Can you feel it in the air? Tis the season for getting a little spooky. Of course, for Stephanie Dumbreck, she has made a living helping us #StaySpooky year-round since launching Haunted Hamilton in 1999.
Haunted Hamilton hosts ghost walks, bus tours, paranormal investigations, boat cruises, galas, murder mysteries… not to mention Stephanie’s work as an award-winning columnist, TV and radio show host, and consultant in all things historical and paranormal.
“It’s the only career I’ve ever known,” says Stephanie aka “Spooky Steph,” who founded Haunted Hamilton when she was just 19. “It’s been a whirlwind.”
For Stephanie, Haunted Hamilton stems from her passion for local history more so than the occult or supernatural. The ghost stories serve as an entry point for delving deeper into Hamilton’s past.
“The biggest misconception is that I’m a witch or witchy or something. Yeah, I dress in black a lot because, geez, black’s slimming,” she explains with an infectious laugh. “Always a love of Hamilton’s history. What better way to get people involved in their local history, or any history, than through a good ghost story?”
I joined in on a recent ghost tour of downtown Hamilton. Most of the events tend to sell out quickly – over 100 of us gathered on James North at the gates of John Weir Foote V.C. Armouries on a warm September evening. Surveying the crowd, people came from all over – Brantford, Simcoe, Cambridge, even England. On the previous event there was a group from Ireland. “By end of our tour,” Stephanie projected loudly, “I hope you’re going to love downtown Hamilton as much as I do.”
The tour lasted a solid two hours and we covered a lot of ground. As the event description states: From the spectre of the “Lady in White” at The Royal Connaught Hotel to the eerie apparition of theatre magnate Ambrose Small at the Tivoli Theatre. Hear about the hauntings at the Right House by the mischievous spirit of Thomas C. Watkins and the legendary tale of the “gremlins in the bell towers” at St. Paul’s Church. From Evelyn Dick to Rocco Perri, secret underground tunnels below the City to Jack the Ripper in Hamilton, your host Spooky Steph will take you through the historic streets of Downtown Hamilton along James Street North and into the twinkling lights of Gore Park.
That’s just a hint of some of the locations and stories – I found myself furiously taking notes but really, to hear these tales firsthand from Stephanie is the only way to experience Haunted Hamilton.
The setting for the downtown ghost tours has seen drastic changes since Haunted Hamilton began in 1999. During our tour, when we went down James North and rounded onto King William, it was striking to think about the way that street alone has evolved. Our tour group flowed past higher end restaurants like The French and Berkley North that were bustling with patrons, and past a raging Club Absinthe that was also packed to the brim. But the Haunted Hamilton ghost tour remained the same, taking us right into a gritty alley where Steph related a spine-chilling tale of Hamilton’s possible connection to Jack The Ripper.
The city’s rapid changes also makes Stephanie’s work all the more vital – it’s about preserving our history. Telling stories of historical figures and buildings of the past reminds us of our roots. “I’m trying to be the bridge here,” says Stephanie. “What’s going to happen when the historians of Hamilton aren’t going to be around anymore? I’m finding, for my generation and younger, we’re not celebrating history the way it used to be celebrated. I find it important for Canadian schools to talk about local history. There’s just so much that I’m planning to be a bridge for where I can connect that generation to the younger generation.”
After years of hard work and proving herself, this year has seen many of Stephanie’s goals for Haunted Hamilton come to fruition. One being Dundurn Castle. From day one, she wanted to host a tour in this historic site, and after 18 years of red tape, it happened. There have been two sold out tours at Dundurn so far, which sold out in less than an hour. More dates are to be announced soon.
This year also marks Haunted Hamilton’s 16th annual Halloween Costume Ball on October 27th at Liuna Station (also a haunted site!). Another goal checked off her list was getting to collaborate with Crystal Head Vodka on the event. The brand has a mystical connection, making it a fitting sponsorship.
Stephanie was also invited as a guest at the Toronto International Film Festival for a screening of Alias Grace and was able to speak with Margaret Atwood and Sarah Polley. More milestones are ahead including a book, TV show, and working with the City of Hamilton and Rotary Club of Hamilton on a murder mystery series (the first event being Oct. 21st at Gage Park Greenhouses).
Also just announced: a new chilling tour of the Cannon Knitting Mills on Oct. 28th.
There is no end to the rich local history and spooky tales to uncover. “Anywhere you look, there’s ghosts,” says Stephanie. “It’s a matter of if you’re willing to see them or listen. Just close your eyes and listen, and you may hear something.”
Quotes from Stephanie Dumbreck were taken from our interview on 93.3 CFMU. Have a listen for more information and a spooky tale from Steph herself!