Ghost report from Robin De Danann on December 10, 2014:
“One of the saddest and strangest tales in Hamilton’s history is one which still haunts us today. It’s the story of the cholera plague, arriving on our shores with the immigrant ships – an epidemic that would kill 1 in 20 Hamiltonians, and hundreds of the city’s new arrivals. This is also the story of the frightful and inept burial process which left many of the deceased unable to cross over to their peace. Refusing to be forgotten, their spirits haunt us still.
The length of York Blvd, once known as Burlington Heights, is where the story takes place. The Hamilton Spectator describes it in 1897:
“Not anywhere else in or near the city of Hamilton is it at all likely that a more historically gruesome ground can be found than that around Burlington Heights … If there is any place about the city where spirits should come from their graves at midnight and flit about in the darkness, it is the Heights… There is a burying ground there, away upon the high level to the north of the canal. This bleak barren-looking spot is the last resting place of countless cholera victims who died in the city of the dread scourge in the years 1832 to1854.“
Tragically, after surviving months on board filthy, overcrowded ships, many Europeans arrived here sick with the plague. and were left to die alone in the cholera tents and plague shacks hastily built along the bayfront. The manner in which plague victims were buried only deepens the tragedy. The Spectator reports:
“Such was the terror inspired by the plague, that at the gates of lonely country cemeteries, bodies were left unburied, the friends of the deceased arriving after nightfall, dropping the body, then running away, leaving the people living close at hand to devise some means of burial. That means usually consisted of getting rope on the body and dragging it to a hole that had been prepared. The people did not linger for religious rites or ceremonies.”
Perhaps scariest of all was the rumour that the not-quite-dead were being buried alive. Unfortunately, an eye witness account bears truth to the rumour. A Toronto paper tells the tale of a young man off to work one morning, nervously leaving his wife feeling under the weather. He returned home that evening to hear she’d died and already been taken away for burial. Making his way to the dead carts, he demanded to see her body, noted slight movement, and carried her home, where, thankfully, she recovered – one of the lucky few.
As the last outbreak came to a close in 1854, Hamiltonians were eager to forget all they’d suffered through. And forget, they did – until 1923, when gravel pit diggers dug up bones near the high level bridge on York Blvd. A mass grave of cholera immigrants had been found! The bodies were quickly reburied and a commemorative stone placed in remembrance of the plague victims.
That was that – until 1962, when bulldozers widening York Blvd unearthed hundred of skeletons! This time, officials decided to transfer the mass grave into Hamilton Cemetery. Unbelievably, the new resting place of almost 500 dear souls, old and young, was left unmarked, uncelebrated, and forgotten again – until the 90’s, when a diligent historian discovered the location of the unmarked tomb, and a marker stone was placed – honouring the historian for locating the grave!
It seems, though, that the cholera victims are unwilling to be forgotten again. As the Spectator described, “The Heights are a place where spirits should come from their grave at midnight and flit about in the darkness.” And to this day, late-night dogwalkers and even the police report sightings of specters traversing the cemetery. Locals avoid the far, lonely end of the graveyard where the cholera victims lie, preferring to walk the “happier end” near Dundurn St. Tenants in a bayfront highrise by Pier 8, where plague shacks once stood, complain of odd occurrences like cutlery flying from drawers and across the room, and all the car alarms going off simultaneously when they enter the underground parking. Most eerie of all, residents of homes built over the cholera tents near Dundurn Castle, describe grief and terror-stricken entities who congregate in their living rooms, lurk in their basements, and knock on their bedroom walls.
Strangely, these home-owners admit feeling not only fear, but pity, for their ghostly visitors. They sense that the wraith-like, misty white figures seem pathetic and in need of help, as they appear to be terrified, as well as grieving. What could ghosts be terrified of, one might wonder. Spiritualist websites offer one possibility — fear of what’s on the other side can prevent spirits from crossing over. This makes sense considering the majority of immigrants at the time were Irish Catholics who firmly believed a blessing known as “The Last Rites” was needed before death to prevent them from going to Hell. Is it any surprise then that their spirits are afraid to let go? From the Irish Times newspaper, in an article on old Irish curses: “May you die in a town with no priest. – This curse dates back many years to a time when Ireland was more religious than it is now. Everyone wanted a priest in attendance to perform the Last Rites when they died. Dying without the Last Rites meant it would be more difficult to get into Heaven”. To add insult to injury, they were buried in unconsecrated ground and then transferred to a Protestant cemetery – no wonder they can’t rest. It seems the compassionate solution is to provide the suffering spirits with proper burial rites and rituals to help the them finish their journey.
One thing’s for sure – until we do, there will be no peace for them … or for the living who continue to experience the pain of the dead.”
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