Are there ghosts of Fort Wellington still guarding over Prescott's past?
PRESCOTT (AND BEYOND?) - Ghost stories, old folks love to tell them and children are eager to hear them. Every community has them. Prescott is no exception. With Halloween lingering on the horizon, once upon a time, the Journal went off in search of our local brand of haunted lore. Using local online groups as a source for the spooktacular, we were able to scare up legends of a number of haunted habitats right here in the Fort Town.
And indeed it seems the Fort was most often mentioned as a potential place for the possibility of finding the paranormal. While we do have the expected ghost stories from local funeral homes and even our own version of the classic "girl in the white dress on the way to the prom" tale, the majority of visitors from the other side seem to resonate and reside on the grounds of Fort Wellington. Several local residents shared their experiences with the unexplained adventure related to the Fort.
"When I was a teen, my friend and I were sitting on the south side of the hill at the Fort looking across the river. It was about 9:00 p.m., and almost dark. I turned to look at my friend and noticed someone was standing by the cannon above us inside the fort. It was a soldier looking across the river. He was wearing a red coat. He stood completely still with both arms by his side. I thought it was someone who worked there and I said hello, but he didn't move or even notice we were there. I looked at my friend and we both decided to leave. By the time we stood up he was gone," the reader recalled.
One contributor had numerous stories attached to the grounds.
"We used to do a Christmas program each year at the Fort. We would open the weekend before Christmas and serve cider and decorate the blockhouse. Anyway, we heated the cider over the fire pit where the cookhouse used to be on the east side of the blockhouse. A group of us were standing around the fire in the dark, waiting for our boss to unlock the door to the blockhouse. We watched a man walk in the gate and around the west side of the blockhouse. Thinking it was our boss, we walked around to meet him and he was not there. We walked out to the front gate to see where he had gone, but there was no one there, and the gate was securely locked. There were also no footprints in the snow. Very creepy.
There was a guy who used to be the superintendent of the Fort back in the 1930s and 1940s. He lived alone with his wife in the officers' quarters inside the Fort. Around 1979 I met him and he told a story of how the site was used as a barracks for the army in the First World War. Soldiers on their way to Europe would camp at the Fort and even lived in the barracks. Several years after the war ended, this guy looked out the window of his home one day and the whole parade square was full of soldiers on parade. When he opened the door to go upside, there was no one there, and - of course - the gate was locked. The army later told him that none of their people had been anywhere near the Fort at the time."
Another good story was from Dave Webb. For those who know the blockhouse structure, the third floor has a wooden gallery which sticks out about four feet from the stone wall. To access the gallery, there were two doors on each of the four walls on the third floor. In winter, these doors were closed and then sealed with wooden and plastic insulation frames. They were also individually alarmed. One Saturday in the winter David had the Fort open for a tour and then locked it up. He went to the administration building and was having a cup of coffee when the door alarms on the third floor started going off - one after the other. David thought he had locked someone in and ran back into the Fort to unlock the blockhouse. When he reached the third floor, the insulation frames had been torn from all eight of the doors and the doors were sitting wide open. There was no one there.
A local woman also recalls a scary incident on the third floor.
"My friend and I used to hang out at the Fort during summer break," she recalled. "We used to play on the miniature fort display on the third floor. One day we were up there by ourselves tossing the stuffed cannon ball back and forth, and we heard footsteps walking in the gallery. They continued all the way around but we didn't see anyone go by the doors. We never really thought much of it, but I get goose bumps thinking about it now".
Even a prominent local politician has his haunted Fort stories.
"So many stories about the Blockhouse, especially the upper floor. I think it was (names two friends) that had a scary incident one night not too many years ago with the alarm going off after they'd locked up. Went in once or twice to reset it. Last time they went back in and all the lights were on and the building was wide open, even the windows upstairs. Nobody around. Think that's the gist of things. Been a few years since I was told that one. I've heard lots more over last six or seven years."
And what about today? Asked if she had any current tales of terror from inside the walls of Wellington, Leslie MacPherson, Interpretation Coordinator of the facility, could not say she had personally witnessed anything unexpected inside the Fort but did point us in a direction that led to a transcript written by a former employee.
"I spent a number of years working at Fort Wellington National Historic Site of Canada in the 1980s, first as a summer guide, and then as the guide supervisor. After Labour Day, only two employees worked to keep the Fort open until the end of October, seven days a week. That meant that for much of the fall, I was alone in the Fort, while my supervisor worked in his office off site," the writer explains in the lengthy manifest that outlines a number of unexplained occurrences. "One bright sunny afternoon in October, I was practicing a tune on the fife, while a part of my attention was alert to the sounds of voices and footfalls downstairs that would tell me that I had visitors to greet. The tune was 'The British Grenadiers,' and I was having trouble learning one section of the piece. Each time I played this part, I kept making the same mistake-- my fingers had learned the error and simply would not play the tune correctly. I was in the furnished barracks, standing at the end of one of the tables, with my music spread out on the table before me. I went over this part of the tune again and again, but without success. Suddenly, I felt that I was being watched by someone. I turned towards the stairs, expecting to see a visitor who had been drawn to the sound of the fife. Instead, I saw, against the brick wall of the theatre, a whitish, translucent figure of a tall man, who appeared to be doubled over in laughter. I could not make out any details of clothing or uniform, but I could see the white painted bricks through the man. After only a second or two, the figure rapidly slid the length of the wall, and disappeared at the south end of the room, near the window facing the St Lawrence River. The figure did not appear to move by any walking motion, but slid as though he was on a wheeled dolly or a skate board. There had been no sound, and the experience had lasted a very short time."
Is it simply the season for holiday fiction...or is Fort Wellington home to much more history from the past than we realize?