When the hikers and dog walkers have gone home and darkness falls on Fort Willow, a popular historical site in Springwater Township, Andrew Hind believes the past comes to life in a haunting way.
"There are a lot of really weird stories about the fort," Hind said in an interview at the Simcoe County Museum Halloween Haunt. "One of the best is about the War of 1812 and a soldier who was ill. He desperately wanted to go home to England and he deserted the army, which was a capital offence in those days. When he was caught, he was flogged and his body was hanged from a flag pole."
Hind says the young soldier has never left the fort and isn't resting peacefully in his grave.
"He is definitely there, he has been seen walking around to this day," Hind said. "People who have been there say it feels like the place is still active. They feel intense sadness and fear, likely the feelings the ghost experienced as he was sentenced to death there."
Hind and writing partner Maria da Silva were were at the museum this week to share ghost stories. There was no shortage of material, since the local authors have published 19 books together - many telling spooky stories of Ontario landmarks and popular buildings.
da Silva says didn’t choose to be a ghost hunter, but the Gilford hair stylist vividly remembers the night that a spirit convinced her to pay attention.
Tormented by the loss of her 40-year-old brother and desperate to find answers for her heartbroken mother, Maria was in her daughter’s bedroom one night when she called out to her sibling.
“I told him that I couldn’t take the stress anymore,” she remembers. “And after a while, I felt a cold hand on my cheek and that’s when I knew.” She asked her brother if he was in the room and immediately felt the water bed move, as though someone was sitting beside her. Recalling the memory brings back the intense emotion of that connection
It wasn’t the first time da Silva was aware of her sensitivity to spirits and paranormal activity. Throughout her life she has experienced frequent déjà vu. As a child growing up in Portugal, she remembers a vivid, recurring dream about visiting a campground which she now believes was a premonition to many years in the future when she visited Wasaga Beach Provincial Park with her husband.
“It was exactly the same as the campground in my dream,” she says.
As ghost writers, Andrew and Maria are a perfect match. He is an historian and researcher, while she has the gift of “sensitivity” required to feel the presence of spirits in a room that appears empty to most.
“I don’t want to know everything about a place before we visit, because I want to feel what’s there and not be influenced by his research and knowledge,” Maria said.
Once they identify a new haunted spot, they tour locations together and search for eyewitness accounts from former visitors or people who lived or worked in the building.
Haunted Ontario Museums is the next venture and, yes, there are questions about Simcoe County’s own attraction.
“We have had people tell us tonight that they think this place is haunted,” Andrew said. “They have experienced things and heard things here, in the buildings out back.”
The ghost hunting team has approached the staff at the museum and may be back soon for a formal investigation.
While he is quick to admit he keeps hoping for that paranormal experience, he believes his logical nature and fact-finding mind probably make it impossible.
Or does it?
“We were in a haunted building a while ago and I said out loud that I thought I was so rational that a ghost would have to actually hit me in the face for me to believe it. About an hour later, a candy flew from the other side of the room and hit me.:
Their ghost books highlight public buildings across the province, so that readers can visit the locations.
“Even if you don’t believe in ghosts, you can learn about history and that's great,” Andrew said. “Lots of people who won’t ever read a history book will read a good ghost story.”
Many of the locations they have profiled are in Simcoe County. Watch for the haunting details as BarrieToday visits a few of the locations on Friday and Saturday.