Haunted Ontario

The Bala Bay Inn allows tours that feature ghostly tales. -- Photos by Tracy McLaughlin.

The Bala Bay Inn allows tours that feature ghostly tales. -- Photos by Tracy McLaughlin.

TRACY MCLAUGHLIN -- Special to Sun Media

, Last Updated: 4:45 PM ET

Misty swirls of vapour that float across the room. Eerie orbs of white light. The sound of footsteps in the night when nobody is there. The cackle of laughter, or the lonely desperate sound of someone weeping that echoes from the walls of empty rooms.

The folklore of silly fairytales and Halloween stories?

No. Ghosts are real and they are floating all over Ontario, says historian Terry Boyle, author of Haunted Ontario and host of CTV's Creepy Canada. And the quest of finding those special, haunted spots, where the spirits like to hang out is becoming a hit with summer and fall tourists.

So if you are tired of finding your spirits inside a bottle, try a ghost walk with Boyle, or one of many other "para-researchers" who spend their lives trying to find them.

"It's exciting, it's thrilling, it's scary, and it's fun," says Boyle as he sits with me on the steps of the Bala Bay Inn that overlooks scenic Bala Bay while waiting for his tour group to arrive.

"People are dying to see a ghost," he says excitedly, not noticing the pun. "It gets them thinking about death and life, and what it all means."

About a dozen people arrive and Boyle takes us for a folksy walk through the streets of the quaint, tiny village of Bala, just west of Gravenhurst. He points out historical landmarks, especially areas where "activity" is known to happen.

"Lots of activity here," he says, pointing to the rushing Muskoka River, relating discomforting stories of suspicious drownings. Along the way he holds up photographs of odd, misty swirls that have been captured on film at these places.

Sometimes the camera can capture such images but the human eye can't, he says.

We wind our way to The Kee, a popular summertime concert hall with a warm cottagey feel, which will feature David Wilcox on Sept. 2.

"Has anyone ever seen a ghost in here?" he asks as we walk inside.

"I've lost a few brain cells here, does that count?" quips one of his guests, who admits to partying at the Good Brothers concert here in his younger days.

Oddly, several of our group who snapped digital photographs inside The Kee captured small orbs of light in the photos.

Back outside under a moonlit sky, Boyle tells us more about ghosts. Many ghosts "were killed in an unsavory fashion or murdered and have unfinished business here," he explains, so they attach themselves to another human to travel around. Some ghosts are friendly and play pranks or watch over loved ones. Other times there are just pockets of energy where odd things happen that modern science can't explain.

And then there are the "little people," who have furry ears and live in rock cliffs, which makes places like Algonquin Provincial Park a popular place for them to live. They are cute, but they are dangerous and will snatch you away, Boyle says.

"Never underestimate the dark side of the spirit world."

Our ghost walk ends up back at the Bala Bay Inn, where we capture even more odd photographs.

Originally called the Swastika Hotel in the early 1900s, it was renamed Bala Bay Inn in 1945. Today it has 32 rooms and is under the new ownership of Kim Ward, who has revamped the place. This retro-looking Inn with a "groovy," colorful look is a great place for adults to party it up a little, with a Yuk Yuks comedy show in the Ghosts Lounge every Friday night. It's just a short walk to The Kee.

But I'm told there are five spirits who walk the hallways and haunt the guests and staff here.

Over the years, kitchen staff have reported pots and pans being moved around and guests have seen a shadowy figure of a woman floating around.

Two of our group captured photos of orbs in the old chandelier-lit dance hall and in the Ghosts Lounge.

"After not knowing anything about them previous to our haunted walk, we were all a little freaked out to see orbs in our pictures," says Chris Bott of Scarborough, who was on the tour with his family.

"When we got back to our cottage the kids were a little nervous and didn't want to be left alone."

I certainly couldn't explain the photographs, and caught a couple of odd images as well. The same mystifying photographs can be captured at many other locations all over Ontario, where ghost walks are also held in haunted hot spots.

In Kincardine, a B&B called Madison House is said to be haunted with spirits on a daily basis and is currently the site for a television broadcast called Canada's Most Haunted.

"Things happen here all the time," says ghost researcher and "parapsychologist" Patrick Cross, who is the host of the pilot show.

"People are more spiritual today and they want to know more about this unexplained science."

Cross offers ghost walks from June to November in Kincardine as well as in Burlington, where the tour will take you to a tree with a beating heart and other weird things.

But the most haunted place in all of Ontario, claims Boyle, is the former Ottawa Carleton jailhouse, which is now a youth hostel.

"You can stay there if you want to ... but I wouldn't," Bole says with a note of foreboding. "Too many hangings went on there, too many spirits with unfinished business."

But ghosts are not always spirits of the dead, I am surprised to learn. No, many of them are other living beings from the past -- they're just caught in a time warp, although sometimes only fleetingly.

Or sometimes the "ghost" is exactly where he is supposed to be and it is the person seeing it who is caught in a time warp, Boyle says.

"It begs the question," says Boyle. "Who really is the ghost ... you or them?"

Hmmm ... Boo!

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GHOST TOURS

2006 TOURS

- Bala Ghost Walks Wednesday nights through Sept. 2 with Terry Boyle. Adults $12, students $10

- Parry Sound Through Sept. 2 ,Thursday and Saturday nights with Terry Boyle. Adults $12, students $10

- Burlington Ghost Walks, burlingtonghostwalks.ca. By appointment only through November.

- Ghost Tours of Niagara (Fort George) psican.org/ghrs/ghosttours/Info.html. Through Sept. 24 Adults $10, Children $5.

- Ghost Tours of Niagara (Fort George) -- Halloween psican.org/ghrs/ghosttours/downloads/brochure04.pdf Oct. 13 to 31, $15 per person, not recommended for children.

- Ghost Walks of Hamilton, ghostwalksofhamilton.com. Adults $10/$15, children $5.

- Ghost Walks of Peterborough, trentvalleyarchives.com. Through August, then Oct. 16-30. Adults $10, children $5.

- Haunted Walks of Canada (Kingston/Ottawa) hauntedwalk.com. Through Oct. 31. Prices vary by tour.

- Haunted Tours of Old Fort Erie, niagaraparks.com/ heritage/forterie.php Oct. 20-28. Adults $8.50, children $4.50.

- Muddy York Walking Tours, muddyyorktours.com. Through Oct. 18, then Oct. 20-31. Adults $10, students, $8, children $7.

- A Taste of the World (haunted bike tours --Toronto). This season's tours have ended but see torontowalksbikes.com for future dates. Adults, $15, students and seniors, $13, children under 12, $9.

MORE INFORMATION

For more on where to go to find a ghost, check out hauntedontario.com.


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