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by Margaret Deefholts

I am all a-shiver. It's late October, the time of year when ghouls are abroad, and monsters skulk in deserted alleyways. A man wearing a flowing cloak, his eyes shadowed under the brim of a top hat, is about to lead a group of us by the light of his lantern through the foggy gloom of this very dark and stormy night in Old Quebec city. His name, appropriately enough, is Black-Jonathan Black-and he will share tales of murder, witch-hunts, torture and death.

Umbrellas aloft, we stand in historic Place Royale, the scene of many a violent death over the centuries. "Murderers and thieves swung here," Black intones. "And this is where a ruthless hangman even went so far as to execute his own wife!" A flash of lightning followed by a crackle of thunder adds a fine touch of melodrama to his story.

We huddle closer together when we re-group alongside the St. Lawrence River. According to our guide this is where the passenger ship, The Empress of Ireland, with all hands on board, came to a watery end on just such a foggy night as this one. "But it was no ordinary fog," says Black ominously. "As soon as the ship disappeared below the surface of the water, the thick mist mysteriously evaporated." He lowers his voice and hisses, "You see, the captain of the ship had been cursed by the notorious English murderer, Dr. Crippen, who'd been caught and handed over to the police at this very spot!"

An hour, and several gruesome stories later, we follow Mr. Black and his lantern up the steep cobbled road to Upper Quebec. By now the chills running down my spine have nothing to do with ghostly apparitions. The storm has accelerated to a torrential downpour, and a banshee wind, has driven icy rivulets down my back. So, even though it is reputed to be one of the most haunted buildings in Quebec, I'm relieved to take refuge in the dimly lit, but mercifully dry, Anglican Cathedral of the Holy Trinity. We don't meet the resident narcoleptic woman who was apparently buried alive here, but the tales are eerie enough for me to avoid peering too closely into the shadowy corners of the naves.

The spectral inhabitants of Old Montreal are entirely different from those in Old Quebec. I join a group who are on a New France Ghost Hunt and, with self-guiding maps in hand, we look for the dead-who materialize in response to our chant, "Long Live the King of France!" Our first apparition, Mary Gallagher, wine bottle in hand, lurches drunkenly out of the darkness. Her eyes are bloodshot and her hair, dishevelled. "My best friend, Susan, killed me," she moans. "She was jealous, that's why!" The story is that the two of them, blitzed to the eyeballs, were entertaining a gorgeous looking Irishman, Michael Flanagan, in Susan's apartment. Susan, on realizing that he seemed to prefer Mary, picked up an axe and hacked her girlfriend to death! On hearing this, a young Japanese girl standing near me, shrinks back in horror.

She is even more aghast a few minutes later. Our next ghost is Pierre Lefebvre who died in 1735 as a result of vicious torture in the hands of an arbitrary judicial system in New France. He glares at us, snarls and screams with resentment, while recounting the injustices of life. The young Japanese visitor looks ready to pass out with terror, and her boyfriend lays a reassuring arm around her shoulders. As we file out hurriedly to our next appointment, Lefebvre follows us, yelling and shaking his fist.

Fortunately our next two ghosts are both much more amiable characters. Paul Chomedey, Sieur de Maisonneuve, the co-founder of the city of Montreal, is a harmless braggart who merely struts his accomplishments. Our last encounter is with Nicholas Vallières, an amiable soul who was a go-between the fur trading colonists and the Iroquois Indians in the seventeenth century.

As Vallières fades away into the darkness, we leave the dead behind and return to Place Jacques Cartier, where the living are partying it up in nightclubs. We drop into a pub where the only spirits we seek are bottled ones.

Information Links:

New France Ghost Hunt:

Ghost Tours of Quebec (follow the links for further information)

Photos: Margaret Deefholts

1. Mr. Jonathan Black of Ghost Tours of Quebec
2. Mary Gallagher
3. Pierre Lefebvre perches near a terrified visitor
4. Following Mr. Black
5. Baleful Pierre Lefebvre

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