs and moans a little. My theory is it may be Red Sutton, who spent more than his share of time in the jail cells.
Finally, there is the mystery of the orange blossom aroma in the auditorium on the second floor, said to be left over from a previous caretaker, Arthur O’Brien, who had the habit of introducing the smell of oranges into the auditorium to freshen the air. He was tragically killed in an accident on Davis Drive and yet the orange smell is said to be present to this day, even after numerous renovations.
A sad ghost, a woman named Agatha, resides in the old CN train station, seen sitting in the former waiting room, awaiting the return of her young man from the First World War. He never returned from and people swear she still can be seen waiting for him .
Being one of the oldest neighbourhoods in Newmarket, the Prospect and Gorham area has many stories of ghosts and disturbances. From bumps in the night to mischievous entities playing tricks on homeowners, there are multiple stories that have been passed down through the years.
The Grey Lady, said to reside at Pickering College, is ghost believed to have been a nurse who worked in the school many years ago. There have been periodic sightings over the years, including in a photograph of staff and students assembled on the front steps of Rogers House. It is said that visible in a first-floor window to the left of the assembled group there appears to be the ghostly image of a face looking out at the camera.
Even Main's Street's Charles Simpson building, which was recently demolished, had its own playful ghost. Stories were handed down about a ghost who would proceed to get dishes out and place things around the premises overnight. Businesses that operated there over the years would report items put away before leaving for the night would mysteriously reappear in the morning. If you were a butcher, like the Cuttings were in my day, this could be weird if you arrived at work to find the meat out of the freezer and your knives on the table, knowing you had put it all away before you left.
Even our museum, the old Registry Office, is said to have a ghost that walks through the wall where the William Roe display is located, navigates down the hall to the entrance and then returns to the back where it disappears through the wall. The staff swear they have encountered something in both the basement and in the back of the building.
Have you experienced a presence or entity in your travels around Newmarket? I have detailed but a few of the interesting stories that have come down to us over the years. I would urge those who are interested in ghosts to go to the Elman Campbell Museum and pick up a copy of Terry Carter’s Spooky Stories and Ghostly Accounts from Newmarket and Vicinity. Mr. Carter is the king of our local history.
Until next week, may all your ghost be benign and your hauntings few.
Sources: Spooky Stories & Ghostly Accounts from Newmarket and Vicinity by Robert Terence Carter; Oral History Interviews.
NewmarketToday.ca brings you this weekly feature about our town's history in partnership with Richard MacLeod, the History Hound, a local historian for more than 40 years. He conducts heritage lectures and walking tours of local interest, as well as leads local oral history interviews. You can contact the History Hound at email@example.com.