Previously: Shades Of Death Road, New Jersey.
The Blue Ghost Tunnel wasn’t always known as the Blue Ghost Tunnel. Located in Thorold, Ontario in Canada alongside the length of what was once the Third Welland Canal, it’s been known more officially by several other names over the years: The Grand Trunk Railway Tunnel, the Great Western Railway Tunnel, and the Merritton Tunnel — all monikers which indicate the tunnel’s original purpose as a part of Canada’s railway system. But for the past several decades, it’s gained something of a… reputation. You might hear things there — voices that don’t belong to anyone, the sound of heavy footsteps when no one else is around, music playing without a source. You might feel things — a touch, a push, a shove. You might see things — a spectral dog, balls of light, blue mist.
That’s where the tunnel’s name — the Blue Ghost Tunnel — comes from: The blue haze that’s often said to hover around its entrance and within its depths.
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It’s worth noting that the authenticity of the Blue Ghost Tunnel’s reputation is refuted by a number of paranormal investigators; according to these investigators, there’s little evidence that the tunnel was reportedly haunted — let alone by blue mist — prior to 1999, when a teenager named Russ began posting his experiences with what he termed the Blue Ghost Tunnel at the Toronto Ghosts and Hauntings Research Society’s online forum. (Initially, it seems that Russ found the tunnel accidentally when we was searching for a different allegedly haunted tunnel which lies a mere 6.7 kilometers away: The Screaming Tunnel of Niagara Falls.) He also began writing about his experiences at his own website, which has since been taken offline, but which is still viewable via the Wayback Machine. The legend of the Blue Ghost Tunnel seems to have grown primarily from here, making it an early example of internet virality; it then reached the mainstream in 2004 when it was included in an episode of the television program Creepy Canada.
But Russ eventually dropped out of sight — and although paranormal investigation group ParaResearchers of Ontario notes that they have heard from some folks who recalled the area in which the Blue Ghost Tunnel is located being “well known to [local] teens as a hangout with a ghostly reputation as early as the 1980s,” they haven’t found anything published or broadcast anywhere, online or off, or otherwise broadcast about the place prior to Russ’s initial reports in 1999.
Still, though — the stories persist. And even though the tunnel has been walled up and sealed off since the mid-2000s, it remains a favorite of paranormal investigators and urban explorers alike.
The history of the Merritton Tunnel is tied up in the history of the Welland Canal. Currently, the canal — part of the St. Lawrence Seaway and Great Lakes Waterway — connects Lake Ontario with Lake Erie via Port Weller and Port Colborne; through it, ships can ascend and descend the Niagara Escarpment without having to deal with Niagara Falls itself. It has eight locks along its 27.6 miles.
But this Welland Canal isn’t the only Welland Canal which has existed over the years. In fact, it’s the canal’s fourth incarnation, the first having opened in 1829, the second in 1845, and the third in 1881. The Merritton Tunnel was created to provide a way for trains traveling along the Grand Trunk Railway to traverse the Third Welland Canal — so shortly after construction began on the canal in 1872, construction began on the tunnel as well. It took about a year to build the Merritton Tunnel, which was completed in 1875; meanwhile, the canal took nine years to build. It began accepting traffic in 1881, although improvements continued through 1887. It had 26 locks. The tunnel was located between locks 18 and 19.
However, the Merritton Tunnel was in use for only a few short decades. Due both to the decision to double-track the Grand Truck Railway between Montreal and Sarnia in the 1890s and the growing weight of freight loads, a swing bridge was constructed over the canal as an alternate route and the tunnel subsequently abandoned. The last train ever to pass through the tunnel made its journey in 1915.
But although the tunnel itself was only in use for 29 years, it saw what some might term more than its fair share of tragedy — and it’s these events that might account for the activity some claim to have witnessed at the site of the abandoned throughway.
It’s often reported that the earliest tragedies associated with the tunnel occurred during the construction period. The most frequently cited story tells of a 14-year-old worker who was reportedly crushed by a large rock; however, it’s also regularly noted that over 100 people died while building the tunnel and the surrounding canal. I should note here that I’ve been unable to verify either the story of the unfortunate 14-year-old or the death toll associated with the tunnel; John Savoie’s The Blue Ghost Tunnel: Making Of A Legend does remark that “three reported deaths,” including that of the 14-year-old, occurred at the construction site, which is something, but Savoie doesn’t include citations for his sources, so I’m not sure where that information comes from.
Regardless, I can confirm that the horrific train crash said to have taken place near the tunnel roughly a quarter of a century after its completion did, in fact, occur.
On Jan. 3, 1903 at 7:03 in the morning, Engine Number 4 — “one of the best and fastest trains” on the Grand Trunk Railway, according to the St. Catharines Daily Standard — collided head-on with Engine Number 975, a light mogul, just a few yards away from the Merritton Tunnel. Although the engineers of each train survived, both engines’ firemen, Charles Horning and Abraham Desault, were killed — Horning on impact, Desault several hours later at the hospital in St. Catharines.
It was, as they say, not a pleasant way to go.
When this crash comes up on websites, articles, and pages about the Blue Ghost Tunnel, you’ll often find quoted something that purports to be an article from the Jan. 3, 1903 issue of the St. Catharines Daily Standard reporting on the incident (examples here, here, and here). However, this piece of text (which usually doesn’t include a link to the source, either) isn’t the actual article; it’s more like a summary or a paraphrasing of it. I know this because after a lot of searching, I did manage to locate a scan of the original article courtesy of Canadian railway historian Charles Cooper’s website, Charles Cooper’s Railway Pages — and what’s actually there is both a bit different and quite a bit longer than the copied-and-pasted piece of text I’ve found elsewhere. To be fair, the facts are more or less correct; it’s just not clear to me how we got from point A (the original article) to point B (the paraphrased text).
In any event, though, the fact remains that a terrible crash did occur right outside the tunnel, resulting in the loss of two lives.
(We have Hamilton, Ontario resident Carl Riff to thank for the article scan, by the way. Some years ago, Riff began the work of compiling every newspaper clipping he could get his hands on which reported on railway history — including the many, many crashes and incidents that have occurred on Canada’s railways. If you live in or near Hamilton, Riff’s documents are on file as the “Riff Collection” in the Hamilton Public Library’s Central Library Local History and Archives Section; however, they’re also hosted online at Cooper’s site. And it’s here, in the “Niagara area” PDF “combo file” under the Great Western Railway GWR-GTR-CNR section that I finally found the St. Catharines Daily Standard article reporting on the Jan. 3, 1903 crash. It’s page 44 of the 88-page PDF, if you want to see it for yourself.)
But the tunnel itself isn’t the only site in the area to have played host to a terrible event. In fact, so many tragedies have occurred in and around the Blue Ghost Tunnel and the Third Merritton Canal that it’s a wonder the whole place hasn’t gained a reputation for being cursed. On June 20, 1912, for example, the Canadian survey steamer La Canadienne veered out of control while traveling through the canal; it rammed into the gates of lock 22 — just down the way from what was then the Merritton Tunnel — causing a surge of water that resulted in the deaths of three boys who had been fishing along the canal.
And, perhaps even more disturbingly, there’s this: Near what was the Third Merritton Canal’s 21st lock, there was once a church — first a Lutheran and Presbyterian church occasionally referred to as the Old German Church, and later St. Peter’s Anglican Church. The church had a cemetery (as churches are wont to have), but as the church itself fell into disuse, so too did the cemetery. A new cemetery was subsequently opened up nearby: Lakeview Cemetery, which began accepting new… let’s call them residents in 1886. St. Peter’s cemetery remained standing, but accepting no new burials, for some years thereafter; however, when construction began on the Fourth Welland Canal, it was determined that the land on which the old church and cemetery stood would need to be flooded in order to allow the canal to operate properly. So, in 1923, a message went out stating that anyone who had relatives interred in the old cemetery who wanted to move their loved ones’ remains to Lakeview Cemetery would have arrange to do so prior to the flooding of the area. Any remains that went unclaimed would remain where they were.
It’s unknown how many remains were left in the cemetery when the flooding was finally performed — but according to some reports, only 250 graves out of 913 were moved to Lakeview, leaving the remains of 663 souls in the ground where the old cemetery once stood.
They’re still there, too. The cemetery lies submerged, just off the coast of the Welland Canal Service Road, with any unclaimed remains still present under the water. Indeed, in 2009, human remains were unearthed near what is now lock 7 of the Fourth Welland Canal that are believed to have come from the submerged cemetery.
Is it any wonder that some believe the souls of those left in the old cemetery when it was flooded haunt the area? Or that they’ve made their way to the Blue Ghost Tunnel, which lies just a 10-minute walk away? Basically, we’re looking at a real life version of Poltergeist’s “YOU MOVED THE CEMETERY, BUT YOU LEFT THE BODIES” situation. That’s enough to make anyone angry, no matter how many centuries old they might be.
But here’s the thing: None of the reports of alleged activity occurring in or around the Blue Ghost Tunnel really reflect these documented moments from history. Rather than the sound of falling rocks, the sights, sounds, or scents of a terrible train crash, experiences associated with an accidental drowning, or something that might suggest the presence of angry underwater spirits, we’ve instead only got reports of the most generic type: Orbs (which most investigators dismiss these days, as they’re easily explained by naturally occurring means), mist, disembodied voices. Occasionally you’ll hear talk of a few apparitions — the ghost dog, a man in period dress, a woman in period dress. But again, these descriptions are general and vague. In that respect, the legend of the Blue Ghost Tunnel is a pretty poor ghost story; it doesn’t have the kind of payoff that a good haunted yarn has.
This might, of course, be due to the fact that the history was applied to the site retroactively — that is, having become convinced that the tunnel really was haunted, rather than just lonely or in decay, people went looking for something in the area’s history that might explain such a haunting. The true history doesn’t line up as neatly with the reported activity as we might like, but there’s still an effort to point to it and say, “Look, see, with everything that did happen there, it must be haunted, right?”
Beyond Russ’ stories — and beyond those of the groups that investigated the Blue Ghost Tunnel after Russ built the spot’s identity for it — the most extensive set of experiences I’ve found were collected by John Savoie at both his website Out Of The Dark: The Ghost Hunting Chronicles and his book The Blue Ghost Tunnel: Making Of A Legend. The folks that told their tales to Savoie date their experiences back as far the 1950s, but these stories almost uniformly lack the elements of the legend as it now stands in a post-Russ world — namely, there’s no mention of any blue mist in these earlier stories. Indeed, up until the 1970s, it seems that folks didn’t describe the tunnel as haunted, just creepy. Some of the stories from the ‘70s that Savoie collected also have a lot in common with the ones connected to the Screaming Tunnel, which is only a few minutes away; as such, it’s possible that what’s now known as the Blue Ghost Tunnel was originally the Screaming Tunnel, while the tunnel that’s now referred to as the Screaming Tunnel was just… some other tunnel. (Remember, the Screaming Tunnel as we know it now actually isn’t a railway tunnel; trains never went through it. It was built for drainage.) Savoie’s collection of stories also refer frequently to landmarks around the tunnel, which may have bled into the lore of the tunnel itself.
It’s also worth noting that Savoie came to the tunnel only after Russ gave it the infamy it now holds. Indeed, that’s the crux of Savoie’s writings on the subject — that what we see with the Blue Ghost Tunnel is less the documentation of a haunting and more the birth and growth of an urban legend.
But whether or not there’s any credence to the Blue Ghost Tunnel’s stories, the fact remains that it’s an eerie place — eerie in the way that places with a long history are, and eerie in the way that abandoned places are. It’s hard to visit now, since the tunnel itself has been walled off and the door is gated; as always, it is not recommended that you trespass in order to see it. But it is still there, as are many of the remains of the Third Welland Canal. There’s a map of them — and the remains of the First and Second Welland Canals — here; take peek, if you like. At the very least, you can do some armchair traveling.
You never know.
You might see some blue mist floating around there after all.
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