Reliving History with the Old Montreal Ghost Tour

After an enjoyable dinner at Modavie I was ready to head to my next scheduled activity: a ghost tour of Old Montreal. Old Montreal Ghosts or Les Fantomes de Vieux Montreal was founded about 8 years ago by a local Montrealer, Eric Poulin, who got the idea for a ghost tour on one of his travels to London. Recently he has started to collaborate with Louise Hébert, owner of Guidatour and a very experienced tourism entrepreneur who has won numerous prizes from Quebec Tourism and in 2005 was also honoured as one of Chatelaine Magazine Top Ten Women of the Year. Both entrepreneurs together combined to provide a special experience in Old Montreal.

Walking up Place Jacques Cartier as the sun sets

Old Montreal Ghosts offers a variety of tours: a traditional ghost walk that introduces visitors to the streets, alleyways and piers of Old Montreal, to the locations of many historical events including fires, ghost appearances, political gatherings, hangings, crimes, heroic acts and unexplained facts. The Montreal Historical Crimes Tour makes visitors relive some of Montreal’s most famous crimes through the testimony of victims and criminals.

I was going to partake of the New France Ghost Hunt, with characters dating back to the founding times of Montreal. Another ghost tour focuses on the Port area while a Scavenger Hunt is also offered where competing teams have to find answers to rally questions.

Illuminated fountain with the Montreal City Hall in the background

Based on these interesting offerings, I was sure a special experience was waiting for me. So just before 8:30 pm I went to a booth on Jacques Cartier Quay in the Old Port of Montreal to participate in the New France Ghost Hunt. Quebec was part of New France and Montreal’s French regime lasted from 1642, the founding of Montreal, to 1760, when France conceded its overseas territories to Great Britain in 1763 at the end of the Seven Years War. The ghosts we would be meeting tonight would date back to that era.

Two ghost tours were being offered tonight: one in French and one in English. Together with a family from Battle Creek, Michigan, and another family from Boston I was ready to go searching for Montreal’s ghosts. A lady dressed in a late-medieval costume called us together and explained to us how the tour would work. She handed out some critical accessories: a flag of New France as well as a lantern and designated a tour leader who would have to coordinate our efforts.

She gave us maps of Old Montreal that contained 4 stops at each of which we would have to locate the resident ghost and call him or her by chanting “Long live the King of France”. This would make the ghost appear. And off she sent us on our treasure hunt for the ghosts of Old Montreal.

Montreal City Hall, all lit up at night

Well, it was a beautiful evening and hundreds of people on the outdoor restaurant patios on Place Jacques Cartier could attest to that. Our first ghost destination was located at Champ-de-Mars, a former parade ground for military manoeuvres, and since 1991 a place where the old fortifications of Montreal have been revealed. We went through our ghost calling ceremony and sure enough, the ghost of a young man appeared, telling us stories of young forbidden love, arson and his early death. He was a rather charming ghost that endeared himself to his audience with his French-Canadian accent and his bright smile.

What a charming ghost!

Our next ghost location was just south of Montreal’s City Hall, in the Place de la Dauversière, a public square next to Place Jacques Cartier that holds several works of public art as well as a statue of one of Montreal’s most famous mayors, Jean Drapeau. Place Jacques Cartier itself at one point held a public market and a statue of British Admiral Nelson overlooks the square, however, the famous admiral interestingly faces away from the port area.

Having arrived at the proper spot, we were able to call up a young female ghost who told us tales of her voyage to North America and her love story with one of the sailors. She was also reaped away by an untimely death and her expressive playful demeanor was fitting for such a young girlish ghost.

Dead, yet playful….

Then we crossed Place Jacques Cartier and strolled to Cours Le Royer, a complex of huge warehouses that used to be the property of the religieuses hospitalières (nursing sisters) of Saint-Joseph, an order of nuns who rented out the warehouses to importers to generate revenue for their organization. The complex was built between 1860 and 1871 and features a cobble-stoned alley between the warehouses.

He scared the bejeezus out of me…

After some searching we found another ghost and went through our ghost calling ritual. A young male ghost talked to us of his journey to the New World and how he came into conflict with the authorities. In gruesome detail he depicted the torture techniques that were used at the time of the French regime. This ghost was the most scary of all and his anger at his fate was palpable. When he was finished telling us his story we started to proceed to search for our fourth and final ghost. As I looked back, this ghost was still standing on the rue Saint-Sulpice and his haunting gaze kept following our group, sending a chill up our spine.

A “woodrunner” or “coureur du bois” ghost

Finally, on Place d’Armes, after a long search, we were able to find our last ghost. He was one of the “coureurs du bois”, young men that used to venture deep into Native territory in order to negotiate with Indian tribes who were supplying fur to the merchants of New France. His stories made the early years of fur trading in wild and uncharted lands come to life.

Place d’Armes at night

Each of these ghosts shed light on a different aspect of life in New France in the 17th and 18th century, a time when adventure and danger were part of daily life. Our tour finished around 10 pm, a perfect time for me to walk back through the safe streets of Montreal to write up today’s experiences and catch some sleep for my adventures tomorrow: a walking tour of Old Montreal.

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