Niagara on the Lake | Most Haunted Town

Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario, Canada – MAP

Quick Links… BURNING NOTL | SOBBING SOPHIA

Welcome to Canada’s most haunted town.  This article gives detailed, interesting history.  Plus 2 ghost stories not told on the Ghost Walks of Niagara-on-the-Lake

The History of Canada’s Most Haunted Town

Founded in 1792 by Loyalists escaping the American Revolution.  Served as British Canada’s first capitol.  And a focal point of violence during the War of 1812. 

Ghostly History Video based on this article (read by Daniel)

Upper Canada’s original capitol was home to many firsts for Ontario. The first…

  • Library
  • Courthouse
  • Post Office
  • Pharmacy
  • Newspaper
  • Church

And of course, public executions by hanging.  Leading to a little known first.  The one and only time in Canadian history when a woman was hanged.  The charge, poisoning her husband.

This history reads like a soap opera.  A young woman named Mary London forced to marry an older man.  He’s rich.  Owns a farm located at the “Head of the Lake”, area now part of the City of Hamilton.

It’s said Mary fell in love with a farmhand named George.  Together they planned her husband Bartholomew’s murder.  The method… poison.

It’s said George had to travel to the United States to get it, as Canadian Apothecary’s didn’t sell poisonous liquids to regular citizens. 

Bart died.  Mary was found out.  Her and George arrested and kept in a small stone jailhouse once at King and Byron in Niagara on the Lake.  Their love so strong… not really.  Each turned on the other, pointing fingers.

The courts unable to determine who planned and orchestrated the murder.  To make sure, Mary and George were hanged side-by-side.

To read the full story, Google Mary London.  There’s a Canadian biography page based on her.

Much was accomplished in the short time on this former Native land.   All starting with a loyalist named Colonel John Butler, along with his men and families settling the area and naming it “Butlersburg”.  Later to be called Newark (the capitol), Niagara and finally Niagara-on-the-Lake.

Loyalists – –

Loyalist is a simple term, meaning “staying loyal to the British crown”.  A bad thing in the late 1700’s while living in the United States.   These British men, women and kids fled the American Revolution, going into a British territory named Upper Canada to keep their loved ones safe. 

Upper Canada is now the province of Ontario, location of cities like Toronto, Ottawa and Hamilton.

Clock Tower & Courthouse of Niagara on the Lake - - Current day
Clock Tower & Courthouse of Niagara on the Lake – – Current day

Coming here for a new life, and meeting the native inhabitants.

The Natives of Canada

Natives called that land home for over 10,000 years.  Part of the Neutral Nation.  A tribe of Natives once spanning along the shores of Lake Ontario and Lake Erie. 

Named Neutral by settlers who believed them to be a peaceful group.  At its height, the nation is believed to have reached 12,000 people.  They occupied these lands for over 500 years.  Eventually destroyed by smallpox and invading tribes.

It’s the Neutrals who provided the name Niagara.  While settled in the town, their village was called Onghiara (nee-ah-gah-rah) meaning neck of land.

It sounded like “Niagara” to settlers.  

Starting “Butlersburg”

John Butler of Niagara-on-the-Lake
John Butler

The Mississauga tribe held the lands when loyalist John Butler arrived with his men.  They met with the Natives in 1781. The town was purchased for the British.  In return the Mississauga’s received a ridiculous payment.  300 suits of clothing.  As some historians say, 

“They were ripped off!” 

I agree.

In 1782, 16 families started “Butlersburg”.  Just 10 years later it was renamed “Newark” by Lieutenant-Governor John Graves Simcoe.  He created big plans for the strategically located land.

Newark was to become the first capitol of British Canada.

The Capitol

Didn’t last long.  Just 5 Parliament sessions over 3 years.  However, this included one of the most important created laws in Canadian history.   When slavery was outlawed.  One of the first laws of its kind in the world… sort of.

They didn’t end slavery in a single swoop.  Instead created guidelines to phase it out.  Starting with any newly arriving slaves to be freed immediately.  Also the children of current slaves were free.  Current slaves however, not free.

It’s rumored after the decision, government officials retired to a pub called The Harmonious Coach House for a drink.  The Coach House eventually became The Angel Inn after the War of 1812. 

Still stands as Ontario’s oldest restaurant and Inn, and now one of the town’s most haunted locations.  A featured stop on the Ghost Walks.

Then In 1796 the capitol was moved.   A less vulnerable to attack land called York.  Today known as Toronto.

Burning of Niagara-on-the-Lake

Good move, because on May 27 1813, as the War of 1812 raged, American’s marched into Niagara-on-the-Lake.

Burning effect from 2013's 200 year anniversary
Burning effect from 2013’s 200 year anniversary

After Canada’s best General, Isaac Brock, fell at Queenston Heights.  The Americans reformed for an attack via Lake Ontario.  Later the town’s barracks at Fort George were burned.  5,000 Americans defeated 1,000 British.

The Americans held the town for 7 months, until December 10 1813.  The tides of the war turned with an upset defeat in Stoney Creek, a town now part of the City of Hamilton.

With a head of steam the British advanced on their former capitol.  Remaining American soldiers and treasonous Brits decided not to fight. But while leaving… they burned Niagara-on-the-Lake to the ground.

Not for anger, but strategy.  To deny the Brits shelter during a very cold winter.  Mostly every building and structure destroyed.  All that survived were

  • The McFarland House
  • Half of Brockamour Manor because the fire went out
  • And the building housing ammunitions in Fort George because they didn’t want to blow themselves up.

Some wooden houses were left for innocent residents to huddle.

After the War of 1812 moved into the United States, as mentioned in the Ghostly History of the White House, people rebuilt.  That’s why so many structures do not predate 1814.

Canada’s Most Haunted Town

Most towns have haunted locations attached to history.  Simple tragedies and events normal for any place. 

Niagara-on-the-Lake is very different.

The only war fought on Canadian soil affected this town like no other.  Death, violence and tragedy afflicting a small place with history spanning almost 300 years.  And don’t forget the natives.

This type of energy in a confined space is unique.  A town of about 20,000 with so much history, two Ghost Walks and a published book just about the ghosts. 

Confirming to so many why this is Canada’s Most Haunted Town. 

So many ghost stories

History is the foundation of ghosts.  The stories of war told often.  How they interact with the living today.  Causing this town to rightly receive a reputation of having more ghosts than living.

The stories just don’t stop.  And if all told this would be way too long for everyone.  For this reason, I’ll focus on a couple of legendary town ghosts. 

The amazing story of Sobbing Sophia, and a protective spirit.

The Legend of Sobbing Sophia

Sophia Shaw was the love of the great British General, Isaac Brock.  Canada’s most important strategist during the war.

Some are unaware that he didn’t want to be in Canada.  The Americans chose the year 1812 for a reason.  They knew the main British soldiers were occupied fighting Napoleon in Europe. 

Brock was a main British General who wanted to remain in that war.  But the Brits didn’t want to lose their territory, and Canada needed a leader.

Brockamour Manor in Niagara-on-the-Lake
Brockamour Manor

Brockamour – –

At the time, the Powell family lived in a house now called Brockamour Manor, today a Bed & Breakfast you can stay in.  Sophia Shaw was Captain Powell’s sister-in-law who lived with the family.

Isaac Brock was stationed at Fort George when legend states he met and fell in love with Sophia.  Their courtship quick due to tragic times.  Not long before talking about their future, marriage, family and kids.

But Sophia’s father, Aeneas (A-knee-us) Shaw was against it.  He knew Brock was important for Canada.  However, the General wasn’t from noble blood.  Brock didn’t come from money and couldn’t afford the best for his beloved daughter.

Aeneas denied Isaac permission to marry Sophia.  This didn’t stop them.

Then it was October 1812.  Isaac Brock was summoned to join his men and defend Queenston Heights.  If lost this would give the Americans an easy march into Niagara-on-the-Lake.

Sophia didn’t know it would be the last time she’d see him.

Sir Isaac Brock, Niagara-on-the-Lake
Sir Isaac Brock

Brock Dies

At Queenston Heights the American’s had the hill.  Brock charged his men up into a heavy assault.  This scared some of the British who dropped back.  Brock saw this and yelled out,

“This is the first time I’ve seen the 49th turn their backs!” 

It worked.  The men surged. 

Brock was first shot in the wrist.  It didn’t slow him, but possible a distraction.  He didn’t see the soldier emerge from bushes about 50 yards away.  It was an American sniper who lined up and fired.  Hit Brock square in the chest.

Lay dying on that field, surround by his men it’s said his final words were, “push on”.  Probably not true, but it sounds great. The great General was dead. 

His men retrieved the body, pulling him away and down the hill as blood spread across a bright red sash given to him by famous Native Shawnee warrior Tecumseh.

Sobbing Sophia – –

Sophia was told her beloved had died.  And she mourned for years.

Refused to marry, always wondering what could have been.  Then dying at a young age, many believe from a broken heart.

During her final years, the people of Niagara-on-the-Lake didn’t see Sophia.  But they did hear her.  Cries coming from the open second storey window of the Brockamour Manor house. 

Eventually calling her “Sobbing Sophia”.  And she’s still heard today.

Reports of a woman crying in that room.  Others hear her along the town’s main strip, Queen Street.

The Watcher of the Town

Then we have what’s been called the “The Watcher”. 

A strange blue light, or an orb, seen floating the streets at night.  Near the modern Post Office, across from Starbucks.

Legend states it’s a former constable.  Hence a blue light, like police. 

No one sees it long enough to investigate.  Just a quick glimpse before it’s gone.  No following emotions or figure in the shadows. 

Believed to be a protective energy.  Watching the town at night while the residents sleep. 

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