Halloween is a highlight each October for kids who love costumes, trick-or-treating and gorging on chocolate and candy. But in Ontario, you’ll find plenty of ghoulishness for the grown-up kids-at-heart among us who’ll never outgrow the need for fright-filled fun.
From horror film festivals, weird and sinister walking tours, scare parks, eerie hotels and deserted ghost towns, here are five spooktacular Ontario cities you’ll need to haunt this Halloween season.
Spend a few days delving into the dark side of Canada’s original capital.
Kingston’s original haunted walk through old Sydenham Ward features haunted hotels, tales of hidden burial grounds and grave robbings, the site of hangings at the old courthouse, and the city’s famous haunted courtyard. Or ride the Ghost and Mystery Trolley Tour through Kingston’s paranormal past to haunted spots like the Rockwood Asylum, the Cataraqui Cemetery and the grave of Sir John A. Macdonald.
Visit the infamous Kingston Penitentiary that once confined Canada’s most notorious criminals. Enter cells, segregation rooms and recreation yards on the 90-minute guided tour and expect full body goosebumps.
Fort Henry National Historic Site is a UNESCO World Heritage 19th century military living museum that transforms into one of North America’s top haunted houses each Halloween season. Fort Fright taps into our deepest fears with nightmarish scenes of death, decay and creepy clowns.
Don’t be surprised if you rub shoulders with a supernatural guest at the Hochelaga Inn, a beautiful 1879 Victorian mansion and one of Kingston’s finest places to sleep (with one eye open).
Northern Ontario’s largest city grew from its humble roots as a mining town and holds a myriad of dark tales from its struggle to prosperity.
Due to the rise and fall of the mining industry, there are many defunct mine pits and ghost towns surrounding Sudbury, like Sellwood, abandoned in 1932. Today, if you take a walk where the town once stood, all you’ll find is a scattering of ruins and the graves of three young children.
Just south of Sudbury is the site of Burwash Camp Bison, an abandoned prison that now sits on a private farm. Contact the property owners directly for permission to visit and to arrange a tour of the place.
Catch the annual terror train to Sellwood Asylum at the Northern Ontario Railroad Museum and Heritage Center, in Capreol, in the north end of the city along the Vermilion River. And get your scare on at the 5th Northern Frights Festival, Northern Ontario’s premiere horror film festival taking place over the course of one nightmare-filled day on October 19 at the Sudbury Theatre Centre.
Our nation’s capital comes in at a solid 10 out of 10 on the scare scale.
The Haunted Walk hosts several spinetingling tours. Descend into the city’s paranormal past on the original haunted walk, tours of haunted jails and the homes of former Prime Ministers, or embark on an interactive zombie adventure deep inside the Diefenbunker Museum, a former military bunker from the Cold War era.
Tucked away beside the Bytown Locks, the Bytown Museum, is one of the city’s oldest buildings and is said to be home to the restless spirit of its construction manager.
The HI Ottawa Jail Hostel on Nicholas Street is an old jailhouse turned accommodation for the budget conscious. Believed to be the place where an assassin was hanged in 1869, guests have reported seeing his apparition and those of other prisoners staring back at them. Take the free daily jail tour through death row, have a drink at the hostel’s bar, Mugshots, and if you dare, sleep (or try to) in a real solitary confinement cell. Alternatively, check into the grand, historic Hotel Fairmont Château Laurier and keep an eye out for the phantom of its previous owner, who tragically perished on the Titanic.
Canada’s most cosmopolitan city has its fair share of scare.
Facing Toronto’s harbourfront are a cluster of scenic islands, popular among daytrippers during the summer but much quieter during the rest of the year. On Centre Island, hike out to the Gibraltar Point Lighthouse, the oldest standing lighthouse on the Great Lakes, built in the early 1800s. Its first lightkeeper was also a bootlegger and is believed to haunt the spot of his rumored murder by drunken soldiers.
Casa Loma, the fabled gothic mansion atop the city, opens its doors this season for Legends of Horror, an hour-long, self-guided sleuth through the mansion past nooks and crannies not usually open to the public.
For horror film fans, Toronto After Dark presents nine days of the best new thrills and chills from the world of cinema, October 17-25. While in town, you’ll also want to check out the 6ix Screams International Horror Short Film Festival on October 21. And yet another must-see for fans of the genre is the It’s Alive! exhibit at the Royal Ontario Museum, showcasing classic horror and sci-fi art from the private collection of Kirk Hammett, the legendary guitarist of heavy metal band Metallica.
For live theatre fans, a visit to the historic Elgin & Winter Garden Theatres is a must. Catch the smash hit Come From Away, and on October 28, take the rarely offered Ghost Tour. A lonely trombone player and a lady who prefers lavender perfume are said to haunt the national historic site that dates back to 1913 and the height of Vaudeville.
According to legend, screams and footsteps heard in the 19th floor stairwell of The Fairmont Royal York, one of Toronto’s most distinguished historic hotels, belong to a former employee who mysteriously died there. Guests and staff have also reported the service elevator riding up to the closed Crystal Ballroom without anyone having pushed the floor button.
Image credit: Fear Farm
Just an hour outside of Toronto are the twin cities of Kitchener and Waterloo. You’re in Fear Farm country now.
Experience bone chilling terror at Bingemans Screampark for four horrifying haunts, three execution rides and one red escape room. About half an hour drive west in Bright is Fear Farm, Ontario’s legendary haunted farm, not for the faint of heart. Snyder’s Farm is transformed into a horror park with six haunt experiences, wandering zombies, fire eaters, illusionists, fortune tellers and a haunted house.
If you survive, take a wander over to the Waterloo County Jail and the Governor’s House in Kitchener. Built in 1852, the jail is the oldest existing government building in the city and is said to be haunted by spirits of former inmates. While in town, experience the historic charm of The Walper Hotel, an iconic 1893 downtown landmark boutique hotel, reputed to be inhabited by a benevolent paranormal presence.
And just a 45-minute drive west, in Ontario’s renowned theatre town of Stratford, the guided Ghosts of Stratford Theatrical Walking Tours invite you to drown your fears on the Pubs, Pilsners and Spirits walk or take in one more nightmare on the special Halloween edition Dr. Blood Walks Again tour.