Growing up in south Louisiana, I couldn’t help but develop a healthy respect for the paranormal. So when I landed in Montréal last week on the Day of The Dead, my thoughts naturally turned to the eerie possibility of fantômes ( French for ghosts). The early November weather was grey and damp and chilly, making it seem even more plausible that there were haunted souls lurking in this old city.
A little research proved that Montreal is indeed a city with an ample supply of ghost stories. Tourists can even go on a tour of haunted places in Vieux-Montréal (Old Montreal) with tour guides dressed as famous fantômes. I didn’t go on the tour, but in my three days of rambling around the city I did pass by several of the places where fantômes are frequently sighted.
From what I read on Haunted North America, les fantômes de Montréal represent just about every era in the city’s rich history. The area in the St. Lawrence valley known today as Montreal was inhabited by the Algoquinto, Huron, and Iroquois peoples at least 2,000 years ago. Since at least the 14th century, humans have lived in a population center near the modest (only 780 feet tall) mountain with the grand name Mont-Royal. Previously, it was called Hochelega by the Saint Lawrence Iroquoians who had established a good-sized village here at least two centuries before the French explorer Jacques Cartier first visited the area in 1535. The city allegedly gained the name “Montreal” in 1556, when geographer Giovanni Battista Ramusio wrote the Italian “Monte Real” instead of the French “Mont-Royal” on his map of Hochelaga.
In 1611, Samuel de Champlain established a fur trading post here and Montreal soon became a center for the fur trade and base for French exploration in North America . Quebec was officially established as a French colony on May 17, 1642, with Paul Chomedey de Maisonneuve as governor.
Things were pretty rough in Nouvelle-France (New France) in those days. Vieux-Montréal, the oldest part of the city near the port, was the scene of numerous human rights abuses, including public hangings and torture. People have reported seeing numerous apparitions covered with burn and whip marks in this part of the city. Along the cobblestoned Rue Saint-Paul, figures have been seen disappearing in upstairs windows. There is another story of a blonde woman who was murdered and now wanders the streets. Sometimes people in the area report a general feeling of unease, a feeling of being watched – even in broad daylight.
On Saturday morning, we walked up Avenue du Parc from downtown on our way to the Plateau neighborhood in search of the infamous Montreal bagels. We walked past Parc Jeanne-Mance, which is bordered on the east side by Avenue deL’Espanade. I read later that the apparition of a French soldier wearing a cape is often seen walking here. Montreal saw a lot of military action in the 1750s and 60s during La guerre de la Conquête (“The War of Conquest”). At least that is what most French Canadians call it; officially in Canada, it is the “Seven Years War” or the “Anglo-French rivalry” . In United States history, however, the conflict is referred to as the “French and Indian War”. Whatever you call it, this particular French soldier was likely a victim. He reportedly has a limp (and some say they have seen him with a cane) as he walks down Ave de L’Esplanade from Rue Rachel towards Avenue Duluth. Sometimes, he is seen entering a building across the street from the park. On this particular drizzly Saturday morning, however, I saw nothing in the park more creepy than some kids playing football (American football, that is, not soccer.)
Twice we walked past the severe, grey stone Hôpital Royal Victoria. France lost the war with England, of course, ceding control over all its territory east of the Mississippi River in the1763 Treaty of Paris. Quebec was under British control until 1867, when all of Canada became a self-governing British colony. “The Dominion of Canada” created a unified federation of the former British and French colonies. Canada and England maintained close ties (Canada did not become an independent country until 1982!), so it is no surprise that the hospital built in 1893 was named after the British queen Victoria. The “Royal Vic” definitely looks like the kind of place that would have its own fair share of ghosts. Indeed, hospital patients, visitors and staff have reported seeing ghosts of former patients and hearing disembodied footsteps and voices. Odd occurrences have also been reported, things like buzzers and lights going on and off in empty rooms.
Mont-Royal Cemetery is one of the largest cemeteries in North America. Divided into three sections (Mont-Royal, Cote-Des-Neiges and Notre Dame), several hundred thousand graves are in a beautiful, serene park. The Mont-Royal section is said to be the most active, with ghosts (including a famous Algonquin warrior) reportedly wandering about in the cemetery. There is a popular scenic overlook on the serpentine road near the top of Mont-Royal. Many people have reported seeing ghostly apparitions standing at the edge of the cemetery grounds on the high rock cliffs above the overlook. Perhaps, like me and the other tourists, they are just enjoying the view of the city below. No ghosts were in evidence, however, on the sunny Sunday morning that I rode my bike past the cemetery on my way to the top of Mont-Royal.
Later that day, we passed McGill University on our way to Montreal’s Musee des Beaux-Artes. McGill reportedly has more than one ghost, including a young boy who has been known to interact with students. Apparently, there is a bulletin board on campus where people can share information about where they have spotted the McGill University Ghost(s).
Although I did not experience any eerie paranormal activity during my recent visit, it was still fun to read about les fantômes de Montréal and to take a few creepy photos. (This post is also a response to the Weekly Photo Challenge: Eerie.)
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