The essay found below is NON – fiction, in the sense that it genuinely reflects a widespread belief about a particular building in Montreal in the early Edwardian years. The home in question is behind the trees in the photo. The one in the foreground is the second home Sir George A. Drummond.
There was a widespread belief amongst many Montrealers in the early 1900’s that an old, dilapidated home on otherwise majestic Sherbrooke Street was in fact haunted. It was first gardeners, then coachmen, that laboured attentively in the affluent vicinity of the residence in question who began to relate the tale to an intrigued city. Although living in the early years of an ostensibly enlightened twentieth century, this colourful hearsay spread speedily and amenably around an otherwise modern Canadian borough.
The building affected was the long-established holding of Sir George A. Drummond and set in the very heart of Montreal’s eminent Golden Square Mile. It had been abandoned and aimlessly boarded up after the prominent industrialist moved his family to a specially constructed ornate, brownstone mansion which was located just nearby. In that tumbledown condition it remained for some fifteen years. Many a vintage Notman photo depicts the two Drummond houses standing side by side, separated only by a considerably more modest Mansfield Street.
The derelict home was a dated greystone structure with a wide flight of about a dozen steps running up to its rather large entrance portico. It was not particularly flamboyant in style; nevertheless, with the passage of time, it progressively assumed the character of a decaying Victorian manor house, which made it most appropriate for the setting of a spine-tingling macabre story.
Shortly after the distinguished owner moved to his new home in 1889, the windows of the forsaken building were destroyed – there being mischievous boys in the early 1900’s as well. The broken casements were rapidly boarded up, leaving the edifice looking even more forlorn and troubled. Needless to say that, with such a ghostly appearance, it didn’t take long for faint rumours to begin spreading that strange, eerie sounds could be discerned from within the ruin – particularly after darkness fell!
At first, people didn’t seem to think too much of it until a domestic, working in the fabled neighbourhood, asserted that she had seen a flickering light through the wooden planks that had been fixed over the broken windows on the top floor. Presently, one of the shutters broke free of its upper hinge leaving it dangling in the wind, creating an even more sinister look.
About a fortnight later, Montreal was all a buzz with the startling account of a seemingly upright citizen who, returning from a church social, passed in front of the sorrowful structure situated directly across from a desolate McGill campus. It was nearing midnight and as she glanced up at the celebrated property, she distinctly saw a twinkling candle in that very same picture window with the broken shutter. Frightened, she hurriedly crossed to the north side of the street from where she cautiously glimpsed back once more at the deserted Drummond home. From this new privileged perspective, she could see deep into the upper floor and recounted how the lighted taper hovered unnaturally in the air in the middle of the otherwise dark and dismal room.
For a period of time the disused, confounding residence became the routine talk of the city. Subsequently, several respectable citizens made it their business to obtain stealthy access to the dank edifice in order to see for themselves what exactly was going on within its uncanny walls. A few emerged with unnerving tales of bizarre experiences, while others made reference to ghastly and peculiar encounters with unknown beings. One spoke of his hand being seized in a grasp of steel by some invisible force existent in a shadowy chamber. Some sensed a fiendish presence loitering defiantly about them. All made it their business to flee the site as quickly as their unsteady legs would carry them. At no time would any return.
It was never really determined what exactly the gallant and well-intentioned ghost-busters had so acutely undergone during those clandestine visits to the then infamous property on Sherbrooke Street. It was certainly not the spirit of the banker Sir George Drummond as he was still very much alive in his undisturbed mansion across the way, and would continue to live there until his death in 1910. What is known is that these paranormal happenings precipitated the eventual removal of the mysterious house from the city landscape. Yet oddly, despite its demolition, even more evocative anecdotes now began to circulate concerning a vagrant, late night spectre hovering, homeless, throughout the general area of the McGill University campus. However, with the passage of time, these chilling legends eventually vanished from public discourse, like the displaced phantom itself, I suppose.
‘Enlightened’, did I say?
As for me, any time I find myself sauntering about the intersection of Sherbrooke Street and Mansfield, particularly during tenebrous times, I glance anxiously about, pick up my pace, and quickly decamp the area – lest the ghoul’s clammy hand should seize me by the gullet!