Lurking behind stone walls on Sherbrooke Street stand two old towers that are reputed to be haunted. As some of the oldest intact structures in the City of Montreal, these fortifications have a deranged history. Designed as the first Residential School in what is now modern-day Canada, the towers actually feature gun-ports. This military architecture was designed to repel anyone – at gunpoint – who might dare to interfere with the “instruction” happening within the fortified “school”.
Welcome to the fourteenth installment of the Haunted Montreal Blog! Released on the 13th of every month, the June 2016 edition focuses on research we are carrying out into the historic Notman House. Currently run by technological entrepreneurs, the mansion witnessed strange paranormal activity in 2002 when it was abandoned and used as a filming location. Read a first-person account from a former security guard about the strange things that unfolded inside Notman House one creepy November night in 2002.
The Notman House is a handsome, limestone mansion on the corner of Sherbrooke and Clark Streets. Originally constructed in 1845 for Sir William Collis Meredith by famous architect John Wells, the building has changed hands and vocations many times over the decades. It has served as a home for the city’s wealthy elite, a famous photographer’s abode, a religious hospital for those deemed “incurable”, a residence for elderly women, a location for film shoots and, most recently, a “dream home” for tech start up companies.
It is also rumoured to be haunted and this month the Haunted Montreal Blog features a first-person account of an uncanny encounter in the building in the autumn of 2002.
Haunted Montreal was contacted by a man named André, who wanted to relay a disturbing story that occurred inside the Notman House in November of 2002. That year, the film “Wicker Park” was being shot in Montreal, and welcomed actors like Josh Hartnett, Rose Byrne and Diane Kruger.
André had been hired as part of a security detail. Looking back, he said: “To put things in context, at the time I was a security officer on film sets. We were called to monitor the premises between film shoots.”
André recalls guarding the Notman House, one of the film’s shooting locations: “I remember, during one evening, there were two of us working on site. Aldo was patrolling outside the complex and I was inside. The place is on the corner Clark and Sherbrooke. It once housed the offices of the Just for Laughs Festival. The William Notman home is located at 51 Sherbrooke Street West. In 2002, the building housed gloomy old cells in the basement.”
He continued: “To describe the inside during the film shoot: there was a large room used as living room and kitchen, another was a bedroom and another was an office. This house is connected by a passageway to the old St. Margaret’s Hospital for The Incurables. On the Notman House end of the passageway, there were western-style swinging doors.”
“During the night, at about 2 am, I was sitting on a couch in the living room and I heard someone walking down the passageway. The footsteps began walking more quickly, to the point of running! And bam! The swinging doors suddenly swung open and closed in rapid succession, as if someone had just rushed through. Immediately, I jumped up and lit the area with my flashlight, but there was no one there.”
He continued: “I went to look in the passageway and there was still nobody present. At this point, I began to think that my colleague, Aldo, had played a trick on me, so I tried to contact him by radio. When he answered, I asked him where he was and said: “I’m in my car outside on Clark Street”. I asked him to join me for a deeper inspection of the premises and really, we didn’t find anyone and have no rational explanation for this event.”
Unnerved the paranormal experience, in 2009 André appealed to Taps Québec, an organization that conducts paranormal investigations. A request was put forward to access the Notman House in order to carry out paranormal research, but unfortunately, permission was denied. To date, there have not been any paranormal investigations into these hauntings.
Unsatisfied, André sat on the story until he contacted Haunted Montreal in March, 2016. With the strange experience still weighing heavily upon his mind after almost 15 years, André lamented: “Since then, the area containing the offices and everything else was demolished and renovated. A pity.”
Who or what might be haunting the Notman House is a mystery, so it is always a good idea to explore the history of the building in order to speculate about the different possible scenarios.
The home was originally commissioned by Sir William Collis Meredith, a 31-year-old Montreal lawyer and bachelor. In 1843, he hired renowned architect John Wells to design the home. Wells’ had previously designed the opulent Bank of Montreal building on the north side of the Place d’Armes (still standing) and St. Ann’s Market, which was torched by an angry mob in 1849 when it served as Canada’s Parliament. Called “Meredith House” in the beginning, the handsome limestone building was constructed in 1845. Featuring Greek Revival architecture, formal simplicity, refined elegance and the highest quality of construction were the building’s hallmarks.
Sir William quite enjoyed his new home until, in 1849, a judicial promotion beckoned him to live in Quebec City. He leased his home to several prominent Montrealers, including Thomas Evans Blackwell, President of the Grand Trunk Railway, before selling it to Alexander Molson, grandson of famous brewer John Molson.
In 1876, the house was sold again, this time to William Notman, a celebrated Scottish photographer who had moved to Montreal in 1856. He moved in with his family and the home was henceforth known as “Notman House”. William Notman ran a very successful photography business. The technology was very new for the era, and taking portraits of wealthy patrons could result in great profits.
Notman was an incredibly studious artist. He was known to devote long hours to his enterprise, and in mid-November, 1891, the overworked photographer contracted a cold, which he ignored. As he continued working, his condition worsened into pneumonia. Despite his doctor ordering complete bed rest, William Notman died in his home. At the time of his passing, his collection included over 450,000 photographs. Today, the images are housed in the Notman Photographic Archives at Montreal’s McCord Museum and are considered invaluable because they provide glimpses into Montreal’s Victorian past.
Following Notman’s death, the property was purchased in 1894 by Sir George A. Drummond. Curiously, he had just ordered a new house to be built for himself on Sherbrooke Street West in 1889 after his previous residence, located right next door, was reported to be haunted.
Ever the philanthropist, Sir George A. Drummond promptly gifted the Notman House to the Sisters of the Anglican Order of St. Margaret. An architect named Andrew Taylor was hired to design another building to the north, which was baptized St. Margaret’s Home for the Incurables and put to use as a hospital for those with terminal diseases, such as tuberculosis, or in need of palliative care. No doubt, with such a mandate, the hospital witnessed countless, often painful, deaths. A passageway was built to connect the two buildings and a healing garden was laid out behind the addition.
Concerning the spirit André had encountered, if it came down the passageway from the hospital to the Notman House, one might speculate that it was the ghost of a Nursing Sister running for assistance to help a dying patient. It would also be wrong to discount the possibility that the spirit is William Notman himself, having perished suddenly in his beloved home.
The hospital was eventually converted into a home for elderly women, and after being run by the Anglican Sisters for almost 100 years, in 1991 St. Margaret’s Home merged with the Good Shepherd House for Elderly Men and relocated to Westmount. Both Notman House and St. Margaret’s Home for the Incurables were abandoned for the first time in their collective history.
The forlorn buildings began to take on a look of dilapidation and the garden became overgrown and weed-choked. They saw very little human activity, apart from the occasional rental or film shoot. The property sat on the market and speculators argued about what should be done with it. One proposal called for a “Notman Photography Center” that would celebrate and display Quebec’s best photography, including Notman’s personal collection. This plan fell through due to economic instability at the time. Another idea was to demolish the healing garden and former hospital to build a deluxe hotel, but this plan was nixed in 2001 by the Culture Minister, who duly noted that the property had been declared a “historic monument” in 1979.
During the time of André’s experience, the Notman House had been abandoned for eleven years and had taken on an exceptionally creepy atmosphere. This was to continue for another decade, right up to 2011, when the buildings were finally reoccupied on a more permanent basis.
In January, 2011, the OSMO Foundation leased the Notman House and made it available to internet entrepreneurs, early stage venture capitalists and the general public.
According to the OSMO Foundation’s website, it is: “a non-profit entity… created by investors, technology and media executives and the community itself. Its mission is to use its financial resources to facilitate the transfer of knowledge, experience and relationships from experienced entrepreneurs and their support ecosystems to aspiring entrepreneurs.”
During this time a man rented a desk in a room from the OSMO Foundation in the Notman House. He soon learned that it was rumoured to be haunted and there appeared to be a spooky old morgue in the basement. There was also no security or alarms at that time, prompting numerous break-ins. According to the man, the garden was also forlorn at this time and he recalls having to pick syringes out of the courtyard and overgrown garden.
On several occasions he slumbered in the Notman House, but usually felt uneasy, explaining: “Notman House lends itself to mystery. You always had an off sense that things were all around you. I never had a comfortable nap there. I always slept with one eye open.” Eventually he decided to give up his desk in the Notman House and sought a less disturbing workspace.
To improve the situation, in October of 2012, the OSMO Foundation set a goal of raising funds to transform the buildings into a “dream home” for technological entrepreneurs. Their vision for the Notman House was to provide users with affordable office space, a large venue for events and a green-roof featuring a café. The spokesperson for the OSMO Foundation, Gabriel Sundaram, told CULT MTL at the time: “We are getting a lot of positive feedback from people in the neighbourhood who have walked by this space for years and years and just know it as something that looks like this kind of haunted house-looking space…”
On December 19, 2012, the OSMO Foundation formally acquired the property with the help of municipal, provincial and federal government grants, as well as private sponsors. Renovations soon began to convert the old Notman House and St. Margaret’s Home for The Incurables into the proposed “dream home” for tech start-up entrepreneurs. Sundaram was especially pleased with the historic building because of its connection to photographer William Notman. Drawing a parallel through time, Sundaram enthused that “Notman was the Steve Jobs of his time. He was at the centre of Montreal when it was in its golden age… [He was] really pushing the technology of photography at the time and was also an artist.”
Today, the OSMO Café sits between the two buildings and is a hive of activity. Baristas, tech-geeks and visitors all mingle in this bustling space between meetings and workshops. With so many people occupying the buildings after a long period of abandonment, one wonders if any of them have experienced anything haunted or paranormal.
When contacted, the representatives of Notman House declined to answer any questions on the topic, including whether or not they would now allow a team of paranormal investigators to access the site to carry out research into the mystery. Whether or not the tech entrepreneurs have experienced anything uncanny or paranormal is presently unknown.
The public season has begun and is now in full swing! Haunted Montreal now offers Ghost Walks in both English and French and this year both Haunted Griffintown and Haunted Mountain are being offered, alternating on Friday nights, starting in June:
Friday, June 17 Haunted Griffintown
Friday, June 24 Haunted Mountain
Friday, July 1 Haunted Griffintown
Friday, July 8 Haunted Mountain
Friday, July 15 Haunted Griffintown
Friday, July 22 Haunted Mountain
Friday, July 29 Haunted Griffintown
Friday, August 5 Haunted Mountain
Friday, August 12 Haunted Griffintown
Friday, August 19 Haunted Mountain
Friday, August 26 Haunted Griffintown
Friday, September 2 Haunted Mountain
Friday, September 9 Haunted Griffintown
Friday, September 15 Haunted Mountain
Friday, September 23 Haunted Griffintown
Friday, September 30 Haunted Mountain
Friday, October 7 Haunted Griffintown
Tickets can be booked in the 2016 Tours section.
Haunted Downtown is currently being revised before translation, but is still available for private tours for groups of 10 or more people (in English only, for the moment). Haunted Griffintown and Haunted Mountain are also available for private bookings, in both English or French, subject to availability.
Finally, we invite clients who attended a ghost walk to write a review on our Tripadvisor page, something that is very helpful for Haunted Montreal in promoting its tours.
For those reading the blog who want to receive a new Montreal ghost story on the 13th of every month and stay updated, please sign up to our mailing list.
Coming up on July 13: Camilien-Houde Lookout
High on the eastern slopes of Mount Royal is a romantic spot, the Camilien-Houde Lookout. Complete with benches, coin-operated telescopes, a quaint gazebo, and places to park, the belvedere offers incredible views of the Olympic stadium, Jacques-Cartier Bridge, Saint Lawrence River, and Plateau-Mont-Royal and Mile-End districts. Also known as “Lover’s Lookout”, the romantic atmosphere is known to attract young, amorous couples. Named after Montreal’s colorful wartime mayor, Camilien Houde, the charming lookout is also rumoured to have a dark side. Many lovers, tourists and students celebrating their high school graduation have reported strange sightings on the cliff behind the lookout, which is actually the border of the Protestant Mont-Royal Cemetery. While the most recognized ghost is that of an Algonquin Native American warrior, undead apparitions of all sorts have been known to appear on this haunted cliff, terrifying the sightseers on the Camilien-Houde Lookout below. To make matters worse, there have been several mysterious deaths at this location caused by people falling down the steep slopes of Mount Royal. Unfortunately, despite its romantic appeal, the Camilien-Houde Lookout can be a dangerous place at times. Whether or not the danger is related to the hauntings is one question that still remains unanswered.
Donovan King is a historian, teacher and professional actor. As the founder of Haunted Montreal, he combines his skills to create the best possible Montreal ghost stories, in both writing and theatrical performance. King holds a DEC (Professional Theatre Acting, John Abbot College), BFA (Drama-in-Education, Concordia), B.Ed (History and English Teaching, McGill) and MFA (Theatre Studies, University of Calgary).