This post is part of our ongoing series, Canadian Wine — specifically, Canadian wineries and the remarkable wines they produce. Today, Meaghan Carey takes us on an unusual quest to explore the ghost stories of Canada's most haunted town, Niagara-on-the-Lake, pairing each story with a winery in the region.
Given that the Niagara area is one of Canada’s oldest established wine regions, and that Niagara-on-the-Lake was the capital of Canada during the War of 1812, which brought much violence to the region, it's only fitting that the area has some spooky happenings occurring throughout the town and the surrounding farmland and wineries.
If you're looking for a thrilling experience this Halloween, the Niagara-on-the-Lake region is the perfect spot to visit. The town holds the reputation of “Canada’s most haunted town” and if that isn’t chilling enough for you, the town's also home to some of Canada’s finest icewine producers.
Ghosts and wine, oh my!
Forget candy and wine pairings and let's delve into ghost stories and winery pairings
Niagara-on-the-Lake is a charming, quaint town, but it's also a town steeped in history that, sadly, isn't so charming. The area was a focal point for the War of 1812 — a war between Britain and France, that played out in Upper Canada between Canada and the United States.
While we won’t go too far into a history lesson, a key fact needed for this article — and for your trip to explore the hauntings of Niagara-on-the-Lake — is that the Americans captured the town and burned it to the ground, leading to many horrible deaths and the ghost stories that resound today. They do say history is the foundation of ghosts.
The town is full of tales, spirits, ghosts ... and wineries. So this Halloween season, forget candy and wine pairings, and let’s delve into ghost stories and winery pairings.
First, let's start with the legend of the town ghost, the “Watcher.” Local lore claims that many people have reported witnessing a strange blue light floating nightly throughout Niagara-on-the-Lake. The tale is that the light is the spirit of a long-dead town constable who now patrols the town in the wee hours of the night. It should be noted that the crime rate is very low in the town, which may just be thanks to the work of the “Watcher."
To pair with the town ghost, “Watcher,” you should visit the equally important Inniskillin Niagara Estate Winery, a pioneer in the Canadian wine industry and world renowned for its icewine.
The Winery is open year round, and public tours are scheduled daily. Experience Inniskillin’s award winning portfolio of icewine at the Winery’s Tasting Bar.
The Olde Angel Inn
A must-stop on your haunted tour of Niagara-on-the-Lake is The Olde Angel Inn, which is Ontario’s oldest operating inn. On one fateful night in 1813, residents were urged by the British to flee their homes to escape the American forces that were encroaching on the town. That night one British Captain chose to ignore the orders to flee to wait for his lover so he could bring her to safety. Sadly, Captain Swayze's lover never appeared that fateful evening. American forces, however, did appear, descending in large numbers upon Niagara-on-the-Lake.
Without time to flee the town and the charging Americans, Captain Swayze thought it best to take cover in a pub's wine cellar in hopes to survive the siege. Hearing the American soldiers approaching, Swayze forced his way into an empty wine barrel. As the Americans searched for Swayze in the cellar they stabbed the blades of their weapons into the barrels. As the wine poured around them, the soldiers continued to stab barrel after barrel, until Swayze's blood poured around them. Captain Swayze had been killed in the wine cellar. The inn and pub was burned that night by the Americans, as was much of Niagara-on-the-Lake.
The pub and inn was rebuilt in 1815. Since then Captain Swayze has remained a guest of the Olde Angel Inn. Over the years there have been many stories of strange happenings at the Inn, from dishes rearranging themselves to noises coming from an empty dining room.
If you're brave enough to enter The Olde Angel Inn make sure the Union Jack flag is flying above the pub; legend has it Captain Swayze gets even angrier when it's taken down.
Pay homage to Captain Swayze’s British allegiance with a visit to Peller Estates Winery, which was recently honoured by the British by being named Canadian Winery of the Year at London's International Wine & Spirit Competition.
Peller Estates Winery hosts a variety of tastings and tours daily throughout the year, from special events to daily wine and cheese pairing workshops, wine and chocolate pairings, and winery tours.
The most haunted spot in Niagara-on-the-Lake is the Screaming Tunnel. There are many tales attached to this famed spot, each more horrible than the last.
One local tale tells of a little girl who escaped a burning barn near the tunnel; with her clothing on fire, she ran towards the tunnel in hopes to save herself in the water which ran through it. The little girl managed to reach the tunnel, but not the water. It was too late, and she died screaming from severe burns in the tunnel.
There is also the story of an angry father who, after losing custody of his children, dragged his daughter down to the tunnel and set her on fire to punish the girl's mother. The little girl died in the tunnel.
While there are many variations of this terrible story, they all end the same: a little girl screaming as she dies in the tunnel.
Legend states that if you enter the tunnel at night and light a wooden match, the little girls' spirits will blow through the tunnel and extinguish the flame.
Visiting the tunnel at night requires a lot of courage; ready your spirit beforehand with a peaceful visit to the beautiful Château des Charmes Winery. The "Winegrowing Discovery Tour" is available every day, year round. On it you'll see the benefits of their sustainable agricultural practices and sample the Estate Grown wines. The serenity of the Château des Charmes Winery is the perfect balance to the terrifying experience of the Screaming Tunnel.
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Canadian Wine is written by Meaghan Carey. Meaghan shares her musings on life as she attempts to cook good food for family and friends from her small kitchen, on her blog Un Assaggio of Food, Wine and Marriage. Raised in Cape Breton, Meaghan returns home as much as possible and loves to welcome friends to this picturesque corner of Canada each summer. Connect with Meaghan on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.