When most Montrealers think of Mount Royal, images of warm days spent lying in the sun immediately come to mind. The mountain is the heart of the city and plays host to a variety of activities, no matter the season. As the days get warmer, more people are even choosing to spend their nights out getting trashed in the woods rather than at one of the city’s fine drinking establishments.
Most Montrealers have never thought of the mountain as creepy, spooky or haunted. But some pretty gruesome things have happened on one of our most well-known and beloved landmarks.
Karen Spilak and Donovan King are the authorities when it comes to horrifying happenings in the city’s history. As part of this year’s Infringement Festival, the pair gave a Haunted Mountain tour of Mount Royal.
The tour began just before sunset at Barfly, a landmark with its own spooky history. We then made our way up Duluth, across Parc, and onto the mountain proper, taking the stone path to the left of that decrepit old gazebo.
Spilak and King would stop every so often to offer up a historically accurate account of something weird, creepy, or gross that happened near the spot we happened to be. The pair’s storytelling is impeccable; they never broke character, not even to answer questions from the participants between stories.
The tour itself was also well designed. As daylight faded, we wound our way up deeper into the woods. At the start of the tour, the stories were mildly disturbing but became more and more horrifying as we went on.
Like the vast majority of Montrealers in my age bracket [18-35], I’ve spent many a day and night rambling over all sides of the mountain. I am pretty confident in saying that the woods on Mount Royal are very familiar to me.
Nonetheless, Spilak and King pointed out a number of features that my peers and I previously overlooked or hadn’t ever recognized for what they were. For example, the children’s cemetery that lies next to the parking lot of the McGill University Health Centre.
Apparently, in the 60s and 70s, McGill doctors were performing extreme psychological tests involving sensory deprivation, the administration of drugs and other controversial practices. These tests were done on a number of children and the ones that died during the experiments were unceremoniously buried in a small plot of land at the base of the mountain.
Other highlights of the tour included a stop at Simon McTavish’s grave. There, King told the story of the circumstances surrounding the death of the influential fur trader and member of Montreal’s elite. I will mention that King’s graphic description of McTavish’s dead body almost made me puke. Impressive.
Spilak and King are truly masters of their craft. They effectively blend thorough research with entertaining delivery to offer a very worthy storytelling experience.
* Photos by Iana Kazakova