Ghost Tours of Fort George celebrates its 30th season

One of Canada’s longest-running ghost tours is celebrating 30 years.

Ghost Tours of Fort George, founded by Kyle Upton and the Friends of Fort George, started in the summer of 1994. It’s one of the three remaining tours that started during the mid-1990s, which include Victoria Walking Tours, started by John Adams, and St. John’s Haunted Hike, founded by Dale Jarvis.

During three decades, Upton said he has seen people’s perception of the paranormal dramatically change — for the better.

“Certainly, back in 1994, there was a certain tentativeness that people were a little leerier about sharing their experiences publicly because of the fear of being made fun of,” Upton said, during a late May phone conversation. “Whereas that has changed dramatically. People are a lot more comfortable with the concept of something beyond the normal experience.”

It’s only fitting, as Niagara-on-the-Lake has been the site of many a battle during the War of 1812, and is considered one of the country’s most active communities. Fort George was built in 1796 and was occupied by the Americans from June to December 1813.

Although the paranormal piques Upton’s curiosity, who originally hails from Newmarket, it was the history that drew in a younger version of himself. Now 49, Upton volunteered at Fort George and he said he became addicted to historical storytelling.

After taking a trip to Williamsburg, Virginia, and taking part in a ghost walk there, he was inspired to bring the formula back home to Niagara.

“It was an awesome way of getting people who don’t yet know they’re interested in history, into the history,” he said, adding that the guides shared stories that were tucked away behind the doors behind the windows of the historic village houses. “So, I came back from that and then did the research and followed up with past staff members who told the stories.”

After plenty of research, and fact-checking from past staff members, Upton took the scripts to the superintendent of Parks Canada.

Photo courtesy Kyle Upton
The Ghost Tours of Fort George started 30

years ago when Kyle Upton approached
the Friends of Fort George with his idea for
a history-driven ghost walk.

“He said, ‘This is a cool idea, and I think there’s a real appeal to it, but we’re the federal government, so we cannot confirm or deny the existence of ghosts,” he said, adding the Friends of Fort George were on board.

Thirty years later, and one pandemic later, the tour is still going strong. And they continually add ghost stories to their lamp-lit jaunts.

Fort George has plenty of tales to draw from, including the ghost of a young girl named Sarah Ann, who is said to haunt the staircase in the barracks. She was the daughter of one of the commanding officers during the War of 1812. Upton witnessed the silhouette of her one stormy night when peering down a tunnel on the grounds. The young girl tends to play peek-a-boo with some guests, and one night Upton said he saw her faint outline illuminated by lightning.

When they started the tour, they had 13 to 14 stories to share, but over 30 years, they accumulated more. Of the 13 buildings at Fort George, 10 have ghostly tales associated with them.

“If you come on a ghost tour and then you come on a ghost tour 10 years later, you know the core stories are the same because you can’t not tell the Sarah Ann story,” he said. “But you can collect hundreds of experiences over 30 years of ghost tours (and) you get to see this sort of mosaic develop.”

Upton counted 22 ghost tours in Ontario alone, which is a positive sign, and the experience of opening visitors’ minds to the unknown is its reward.

“When I started doing the tours if you’d asked me, ‘Do you believe in ghosts, Kyle?’ I’d be like, ‘Yes, I believe in ghosts and I believe in a ghostly presence here at Fort George’,” he recalled. “But suddenly being in the position of I am seeing this happening and having a ghost experience, suddenly I discovered that choosing to believe is different than having no choice but to (believe).”

Ghost Tours of Fort George are every Sunday at 8:30 pm in May and June and move to Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays at 8:30 pm for July and August.

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