Sleeping with Ghosts: Halloween Adventure at Fort Henry in Kingston, Ontario

An overnight stay in a 200-year-old historic site makes for a frightfully fun Halloween experience. Photo: Jennifer Merrick
ONTARIO, October 25, 2012 – Blood-soaked zombies and vampires have now replaced the princess and Star Wars costumes of Halloween pasts. Whether I like it or not, at 10 and 8, my kids have reached an age when they enjoy being scared.
So it seemed like a good idea to take them to Kingston, Ontario’s infamous Fort Fright, an award-winning Halloween experience where Hollywood-style props, special effects and scare actors combine to frighten the living daylights out of visitors at the 200-year-old Fort Henry. The historic site, strategically located where the St. Lawrence River meets Lake Ontario, was first used as a fort during the war of 1812  and actively garrisoned by British Imperial troops and then Canadians until 1890.
To make it an even more unforgettable experience we would be spending the night inside the thick walls of the National Historical Site.
What we didn’t know at the time, however, was that on that particular night our family would happen to be the only overnight guests at the fort, and also just how haunted the site was.
How haunted? “It is considered to be one of the most haunted places in North America,” says Greg Gouthro, the fort’s senior interpreter. Several paranormal groups, including TV’s Ghost Hunter have investigated the site and found ample evidence of the presence of spirits.
Gouthro admits he was skeptical when he began working here. “After all,” he says, “it’s an old fort that creaks and bangs, and most noises can be explained away.”
But he admits his opinion has softened over the years. “Many things have happened that just can’t be explained.”  He then reveals a few of the site’s mysteries:  a cleaner who quit her job after seeing people in bed that disappeared upon closer inspection, documented reports of breaking glass that was heard not only by security guards but by the police who came to investigate, and the fort’s frequently sighted Nils von Schoultz. The latter was a revolutionary who was hanged on the premises has been hanging around ever since.
We put our suitcases into the large, thick-walled, limestone room that holds a queen-sized bed, four historically accurate military cots, a table and desk. Its authenticity to the period it was built captures our imagination and we wonder who might have inhabited this room 150 years ago.
Deciding it’s better to face spirits on a full stomach, we head over to the Pirates’ Den Restaurant, a family-friendly eatery inside the fort, where we enjoy ‘Walk the Plank Salmon’ and ‘Bucaneer Burgers’.
Suitably fortified, we venture into the dusky evening for a scream-filled Fort Fright.
Ghoulish atmosphere oozes from every 18th century limestone brick and permeates every long, narrow tunnel and underground chamber.  Teenagers giggle and shriek as they navigate through the mazes and dimly lit rooms filled with macabre displays and spooky special effects. In the fort’s outdoor Parade Square, a hangman thrashes in his noose, a tribute I’m sure to poor old Nils.
With our kids all screamed out we shoot zombies in an arcade-style Zombie Hunter game, before hopping on a haunted hayride to the Discovery Centre to watch a hypnosis show.
Back down the hill we go, chased by zombies and a mad man with a chainsaw inside the gate of Fort Henry to spend the night.
After the actors have packed up their props and left, we remain. Just us and a single security guard outside the gate.  And the ghosts of Fort Henry.
But if Hangman Nils and all the other phantom residents are with us, we’re oblivious to their company. Perhaps the spirits are too tired from the excitement of Fright Night or perhaps we are, but whatever the case, we actually sleep.
We leave the next morning with no ghost story of our own, but definitely a frightfully fun experience we won’t soon forget.
If you go: 
Open October 17-20, 24-31 from 6:00 – 10:00PM
Admission - $15
Accommodation: Three room options for 2 to 13 people. Note: It’s an 1860 military site and as such does not have modern amenities. Guests bring their own sleeping bags, toiletries; washrooms are in a separate building.

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Jennifer Merrick

After traveling the world teaching English as a Second Language, Jennifer has now 'settled down' in Toronto. Her feet continue to itch and she now travels whenever she can with her family and writes about their adventures in numerous publications, including Buffalo News, VIA Destinations, Montreal Families, Chill Magazine and Today's Parent. Her blog helps kids plan and get excited about their travels. You can also follow Jennifer on Twitter @jenmerrick


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