On Oct. 26, in the brisk autumn chill, the Midnight Kitchen (MK) hosted a ‘Radically Haunted McGill Walking Tour.’ Showing the darker—and spookier—side of McGill’s 196 years of history, the tour addressed urban legends and secrets of the past.
The idea for the McGill-themed ghost tour came about when Anastasia Dudley, U3 Arts and coordinator of the event, went on a similar tour of Mount Royal. For Dudley, this Halloween was the perfect opportunity for MK, a nonprofit, volunteer-run collective, to highlight McGill’s own scary stories.
“[Midnight Kitchen] thought it would be a fun, alternative way to do an educational and radical walking tour of campus,” Dudley said. “I like ghost tours [….] I went on one in late August […] and me and my friends […] were talking to [the guy who ran it] afterwards about ghost stories on McGill’s campus, and he said that he used to run the tour [at] McGill, [but] the chief administration made him stop because the stories he was telling portrayed McGill in a negative light, and they didn’t like the attention.”
After the tour, most attendees agreed that McGill University has some skeletons in its closet. The guides, who are part of Haunted Montreal, a Montreal ghost tour group, hauntingly wove history and lore into tales that guests would remember long after the event ended.
The tour began with a history lesson about James McGill, the founder of the university. According to the tour guides, McGill’s past is not as innocent as many students may believe; he was a colonial profiteer, slave-owner, militia leader, and, rather ironically, a university dropout. According to Midnight Kitchen, McGill’s history owning indigenous slaves is possible reasoning for why the university after his name is now one of the the most haunted in Canada.
Out of the many ghosts and hauntings the guides described, including an old woman who waters flowers in a Milton-Parc frat house, a few stories in particular raised questions about McGill’s past. Much to the surprise of guests, McTavish Street is home to the building with the most paranormal activity on campus: The Faculty Club. In the former home of Alfred Baumgarten—an extremely wealthy man who maintained his high social standing by building an opulent mansion—things literally go bump in the night. Students and staff alike have reported doors that slam, portraits with eyes that seem to follow you, elevators that move of their own accord, and mysterious midnight phone calls to the Human Resources department throughout the years. One of the creepiest events that took place involved piano music so loud that a professor couldn’t grade papers. He sent a security guard to find the source of this nuisance, but there was no one; the piano was playing on its own.
The other story, and perhaps the most disturbing, is that of the Allan Memorial Institute. It was the only stop where Midnight Kitchen preceded the story with a content warning, and anyone familiar with the MKUltra experiments will know why. Occurring in the 1960s, MKUltra was a series of CIA-backed psychological experiments on unconsenting test subjects.Tales of child abuse, incredible torture, and other terrifying ordeals were only some of the incidents mentioned during the tour. Guests observed a moment of silence for the atrocities committed there, mainly by the infamously brutal Dr. Ewan Cameron, who ran the experiments. Afterward, the tour moved further down Pins avenue, at which point drunk college students celebrating Halloween broke the tension of the gruesome tales tour attendees encountered.
Midnight Kitchen’s ghost tour was certainly radical; it brought up questions of ethics, challenged paranormal skeptics, and ensured that students will never see certain buildings in the same light ever again.
“The reason why there are ghosts around is because there are horrible things that have happened in the past,” Dudley said. “[There are] terrible things that the chief administration has done, things that they don’t like people talking about or knowing about.”