A chilly October evening, a cozy fire, and a good ghost story… it’s the perfect antidote for stressful times.
Readers can thank local author Andrew Hind for providing yet another escape from the mundane with his latest book, Muskoka’s Most Haunted.
A historian as well as an author, Hind has made it his mission to record Ontario’s forgotten past, from the stories of once-thriving ghost towns to the histories of some of Muskoka’s premier resorts.
But, he says, there’s another side to Muskoka — "one of bumping noises and eerie mists, of whispers bleeding through walls and restless apparitions.”
Through his journeys and researches, Hind has come across plenty of whispered stories, of ghostly visitors from the past who appear to continue to share historic spaces with residents and casual visitors to the region.
Among his 27 books are other collections of ghostly tales, written with former co-author Maria Da Silva, that chronicle hauntings in Ontario.
Muskoka’s Most Haunted covers a number of the stories and eye-witness accounts left “unrevealed” in earlier books – combining ghost stories with historic details, and even travel information for anyone interested in experiencing the unexplained for themselves.
“It wasn’t difficult at all to get people to want to chat about their ghost experiences. People seemed eager to share,” he says.
Rather than having to chase down the stories, “in many cases, I was approached by people wanting to relate their experiences.”
Some of the tales have been in his files for years, just waiting for the right time and the right book.
Hind brings a scholarly mind to a subject more commonly shared around a campfire.
“While I’m primarily a historian, I do enjoy writing ghost stories. They are an opportunity to share a bit of history with someone who may not otherwise read a history book – and writing ghost stories requires using a different part of the brain, so it is a refreshing challenge," he says.
Hind obviously enjoys his forays into the “other side.” Pre-COVID, he led 'Ghost Tours' at locales that included Muskoka Heritage Place, home to the original “Hill House," which he calls “the most spiritually active building within the recreated pioneer village.”
It was built by Robert Norton Hill, a minister in Schomberg for the first half of his career, who was inspired by the offer of free land for settlers to move north to Muskoka in 1867.
Hill founded the Post Office at Hillside in 1878 and died in 1895, but both he and his wife Caroline remain as a ghostly presence in their preserved two-storey frame house.
From the Bracebridge Public Library to the Gravenhurst Opera House – “every opera house needs a phantom, after all,” he notes – to resorts and private homes, Hind has collected stories of ghostly experiences.
Most are only mischievous, with teasing poltergeist activity. Others seemingly reflect past tragedies. And at least one tale includes a ghostly rescue.
A photographer, balancing precariously on a rock at Rosseau Falls, was startled by the touch of a ghostly hand. He ran back up the slope and looked back just in time to see a huge tree branch sweep over the rock where he had been standing.
So, pull up a seat, snuggle up in front of the fire, and enjoy Muskoka’s Most Haunted, as October’s winds howl – and maybe plan a trip to the Inn at the Falls in Bracebridge, where “guests refuse to check out.”
Built by John Adair in 1876, it was purchased the following year by William C. Mahaffy, son of Dr. Mahaffy of Bond Head. A lawyer and Judge, W.C. Mahaffy died in 1912. The house fell into disrepair but was renovated as the Holiday House hotel in the 1940s by Ernie and Marion Allchin, and after a series of owners, purchased by Bill and Sylvia Richardson, who named it ‘Inn at the Falls.’
Ghosts include an Ojibwe maiden seen on the grounds, a former owner in a striped sweater, a crying woman believed to have died after falling down a flight of stairs, several mischievous children – and Judge Mahaffy, dressed in the garb of the 1890s.
Visitors may catch a whiff of his cigars, although the Inn is non-smoking – but why not book a room, and see for yourself?
Some of the stories of hauntings are well-known. Others are being shared for the first time. One thing is certain, cottage country will never be the same.
Locally, Muskoka’s Most Haunted is available on Amazon.ca. The illustrated paperback, which sells for $25, is also available at Birchbark in Bala, Rosseau General Store, and Artisans of Muskoka. A portion of sales goes to Muskoka Heritage Place.
“Museums, like so many businesses, have been hard hit by the pandemic, and I wanted to give back to one of my favourites,” Hind explains.
As for his ghost tours? “Everything is still on hold. There is interest in a return to the Inn at the Falls, and/or Muskoka Heritage Place, but nothing concrete planned.”
For now, the book will do.