Is the University of Guelph a university of ghouls? That’s what ghost storyteller Greg Taylor wants you to believe. As the founder of Ghost Walk of Guelph, Taylor leads tours around downtown Guelph and often includes stories about University buildings that are said to be haunted.
Later this month, he’ll offer special U of G ghost walks on campus as fundraisers for the University’s United Way campaign.
Taylor started the Guelph walks during a scary time of year. No, not Halloween. Back up a few months to Valentine’s Day 2013. While most couples celebrate the romantic day with dinner and a movie, he calls that “the same old stuff.” A ghost walk seemed like another way to bring people together.
“There’s a kind of romanticism about the unknown,” he says. Taylor’s tagline for the Valentine’s Day ghost walk was “shake, shiver, cuddle.”
A history graduate of the University of Ottawa, he jokes, “maybe I finally got a practical application for it” touring Guelph’s historical buildings. “Guelph has a lot of history and a lot of old buildings. People walk by these buildings every day without knowing what happened within their walls, let alone even taking the time to notice them.”
One of his favourite stops on the downtown walk is the Albion Hotel, built in 1856. American gangster Al Capone was rumoured to be a frequent guest in the 1920s. When he wasn’t smuggling booze across the border, Capone visited his mistress who lived at the hotel – until she was found dead.
“There’s a lot of speculation,” says Taylor. “Some people think she killed herself; some people think Capone killed her” or hired someone to do it. Legend has it that her spirit still haunts the hotel.
According to one ghost story, a hotel employee returned to his office in the early morning hours after closing time and discovered that all of the furniture had been stacked against the wall from floor to ceiling. Only one other staff member was in the building at the time, and he denied moving the furniture.
Ghostly encounters have also been reported in many U of G buildings: McLaughlin Library, the Bullring, Macdonald Hall, and even the University Centre’s Brass Taps. Taylor says his campus tours will include the story about three students who were walking home late at night across Johnston Green when one of the students suddenly broke away from his friends and ran across the field screaming.
If you want to know what kind of apparition frightened the student, join Taylor on the front steps of War Memorial Hall at 8:30 p.m. Oct. 21, 22 and 23, or at 9 p.m. Oct. 29 and 30. Tour groups will be limited to the first 25 people who arrive. The cost is $10 for the one-hour ghost walk, and proceeds will help support the University’s United Way campaign.
“I like the Johnston Green story because you can easily picture yourself in that situation” says Taylor. “There’s a commonality to the stories that makes me think that something unexplainable happened.”
Ghost stories have been around for hundreds of years, he adds, and they appeal to our interest in the supernatural.
The stories he tells on the ghost walks are based on his own research and first-hand accounts from people who claim to have witnessed ghostly activity. He says U of G is a popular hangout for ghosts, according to people who’ve taken his tours in downtown Guelph. But Taylor would like to hear even more stories. If you’ve had a paranormal experience on campus or know a great U of G ghost story, he invites you to share it with him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Despite his fascination with ghosts, Taylor says, “I can’t stand horror movies. I don’t watch them at all. They mess with my head.” He doesn’t bring any high-tech ghost-detecting equipment on the tour, but he always brings a lantern for dramatic effect. “It’s at night and it’s dark, so I think it just adds to the atmosphere.” Has the lantern’s flame ever been blown out by a ghost? “No,” he laughs, “it’s battery operated.”
A financial adviser by day for TD Canada Trust, Taylor helps people overcome their fear of money matters.