KINNETTLES – FERGUS, ONTARIO
Although its first settlers were freed slaves who fought in the Butler’s Rangers Regiment and in the War of 1812, Fergus, Ontario has a history steeped in Scottish tradition. There is no doubt that the town’s primary developers, Adam Fergusson and James Webster influenced that, the latter of which plays a small, but important role in this haunting report.
Webster, around 1838, built a one and a half storey stone house on property obtained from his father in law, George Wilson. Wilson came to Fergus in 1834 and emigrated to Australia in 1838. The property resides on the northside of the Grand River next to Fergus, in what was Upper Nichol.
In 1853, Webster sold his home to Alexander Harvey, who, at the age of 17, had accompanied him from Scotland to Fergus. Harvey named the property Kinnettles after the hamlet in Forfarshire, Scotland where he was born. The house became a vibrant home to Alexander, his wife Matilda Shade and their seven children. Unfortunately, Harvey’s daughter Angelica died at the age of 12, and is buried in the Auld Kirk Yard in Fergus. Her memory is kept alive in the town by way of a street named in her honour.
In 1871, Harvey abandoned Kinnettles, which now had the reputation of being haunted.
Despite sightings of a male ghost in the home, white mist-like figures in its orchard, and bloody clothing found secreted in the attic, the most prevalent paranormal report connected with Kinnettles involves that of a young deceased girl. Although there are no reported sightings of the girl on the property, this tragic tale most certainly begins there.
This story takes us to a chilly day in April of 1879.
Whilst out for a brisk stroll on the riverbank at Kinnettles, local resident Charles Kay discovered the lifeless, nightdress clad body of a young girl. Despite being there for some time, the body was well preserved, most likely due to the cold weather. Kay solicited the help of several men to assist him in taking the body into the abandoned Harvey house. With the body laid out on a table, several people came by that night to view the corpse, but not one could identify her. The next morning when the Coroner arrived to conduct his examination, he found that the body had disappeared without trace.
In May of 1879, eerie complaints from the patrons of the Wellington Hotel, (located on the Northeast corner of St Andrew’s and St David’s streets), began to flood in. The grievances revolved around a servant girl, clothed in sleeping attire, who was entering their rooms during the night. Ignoring the occupant’s demands to know “What she was up to”, the girl remained unnaturally silent and soon departed, perhaps to visit another room.
It was also reported that during this time, a “rough teamster”, for nefarious reasons and believing that the girl was real, tried to grab her. Much to his astonishment and trepidation, his outstretched arms went right through the girl as if she were made of mist.
These intrusions occurred several times nightly until August 1879 when the sightings stopped.
The girl reappeared again in 1880, this time in a small house near the Wellington Hotel. Regrettably, the events surrounding this appearance has been lost with time.
The mystery surrounding the disappearance of the body, and, to some degree the identity of the girl, did not retain this status for too long. It was believed that in life the girl was an escapee from the local Poor House, (now home to the Wellington County Museum & Archives). It was learned that friends of a medical student, who required a skeleton to assist him in his doctoral studies, stole the girl’s body from Kinnettles. To hasten decomposition, the body snatchers then hid the corpse in a manure pile. In 1880, (the same year as the sighting in the small house), the body snatchers exhumed and cleansed the bones by boiling them in maple syrup. The spirit of the girl remained with the medical student until they tore down his house in the 1970s.
It was learned that the girl who’s lifeless body was found and then stolen was indeed that of an escapee from the local Poor House. Her name was Mary Wilkins.
An upcoming posting will reveal more details of this poor, unfortunate soul.
by Joe Cairney (2017)
*Mestern, Pat Mattaini. Fergus (A Scottish Town By Birthright). Dundurn 2008
*Byerly, A.E. Fergus. Elora Express
*Canada’s Black Settlement (click for webpage)
*Picture of the Wellington Hotel circa 1880. Wellington County Museum & Archives (click for webpage)