It’s been called one of Canada’s most-haunted towns, and ghostly residents are perhaps to be expected given Niagara-on-the-Lake’s long history.
Founded in 1781, it was Upper Canada’s first capital and later served as headquarters for the British Army during the War of 1812. U.S. troops took over the town in May 1813, then burned the whole place down that December.
But you can’t keep Niagara-on-the-Lakers down for long. They rebuilt a community that today charms visitors with its tree-lined streets, views of the Niagara River and quaint stores in century-old buildings. Less than 90 minutes from Toronto, in the middle of wine country, the town is also home to the annual Shaw Festival—a summer theatre series producing the works of Bernard Shaw and Shavian playwrights.
October visits hold extra allure: Not only can you celebrate Halloween season with some good-natured ghost-hunting, you’ll also be treated to the autumn beauty of red and gold leaves.
Here’s our itinerary for the perfect haunted weekend.
4 p.m. Check into the Olde Angel Inn, Ontario’s oldest continuously operating inn and a hot spot for hauntings. The inn’s most-sighted ghost is Capt. Colin Swayze, a militia officer in the War of 1812 who was reportedly delayed in joining the British retreat because he wanted to rendezvous with his girlfriend. When American soldiers arrived, he hid in a barrel in the inn’s cellar but was caught and killed. Legend has it his ghost will not harm anyone, as long as the British flag flies above the inn. Guests have also reported seeing British soldiers in their red coats, a ghostly cat and other apparitions. (If you’re staying somewhere else in town, you can still enjoy a fun, casual meal at the Olde Angel restaurant.)
7 p.m. Head to the Haunted Shop on Queen Street, where you can get into the spirit of ghost-hunting until it’s time to join the Ghost Walks of Niagara-on-the-Lake tour, which leaves the shop at 8 p.m. During this 90-minute tour, you’ll explore a number of places where ghosts are said to linger, including the historic Prince of Wales Hotel, the Courthouse, Apothecary and Royal George Theatre.
8 a.m. Stop for breakfast at Zees Grill on Picton Street for a selection of traditional breakfast comfort food with a twist (think truffle oil in the frittata). While you’re there, book an appointment at the Shaw Spa for later in the day.
10 a.m. For a panoramic view of fall colours, take the 30-minute drive up the Queen Elizabeth Way (QEW) to Vineland Estates Winery, where you can wander through the lovely vineyards as the autumn sun casts gentle light on the vines. Start with a wine tasting at the wine shop and linger until noon for a tour of the vineyards.
1 p.m. On your way back into town, stop at The Garrison House (on Garrison Village Drive) for a tavern-style lunch. Featured on the Food Network show You Gotta Eat Here, this spot is popular with both locals and tourists, thanks to its fun atmosphere and tasty meals. Try the Garrison Beef Brisket Burger, served with red wine onions, double-smoked bacon, beer mustard and horseradish mayo.
2:30 p.m. Shop the town’s main street area, elegantly decorated for every season and lined with unique stores like The Viking Shop, Wearable Art, Sylvia’s Antiques and Just Christmas (for gift and holiday decor ideas.)
4 p.m. Relax at the Shaw Spa on Picton Street with some vinotherapy—scrubs and wraps using grapes and wine as main ingredients.
6 p.m. Opt for an elegant meal at Peller Estates, where you’ll dine overlooking the vineyards.
7:30 p.m. Be on time for a ghost tour at Fort George, which starts at the visitor’s centre and goes on to explore the historic fortress—reportedly haunted by many of the War of 1812 soldiers who fought and died there. You may get to meet Sarahann, a little-girl ghost known to follow visitors through the fort. (Tours are popular, so pre-booking is recommended.)
7:30 a.m. Rise early, grab breakfast to go at The Little Red Rooster restaurant on Mary Street, then take a leisurely drive (30 minutes each way) along the Queen’s Parade/Niagara Parkway to Niagara Falls to see the dramatic fall colours along the steep banks of the Niagara Gorge. Afterward, return to town and take a ride in a horse-drawn carriage as your driver points out the town’s highlights.
Noon Go to The Irish Harp Pub on King Street for a filling, pub-food lunch before heading out. On the drive home or back to the airport, enjoy some last glimpses of the surrounding hillsides, bright with reds and golds and sparkling vineyards.
No wonder the ghosts want to hang around.
What To Do in the Niagara Peninsula in the Winter
Playing tourist in Niagara also doesn’t lose any appeal come winter. There are still views of the American and Canadian Horseshoe Falls. Visits to Niagara Parks Butterfly Conservatory and Welland Canal are just as lovely in the cold season. And, there is plenty of wine along the Niagara Wine Route.