The Lady in White
All over the world, there are certain special spots which local tradition contends are haunted by solitary ghostly women clad on monochromatic garments. The stately Fairmont Hotel Vancouver, for example, is said to be haunted by the spectre of a local socialite who appears to guests in a glamorous red dress. Nova Scotia’s iconic Peggy’s Cove Lighthouse is said to be the purgatorial domicile of a forlorn phantom in a blue gown, who weeps for some bygone tragedy which history has long forgotten. Victoria Hall, in Cobourg, Ontario, is supposed to be the domain of the Lady in Green; Queen’s Park, Toronto, the abode of the Grey Lady; and the Capitol Theatre in Hamilton, Ontario, the residence of the Lady in Black.
Of all the shades and colours which feminine phantasms are said to affect, white is by far the most popular. Some folklorists who have written on the subject have observed that supposed backstories associated with ghostly Women in White often involve heartbreak; lost loves, abandonment, betrayal, and unrequited love being recurring themes. In this piece, we are going to explore a few of the many Canadian legends of the Lady in White.
The Lady of the Stairs
The first of our stories takes place in the hamlet of Thornton, Ontario, about a fifteen-minute drive south of the city of Barrie, not far from Lake Simcoe. At the heart of this tiny community, at the junction of the main drag, Barrie Street, and perpendicular Robert Street, sits a charming 170-year-old Victorian mansion surmounted by a large white sign bearing the words “The Queen’s”. Throughout the 2010s, prior to the imposition of provincial restrictions related to the recent pandemic, this building housed both the Vidya Centre for Yoga and Wellness and an associated vegan restaurant. In the first decade of the 21st Century, the historic structure was the site of a fine dining restaurant called the Village Inn. Throughout the 20th Century and much of the 19th, however, this elegant manor served the function for which it was originally intended, namely that of a stopping place for Ontario travellers, originally operating under the name “The Queen’s Hotel.”
For decades, patrons and staff of the various establishments for which the historic building has served as headquarters have reported seeing a mysterious woman in a white dress standing at the top of one of the staircases leading to the second floor, walking along the mezzanine above the main floor lounge, and gazing mournfully from the balcony which overlooks Barrie Street.
Ontario folklorists Andrew Hind and Maria da Silva described several encounters with this female phantom, known locally as the “Lady of the Stairs,” in their article in the Spring 2009 issue of the magazine Mysteries. One evening in 1996, for example, an interior decorator named Andree Naud and her boyfriend, Tim, were enjoying a candlelit dinner on the Village Inn mezzanine when Naud noticed a strange woman peering at them through a glass door which separated the dining area from a wing which once held the old hotel’s guest rooms.
“I saw this sickly woman staring at me through the sheer curtain,” Naud told Hind and da Silva. “I couldn’t define a face, but she looked ill. This woman kept staring at me, and I thought to myself, ‘that’s pretty rude,’ so I stared right back. Then she disappeared.”
Alarmed, Naud informed a waitress of her troubling experience, and watched the colour drain from her face. Although the wing of the building in which the mystery woman had stood was sometimes rented out to tenants, no one had occupied it in over a week, and there were no other female staff members on duty that night.
Another strange incident occurred one dark and stormy night in August 2005, when the hamlet of Thornton was beset by a terrific downpour. A woman whom Hind and da Silva referred to as “Teri” drove up to the restaurant with her husband and was surprised to see a woman standing on the balcony, clad in a thin white shift which offered no protection from the pouring rain. Teri made eye contact with the mysterious lady and was instantly overcome by a bone-chilling cold and an overwhelming sensation of sorrow.
All throughout dinner, Teri found herself unable to shake the oppressive feelings which had assailed her. Seeking relief, she excused herself and made her way towards the bathroom on the first floor. As she walked down the stairs, she had the distinct impression that someone was walking directly behind her, but when she turned her head, no one was there.
Once inside the bathroom, Teri headed over to the sink and attempted to calm her nerves. As she stood before the mirror, she heard the clicking of high-heeled footsteps approach her from behind; a quick glance assured her that she was alone. Teri’s heart hammered in her chest, and the hairs of her neck stood on end; she had never felt so terrified in all her life. For a few moments, she stood weak-kneed, frozen with fear, waiting with bated breath for the inevitable culmination of her run-in with the Lady of the Stairs. She was jarred from her paralysis by the clattering of a bar of soap, which slid into the sink as if it had been flicked by invisible fingers, and ran shrieking from the bathroom.
Other unexplainable experiences which have taken place in the Queen’s Hotel over the years include phantom footsteps on the second floor, electric lights mysteriously turning on and off, the inexplicable rearrangement of antique furniture, and two incidents in which kegs of beer froze solid in the fridge immediately following a journalistic inquiry into the alleged haunting.
Local legend has it that the Lady of the Stairs is the ghost of a female guest who stayed in the Queen’s Hotel with her husband in the late 1800s. In the midst of a heated argument in her room on the second floor, the woman broke away from her spouse and fled downstairs. While descending the staircase, she tripped on her dress and tumbled awkwardly. By the time her body came to rest at the base of the stairs, the woman was dead.
Although there are no records of such an incident taking place at the Queen’s Hotel, many Thornton residents remain as firmly convinced of its veracity as they are that the old building is haunted. As Hind and da Silva put it, “Until such time as the ghost’s full story can be brought to light, the forlorn Lady of the Stairs may remain trapped within the quaint confines of the [establishment], an unwitting, non-paying patron.”
The White Lady of Thetis Cove
Another Canadian ghost story involving a Woman in White is set on a tiny rocky inlet near the southern tip of Vancouver Island, in the township of Esquimalt just east of Victoria, the provincial capital. This haunted spot, called Dyke Point, lies at northern lip of Thetis Cove, the latter being an appendage of Esquimalt Harbour abutting a natural area called Portage Park, near what pioneer letters indicate was once an old Indian burial ground.
Every once in a while, locals report seeing a young woman in a white dress standing on the point, gazing mournfully out to sea, her long hair flowing in the breeze. This melancholy apparition does not interact with witnesses, simply fading to nothingness moments after being seen. This so-called White Lady of Thetis Cove has also been spotted standing on a small beach at the edge of Portage Park, staring vacantly past Richards Island, which obstructs one’s view of the harbour.
In his 2017 book The Haunting of Vancouver Island: Supernatural Encounters with the Other Side, Victoria author Shanon Sinn recounted a local legend which holds that the White Lady of Thetis Cove is the ghost of a woman whose husband or fiancé died at sea, who still waits in vain for his safe return. One old tradition holds that the woman was related to the family who once owned and operated nearby Four Mile House, a historic inn located a mere 250 metres north of the aforementioned beach, and more than a half kilometer northeast of Dyke Point, at the northern end of Portage Park. Four Mile House was established in 1858 and taken over by an Englishman named Peter Calvert in 1870, remaining under Calvert management until 1917. Incidentally, this antique building, which now houses a brewpub, is said to house several ghostly tenants itself.
After wading through a cloudy mire of historic documents and local folklore, Sinn tentatively identified the White Lady of Thetis Cove as the shade of Margaret Montgomery, once a frequent visitor to Four Mile House, whose sister, Elizabeth Calvert, was married to the Englishman who took over management of the inn in 1870. Margaret died in 1872, at the age of nineteen, succumbing to a heart condition which had plagued her since childhood. “In all likelihood,” Sinn wrote, “Elizabeth would have tried to introduce Margaret to prospective partners, many who would have been ship officers.”
Today, the 4 Mile Brewing Co which operates out of Four Mile House honours the legend of the White Lady by proudly displaying a stained glass depiction of the phantom in their establishment, and serving a beverage called a White Lady, which consists of coffee, Bailey’s Irish Cream, and Frangelico liqueur.
The Ghost of Parry Sound
The third and final White Lady we will meet in this video is said to make her appearances in an old vacation cottage south of the town of Parry Sound, Ontario, on the eastern shores of Lake Huron’s Georgian Bay, in a region called Muskoka. Built in 1890, this quaint Victorian relic has housed guests ever since steamships first opened up the Muskoka wilds to sportsmen seeking reprieve from the big city, one of whom appears to have taken up permanent residence.
In his 1997 book Haunted Lakes: Great Lakes Ghost Stories, Superstitions and Sea Serpents, American historian Frederick Stonehouse details some of the strange experiences said to have taken place at this nameless lakeside cabin. In the summer of 1980, for example, a young female schoolteacher spotted a woman dressed in a long, old-fashioned white dress and a wide-brimmed hat disappear into the woods behind the cottage. Several years later, a hard-headed engineer, whom Stonehouse cited as Dr. Bell, spotted the pale face of a white-clad woman staring at him from behind a window while touring the grounds with the cabin owner; when he called the owner’s attention to the woman, the figure disappeared.
According to Stonehouse, the owner of the cottage has no idea as to the identity of her mysterious non-paying tenant, but has the distinct impression that it is her intention to look after the cabin, and feels reassured by her presence. Whether she was the victim of some long-forgotten Georgian Bay tragedy or a former guest drawn to the cottage after death, the legendary ghost of Parry’s Sound, like that of Thetis Cove and the Queen’s Inn, is another mystifying addition to the bevy of Canadian phantoms whom folklore has styled ‘The Ladies in White’.
- “Lady of the Stairs,” by Andrew Hind and Maria da Silva in the Spring 2009 issue of the magazine Mysteries
- The Haunting of Vancouver Island: Supernatural Encounters with the Other Side (2017), by Shanon Sinn
- Haunted Lakes: Great Lakes Ghost Stories, Superstitions and Sea Serpents (1997), by Frederick Stonehouse