When we were younger, my group of friends had a tradition at the Winking Judge. We would drink enough pints so that one of us would get brave enough to run up the creaky stairs to the off-limits third floor. We were convinced that’s where we’d find Gord, the Winking Judge ghost, who had offered us his share of creepy sounds during our many nights at the pub. Gord never appeared, but we weren’t the only ones sure of his existence. In fact, he’s been spotted by pub-goers many times.
Gord is just one of the ghosts said to haunt a local watering hole. This Halloween, see if you can spot one for yourself.
The Winking Judge (Downtown Hamilton)
In a February 14, 2008 Hamilton Spectator article by Mark McNeil, the Winking Judge’s Maria shared her experiences with unwelcome visitors: “Over the past decade at The Winking Judge on Augusta Street, she says, there have been close to 50 sightings of the ghostly apparition of an elderly man in a dark suit and top hat. He usually appears in the window of the upstairs men’s washroom or in front of other windows on the same floor.”
Shortly after the article was printed, Spectator reader Randy Hines — whose grandparents lived in the house from the 1930s until the 1970s — wrote to the paper to share his memories, which included mysterious noises (like walking on the floorboards upstairs). “My grandfather used to tell me to never go up into the attic because the man, Gord, would get you,” he told The Spec.
Patrons of the Winking Judge have reported strange sounds from the attic. “Others talk about a ghost cat,” and wisps of smoke, the 2008 article said. At the time, the Winking Judge had just called Southern Ontario Paranormal Society (SOPS) to investigate. At the time of the article, investigators believed they “captured a voice on audiotape of a ghostly child in the basement saying, ‘I can hear you.’”
The Coach and Lantern (Ancaster)
Built in the 1700s, the original building that inhabited the spot where the Coach and Lantern sits now, burned down. Rebuilt in 1823, the building has been many things over the years, eventually becoming a restaurant in the 1980s.
According to the book Haunted Hamilton by Mark Leslie, the Coach and Lantern is home to at least one spiritual visitor.
“The original owners of the restaurant had experienced a resident ghost, who they described as an old man in his sixties, slouched over as if he was working in a field. Believing him to be a farmer or caretaker who had died in one of the fires that destroyed the original building, the old man’s stance, when seen, made complete sense to them. Wearing a plaid shirt and burlap pants, the ghost is said to have also worn a haggard expression on his face,” he writes in his 2013 book.
Since then, the sightings have been many, including reports of a man lingering near the bar and unexplained ghostly voices and footsteps. Once, a ghost even appeared to disappear by walking through a wall.
The Coach and Lantern doesn’t deny these spectral visitors, sharing the following note on their website:
“There have been many ghostly encounters over the years. In fact, the old owners were afraid to stay here alone at any time. A more recent staff member has taken several digital photos of guests over the years. Several of those photos exposed strange orbs on or very near the guests. One waitress even encountered a gentleman sitting at a table with his back to her. When the waitress returned with a menu, only a few feet away, the strange man had disappeared.
Another gentleman disappeared right before the eyes of a waitress. Later that day, a customer who hadn’t been to the pub in 2 years asked if the waitress had ever seen anything strange. In fact, the customer had seen that very same gentleman! Several other guests recall seeing he same gentleman. Many dishwashers have left, and one cook with a temper, was scared off by loud footsteps often coming toward him!”
Pheasant Plucker (Downtown Hamilton)
A staple on ghost tours, The Pheasant Plucker was originally used as a garrison house for court officials. It’s known to have not one ghostly inhabitants but multiple, including a little boy who haunts the backroom and basement and a women with fiery red hair in the bar’s back corner. Some have also reported smelling the cigar smoke of a curmudgeonly old man known to visit the Plucker.
The American House (Waterdown)
Located at the corner of Mill and Dundas in downtown Waterdown, the American House is one of a number of buildings that remain from the town’s earliest days. Construction began in 1824, and by 1830, the American Hotel was open for business. Over time, it has offered thousands of patrons a place to rest and, in many cases, drink. Known today as the American House, it’s the town’s oldest watering hole.
From a 2006 Hamilton Spectator article:
“According to Waterdown-east Flamborough Heritage Society, the two-storey building once had an upstairs ballroom and a carriage archway on Mill Street to give female patrons private access. After the patrons dismounted, horses and carriages would pass through to the stables. A blacksmith set up shop nearby. Early settlers also congregated there for socializing and political debate. The building once housed the village dentist and contained the last old time stand-up bar in Ontario, and maintained segregated male and female front rooms until 1966.”
When a pub is this old, there’s no doubt that something ghostly has remained behind — just ask the locals perched at the bar. In my experience, any evening at The American House, especially this time of year, is sure to include a ghost story or two.
Corks (Niagara on the Lake)
A new, expanded edition of Ghosts of Niagara-on-the-Lake by Maria Da Silva and Andrew Hind was released over the summer, and among the book’s ghostly inhabitants are “long-dead British soldiers, grieving lovers, an undead priest.” Known by some as Canada’s most haunted town, Niagara-on-the-Lake has a few watering holes with ghostly presences, including Corks Winebar and Eatery, located on historic Queen Street.
Once known as The Buttery (and before that, a tavern called Thistle and Shamrock), Corks is said to be among the most haunted places to grab food or a drink in Niagara on the Lake. What most patrons don’t know when they sit down to dine is that it was built on the foundation of a home that once stood on the site. It’s in this home that, in 1850, a young couple, Lloyd and Kate Burn, were murdered. According to Da Silva and Hind, since then, strange noises aren’t uncommon and quiet sobbing can be heard in the basement, where Kate’s body landed after being pushed down the stairs.
To make your Halloween road trip to Niagara-on-the-Lake complete, visit the Olde Angel Inn, the subject of another chapter in Ghosts of Niagara-on-the-Lake. The Inn is home to a traditional British Pub that was once frequented by British Soldiers during the War of 1812. Some of them still linger there today.
Emma’s Back Porch (Burlington)
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Burlington’s waterfront was known for its many hotels and restaurants. The Estaminet building, better known now as Emma’s Back Porch and the Water Street Cooker, is the only one that remains. It was once billed as “Canada’s House of Hospitality,” serving prominent figures like Lester B. Pearson, Louis Armstrong, Jackie Robinson, and Liberace, and is one of Burlington’s oldest buildings.
Emma (the namesake of Emma’s Back Porch) and her husband George Byren’s opened the Estaminet Standard Hotel, which included a restaurant with only four tables. The business, which has been functioning as a restaurant continuously since 1919, soon flourished and grew.
According to the Emma’s Back Porch website:
“Emma ordered all supplies locally and insisted on the best quality; therefore, the Estaminet quickly became known for serving the finest foods and providing the most sought-after lakefront atmosphere. Emma greeted each of her guests dressed in full evening attire with her talking lime green parrot, Paul, who resided in the front lobby. Paul was responsible for closing the restaurant by calling out ‘All out, gentlemen. This establishment is now closing!’”
Sadly, there are no reports of a ghostly parrot, but Emma is said to still reside in the building she cared so deeply about. In fact, she has become one of Burlington’s most famous ghosts. Some even say that her two children are there with her, too. Employees and patrons have reported abrupt temperature changes, moving objects, cold spots, orbs, and mysterious voices.
Haunted Hamilton: The Ghosts of Dundurn Castle and Other Steeltown Shivers by Mark Leslie (Dundurn Press, 2013)
Ghosts of Niagara-on-the-Lake by Maria Da Silva and Andrew Hind (Dundurn Press, 2018)
Have you seen a ghost in these pubs or another? We want to hear your stories! Leave us a note in the comments or on social media.