Terry Boyle's first two Haunted Ontario books were a part of my road map during those days, along with Barbara Smith's Ontario Ghost Stories, John Robert Colombo's Ghost Stories of Ontario, and more. For that reason, I was excited (not to mention surprisingly nostalgic) to see Haunted Ontario 3: Ghostly Historic Sites, Inns, and Miracles come my way for review. Unfortunately, reading it also reminded me of why I lost interest in the original idea behind the blog. I dropped out just as the current ghost-hunter craze was creeping in, as pseudo-science, psychic impressions, orb photography, and shaky-cam 'proof' got in the way of what mattered to me - the ruins, the history, and the stories.
A significant portion of the book is dedicated to the stories of Black Creek Pioneer Village, which are interesting as much for the history of the buildings themselves, with most of them actually relocated from across the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), bringing their ghosts with them. The story of the Blue Elephant Restaurant in Simcoe is one of my favorites, with a tragic love story behind the apparitions, cold spots, and other odd occurrences, while the Baldoon Mystery is fascinating as an historical ghost story, with the unusual events recorded back in the early 1800s. Greystones Inn in Orangeville is another great story, simple in its history and uncluttered with psychic impressions, complete with customer guest book comments about their experiences. The story of Port Perry Town Hall is another classic one, filled with strange sights and sounds, while Herongate Barn Theatre has a suicide that lies behind the story.
Perhaps my favorite in the collection, however, is the last - that of the Keefer Mansion Inn in Thorold, a place I've visited many a time. Constructed in 1886, the stone structure has served as everything from a private home to a maternity ward to a critical care hospital to an inn over the years. Its stories include a bed upon which some invisible figure appears to site, a child's handprint appearing on the window, and doors slamming (not just swinging) open and shut on their own.
Ultimately, however, while there are some interesting historical tidbits here, along with some great stories, there's far too much reliance on the pseudo-science elements for my taste. Ghost stories are most appealing to me when ordinary people encounter something spooky and unsettling, with the history of the site shedding additional light on their story, or where the inconsistencies from one witness to another simply can't be explained. Here there are far too many instances where psychic impressions are the whole story, or where mediums are relied upon to interpret their own emotions and experiences in resolving those inconsistencies.
Maybe it's a reflection of our times, and readers will be drawn to Haunted Ontario 3 by the elements that I find so distracting, but I prefer to share in the experiences of ordinary people, and I really do feel it's okay for things to be unknown and unexplained - in fact, sometimes that's what makes the strange sounds and sights so chilling!
Published April 14th 2014 by Dundurn Group