Over the summer, I ventured to Canada for the first time. Two friends and I decided to explore Montreal and Quebec City, hoping for slightly cooler weather, French-style pastries, and Canada Day celebrations. We succeeded in two of the three experiences (we happened to visit during a record-breaking heat that sapped our energy and resulted in the over-consumption of gelato and iced coffee—not necessarily a horrible way to cool down).
Once we arrived, we had intended to stay in a quaint little hostel in the middle of Vieux-Montréal. After checking in and lugging our bags up multiple flights of tiny, winding stairs, we arrived in a small room on a top floor with an adorable view of the city and no air conditioning. The air sat still in the room and the three of us toppled onto the bed, our faces directly in front of the fan, stripping clothes and trying to cool down. After giving it the “old college try,” one of my friends turned over and said what we were all thinking: “I can’t do this.” Following a chat with the front desk and booking another room in an air-conditioned hotel on the other side of the city, we ate more ice cream and gave a renewed attempt at exploring the city.
I have traveled frequently with these two friends, and one of our favorite ways to get to know a new place has been to sign up for haunted walking tours late at night. Having experienced ghost tours while trekking through New Orleans and Boston together, we decided to sign up for one in Montreal as soon as possible and one in Quebec City later on.
We were greeted in the city center by our guide, Mr. E—a play on the word “mystery” that we did not comprehend until days later (our brains had been scrambled by the heat). I am notoriously shy and wary of any situation that requires audience participation, and my friends know this. As Mr. E would walk, decked out in his top hat and cane, asking questions of the group, it was inevitable that one friend would holler out my name so that I could be called on to answer his questions. I would attempt to duck behind the group, but because I’m taller than the average person, I had no way to hide from Mr. E’s intense eye contact.
Mr. E told stories about haunted houses and what locals believed as we walked through the tiny streets of Vieux-Montréal. One of our first stops detailed the story of Marie-Joseph Angélique, a woman born in Montreal as a slave and convicted of burning her owner’s home. The fire spread and demolished much of Vieux-Montreal, and she was assumed guilty due to a reputation of being difficult with her mistress and a rebellious attitude. It was said that while she was held in jail, she and her soon-to-be executioner fell in love, a tragic end to what many believe to be a story of misguided justice. To this day, rumors of her innocence persist.
We were entertained with another story of Mary Gallagher, one of the more famous ghosts of Montreal. According to Mr. E, Mary was perceived to be promiscuous and a real wild child, being a woman “of a certain age” who insisted on staying single when others expected her to marry. Known for always having a good time and throwing lively parties, her last one ended with her mysterious decapitation somewhere in Griffintown, the Irish neighborhood of Montreal. At least two men were known to have seen her the night of her death, but no one was prosecuted. To this day, Mary will walk the streets of Griffintown, looking for her head.
We made our way back with Mr. E to the town center, listening to the last story—one of a man called Adolphus Dewey, who was convicted of murdering his pregnant wife in a jealous rage. His last speech before his execution was so powerful and, dare I say, manipulative, that he had the crowd on their knees praying for his soul. As Mr. E described the scene, my friends and I turned to each other, our faces slightly confused and agitated.
“All of these ghosts are women. Wronged women,” one of my friends said. This realization haunted us more than any of the stories we had just heard. We had just spent an hour and a half basically being told literal horror stories about what it was like to be a woman in a not-so-distant past.
Of course, there is a legend factor to all of this. It’s a personal matter whether you believe in ghosts or not. But these women did exist. And these stories clearly aren’t unique or even shocking—history has plenty of them. But when this sort of realization smacks you in the face, at a time when you weren’t really looking for it (we just wanted a good old-fashioned ghost story), it leaves you cold.
Of course, there is no denying that things have changed since the women in these stories lived. It’s a better time for women now, as they say. But how much better? Centuries ago, a woman was silenced by decapitation. Around the world, women are still silenced for speaking their truth, or for just living. The manner in which they are silenced varies depending on their location, but it is still very much a current issue. The changes that have occurred, and the changes yet to come, are a slow and painful process for many. Laws that offer seemingly simple solutions have yet to catch up with the more complex and darker problems that continue to haunt society. We’ve seen it more and more in the news lately. From sexual violence to the fight for equal pay, these “gray areas” of humanity are still treated with half-hearted attempts to appease the general public into thinking progress has been made. The “punishment” for speaking truth, or simply trying to live in a way that demands equality and respect, isn’t so different from what it was centuries ago. It’s harassment. It’s bullying. It’s public shaming. While we’ve come a long way, we can do better.
Centuries from now, will another Mr. E be telling haunted stories about us? Are we the ghosts whose stories will be told to a future generation?
Author: Kait Herick
Author Bio: Kait lives in the Columbus, Ohio area. She lives on coffee and carbs.
Link to social media: Instagram @k8linrose