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Wicked walk: ghostly tour looks at the spookier side of Sydney

Old Sydney Society tour guide Kate Devoe stands next to the gravestone of Capt. John Butler Wilson, who built the original St. Patrick’s Church Chapel in Sydney. Wilson’s body isn’t buried there — he remains under the church itself with several other people, although his headstone was moved outside the church. 
ELIZABETH PATTERSON/CAPE BRETON POST
Old Sydney Society tour guide Kate Devoe stands next to the gravestone of Capt. John Butler Wilson, who built the original St. Patrick’s Church Chapel in Sydney. Wilson’s body isn’t buried there — he remains under the church itself with several other people, although his headstone was moved outside the church. - Elizabeth Patterson
SYDNEY, N.S. —

When you walk around the grounds and building of St. Patrick’s Museum, you can be forgiven if you feel like you’re walking across someone’s grave.

Because, you probably are.

“This graveyard, though it may look sparse, is actually quite packed underneath,” said Old Sydney Society tour guide Kate Devoe, as she stands between two large headstones just in the back of the museum.

The headstones belong to the man who built the original St. Patrick’s in 1805, Capt. John Butler Wilson and his infant son. Both were originally buried in an area that has since been covered by the renovated church. While their headstones were moved outside, their bodies remain under the church with several others. In the remaining graveyard itself, there are many people buried, even though few headstones acknowledging their lives remain.

“Headstones just don’t last the years, they break, they weather and so when they’re broken off, we take them inside,” Devoe said.

Devoe, dressed in period clothes dating to 1790-1810, has been leading ghostly tours around Sydney’s north end for years. She’s had her own experience with the supernatural.

“In St. Patrick’s Museum here, I did once see just a shadowy figure walk across the balcony and then suddenly disappear in the blink of an eye really,” she said. “That was on my first day.”

It’s not the only ghost to reside at St. Patrick’s. If you ring a red market bell in the downstairs area three times, the upstairs door to the building’s belfry may automatically open. And Old Sydney Society executive director Joyce Rankin knows of a particularly benevolent spirit that may have even saved a former society employee’s life.

“So there was the story about a person who was working in St. Patrick’s,” said Rankin. “They were working on an exhibit and slipped and were going to fall over the balcony when they felt a hand or an arm catching and holding her back until she was able to regain her balance. There was nobody else in the building. Employees still report hearing footsteps and noises in the building while they’re there.”

The Old Sydney Society tour of Sydney’s historic north end, where many secrets are buried, starts at St. Patrick’s Museum on the Esplanade. - Elizabeth Patterson
The Old Sydney Society tour of Sydney’s historic north end, where many secrets are buried, starts at St. Patrick’s Museum on the Esplanade. - Elizabeth Patterson

Appropriately, St. Patrick’s will be the starting point for the year’s final North-End Wicked Walk when it takes place at 7 p.m., Thursday. The walks have been ongoing during the summer and fall months for years although this year’s walks have changed because of COVID-19 restrictions. The walks this year employ physical distancing measures and are held outside the locations which include St. Patrick’s, Victoria Park, various locations on Charlotte Street, Jost House, Cossit House and St. George’s.

“It’s based on research — these are historically documented stories,” said Rankin, adding that while ghosts are always a part of the evening, stories will also include betrayal, adultery, greed, murder, hanging and even an act of God or two.

“It’s interesting for people to know about their own place and of course, for visitors, it’s exciting in a different way,” said Rankin.

For Devoe, it’s a fun and timely way to learn about the community’s history.

“This year with the pandemic it’s mostly locals that are coming and I find that the locals are very fascinated with what we have to say because these are the streets that they drive on every day and walk on every day,” said Devoe. “Some of the locations that we talk about are places that you would never suspect a thing from — so I encourage local people to come and find out what’s going on in their town that they don’t know.”

The tours are $13 and must be booked in advance at 902-539-1572.



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