Point Saint Charles is a historic, working-class, neighborhood with strong Irish heritage and Irish culture is rife with ghost stories, tales of the paranormal and unexplained mysteries. Storytelling is such a deeply respected part of Irish culture that historically tribal chiefs would employ a seanchaí, or specialized storyteller, to be custodian of indigenous oral traditions, including history, laws and stories.
Not surprisingly, there is even a Facebook group called “Ghosts and Stories of Point Saint Charles” that is devoted to exploring the old, haunted neighborhood that lies just south of the Lachine Canal. Established originally by local resident Anne Duff, the online page now hosts frenzied discussions about mysteries and haunted sites in the Point – carried out by more than 700 online members!
One such story surfaced about Branch 127 of the Canadian Royal Legion, located at 543 Sainte-Madeleine Street, in Point Saint Charles. For decades, Canadian Army veterans have gathered in “The Crazy House”, a fond nickname given to the Branch. According to one long-time member, “Some of the fun, whacky and crazy things that happen there you wouldn’t believe if you read it in a book.” Indeed, despite the sociable atmosphere of beer-drinking and frequent partying, the Legion’s employees are convinced that the place is haunted.
Occasionally, the Legion will welcome non-members to a steak dinner, barbecued in the large backyard. Those fortunate enough to be invited will enter an intimate world where Canadian Army veterans and their families and supporters gather as a community to remember old wars and to maintain solidarity with the Forces. The steak barbecues tend to be busy social affairs, with the bar taps flowing throughout the night.
Bartenders in Canadian Legions are used to hearing a lot of stories, from old victories on the battlefield and the military’s latest strategies to local community news and salacious rumours in the neighborhood. The bartender at Branch 127, Ken McCaskill, must also contend with a different type of story: paranormal incidents abound in the old building and the staff is certain the place is haunted. Staff members have reported strange phenomena inside the Legion, including chairs moving about on their own, windows opening and closing without the aid of a human, a garbage can that can keeps getting kicked by an unseen force – and much, much more!
“All I know is what I’ve seen and heard there and what others have also,” said the bartender, adding: “We have taps that come on by themselves, mops that move on their own, a cross that burned into the grass by itself, names called, chairs that move, footprints appearing on a clean floor and glasses that fall and break… oh and being growled at.” When pressed to provide more details, the barman explained that all sorts things in the Legion get moved around somehow, ending up in places where they shouldn’t be.
McCaskill also mentioned a frightening encounter. One day, while going about his daily routine, he heard a sort of demonic growling noise. It got louder and more menacing, causing him to bolt from the building momentarily in a state of fear. On another occasion, he noticed that a cross had subtly burnt itself into the grass outside the Legion without any explanation – nothing had been placed on the lawn that could have formed the religious shape.
Concerning the disembodied voices, in addition to whatever was growling, there is also a chorus of women upstairs who sometimes sing to the sounds of a piano; unusual, because the Legion’s piano is downstairs. There is also the mysterious voice of a child, which Ken McCaskill actually managed to record. Late one night in 2014, after he had locked up, he recorded a muffled child’s voice saying something like “Pick up your Tootsie Roll”. The same young voice, in a clearer tone, also asked: “Can I come downstairs now?”
According to McCaskill, “We’ve also recorded what sounds like file cabinet drawers being opened and closed. Also at certain intervals in the recordings you can hear loud bangs like something being dropped… We went in the branch not too long ago and the power was off due to a faulty main breaker. When three of us went into the basement to check the panel, a new member who was with me said he could hear 1940’s music playing, although myself and the other member heard nothing. We’ve also had members, including myself, seeing dark shapes in the form of a body appearing quickly walking in and out of rooms.” He summarizes: “It’s a weird place for sure.”
When asked who or what he felt might be haunting the Legion, McCaskill replied: “We’re not sure now, we thought it was old members, but now with the child’s voice caught on tape! We also hear piano music upstairs and women singing.”
To theorize about the hauntings, it is important to research the history of the Legion and the building. Branch 127 was started by a veteran named Jack Talbot in 1947, on the heels of WWII. Originally located near Bridge Street, in 1955 the Legion moved into its present location at 543 Sainte-Madeleine Street. The building they moved into was originally constructed as a residence for families, but it also served as a rooming house at some point before being acquired by the Legion.
Given that the hauntings are more domestic than military in nature, it is feasible that the ghosts haunting the building are from a time before the Legion acquired it.
Indeed, when a former resident of the building named Kim (Wheeler) Rinaldo spotted the conversation on the above-mentioned Facebook page, she was flabbergasted. She was especially intrigued by the story of the piano and disembodied female voices singing, and offered her own theory about a “paranormal piano” that has been in her family for generations.
“Before it was a Legion, it was a house,” explained Rinaldo, adding: “My mom’s family lived there. My great grandparents and their families happily shared the house. The men were away a lot…most of them in the navy. All the women and the kids stayed together and one of their favourite pastimes was when my mom’s mom and her aunts played piano and sang…so weird.”
The paranormal piano, which was located upstairs where the Legion’s games room is now, was removed when the Army veterans moved in 1955.
According to Rinaldo, when the Legion moved in, “My mom’s family all moved to an apartment on Park Avenue in Montreal …. with the piano.”
The story gets weirder. Rinaldo recalls her Aunt G., a piano teacher who wasn’t dealt a fair hand in life. One day, her husband vanished after going out to buy cigarettes, leaving her to raise their three children alone. Gloria had to go on welfare and she started teaching the piano to children to earn money. Rinaldo’s other aunt saw her as a gifted teacher and encouraged her to pursue it. Gloria applied to McGill University and was offered a bursary to pursue a teaching degree: a dream come true!
During all this time, according to Rinaldo, “weird things were happening surrounding this piano. My cousins told me that they would hear keys playing at night, family pictures would fall off the wall … they were kind of afraid of the piano.” Despite the paranormal activity, Rinaldo’s Aunt G. diligently continued her studies at McGill. In fact, she was only months away from receiving a McGill degree when she was stricken by cancer and died tragically soon after.
The piano was left to Aunt G’s twenty-something daughter, who planned to sell it to earn some extra money. The idea of selling a family heirloom bothered Rinaldo so much that she bought the piano herself and moved it to Mississauga, where she was living with her husband. Her intention was to hold onto it until her Aunt G’s children became more established and wanted to buy it back.
In Mississauga, strange things began to happen surrounding the piano, which was located in the living room near the front door. Rinaldo would often experience goosebumps when passing by the haunted instrument. On another occasion, when her husband was away, her dog went ballistic and started barking and growling near the front door. Thinking there was an intruder at the door, Rinaldo approached cautiously. When she turned the corner, she found her dog standing in front with his hackles up, barking viciously at the piano. It took her a few minutes to pull him away, leaving her feeling thoroughly freaked out.
Rinaldo elaborates: “Other things happened off and on… Lights went off and on in the hall when everyone was putting on their boots/coats to leave… I eventually went in to the room when I was alone in the house and felt dumb but spoke to the piano (spirit???) and said that if someone was there and they didn’t stop scaring me, I was going to get rid of the piano and I didn’t want to because I was holding it for Aunt G’s kids. It stopped (or I made myself feel better) …whatever, but I was more comfortable.”
The paranormal piano would eventually make its way back to the Province of Quebec, according to Rinaldo: “Not long after that, my cousin called me and said he wanted to buy the piano back, so he has it now. He lives in St. Adele, which is north of Montreal. He says nothing ever happens and he’s actually disappointed. He has invited things to happen. He is really interested and not afraid, but has no experiences at all.”
With all of the hauntings at Branch 127 of the Canadian Royal Legion in Point Saint Charles, it is easy to become confused at the causes of the numerous paranormal encounters. Luckily, online groups like “Ghosts and Stories of Point Saint Charles” exist to help connect people and shed light on the mysteries that continue to unfold in the Legion.
Kim Rinaldo, in her explanation about the paranormal piano, has helped shed light on the mystery of the disembodied women who still sing upstairs in the Legion to this very day. Is it the ghost of Rinaldo’s Aunt G. who continues playing the piano in the afterlife, hinting back to a happier time before cancer tragically cut her life short and extinguished her dream?With Facebook groups like “Ghosts and Stories of Point Saint Charles” discussing local ghosts, hopefully other members of the community will help uncover even more secrets about the spirits that haunt Branch 127 of the Canadian Royal Legion.
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Coming up on August 13th: Hauntings at Villa Maria School. Located on the western base of Mount Royal, the prestigious Villa Maria has been educating girls since 1854. Originally the Monklands Hotel, the school is rumoured to be haunted by a forlorn lover who was once a guest at the country inn. After being spurned during a romantic tryst, the man hanged himself at 11 p.m. Today, in the same building, the “hanging rope” often sways at the exact same time for no apparent reason. Villa Maria schoolgirls have also experienced phantom footsteps, flickering lights, gusts of cold wind and disembodied weeping sounds on the fourth floor. One disturbing legend identifies one of the ghosts as a student named Lillian Stubbs, who contracted cholera in 1880. Despite wishing to return to be with her family in Texas, she was quarantined in the school where she died, far, far away from her home. Could her spirit be one of the many who haunt the storied school?
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).