Ruthven : Canada’s Lost Ghost Town

Ruthven Park – – 243 Haldimand County Hwy 54, Cayuga, Ontario, Canada – MAP

Ruthven was once the Ghost Town of Indiana

Indiana, Ontario is a ghost town unlike those with wooden structures along dusty roads, men with cowboy hats walking about on plank sidewalks.  Canada’s ghost town is different.

 

Ruthven - Thompson Mansion

At first glance the former town of Indiana, Ontario, Canada (now Ruthven Park) looks like a southern plantation along side the Mississippi.

An old stone mansion surrounded by weeping willows, stone fences and statues, looking over our most storied river known as the Grand.

What remains today are ruins of the old mills, some houses and the family mansion once belonging to the most influential family in Haldimand history… The Thompson’s

Why Indiana Died

Once the sister to the town of Cayuga (only minutes down the road), Indiana’s progress would surpass it.  As long as boats transported lumber along the Grand River everything would be fine.

Nobody, including David Thompson, would have dreamed of of a future technology being built across Canada.

Indiana’s fate was sealed when the train found its way into Haldimand.  A hub was built in Cayuga, bypassing Indiana, and the old lumber town didn’t stand a chance.  The boats disappeared and lumber was processed in larger ports like Toronto.

Indiana residents moved out, their wooden houses abandoned, leaving behind loved ones buried in the town graveyard.  Slowly the wooden structures fell, leaving only the Thompson mansion, the town and family graveyards, a couple of historic houses and energy from what was.

The Thompson Family

Ruthven Parlour in Thompson Mansion, Haldimand, Ontario
Parlour in Thompson Mansion – – Ruthven Park

The Thompson mansion centres Ruthven Park as a reminder of Indiana and the ambitions of David the 1st over 150 years ago.

David the 1st

The patriarch of the Thompson family fought in the War of 1812.  A kid serving under the famed General Isaac Brock, he was a messenger and witness to the Battle of Queenston Heights when the great man fell.

 

He’d survive the war, and as an adult started the Grand River Navigation Company.  A mill was built along the Grand River and land settled along side it.  The mansion was finished in 1847, and the town of Indian emerged around it.

David Thompson's rocking chair - - same one he sat in when dying in 1886
David Thompson’s rocking chair – – same one he sat in when dying in 1886

With everything successful at home, he ran for Parliament and won the seat representing Haldimand.

David was still a politician in his later years, leading up to 1886.  While still holding the Parliament seat, David Thompson died inside the Thompson mansion, on the second floor while sitting in his favourite rocking chair.

The Graveyards

Town Graveyard at Ruthven Park
Town Gravestone

The graveyards of Ruthven Park include a largely Irish, rough looking plot on the east side of the grounds, and a polished family plot on the west side.

The town graveyard is bigger, up on a hill overlooking the highway and gatehouse.  The stones lovingly restored by Lower Grand River Land Trust after time and tree roots caused damage.

The Thompson family plot is hidden down a path beside the current parking lot.  It thins to a walkway dimmed from the electric light of the lot.  The path unnoticed in the dark of night.  Walk the path, and a minute later it clears, you’ll see a hill and the old fence surround the Thompson family.

The Ghosts of Ruthven

Ruthven Park is an anomaly of historic gems.  Located in a remote place surrounded by beauty but outside the modern world.  The mansion left original from the last Thompson’s who lived there until the 1990’s.

Combined, this makes for some interesting energy.  For the full experience, please join us for the rare Ghost Walks of Ruthven.  ‘

For this article let me introduce you to it’s most interesting ghost…

Little Bessie – – 
During a historical tour a young girl wasn’t listening.  They all listened to the guide, parents and daughter, as they went through the mansion.  Amazing stories of how the Thompson’s lived and what they experienced.  Then arriving at the grand staircase, the tour guide noticed the little girl focusing on the stairs.

 

She ignored it, continued on with the stories and forgot until after the tour when saying goodbye.  At the back door as the family walks up and mom says “Our daughter has a question”

Then the daughter asked,

“Who was the other girl sitting on the stairs?”

 

Grand Staircase in the mansion at Ruthven - - where kids see Bessie Thompson
Grand Staircase in the mansion at Ruthven – – where kids see Bessie Thompson

The confused tour guide knew there were no other kids in the group.  She asked the daughter to describe the little girl, and in that something clicked.

A historic letter written by David the 2nd (son of David Thompson the 1st) back in the 1800’s where he described his daughter Bessie.  It sounded like the same description.

This would be confirmed for us at the Ghost Walks, in 2008 a special tour was done.  Before the story of Bessie was told, another little girl approached our former Ghost Guide Lady Jade and asked, “Who was the little girl on the stairs?”

Why the Stairs?

When having experiences, it’s important to ask questions.

Bessie didn’t live a long life, dying inside the mansion in 1876 of a disease called Diphtheria.  Tragically she was only 11 years old and knew little about the outside world.  The house was her everything, so a ghost hunter would think ‘where else would she go?’

But why the stairs?  Because, as the sickness got worse Bessie spent a lot of time sitting on the stairs.  She was looking out the side window beside the front door.  Then footsteps and a shadow appeared before a knock at the door caused her to scream, run up the stairs and hide in her bedroom.

The dreaded visitor… a local doctor wanting to give her bad tasting medicine.

**For the full experience, join us for the rare Ghost Walks of Ruthven