Body, Mind, Soul, Spirit
In the dark and wintry days of Christmastide, with its millennia-deep roots in Christian and pagan traditions, ancestral spirits and lost loved ones seem to draw especially close. But for some denizens of the hills, such communion with the spirit world is a natural part of everyday human experience.
Snow swirled around the kitchen door and the sweet smell of a maple wood fire filled the house. It was Christmas Eve and the old Cataract cottage was festive – red candles stood ready in their polished brass holders, little white lights sparkled in the fragrant cedar swag on the stairs. In a few hours family members would begin to arrive.
There was just enough time left to finish my baking – sweet-topped egg bread, a traditional starter dish my grandmother used to make and a staple at our Christmas feast. I had learned the recipe from her years earlier – eggs, milk, butter, sugar, flour – after a stroke left her unable to work with her hands. After she died I was determined to continue the ritual, serving her bread at Christmas and keeping her spirit present with the extended family.
Back at the breadboard something was terribly wrong. The honey-scented dough would not fold and was brick tough, cold and unyielding. I looked up at the clock and panicked, tears of frustration welling up. The table was not ready, the wine not set out in the snow to chill. I could just hear my grandfather’s annual benediction upon the bread. This year it would be a resigned, “It’s dry!”
I dusted the flour off my hands onto my special-occasion apron, a frilly white eyelet cotton that had been my grandmother’s favourite. Looking up at the tiny ceramic canary hung on the wall, a gift from her kitchen, I whimpered, “What now?”
As though a dimmer switch were suddenly dialled up to high, all the lights in the room seemed to brighten with a thick intensity. Heat filled the kitchen as well as a profound sensation of motherly love. Startled, I looked about and then stared hard down at the dough.
I felt a cool hand gently brush my cheek. “You didn’t proof the yeast,” I heard.
Now calm, I methodically began reassembling the recipe from the beginning. The opening dish was saved, and since that day I’ve never again forgotten to proof the yeast.
Was this a ghost of Christmas past?
To date, we can say we have a reasonably good grasp on the relatively simple four-dimensional world of space and time. But is that all there is? Current theories in particle physics propose there are many parallel dimensions, seven, eight or even more. Perhaps in these are the playground, the mind-place, where shamans, spiritualists and mediums have always travelled – meeting their loved ones in a parallel universe of love.
The front door of the clapboard house is festooned by a large metal spiderweb. Outside, Lori Kinrade’s big white German shepherd Lacey snuffles at the faded remnants of a flower bed. A cat seated just inside the door yowls hello as a sprightly Lori invites me into her sanctuary.
Perfumed by the inky smell of old books, her tiny perfect office feels like it would fit right in at Hogwarts, with floor to ceiling shelves of leather-bound tomes, crystals everywhere and creaking floor. The room is a deliciously comfy cave, an overflowing repository of stories.
Lori is a medium. She tunes in, offering communication with those who have crossed over, or she senses and scans the environment for what might reside there. Investigating locations for strong impressions, she also helps to clear misdirected spirits or energies. “I was seeing spirits before I could speak,” begins Lori, then laughs, adding, “I had a really sleepless childhood.”
In fact, until Lori was old enough to understand her perceptual abilities, a passing parade of bedside visitors gave her nothing but night terrors. Once she could name this transparency of the worlds, the extra sense that is her gift, she also learned this “seeing” goes back several generations in her family. At some point she discovered her mother read tea leaves, but no one in her family wanted to talk about it.
Lori’s talent is primarily directed to helping families come to terms with losing loved ones. She is especially gratified by helping children similarly endowed with the “vision” to get a good night’s sleep.
“The Caledon area is ripe with ghosts,” she says. Her ghost-hunting expeditions have conducted stake outs at Belfountain Conservation Area, the Badlands and the Boston Mills Cemetery, and those gathered have encountered energies and photographed odd effects of mist and strange lights.
“We did a session at the Orangeville Opera House,” says Lori. Lori describes using a variation of the old-time spiritualist’s table turning, a table on wheels which moved rapidly around the stage under the light touch of a single finger, propelled, she says, by the energetic umbrage of a spirit persecuted long ago.
“The spirit told us that he had stolen something, but insisted he was not a bad man. He was trying to feed his family.” The ghost met a rough summary judgement, and claimed he was hung. “We helped him cross,” says Lori. The stage became peaceful once more.
“We also met an old woman, a presence who had no intention of leaving,” she continues. “She was a caretaker of sorts, had lived nearby, and felt that we should respect the place and leave our shoes by the door.”
“I’ve tried to live a ‘normal’ life,” says Lori, describing the years she tried to keep her second sight at bay. But denial of her gifts kept getting her into trouble. She says the spirits would send her “accidents,” laying her up for prolonged periods, but giving her lots of time to think. “I was even run over by my own car when Lacey my dog jumped into the driver’s seat at the vets.’”
Since then, Lori has found her spiritual home and acceptance. She is now vice-president of the Spiritualist Society of Barrie – a generous place where Lori says she can be all that she is without being unduly challenged by skeptics. “There is no peace when you are not living your truth.”
The School of Miracles
“Where there is great love,
there are always miracles.”
That quote from Willa Cather is enshrined on the wall at Caledon’s School of Miracles.
For Heather Scavetta, the paranormal is just normal. It wasn’t always this way. She once had what she calls a “perfectly normal” happy life. But one day, looking out over the hills of her Caledon farm, she had the uneasy certainty that something seismic was on its way.
Just months later Heather, her husband Tony, and Elizabeth, one of her 17-year-old twin daughters, were gathered together on New Year’s Eve. On the television in the background controversial psychic Sylvia Browne was making predictions for the year ahead. Elizabeth and Tony were engaged in a debate, Tony proclaiming something to the effect that the world of psychics is hokum. His daughter disagreed with some passion: It’s real, Dad!” Later that night, a car accident took Elizabeth’s life.
Tony and Heather’s world abruptly collapsed. But Heather is a fighter. From her own work as a nurse and having counselled others, she knew that she and her husband needed help. They searched “high and low” for answers, as she puts it. But “the rational world yielded no comfort.” Casting a wider net they learned to meditate. It was during this time that Heather, gutted by grief, hit her lowest point. She cried out for help.
“That is when everything changed,” she says. “I started to receive beautiful visions from my daughter every day. I could see them play out before me, colours I had never seen and animals and landscapes, as well as imagery from heaven.” A convert to Catholicism, and with no previous context for her newfound experience, Heather didn’t self-edit what was happening. “The spirit world is real,” she says, “and God exists.”
A sense of mission unfolded for both Heather and Tony. Once a skeptic, Tony also began to experience his daughter’s presence. He is so changed he now teaches at the School of Miracles, which the couple felt compelled to establish to share their awareness. Not “psychic” by birth nor having inherited their extra sense, Heather and Tony feel that opening the doors of perception can be learned, that it’s a beautiful gift and that “contact” involves healing and growth on many levels.
Interest in these things seems to be evolving, Heather points out. You can’t turn on the television without coming across dramas and reality-based shows such as Medium, Rescue Mediums, Ghost Whisperer, The Listener and John Edward’s Crossing Over. It only follows that people would want to learn about their unusual experiences or reach out to loved ones who have passed, she says.
When I arrived to interview Heather, a class on mediumship was just breaking up. Excited students, women and men, young and old, were lingering after the session, eager to share their paranormal experiences and their desire to contact the spirit world. There was a common thread to their stories that Heather later confirms. Spirits come to tell us, “I’m here and I’m okay,” she says. And, in that, her students and clients come to realize all the love that surrounds them. “I had a perfect love with my daughter when she was here,” says Heather. “And I have perfect love with her still.”
Keen to spread her message more broadly, Heather has recently published a book detailing her experience of the loss and redemption of her daughter. Called The Power of Love: A Mother’s Miraculous Journey from Grief to Medium, Channel and Teacher, it is available at local bookstores and libraries or online. (See mini-review The Year in Books: 2014 in this issue.)
Several years after the Christmas of almost-botched baking, I met a woman who reads tea leaves. Not only did she accurately describe my life as it has evolved in the ensuing decade, the gentle white-haired woman stopped speaking abruptly, cocked her head sideways and smiled. “You know, dear, your grandmother – Betta – she visits you in your kitchen.” Then she exclaimed, “Oh! She’s touched you. She’s showing me she’s brushed your cheek with her palm!”
The Irish settlers of the Headwaters region brought with them a natural affinity for spiritualism. The Irish had a long-held belief in the banshee, the spirit who foretold death. And the séance became a 19th-century parlour entertainment. More recently, the 1984 comedy Ghostbusters was based in part on events that transpired in the household of self-described third-generation spiritualist, actor Dan Aykroyd. If you have a chilly visitor, an unwelcome spectral guest, “Who ya gonna call?”
I recall as a student living in an old house where night after night I’d be awakened at 3 a.m. by footsteps marching back and forth through my bedroom’s open doorway. After several nights of this distressing phenomenon I got up, stood still on the spot, floorboards still rhythmically creaking under my feet, and asked the “visitor” to kindly go where it belonged. The disturbance ended instantly.
However, it seems I had only managed to banish the what’s-it to the other side of the apartment. Weeks later I arrived home from a night shift to find a very shaken roommate. He had all the lights on and was playing loud music. As he relayed it, a young girl in long lace bedclothes and flowing blonde locks had flung the door open and burst into his room in the middle of the night. He sat up wide-eyed with fright. The child vanished.
“Sometimes a ghost just wants attention,” says Lori Kinrade, and for such disruptive interlopers a medium can help clear the environment. On occasion, she says, the disturbance encountered is not a ghost at all, but a powerful thought form or energy pattern, something imprinted on the environment that also needs clearing.
Oddly enough, Lori’s clarity does not extend to her immediate family. After her mother died, Lori was too bound by grief to discern whether all the strange events around her home were in fact related to her mother. It took another medium to confirm her suspicions. “My mother always said she would stay with me. I looked after her in her last years.”
One day a visitor remarked to Lori that her mother had not been “a strong spirit,” at which her mother’s wind chimes crashed to the floor. Along with several other incidents in the order of things that go bump in the night, Lori felt an intervention was due. Encouraged to cross over by loving family and friends, her mum’s rather heavy presence moved on. Which is not to say she is entirely gone. Lori says her mother now visits with a light and playful heart. She regularly turns on a sound machine Lori inherited and which now sits in a room occupied by Lori’s daughter. The gizmo her mother once enjoyed will suddenly start playing sound effects when the switch is in the “off” position.
The spirits have always been with us
Here are just a few of the many stories of the spirits and ghosts that populate the hills.
In the fall of 1894, just outside Orangeville near Springbrook by the Greenwood Cemetery, a certain Mr. Perfect saw an evening apparition that spooked both him and his horse, a ghost described as a giant. Although search parties were organized – the Amaranth treasurer claimed to have seen the ghost as well – no ghost was detected. But both men were described as “sober reliable … pillars of the Presbyterian church,” so there was reluctance to doubt their tales.
A Mr. Jos Marshall recalled similar incidents from decades earlier, so when the now-famous ghost made subsequent appearances in the same area, more search parties went out. Interest peaked with mobs armed with “stones, revolvers and lanterns,” but to no avail. Later hunts recorded things vaguely seen, strange lights and horses similarly bolting. Contemporary theories ranged from the ghost being a sickly local boy who lived near the railroad tracks, to a runaway old white horse, hauntings from various rail-crossing fatalities, pranksters teasing photographer Mr. Jim Lynn, and a railroad tramp.
Orangeville Opera House
The ghosts that Lori Kinrade’s group sensed have also been seen by theatre employees. Steve Nixon worked as a technician for Theatre Orangeville for five years. One night as he was locking up and about to set the alarm, he felt a movement behind him. Turning, he saw a woman ascending the stairs beside the elevator. He was about to inform the patron that she was not headed for the exit, when she disappeared.
“It wasn’t threatening in any way,” says Steve, “but it was unsettling. I thought I was alone and I was not!” Like many historic public buildings, the Opera House has been through many transformations. The complex was once not only a butcher shop but doubled as the coroner’s office. No wonder local ghosts seem confused.
Melville White Church
Sally Drummond, heritage resource officer for the Town of Caledon, reports that when restoration work was commissioned on the historic Melville White Church, it was imperative that no graves be disturbed. So a diviner was seconded to identify the limits of the church’s old burial ground, which were then confirmed by a crystal gazer. “The woman looked to the edge of the property towards the unmarked paupers’ graves, and saw a group of people, all in period dress, sitting on the wall,” Sally says.
A couple of years ago, several visual artists using the church for an art show felt unsettling energy in the church’s northest corner.
Years ago a local dowser related to me in hushed tones that there is a spot of trouble down in old Alton. He claimed there is an upset spirit there who was once defrauded and has made it his business to make trouble for others who endeavour to establish business on “his” premises.
Curiously many local ghosts seem to have an affinity for pub life and public places. They congregate where “spirits” are served, and in very social places like theatres, churches and their respective graveyards. Once an extrovert, always an extrovert, it seems.
Nanette Martin, former co-proprietor of Orangeville’s Greystones Inn on Broadway, says there were numerous spirits hanging about the restaurant, some of whom she encountered. They included earlier owners of the establishment from the 19th century and a lovelorn young Native woman named Red Feather.
Nanette says their former chef was a medium. “He once told me there are eight spirits at Greystones.” When Nanette held spirit readings during themed evenings called Dining with the Dead, “Ice cubes were popping out of people’s drinks, and cutlery swished across the table.”
Discussion about a local ghost in the Orangeville Sun from March 7, 1895 describes strange sounds and phenomena issuing from an abandoned house, once a doctor’s dwelling near Camilla. Upon investigation, including the witnessing of said disturbance, folks either thought there was no such thing as ghosts, or the opposite, “There is no fake about it.”
Carol Vidoni, who used to run an antique business out of the family home on Highway 9, says the previous owner of her property stopped by to share stories about some unusual encounters. The most dramatic was one evening after a dinner party. Making sure all the candles were well out, the woman retired for the night, only to wake up several hours later in a state of alarm. Searching the house, she returned to the dining room to find all the candles once again alight.
While Carol has never seen a ghost, she and her husband were disconcerted when certain family objects unaccountably went missing. And several years ago, a local real estate agent described seeing a ghostly presence on the farm, including how he looked and how he died. Carol assumes that one of the farm’s itin- erant workers from an earlier generation, who was killed on the highway, still has an attachment to the place.
An episode of the television show Rescue Mediums visited a home in Palgrave. The two psychics employed found several unquiet spirits disrupting the current owner’s home life. A ritual at the nearby graveyard seemed to release the spectral church minister who once presided over the local parish (and whose existence was confirmed by registry records). A heart-to-heart chat with another displaced soul, the first tenant on the century property, placated her spirit as well. Later episodes of Rescue Mediums featured house “clearings” in Alliston, Caledon, Hillsburgh and Orangeville.
The Millcroft Inn
Innkeeper Bill Cutt says patrons have reported seeing a young child playing in the halls of the Manor House next to the inn. A benign presence, the sighting is thought to be a young girl who fell out a window when the house was being used as a school. Millcroft lore also identifies the sightings of a gentleman spirit on the grounds as a Mr. Dod, the former owner of the old knitting mill.
With thanks to Ruth Ann Johnson of the Dufferin County Museum & Archives. Wayne Townsend’s book Orangeville: The Heart of Dufferin County records in more detail some of the historical stories related here.