Spirit city: exploring spooky Kingston with The Haunted Walk

By Isabelle Bourgeault-Tassé

haunted walk person standing in doorway

As the sun sets over Kingston, a mysterious transformation envelops the labyrinth of cobblestone streets and historic buildings. Shadows rise, casting an otherworldly glow on the enigmatic corridors and alleyways of the Limestone City.

Gathered in anticipation, a group of the curious assembles, ready to embark on The Haunted Walk of Kingston. A spectral figure, a spooky storyteller shrouded in a dark cloak, beckons them on, weaving tales of haunted hotels, hidden burial grounds, notorious grave robbings, and other eerie local hauntings.

The allure of ghost stories lies in the art of storytelling itself, believes Jax Harripersad, manager of The Haunted Walk in Kingston. But, she muses, the human fascination with ghost stories also shines a light on what makes us human.

“The Haunted Walk of Kingston features great performers sharing spooky stories that make your heart race and pump adrenaline,” says Jax. “But above all, ghost stories make us wonder what happens after this life.”

“What appeals to our visitors is that these stories are rooted in truth,” says Jax. “Before a story is included in the tour, Kingston Haunted Walk conducts thorough research to substantiate its origins, pouring over newspaper articles and other convincing documents at the city archives and local libraries and even interviewing people who have experienced the supernatural firsthand.”

It is a phantom ballet, a dance between the living and the departed, explains Jax. A canvas upon which The Haunted Walk paints its spectral narrative, shining a light on the shadowy, paranormal side of Kingston.

“All of our tour guides are fitted with a cloak and a lantern, and we ask them to wear all black – it cultivates that creepy, Grim Reaper vibe,” explains Jax. “Our goal at The Haunted Walk and our broader company, which is called Hidden InSite, is to show you the secrets of the city, often hidden in plain sight.”

The Haunted Walk offers several tours, including the original Haunted Walk, which uncovers the secrets of haunted hotels, hidden burial grounds, grave robbings, hangings at the old courthouse, and Kingston’s famous haunted courtyard.

The original Haunted Walk features one of Kingston’s most notorious ghost stories, that of Theresa Ignace Beam, murdered by her nephew John Napier in 1868. Theresa’s spirit haunts the dark pathway between Princess Street and King Street East leading to Rochleau Court, where she has been known to ask passersby to help her find her bones so that she might finally rest, her tragic tale resonating through time and unfolding like a haunting melody.

“Hauntings have also been reported at the Prince George Hotel, which ceased operation in 2004 and today houses The Haunted Walk, with apartments replacing the old hotel rooms,” continues Jax. “Paranormal activity seems to be focused around the third floor, and Room 304 in particular, with people bearing witness to the spectre of a shadowy woman drifting down the hallways, a ghostly child playing with toys, and strange things occurring, such as lights and radios turning on or off in the rooms, and doors locking, unlocking, or slamming shut.”

And yet, many of Kingston’s spooky secrets are hidden underneath the city, with many places scattered throughout the city that conceal unmarked graves. The most famous hidden burial ground in Kingston is known as Skeleton Park, originally the site of one of Kingston’s earliest and largest cemeteries.

“Skeleton Park has become notorious for hauntings in Kingston,” affirms Jax. “In the 1990s two students moved into a house quite close to the park. After dropping off her things at her new apartment, one of the students had to rush off to class right away. When she returned later that night, she found that she had to pass an old graveyard filled with a dense fog. She was certain it wasn’t there before and she wondered if she was lost, but eventually did find her apartment just a little way down the street.

“In the morning, she found the graveyard was gone, and there was a city park in its place. This had been her very first day in Kingston. And she had never heard of Skeleton Park.”

People following the Haunted Walk guide holding lantern

If the original Haunted Walk delivers excitement for thrill-seekers, visitors to Kingston can also opt for the Ghosts of Queen’s University, which recounts eerie tales of student grave robbers, professors reaching out from the beyond, heists gone wrong, and streets shrouded in mystery.

There is also an unforgettable tour of Fort Henry, Kingston’s famous 19th-century fortress, where expert storytellers share the tragic history that still haunts its grounds, sending shivers down the spine with its dark twists and turns.

On hiatus during the December holiday season, The Haunted Walk runs weekends from February and seven nights a week from May to September, also accepting requests for private tours. Tours of the Queen’s University campus resume in time for March break and for the Fort Henry tour when the fort opens in the spring. While tours are conceived to appeal to families, The Haunted Walk encourages parents to assess their child’s tolerance level for the spectral and spooky.

“We are proud to offer the original Haunted Walk in French,” underscores Jax. “Canada is a bilingual country and we have a high demand for our tours, particularly in summer, from French-speaking tourists. We want to reach the widest audience that we possibly can.

In the heart of Kingston, where shadows are entangled with the echoes of the past, The Haunted Walk weaves a tapestry of spooky tales, historical narratives, and spectral whispers. It invites the curious to explore the city’s enigmatic history and become part of the haunting symphony that resonates through time.

As the lanterns flicker and the tales weave through the streets, The Haunted Walk becomes an exploration of not just the paranormal but also a celebration of the city’s hidden gems, connecting the living – and the departed.

View this story in French