Officially launched in 1996, Shackleton got the idea to bring a haunted walk experience to Canada after having studied abroad in England for a while and going on a ghost tour there.
“I was there in York and I thought that it was a great way to see the city,” Shackleton said in an interview with Ottawa Tourism. He noted that a group haunted walk tour is a great experience for a visitor, as it gets them out to explore the city in a comfortable environment. “Even though you’re in a safe city, you might not be particularly comfortable walking around at night on your own,” Shackleton said. “So getting to go with a group of people, hearing some ghost stories and hearing about some of the local history was super fun.”
He added that at the time, he didn’t know of anyone who was offering ghost tours in Canada. So Shackleton said he started them in Kingston, Ont. and brought them over to Ottawa. “I started them in Kingston and then the following year, in Ottawa, with the idea of creating sort of a summer job for myself as a history student. It just grew from there.”
Shackleton said that if he could use one word to describe a Haunted Walk tour, it would be “extraordinary.” He noted that visitors often say that their haunted tour experience was memorable. “People often say it was the most memorable part of their trip [to Ottawa] and that’s something we take great pride in.” Shackleton added that though Haunted Walks offers other thematic walking tours, such as the Time Travel Trail, the ghost tours are the most popular.
If you’ve never been on a ghost tour; you follow a cloaked guide through the city by soft lantern light to visit various historic as well as reportedly haunted locations such as the ByWard Market, the Bytown Museum and the infamous Carleton County Gaol (now the HI-Ottawa Jail Hostel), among others. You listen to your guide tell the ghost stories and in some cases, you can even go into the building that is being talked about. For example, Shackleton said, you can go into a death row cell at the old jail, if you wish.
According to Shackleton, what adds to the haunted walk experience’s charm is Ottawa’s character at night. “I think that it’s just a gorgeous and beautiful place, but it’s also very atmospheric,” he said. Shackleton also noted that if you can set the scene with a great storyteller, a haunted walk really becomes a “unique” way to see the capital. “Ottawa is such a beautiful city at night,” he said.
Shackleton said that his favourite thing about Ottawa is that it’s a walkable city. “You can walk just about everywhere,” he said, adding that you can visit several national museums in the downtown core without having to take a car.
One of the walks around Ottawa that Shackleton recommends is going down by the Ottawa Locks, behind the Bytown Museum and along the Ottawa River. He noted that if you cross the Ottawa River and walk over to the Canadian Museum of History, you can take a little Au feel de l’eau Aqua-Taxi to get back to the Ottawa Locks. On the short crossing, Shackleton said, you can take beautiful pictures of the Parliament Buildings. “You get a beautifully scenic ride back to the locks,” he said. “It’s just one of those kind of quirky ways to see the city and it’s not expensive at all.” A one-way transfer on the Aqua-Taxi is $6 CDN.
Now, as Shackleton is the haunted Ottawa expert, you might be wondering what he thinks is the most haunted place in Ottawa? His answer might surprise you; it’s the Bytown Museum. “[This] is a place where we as Haunted Walk tour guides, many of us have had weird things happen to us in that building,” he said, adding that a common experience is hearing footsteps follow you up the stairs. Shackleton noted however that other people have had “more frightening” experiences. “It’s definitely one of the [buildings] we consider to be one of the most convincingly haunted places,” he said. The Bytown Museum is housed in Ottawa’s oldest stone building.
But despite its haunted characteristics, Shackleton said that the Bytown Museum should be on a visitor’s sightseeing list. He noted that as it’s a community museum, the Bytown is full of weird and interesting artifacts that you won’t find in Ottawa’s other museums. He added that the Bytown Museum really tells the story of Ottawa. “Maybe not quite [the story] of the beautiful, polished capital that it is today,” Shackleton said.
In addition to the classic haunted walk experience that is available almost daily in Ottawa’s downtown core, Shackleton noted that there are also special haunted experiences this summer being offered at the Mackenzie King Estate in Gatineau Park and at Upper Canada Village, a pioneer village in Morrisburg, Ont.
According to Shackleton, these special walking tours are offered each Saturday night throughout the summer. He noted that on these tours, visitors are given flashlights to explore the sites further once the ghost story is told. “It’s really a fun experience,” he said. “It’s something we only do in the summertime. So through July, August and into September.” Shackleton added however that this summer is the first time these particular tours are being offered every weekend.
For the special tours, Shackleton said that they are offered at different times throughout the evening. “We have numerous departures on those evenings, but there’s always one at eight o’clock,” he said, adding that these tours tend to sell out quickly. Tickets for all tours can be purchased on the Haunted Walks Inc. website.
Want to know more about Ottawa’s haunted past? Go on a Haunted Walk tour yourself and follow your trusty cloaked guide!