One of my favourite ghost stories relates to an enterprising Scot who immigrated across the pond to the US, finally ending up in Canada. Simon McTavish was a Highlander born around 1750. When he first arrived in the Americas, he spent several years living in New England, before ending his days in Montreal, Canada. In that time, he became a very successful fur trader, owner of the dominant North West Company.
By all accounts, McTavish was a colourful character, who kept the citizens of Montreal highly amused by his antics. An acknowledged hard worker, he also liked to enjoy himself. One of his favourite past-times was apparently either falling in love or being in love. He led quite a grand life, throwing large parties and enjoying good food. In 1793, he got the hang of the love game, marrying Marie-Marguerite Chaboillez, a local woman. They had six children, of whom four survived. McTavish promised his wife that he would built her a castle on top of Mount Royal, the grandest house in all of Montreal. But he died during its construction in 1805. His body was buried on the site in a mausoleum.
But McTavish did not rest easily in his tomb, and in fact went on to become the centre of one of Montreal’s biggest local legends. The story became so notorious, that it led to McTavish’s mausoleum being covered over. There are quite a few twists to the tale. Following his death, the grand house McTavish planned for his wife was never finished, and became known as the ‘haunted house on the hill’. People reported hearing the revelries of huge parties emanating from the house. Others said that the man himself could be seen dancing on the rooftop – maybe with or without a few accompanying fairies. Perhaps more unusual, and rather befitting for the ghost of an eccentric ex-pat Scot, his ghost could also be seen sitting upright in his coffin, sledging down the side of Mount Royal.
It goes that the abandoned construction of his castle after his wife left Montreal angered McTavish’s spirit, causing it to get up to such merry japes. His ghost was also said to be somewhat miffed when some grave robbing took place in the new cemetery in Mount Royal in 1870. An anatomy professor had employed some bodysnatchers to sort out a supply problem for his classes. The resurrection men were reportedly accompanied by McTavish sliding down the hill next to them in his coffin. McTavish’s tomb itself was also apparently broken into.
A few years ago, archaeologists began excavating Simon McTavish’s mausoleum. It’s not known if they had any coffin-sledging company from the other side…