Spooky Canada



Ogopogo (British Columbia)

Our very own Loch Ness Monster, the Ogopogo is a gigantic sea serpent said to live at the bottom of Lake Okanagan, just shy of Kelowna. The earliest sightings of the sea monster date back centuries — the Okanakane tribe in the area called it Naitaka, which means “lake demon.” Oddly enough, the term Ogopogo is borrowed from the title of a 1924 music hall single which bears no mention of lake monsters or mysterious sea serpents of any kind.

Despite its monstrous size (around 40–50 feet long) and possibly prehistoric or paranormal origins, the Ogopogo is usually depicted as fairly benevolent, sometimes even friendly. It has become a local symbol in Kelowna and the surrounding areas, lending its name and image to restaurants, parks, corner stores, and even the logo for Kelowna’s hockey team, the Rockets.

Banff Springs Hotel (Alberta)

At the heart of the Rockies sits the Banff Springs Hotel, one of the oldest and most ornate resorts in Canada. Opened in 1888, the hotel is best known today for the many ghosts that supposedly haunt its hallways. The most famous of them is probably Samuel McCauley, a beloved bellman who worked at the hotel until his death. McCauley is said to have promised to one day haunt the hotel, and since his death, guests have reported instances of elevator doors opening and closing on their own, lights flashing on and off, and even a ghostly apparition helping to carry bags into hotel rooms.

The hotel’s other stories aren’t quite so pleasant. Among them is the mystery surrounding Room 873, which is curiously missing. It’s said that a tragic murder occurred in that room many years ago. After guests repeatedly complained of hearing screams and seeing blood-stained fingerprints on the room’s walls and mirrors, the hotel owners boarded up the room with drywall and instructed staff never to speak of it again. If you ever get a chance to visit the hotel, ask a bellhop about spooky Room 873 — if the rumours are true, they’ll shrug it off with a scripted response that’s as creepy as the story itself.

Weyburn Mental Hospital (Saskatchewan)

It’s hard to think of a spookier spot than an abandoned mental institution, and Weyburn might be one of the creepiest of all time. Built in 1921, the hospital was among the largest structures in the British Empire at the time, and housed upwards of 900 patients from across the country. The institution quickly became controversial for its inhumane practices, including lobotomies, insulin and electroshock therapies, ice baths, and LSD experiments. In fact, the use of psychedelics on patients and staff alike was so common that the term “psychedelic” was coined within the hospital’s walls.

Though the hospital was closed in 1971 and remained mostly empty until its demolition in 2009, many reported hearing ghostly wails and seeing floating spectres within its decaying walls — especially on the sealed-off fourth floor, where some claim to have seen a ghostly woman in high heels pacing back and forth. As the historic building has since been reduced to a pile of rubble, we’ll probably never know for sure.

Frozen horses of Red River (Manitoba)

This Winnipeg legend begins on a particularly cold winter’s evening in 1926. In a barn on the outskirts of the city, a power cable breaks and sparks a flame that sends a group of horses running for their lives into the snowy night. Galloping into the Red River, the horses eventually freeze solid mid-gallop, heads poking out of the icy banks, their frenzied expressions preserved by the ice and snow. Legend has it that, for the remainder of that bitter winter, locals would walk across the frozen Red River and visit the heads, hosting picnics and field trips among those chilly equine statues.

Though it’s incredibly unlikely that these horses could possibly have frozen solid whilst standing upright, this legend has been passed on from generation to generation in Manitoba, and was immortalized in a particularly bizarre scene in filmmaker Guy Maddin’s 2007 film My Winnipeg. Science aside, it’s certainly a haunting image, those horse heads poking out of the frozen Winnipeg river.

Screaming tunnel (Ontario)

In the northwest corner of the famous Niagara Falls resort, there’s a narrow limestone tunnel running below a set of railroad tracks. According to local legend, there was once a set of houses on one side of the tunnel, where there lived a young girl and her parents. The story varies considerably from there — the girl was raped and her body burned, her dress caught on fire, her father murdered her in the wake of a nasty custody battle — but it always ends the same: the girl died screaming within the tunnel, and anyone who lights a match within its limestone walls will hear that same scream before seeing the flame blown out.

Though the story is almost certainly an urban legend, there might be some truth to the tunnel’s spooky name. According to local historians, the tunnel was once used by the wife of a cruel man who beat and abused her. Unable to run away from home, she sought refuge in the tunnel, where she would sneak out at night and scream as loudly as she could to vent her frustration. In either case, this tunnel is definitely sporting some seriously bad vibes.

La chasse-galerie (Quebec)

Of all Canada’s provinces, Quebec’s folklore is easily the most vast — I had a hard time picking just one of French Canada’s many tales of ghosts, ghouls, spirits, and sorcerers. But the story of the chasse-galerie might be the most fantastic of all. So the story goes, one New Year’s Eve a group of drunk coureurs du bois make a deal with the devil which allows them to paddle a great canoe across the night sky to visit their sweethearts in the city. The catch? They can’t mention God’s name or touch any church steeple while riding in their fantastic boat, or else the devil will win their souls.

The men eventually reach Montreal, where they dance and drink until the early hours of the morning. On their ride home, however, their navigator begins cursing and blaspheming, leading the other men to smother and restrain him. Eventually, they run into a pine tree, knocking all the canoers unconscious. The story varies from here: in most versions, the men get to keep their souls, but are cursed to fly the night sky again every New Year’s Eve until the end of time. If you look at just the right moment, you might even catch a glimpse of the boat yourself.

The Dungarvon whooper (New Brunswick)

This local ghost story is among the most popular and well-known in eastern Canada. It goes like this: in the 19th century, a young cook — usually named Ryan — works at a lumber camp along the Dungarvon River in New Brunswick. The young cook is best known for his remarkably booming voice, which carries his whoops across the expanse of the river — a valuable trait for someone working in a lumber camp.

In some versions of the story, Ryan wears a money belt and inspires jealousy among the lumberjacks; in others, he’s unable to cook enough meat to satisfy the hunger of the men in the camp. Either way, Ryan is eventually killed (and, in some tellings, eaten) by the men and buried in a shallow grave in the forest. Later in the night, the men are awoken by the sound of terrible screams, eerily similar to the whooping of the murdered young cook. They promptly abandon the haunted camp, never to return.

The story became so popular among locals that, at the turn of the century, a Roman Catholic priest was called upon to exorcise Ryan’s ghost and put him to rest. Though many were confident that the Dunvargon whooper had finally been silenced, locals and tourists alike still claim to hear his whoops echoing across the woods where he died.

The treasure of Oak Island (Nova Scotia)

On a small island off the western coast of Nova Scotia, there’s buried treasure — or at least, that’s what countless stories and legends have led us to believe. According to myth, in 1795 a young teenager named Daniel McGinnis saw strange lights off the coast of his Nova Scotia home. Once he made his way to Oak Island, he found a circular depression in the dirt where the surrounding oak trees had been cut down. Enlisting the help of two friends, McGinnis dug about 30 feet into the ground before giving up, finding little except buried wood and flagstone.

Of course, everyone loves a good treasure story, and many treasure hunters have since returned to Oak Island for a shot at finding the bounty buried beneath the dirt. In 1802, a team of professional treasure hunters burrowed almost 100 feet into the island. Eventually, they found a stone tablet with cryptic markings written on it. A half century later, academics were finally able to decode the tablet’s hidden message: “forty feet below, two million pounds are buried.”

Since that time, plenty more teams have come searching for the Oak Island treasure, with a few even losing their lives in the process. Even a young Franklin Delano Roosevelt went in search of the sunken bounty, albeit with little success. Diehards have come up with plenty of theories as to the nature of the island’s loot; it’s been alternatively suggested as pirate treasure, Marie Antoinette’s jewels, and as the work of Freemasons. Skeptics have theorized that the Money Pit is really just a naturally occurring sinkhole — but that’s no fun, is it?

The devil’s rock (Newfoundland and Labrador)

In the tiny seaside community of Renews-Cappahayden, the population of which is less than 500, there’s a large rock on the outskirts of the town centre. On it, there’s the imprint of two hooves and a thin crack running down the middle. According to local oral tradition, a priest condemned the devil into the rock — its crack grows bigger every year, and one day the devil will finally escape to once again wreak havoc on the world of the living.

This story bears interesting similarities to several other local legends of Newfoundland. Just north of Renews-Cappahayden near Cape Broyle is a site called the devil’s staircase. The story tells of a callous sea captain who cursed his crew and dared the devil to take them hell, leading the devil to slam the ship into the cliff wall. There, like at the devil’s rock, it’s said that the hoofprints of Satan can be found.

Both stories may also be borrowed from the Newfoundland myth of Mr. Kincheler, a fisherman and avid gambler who beat the devil in a game of cards, leading the latter to slam his hand into the rock on which they played — leaving the burnt print of his palm behind.

Ghost ship of Northumberland Strait (PEI)

In the Northumberland Strait, the body of water which separates Prince Edward Island from New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, locals have reported seeing a ghostly apparition of a schooner with three large white masts, almost always at night. As onlookers watch, the ship suddenly bursts into bright red flames before vanishing completely. Sightings of the ghost ship date back to 1786 — some locals have even gone so far as to send out rescue parties for the doomed ship’s crew, though the boat always disappears before anyone is able to reach it.

Skeptics have alternately proposed that the ghost ship is really the result of electrical phenomena, the reflection of the moonlight on a bank of fog, or the pale light of a setting crescent moon. Nevertheless, when Canada Post released a series of stamps dedicated to Canada’s most famous ghost stories, the ghost ship of Northumberland Strait made the cut.

The mad trapper of Rat River (Yukon)

Okay, I’m cheating a little here. The mad trapper of Rat River really did exist, although it’s certainly hard to believe. During the Great Depression, the mad trapper — known by his pseudonym Albert Johnson, though this probably wasn’t his real name — moved to Fort McPherson in the Northwest Territories, likely emigrating from the United States or Scandinavia. He built himself a small cabin in the woods, on the banks of the Rat River.

Responding to claims that someone had been tampering with the traps of local First Nations, RCMP came to Johnson’s cabin to question him, where they were promptly fired upon. The RCMP returned to the cabin with nine men, 42 dogs, and 20 pounds of dynamite — but after a 15-hour standoff in 40 below weather, officers retreated back into town for reinforcements.

When they returned to the cabin the next day, Johnson was gone. Over several weeks, he was chased by police, killing an officer, crossing the border into Yukon, and climbing a 7,000 foot mountain in the process. It was only after the RCMP brought in expert aviator Wop May to track Johnson by air that he was finally shot and killed, almost a full month after the chase began. His identity remains a mystery.

Wendigo (Northwest Territories)

Finding its origins in the legends of the Algonquian peoples, the wendigo or windigo is an evil spirit who takes the form of a skeletal human. With thin, sickly skin and a wiry frame made partly of ice, the wendigo is best known for its insatiable hunger for human flesh. In some variations of the legend, humans who were particularly greedy or gluttonous could become wendigos themselves; other versions hold that wendigos grow larger with every human they eat, ensuring that the beast’s hunger is never fully satisfied. They’re said to inhabit the tundras of northern Canada and Alaska, where the air is as chilly as their souls.

Apart from being greedy, a human could become a wendigo by being possessed or by eating human meat — there’s even a psychological disorder called Wendigo psychosis which refers to a human with cannibalistic urges, though it’s often dismissed as pseudoscience by modern experts. Psychology aside, wendigos are terrifying. Many legends specify that the beast doesn’t have any lips, because — you guessed it — it eats them. Urgh.

Qalupalik (Nunavut)

In Inuit mythology, the qalupalik is a sea creature with long fingernails and sallow green skin who resides deep within the Arctic Ocean. When venturing onto land, the qalupalik wears a traditional amauti — a heavy parka with a pouch at the front — which she uses to kidnap local children who wander off or disobey their elders.

According to the legend, qalupalik steals children to maintain her youthful appearance and long, flowing hair. She’s afraid of adults, but that doesn’t stop her from snatching kids who venture too close to the shoreline. This legend has been passed on from generation to generation, often told as a cautionary tale for misbehaving children.