Dundurn Castle was saved from the decay of time by an ambitious city.
Once home to a former Prime Minister. Sir Allan MacNab (knighted thanks to his role in the Rebellion of 1837) served as a leader of Upper Canada (today the province of Ontario). This was the high point of his roller coaster of a life.
3 years long, from 1832 to 1835, to build Dundurn on land at the mouth of Burlington Heights. This land once owned and made famous by a pioneer named Richard Beasley.
Beasley helped found Ancaster, served in Parliament and donated his land to the British war effort. The soldiers camped out just across the street before marching on Stoney Creek, initiating a pivotal turning point in the War of 1812.
MacNab worked the foundation and basement of Beasley’s home into the final design of Dundurn.
Controversy followed MacNab in life. Many shady dealings attributed to his fading wealth. Even in death he generated negative press, sparking a city-wide controversy related to religion.
In life MacNab was a dedicated Anglican. In faith and reputation. So when the Catholic Bishop of Hamilton declared MacNab converted to Catholicism on his death bed, nobody believed it.
It’s true MacNab’s Catholic sister-in-law invited the Bishop to give last rites. Inside Dundurn, with only the three of them to witness.
Most, including the Hamilton Spectator and Toronto Globe and Mail, passed it off as a silly rumour. Not the Mayor of Hamilton, a dedicated Catholic.
The Mayor backed the Bishop’s move to ensure MacNab was buried a Catholic. A posse was hired to stand guard at the funeral with weapons in case of religious violence.
Word got out and the public stayed away. Only family attended as MacNab’s body was buried in a plot on Dundurn land.
His body remained in the family plot until a law was passed not allowing family cemeteries in the city’s core. All MacNab’s were moved to Hamilton Cemetery… except Allan the Catholic.
He was thrown into an unmarked grave in the back of Holy Sepulchre (now part of Burlington). Located in the historic section near the chapel.
Thankfully, in the 1960’s, a historical group put down a stone to mark the resting place of the once famous man.
Direct line to the Royal Family
Sophia (pronounced So-fi-ah) MacNab was the favourite daughter of Sir Allan. She was married at 23 to an English Earl named William Keppel.
The line starts from there and ends with a great-great granddaughter named Camilla. She would become the second wife of Prince Charles.
Across the street
Beasley gave up his land for the British troops during the war. The habit stuck, for in 1814 he would give lend the same land.
Eight men were executed for treason in a historical account known as the Bloody Assize of Ancaster.
The trial was in a small courthouse in the old town. Eight men were kept in the basement of the Ancaster Mill before being transported to Beasley’s land (now across from Dundurn, site of the Hamilton Cemetery)
Gallows setup and we know the men were hanged. What happened after the hanging remains a mystery as there are two different accounts (details recounted on the Ghost Walks at the Hermitage Ruins & our Dark Trolley Tour).
This land would become Canada’s oldest city run burial ground, the Hamilton Cemetery. Includes graves for many notable Hamiltonians, and original earthworks made by the British during the war.
A Haunted Building, we think
The governing body who run Dundurn Castle are amazing caretakers of a historic building. Our disagreement is on the subject of ghosts.
They don’t give credit to the unseen energies. Ignoring what remains which connects us to the actual folks who made the history. Tour guides at the castle sign contracts stating if you’re caught telling ghost stories you’ll be fired.
Even with the tight leash, ghost stories manage to escape.
Accounts of a creepy doll moving about the mansion to the singing voice of Lady Mary MacNab from her sick room on the second-floor.
Then there’s the Wedding Ghost
Countless wedding photos have been taken around Dundurn Castle.
During one such session, the groomsmen were standing behind the mansion across from the bridal path. A photo snapped with stone and windows in the background.
A reflection in the glass pane of a window stood out, not matching any reflections or normal light. The photographers, confused, sent it to the Hamilton Spectator.
A reporter blew up the anomaly and found someone who recognised it. Shape and look just like a famous sketch located inside the castle.
The sketch created by the English Earl William Keppel. Carefully he captured his beloved wife, Sophia MacNab.
Sophia is said to haunt her childhood home. Look at her history and it makes sense. Sent away and married off at a young age. She missed the death of her father. Then the house is taken by Hamilton officials due to debt.
She never returned to her home. This is why she remains.
Daniel of The Ghost Walks shares this story on YouTube
A 1960’s tour of Dundurn Castle in Hamilton
Photographic tour of Dundurn Castle done in 1967 for the Hamilton Spectator. Featuring…
- Entrance with iconic columns
- Grand staircase leading up to the…
- Upstairs parlour featuring a piano built in Hamilton in the 1800’s
- Sir Allan Napier MacNab’s bedroom
- Dundurn’s Dining Room, with angle of windows were the Wedding Ghost (see above) would appear about 30 years later
- Including a drawing of the Drawing Room