We are standing in the third-floor studio area in the Mill of Kintail (a scenic 45 min drive southwest from Ottawa). Stephanie Kolsters, the long-time curator and site coordinator, is causally talking about the beauty of the space – it’s indescribably stunning. When we first came up here, the light wasn’t cooperating. Steph noted it, but quickly brushed it off after she finally got it to work. A few minutes later, as we become lost in conversation, the light at the far end of the studio suddenly switches off. We continue as if nothing happened, but we both saw it. Steph has become very used to these types of incidents and I was briefly in denial as a subtle chill came over me. It doesn’t take long before we stop, mid sentence, and verify that we both saw the light flick off. That light never did come back on.
Interior of the Mill – https://almonte.com
Incidents like these are not uncommon at the Mill of Kintail. In fact, it’s almost a daily part of Steph’s life at the museum. She described the numerous light incidents as almost routine – they happen so frequently it’s actually become a part of her day. She verified that unexplained incidents of lights going on and off aren’t confined to one switch or breaker, and it even happens in different buildings throughout the site. Some lights are on motion sensors and they flick on and off when no one else is around or even when the sensors are covered with tape. Other switches require the forceful push of a button, but that doesn’t stop them from turning on in empty rooms. When I spoke with her in early October 2020, Steph explained that electricity issues have increased over the last few months across the entire site. This increasing activity makes the upcoming paranormal investigations at the site that much more intriguing.
Investigating for Spirits
Phantoms of Yore at Mill of Kintail
On the other hand, Elliot Luijkenaar of Phantoms of Yore says anytime is a good time for an investigation. The Mill of Kintail site has been so active that his group and some eager visitors are returning to conduct a fresh set of investigations in fall 2020. This time it will be smaller groups with COVID protocols in place to ensure everyone’s safety. Teams that have investigated previously reported unexplained lights going on and off, EVPs (electronic voice phenomenon), temperature anomalies, and other signs of intelligent communication. However, Elliot has a feeling that the activity at the site is only going to increase in the coming weeks, as more families and close friends explore the buildings.
The Mill of Kintail is drawing people eager to communicate with the spirit world in the 21st century, but these visitors aren’t the first guests to attempt paranormal investigations here. Shortly after the McKenzie’s restored the property in the 1930s, they played host to some very notable guests: Sir Robert Borden and William Lyon Mackenzie King. Both men not only were Prime Ministers of Canada, but shared an interested in spiritualism (as were many of their contemporaries) and frequently conducted séances in an attempt to communicate with the other side. A letter from Borden, where he regrets being unable to “[commune] with the spirits of those who knew and loved the Mill”, indicates that it was a site for some kind of séances in the early 20th century. Unfortunately, there are no written accounts of what happened at these sessions, but this time around, Phantoms of Yore are ensuring things are recorded and not forgotten.
Letter from Robert Borden – Phantoms of Yore
The History of the Haunted Property
The main building on the property now known as the Mill of Kintail was constructed sometime in the early 1830s by John Baird. The recently arrived immigrant from Scotland was quickly making a name for himself and soon had a gristmill, a general store (now the gate house) and a homestead in the small settlement of Bennie’s Corners. His family soon joined him in Canada and lived on the present site for years. However, John Baird’s children never had any descendants of their own and the family line abruptly ended in 1900 with the death of the last daughter. The mill was already abandoned by then – John Baird had lost the property during a long legal battle with some of his neighbours in the early 1860s. By many accounts, John Baird was a very unpopular early resident of Bennie’s Corners and people weren’t upset as his property quickly fell into disrepair and he died soon after.
Basketball Inventor James Naismith (left) and Robert Tate McKenzie at Mill – http://mvc.on.ca
In 1930, Robert Tait McKenzie, an accomplished physician, sculptor and educator, returned to his hometown of Almonte for a celebration. While there, he was persuaded to purchase the old mill in the former settlement of Bennie’s Corners. McKenzie was familiar with the abandoned property, as the site was once a favourite makeshift playground for himself and his childhood friend, James Naismith, the inventor of basketball. The setting was a perfect place for a studio and summer retirement home for Tait and his wife, Ethel. In 1938, Robert Tait Mackenzie died suddenly. Ethel eventually sold the property to Major James Leys in 1952. He and his wife tended to the property and founded the R. Tait McKenzie Memorial Museum. Eventually the mill passed into the hands of the Mississippi Valley Conservation Authority in the early 1970s and they’ve maintained the site as a museum ever since.
The Mill Building
Ethel’s Room and Shrine – Phantoms of Yore
A lot of the activity in the mill building has taken place in what is now affectionately called “Ethel’s room.” It contains a small shrine of sorts and a few artifacts that were owned and loved by Ethel McKenzie during her time at the mill. A stool at the piano is frequently pulled out when the curator, Steph, does her morning walk through. As the last person to leave and the first person to enter, Steph is keenly aware of where everything is left every night when she locks up. Steph’s sister, Sharon, had her own experience in the room recently. There is a computer in the room that was playing a video when Sharon came upstairs. She watched as the computer shut off on its own – and then suddenly came back on again. It shut off and turned back on a few more times as Sharon watched in disbelief.
The teams investigating this room have also had some incredible experiences. Phantoms of Yore use all kinds of tools for their events, including interactive light up balls that can be rolled or bounced on the floor. During one investigation, a light up ball was pushed by an unseen force very slowly and methodologically under Ethel’s shrine. When other investigators tried to replicate the event, they quickly learned that the floors sloped the opposite direction – meaning the ball had travelled slowly and methodically up hill.
In another instance, a live feed was kept on in Ethel’s room for almost the entire night. In front of eager viewers watching online, with the building locked and empty, the light in Ethel’s room suddenly came on in the middle of the night. Shortly after, it flicked back off again, before coming on a second time and remaining that way until the live feed was cut. When investigators returned to the building on a new live feed in the morning, they found the light was back off.
The Gate House
Present-day Gate House, Photo by Ron Lamb – 1932
Although the mill building is probably the highlight of most people’s experience because of its immense size and incredible history, the gate house holds its own appeal. When I spoke with him in October 2020, Elliot from Phantoms of Yore explained that the gate house was one of the biggest surprises in their early investigations and it continues to draw unexplained activity. He notes that many teams who conducted investigations previously felt an unprovoked draw to one part of the second floor. Negative energies, ghostly touching, temperature changes, and other indicators tend to draw people to the same spot. In his opinion, the gate house is layered with a different kind of energy than the mill building and people notice it immediately.
This might also explain why one team recorded a very distinct EVP one evening in the gate house. Captured on video (see below), one group clearly heard a deep voice telling them to get out. This same deep and angry voice had been captured before and since, making it clear that someone or something in the gate house wants people out. Although the spirit appears to be more sinister than the ghost of the mill building, its intentions are still unclear. Perhaps the answer lies in a Ouija board that is frequently used in investigations. Two groups, fully independent of one another, have captured the same name and number. The secret of what it means has yet to be unlocked, but Elliot is hoping a new team of investigators might add to the collection of clues.
A few highlights from recent investigations:
Who Is Responsible for the Activity…
Ethel McKenzie – Phantoms of Yore
So, who is haunting the Mill of Kintail site and why? Many people believe that it is the spirit of Ethel McKenzie. With so much activity concentrated in her room and around her artifacts, that explanation seems probable. Although Steph is frequently wary of the activity at her site, she’s never felt threatened. No one has ever been shoved or pushed and the ghost seems nosey, if anything. She explained that the energy from the spirit in the mill building seems very positive and she’s almost comforted by the presence. When we saw the light in the studio suddenly shut off, neither of us felt negativity and we both wondered if the spirit wanted to have input in our conversation. Elliot feels something similar and believes the ghost at the mill building is a happy and attentive hostess eager to please visitors, although unwittingly gives them a fright.
But if Ethel is a rather positive spirit and the energy around her is light, the ghost at the gate house is a distinct contrast. The intense negative energy and feeling of unwelcome doesn’t match the merry hostess of the mill building. For this reason, Elliot believes that the gate house might be frequented by the spirit of John Baird. The general store was originally here and the family’s homestead was very close by. Baird died a disgraced man, with no family line, and was very unpopular in the community. Whether the rumours were true or he was just a victim of unkind community gossip, perhaps Baird has remained very protective of the property he lost.
However, there is another spirit that no one has an explanation for – a child. The distinct sound of a child’s voice and laughter has been captured on EVPs from multiple teams during investigations. The light up balls are played with and bounced by what seems like a playful spirit. Both Elliot and Steph are quite certain there is a child present on the property, but neither of them knows who it could be. With the river nearby, drownings and other accidental deaths could have happened. While the mill was in disrepair, children were known to have played on the site and it’s possible an accident may have occurred. Perhaps a child died during the construction of the mill or the other buildings on the site. Whatever their origins, this child spirit appears to be coming through more in the investigations and perhaps they are becoming more comfortable with guests.
Finally, with séances having been held on the property, it’s unknown if they could have made a lasting and unintentional impression upon the area. It’s clear that Mackenzie King and Borden were interested in the site for its ghostly potential, which begs the question of who or what they may have seen or experienced on the property to keep them coming back.
Come, Join Us
Phantoms of Yore Investigation at Mill of Kintail – Summer 2020
As the Phantoms of Yore prepare for more investigative teams this fall, they’re excited to see what new material might be captured – and Steph is excited to see what new stories she might be able to tell. Teams are very small and only comprised of known social bubbles – that means the dynamic of a team will be much different than previous events. The small teams are provided with sanitized equipment (after a tutorial) and left to investigate on their own, capturing footage to examine later. Having very small teams that already know each other is something Elliot believes might bring even more activity. The entire experience is around 3 hours long. As an added bonus, all investigators will be directly helping the Mill of Kintail site, an important museum and historic area that is worthy of a visit during the night and day.
If you ever wanted to be a ghost investigator, just like on television, this is your chance for a truly unique and memorable experience. To book you tickets head to the Mill of Kintail Investigation Page. Who knows what else is waiting to be found during the next investigation at the Mill of Kintail. I’m eager to find out for myself.
Brittney Anne Bos, PhD
Haunted Walk Tour Guide & Host
Interview of Stephanie Kolsters, Curator and Site Coordinator at Mill of Kintail
Interview of Elliot Luijkenaar, Phantoms of Yore