There are more tombstones than people living in the Ottawa River Valley’s Pontiac County.
It’s a detail that Aventure Outaouais owner and lead tour guide Brandon Bolduc divulges from his headquarters in Bristol, Que., which has a population of 1,199 people according to Statistics Canada.
“It’s a very rural region with a very rich past,” Bolduc said, during an October phone call. “You have lots and lots of amazing stories because the Pontiac is known for being haunted.
“Essentially, there are 14 times more tombstones than people today because there was such a mass migration of people leaving the county.”
The exodus took place during the 1960s, due to the disappearances of the train, as well as industry, but many of the residents who initially settled in the area were buried there.
Bolduc connected with historians to create an authentic experience for visitors looking for something extra beyond the ordinary.
And Pontiac County also has the dubious distinction of having Canada’s first recorded poltergeist case. The Dagg haunting in Bristol happened in 1889. It’s just one of the stories that historian and owner of the Coronation Cider Mill, Greg Graham, shares with guests.
“It all started with Greg. We were chatting one day and Greg’s like, ‘Hey, we should do a haunted tour. I was like perfect, I know how haunted Bristol is, so let’s do it.”
The four-hour tour begins at Haughton Bay along the shores of the Ottawa River. Guests will step into an old lumberjack boat at night with only torches guiding them. The heroic tale of coureur des bois Jean Cadieux is shared along with three spectral lights that are allegedly seen on Ile du Grand Calumet.
The construction of the Chenaux Generating Station in 1950 flooded out the area that was suspected to be Cadieux’s final resting spot.
The tale of the lost lumberman’s bride. It is alleged that a lumberman had stolen his wife’s ring at her death and she has been spotted along the Ottawa River. Her apparition has not been witnessed in recent times, and it is suspected that the miserly lumberman exhumed her body and placed the ring with her.
Starborn Farms in Shawville is next on the journey. Owned by Jennifer and Robin Judd, the farm was built in the 19th century and the farmhouse nearby, was where the first recorded poltergeist in Canada took place.
Dubbed the Dagg-Shawville Poltergeist, farmers George and Susan Dagg adopted an 11-year-old English orphan named Dinah McLean. They brought her to their farm in Clarendon and on Sept. 15, 1889, strange things began to happen. A journalist from Brockville, Percy Woodcock, even came out to investigate it and heard the spirit in a shed.
The folklore is so well known in the area that the National Film Board released a film on it in 1957 called The Ghost That Talked.
“They got all the notables in the town, the priest, the mayor, come witness and they all signed a document that is still in the archives in Shawville,” Bolduc said, adding that the girl was mistreated by her adopted parents. “The Dagg haunting is one of the most famous hauntings in western Quebec.”
They share the story with guests while they go through the basement of the cow barn. And conclude the story in the winery, which has unmarked graves underfoot.
As much as that sounds like the exact reason for the Freeling family’s haunting in Poltergeist, Bolduc assures it was common practice in Pontiac County to move tombstones and leave the bodies behind.
“A lot of people have graves in their backyards and don’t know about it,” he added.
A stop is also made at the Pine Lodge Resort. During the 1960s, the Ottawa River was bustling with resorts where steamboats would bring guests from Montreal and Kingston. The Pine Lodge was built in 1920.
“Everyone who has been there it looks like The Shining,” Bolduc said, with a laugh.
A 19-year-old woman, Margaret, disappeared on the same day her boyfriend died, and she allegedly went into hiding inside the walls. There are reports of thumping in the walls, and even Bolduc’s friends have experienced it.
“One of my friends, who is a farmer, had his workers stay there one night and they heard a child’s voice the entire night,” Bolduc recalled. “There were no children on the premise that night.”
The last stop on the tour is the Coronation Hall Cider Mill. There they discuss the murder of a priest at the hands of the Wendigo.
“It’s all about the story. It’s about facts. It’s just about what we, what locals have just seen and heard,” he added.
Plans for another haunted tour are being mulled over for 2023.
Photo courtesy Aventure Outaouais