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Ottawa Spirits Guide: from Caspers to Cocktails

By Chris Lackner

Ottawa will leave you haunted — both by spirits that say boo, and the ones better served in a glass over ice. From ghostly restaurants and museums, to spirited cocktails and whisky-soaked welcomes, we showcase how the capital will leave you screaming for more tricks and treats.

Ottawa's Haunted Walks.

Ottawa’s Haunted Walks.

SPOOKS

“When most people think about Ottawa today, they think about a safe and beautiful capital city,” explains Jim Dean, creative director of Haunted Walks. “However, many are unaware that ByTown, the first name of the city, was once considered to be one of the most dangerous places in North America. The gang warfare between the rival English, French, Irish and Scottish groups, contributed to significant violence, murder and riots in the city streets. The construction process of the Rideau Canal, today a UNESCO World Heritage Site, also claimed the lives of close to 1,000 workers along its banks. With such a dark and deadly past, Ottawa certainly has all the elements to be one of Canada’s most haunted cities.” On that chilly note…

APPETIZERS & APPARITIONS

Beckta restaurant is one of the city's oldest haunted haunts.

Beckta restaurant is one of the city’s oldest haunted haunts.

Beckta: This restaurant serves up a famous ghost, heritage architecture, and a tantalizing menu — making it the perfect haunt for the living and the dead. The previous long-time tenant, Friday’s Roast Beef House, could have inserted the word Haunted into its official name. Dr. James Alexander Grant built the three-storey masterpiece in 1875, practiced his craft onsite, and was even rumoured to maintain a morgue in his basement. Today, the only surgery being done in the old Grant House is by talented sous chefs. Owner Stephen Beckta discusses his restaurant’s famous phantom:

Q: Is Beckta really haunted?

Most of the stories come from before Beckta moved in. They involved seeing a figure in the window or staff hearing coughing (Dr. Grant was both asthmatic and loved to smoke cigars). When we took occupancy, I left a glass of champagne on the mantle in an heirloom Grant family glass. It was partially gone (thenext morning) and we’ve been haunting free ever since, so (Dr. Grant) likes us in his space… One time we had a problem with lights flickering and we thought it might be  the ghost, but it turned out our dimmer switch was faulty.

Q: What signature drink would you serve Dr. Grant?

I’d offer him a smoky cocktail, like our Smoked Butter (brown butter bourbon, vermouth, black soochong, cinnamon, mole).

The Courtyard Restaurant

The Courtyard Restaurant

The Courtyard Restaurant: Located in the ByWard Market’s Clarendon Court, a cobblestoned hotspot for ghostly activity, the building is said to be haunted by Mrs. Evans, a woman that reportedly died during an 1872 fire when the site was an inn.

Cynthia Verboven, senior events coordinator:

Over the 36 years of The Courtyard’s history, few privileged staff have had the opportunity to encounter Mrs. Evans, our resident ghost. One employee, while burning the midnight oil, reported seeing a ghostly apparition standing next to the third window of the Loft Room on the second floor. Others have reported experiencing extreme chills and an overwhelming sensation to flee the building, or the sound of tinkling glasses when left alone in the dining room. Some have even seen saltshakers move swiftly on their own across the tables!

OTHERWORDLY TOURIST DESTINATIONS

The Chateau Laurier.

The Chateau Laurier.

Château Laurier: Railway executive Charles Melville died on the Titanic en route to the grand opening of the landmark hotel, located adjacent to Parliament. He never got to see the French-Gothic style building he commissioned in action, and his name has been linked to supernatural phenomenon — reported both by famous guests and staff — ever since. “It would make sense that he believed in this project so much, that he was so passionate for it, that he would want to see it through,” explains Creepy Capital author Mark Leslie.

Mackenzie King Estate

Mackenzie King Estate

William Lyon Mackenzie King: The specter of the former prime minister, and avowed spiritualist, haunts two famous buildings open to the public. He inherited Laurier House, and is said to have conducted séances onsite with everyone from his mother and dog to famous personalities like Leonardo da Vinci and Franklin Delano Roosevelt. The ghost of Mackenzie King himself is associated with his Gatineau Park retreat, Mackenzie King Estate, where Leslie’s book describes sightings of a glowing, spectral figure. It plays host during Fall Rhapsody from October 1 until October 16, when its museum and cottages close for the season.

Juan Sanchez, site manager of Laurier House: 

Every summer at least one of our employees has some supernatural experience. The sound of someone sneezing when no one was around, doors opening when they were thought to be locked, objects being moved when no one has been in the house. This summer, we have been experiencing strange events with our alarm system. William Lyon Mackenzie King was a spiritualist and owned a crystal ball. Of course, this is very valuable, so it is hooked up to its own alarm system. For a few weeks in June, the alarm was being triggered in the middle of the night. On several occasions, the alarm company was called, the ball was inspected and nothing was detected. They would leave ensuring us that the matter had been fixed, the next day the same thing would happen. Perhaps the spirits were trying to get in touch with us!

SPIRITED RETREATS

Ottawa's old jail is now a haunted hostel.

Ottawa’s old jail is now a haunted hostel.

Old Ottawa Jail (now the Ottawa Jail Hostel): “The Jail is recognized as one of the most haunted buildings in North America and new reports continue to come in,” says Haunted Walk’s Jim Dean. “Several years ago some newlyweds joined us on a tour of the old jail and took photos of each other inside some of the cells. After taking a photo of the husband, they noticed the face of another man with an old-fashioned haircut in the photo. The image is so clear that if it weren’t shot on a digital camera you would think it would have to be the result of a double-exposure.” 

MUSEUMS

The Museum of Nature

The Museum of Nature

Bytown Museum:  The museum, located alongside the Rideau Canal’s arresting locks just below our political hub, is the oldest — and one of the most haunted — buildings in the city. Eerie experiences range from the sound of footsteps on an empty staircase to objects seemingly moving of their own accord. Leslie suspects “some of the ghosts at the museum came from the spirits of those that died building the canal.”

Canadian Museum of Nature: Normal by day, Leslie says the site’s supernatural nature reveals itself at night. Security guards have reported unexplained sounds and activity — from cold spots on the fourth floor to elevators moving and doors opening of their own accord. He says one female employee reported seeing the faint outline of a man form in a mirror before passing through her body, and even daytime visitors have allegedly had the uncanny feeling of being watched. But it’s likely just another Casper; Leslie suggests the ghost could be that of original architect David Ewart. But given the ancient artifacts and relics that have been housed onsite over the years, who knows what forces may have tagged along with an exhibit? The museum’s castle-influenced design is practically a ghost welcome mat.

Dan Smythe, head of the museum’s media relations: 

Perhaps the spirit of Sir Wilfrid Laurier graces the museum. When the Parliament buildings burned in February 1916, Parliament moved into the museum for four years. Under Laurier’s leadership the museum was built; when he died on February 17, 1919, his body lay in state in the museum’s auditorium. An estimated 50,000 people passed by to pay their respects.

SPIRITS (THE HARD STUFF):

North-of-7-Where-Ottawa-Spirit-Guide

North of 7 Distillery’s spirited products.

North of 7 Distillery: The first batch of four-grain, bourbon-style whisky from the capital’s first-and-only distillery won’t be available until early 2017 (it needs to be aged for at least three years). Co-owner Greg Lipin promises a flavour with hints of “butterscotch ripple or caramel.” For now, visitors can buy their top-selling gin, vodka, rum and White Dog, a “fancy moonshine” – basically fresh whiskey off the still. Split Tree Cocktail Co.’s local cocktail mix is also sold onsite. Lipin is clear on which spirit he recommends pouring before seeking out Ottawa’s ghouls and goblins: “Our White Dog moonshine. It will give you liquid courage beforehand, and calm your nerves afterwards.”

TRICKS AND TREATS: SHOPPING & ATTRACTIONS

Saunder's Farm

Saunders Farm

Saunders Farm: Haunting Season (daytime, family-friendly activities opening September 26) and Fright Fest (night-time activities for adults and children, open weekends starting September 24) return to this farm in nearby Munster, Ont. Get your spook on with labyrinths, a Haunted Hayride, the Ghost Town stage show, the Barn of Terror, Camp Slaughter and a new spooky attraction opening in October. After fending off the phantoms, enjoy some farm fresh food.

Pumpkinferno

Pumpkinferno

Upper Canada Village lights up with Pumpkinferno from September 30 to October 30. You’ll feel haunted by the outdoor, nighttime exhibit of 7,000 handcrafted pieces of pumpkin art just inside the gates of the historic attraction. Illuminate your Halloween season with displays of scenes from exotic places and historic ages, forest animals and sea-born creatures, storybook heroes, mythical characters, cultural icons and more.

Wicked Wanda's. Credit: Pole Star Photography

Wicked Wanda’s. Credit: Pole Star Photography

Wicked Wanda’sLocated in the iconic Imperial Theatre, which was one of Canada’s major music venues in the 1980s, Wicked Wanda’s houses hundreds of hand-selected adult leisure products. Along with the popular brands of pleasure makers, you’ll find unique and custom items by local artisans and entrepreneurs. Wanda’s is also home to the Sensorium Erotic Gallery, Ottawa’s only erotic art space, which includes works by local, national, and international artists. The gallery, curated by artist-in-residence David Cation, is open during store hours. Not too sure about the tools of satisfaction? Don’t be shy — the knowledgeable staff have a passion for pleasure. 327 Bank St., 613-820-6032, 

Wunderkammer is the German word for “cabinet of curiosities,” and this shop certainly lives up to its name with its whimsical, one-of-a-kind products. You’ll even meet a 100-year-old doll that stands in a glass jar and acts as store security. Vintage furniture, animal skulls, and walls covered in sassy, out-there artwork give the location character. Among the glass cases full of jewellery — including Frug, a line created by owners Tamara Steinborn and Nathan Dubo — you’ll also find stationery, handbags, art, and home décor. The owners say their most magical items are found in one of their house jewellery lines: Tamara Steinborn Jewellery. “We launched the line on Halloween 2015 and it plays on dark and mystical themes from mythology and Wiccan lore.” 234 Dalhousie St., 613-860-3510, Facebook @wunderkammerboutique

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