A Spooky City Guide to Montreal
For as long as she can remember, Ansia Wilscam-Desjardins knew she wanted to be an actress. “I’ve always loved performing. For me there wasn’t, and still isn’t, any other career option,” she says. In 2006, she moved to Montreal to study theater at university, drawn by the city’s ineffable buzz. “It was a no-brainer—I just had to live in Montreal, to be a part of the city’s vibrant cultural scene.”
Shortly after her move, Wilscam-Desjardins landed her first acting gig—and 15 years later, she’s still proud to host the Old Montreal Ghost Walking Tour. Before each evening tour, she dresses up in full costume and makeup to bring her character, Aniouta, to life. Then, during this street theater–like excursion, she leads guests through the atmospheric alleyways of Old Montreal, regaling them with tales that are at turns chilling, thrilling, and always spooky.
“The Old Montreal Ghost Walk is really a special tour,” she says. “I see it as a storytelling show. If participants are open to the experience, they have this unique opportunity to come away from the tour with all these images from another era floating around in their head.”
A haunted history of Montreal
Montreal is commonly referred to as Canada’s most haunted city—and for good reason. “Montreal was founded in 1642,” Wilscam-Desjardins points out. “Life was not always easy for those who lived here and shaped our history. Not only that, but in Old Montreal, many buildings are centuries old. It’s often within those walls that you’ll find the most ghost stories.”
It didn’t help that torture was once part of the city’s criminal justice system. “The whip, the boot, and the pillory were but a few of the methods employed,” Wilscam-Desjardins says. “Because of this, we have a lot of grim stories that refer to crime and torture, which are among the themes participants will hear about on our tours.”
Today, some sources cite more than 150 recorded ghost stories in the city, many of which focus on Mount Royal: the mountain is home to four separate cemeteries, which together add up to North America’s largest intact burial ground. Other dark corners—from cholera burial grounds to the former locations of sordid shantytowns and red-light districts—come with their own ghostly lore.
Montreal’s most haunted attractions.
For the best chance of coming face-to-face with Casper—and his less-friendly counterparts—head to Montreal’s graveyards. The four that occupy Mount Royal are known for their history of uncanny events, though one (hidden) cemetery may be the spookiest of all. Dorchester Square is built on top of the Saint-Antoine Cholera Cemetery, where more than 70,000 victims of the city’s 19th-century cholera epidemic were interred—little wonder that floating orbs and disembodied voices have been reported in the public park.
And don’t miss Saint Paul Street, the oldest in the city, where phantom horse–drawn carriages and ghostly execution victims have been spotted after nightfall.
Don’t-miss spirited establishments.
If you’re looking for dinner with a side of supernatural frights, Wilscam-Desjardins recommends Salumi Vino, on the corner of Bonsecours and Notre-Dame streets. “As you go down to the basement washroom, see if you meet Rosemary McAllister, who rumor has it died tumbling down those very steps.”
Otherwise, L'Auberge Saint-Gabriel is said to be inhabited by the ghost of a little girl. “They say she still hangs out in the attic at night, amusing herself by playing the piano and running around in the reception hall,” Wilscam-Desjardins notes.
Find out what goes bump in the night.
Though it no longer exists in its original form, Montreal’s Windsor Hotel—which stood from 1875 until the late–20th century—was notably built right next to the old Saint-Antoine Cholera Cemetery. Perhaps the mass graves next door contributed to the hotel’s haunted reputation: several devastating fires were blamed on supernatural occurrences, while writer Mark Twain was said to have had his only ghost sighting in the hotel. Today, several of the hotel’s original ballrooms remain standing, promising ongoing eerie encounters.
Ansia Wilscam-Desjardins’ favorite Montreal ghost story.
“In my opinion, the story of our legendary Mary Gallagher is the bloodiest and the most ‘fun’ to tell during the tour,” Wilscam-Desjardins says. As the story goes, Mary Gallagher was a 38-year-old Irish sex worker who was murdered and beheaded in 1879 by her drunk and jealous best friend—they struck her 14 times with an axe.
If you go to Montreal’s Griffintown neighborhood, visit the corner of Murray and William Streets to see where her ghost is said to appear every seven years. “The building where she was beheaded stood on that corner, and legend has it she comes back looking for her head,” Wilscam-Desjardins says.
“As much as Montreal may be a haunted city, it is very much for the living,” Wilscam-Desjardins points out. To make the most of your trip, don’t forget to explore Montreal by the light of day, and venture beyond the main downtown area.
“For example, there’s Masson Street in the Rosemont—La Petite Patrie district, Laurier Avenue in Mile End, or Wellington Street in Verdun. Stop in a café, sit down for a minute or two, and take part in one of Montreal’s greatest activities: people watching. You’ll see the street’s personality come to life and possibly get a better understanding of why residents love their city the way they do,” Wilscam-Desjardins says.