The Baldoon Mystery is a legendary and spine-tingling Canadian ghost story. Nearly 200 years old, it continues to provide chills and cause nightmares. It has everything we want from a spooky story: scary noises, life threatening incidents, unexplained invisible forces and a mysterious ending that leaves more questions than answers. Let’s dive into one of our greatest Canadian mysteries…
Setting the Stage
The Baldoon settlement was originally conceptualized by Lord Selkirk. It was located near present-day Wallaceburg in Southern Ontario. Lord Selkirk imagined a settlement that mirrored his homeland, the Scottish Highlands, in every way. He imported sheep and persuaded at least 15 families from the old country to undertake this exciting new adventure. They arrived on September 5, 1804, optimistic about the future, but were soon greeted by a swampy piece of land just in time for malaria season.
The settlement got off to a rough start, foreshadowing the many difficult years ahead. The low-lying swamp lands were difficult to cultivate and agricultural output was dismal. The sheep weren’t thriving as they did back home and disease routinely swept through the community. The Superintendent of the estate, Alexander Macdonnell, used Lord Selkirk’s funds to try and solve the problems plaguing the communities. But it was no use and the settlement never got off the ground. After the colony was invaded by Americans during the War of 1812, most of the original settlers left and Lord Selkirk sold his property.
Some original highlanders remained in the general area of Baldoon and they were soon joined by others who were interested in the better plots of land. One of those people was John Macdonald and his young family. By all accounts, life in Baldoon in the 1820s was difficult but largely uneventful. Soon the quiet settlement of hardy highlanders would be rocked by events that would outlive the community.
The troubles for the Macdonald family started in 1829. By many accounts, the first incident happened to some of the women while they were preparing straw in the barn. Without any warning, poles from the roof structure began to topple towards the ground, sending deadly wooden daggers to the ground. The women had to run for cover to avoid being impaled. After an investigation by the men, no probable source for the incident was ever found.The poles were installed in such a way that they couldn’t easily come loose. Could an unseen force have dislodged them with ill intent? The disturbing event was only the start of strange occurrences that would plague the farm for years to come.
As with many paranormal happening, unexplained sounds would be heard by the Macdonald family at all hours of the day and night. While the family was sleeping, they often heard the sound of footsteps throughout the house but especially in the kitchen. These noises weren’t just the occasional creak or soft shuffle: according to many family members, it sounded like the rhythmic marching of many men preparing for war. When the family went to investigate, the noises would abruptly stop. By the dim light of candles and lanterns, the family could see that there was no army marching through their kitchen, but only a few nights later they would hear it again.
Another disturbing incident involved one of their children and certainly would have left a lasting impression on the terrified Macdonalds. While a baby was sitting in a wooden cradle, it suddenly started to rock violently from side to side. Three men rushed over and joined in an effort to stop it. Although they used every bit of strength, the rocking continued as if being forced by a powerful unseen hand. The cradle continued to rock, unaided, when the men backed away in terror.
Fires were also spotted throughout the property, as if the paranormal presence was attempting to burn down their homestead. On one occasion over a dozen fires started at the same time without any clear ignition source. As one fire was finally doused, more would start in its place. John Macdonald was especially troubled by this incident and the family was certain something or someone was driving them away from the farmhouse.
Although there were many different types of disturbing events over the years, some things happened over and over again. The most common incident experienced by the family were rocks and bullets being propelled at the exterior of their house. Family members would often collect the bullets and rocks and sometimes leave unique markings on the items. They were then brought off the property and even deposited in nearby creeks. Only a few days later, the same bullets and rocks with the unique markings would appear back at their house. After replacing the glass panes of their windows so often, John Macdonald eventually boarded up the windows. Thereafter, instead of glass shattering, the family heard the constant thump of things hitting the outside of the farmhouse. Although the bullets and rocks were collected and redeposited almost daily, no one could explain how they showed up time and time again.
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Lore about the Macdonalds of Baldoon and their frightful experiences was starting to spread across North America. Curious neighbours recounted stories to people from far and wide and newspapers began picking up the story. Interested readers scoured their local press for new reports but many wanted to experience something for themselves. Soon the quiet rural community was a hot spot for visitors hoping to catch a glimpse of the paranormal for themselves. Local people and family members continued to record many of their sightings as they happened and interest in the strange occurrences continued to grow. Newspapers carried the stories as they happened and even promoted the Macdonald farm as a macabre tourist attraction.
Although the Macdonalds initially welcomed the growing interest in their farmstead, the events were terrifying and the family was concerned for their safety. Thinking that the paranormal entity might be connected to the house or the land, the family decided to move to the homestead of John Macdonald’s father nearby. However, the incidents followed the young family and the new location offered no reprieve from the troubling incidents. Rocks were still thrown and bullets still pierced windows. Finding no relief, the family moved back to their property but resolved to stay outside in a tent until the incidents calmed down.
Where Did it End?
It’s unknown if one incident finally pushed the family to seek external help or if they were growing weary of the constant harassment from unseen forces. However, the Macdonalds finally decided to take action and hopefully address the paranormal incidents. They first discussed the matter with the local priest who was experienced in performing exorcisms. Although he applied his best efforts, there was no change in the constant barrage of terror.
According to some sources, the Macdonald family eventually met with a woman gifted with the powers of “second sight”. They travelled a long distance to hear her perspective on what was haunting the family. She apparently postulated that the strange incidents were due to a curse being placed on the property by an old woman. Some had said that the Macdonalds were involved in a minor spat with a woman and her sons when they originally purchased the property in the early 1820s, so perhaps she was the cause of their misfortune.
With the passage of time, it’s somewhat unclear how the events unfolded. Some folklore suggested that the Macdonalds performed a ritual to rid them of the poltergeist and the incidents suddenly stopped. According to some re-tellings, the seer suggested that the Macdonalds needed to shoot a black goose with a silver bullet, as the old woman had used witchcraft on the bird and it was the source of the activity.The Macdonalds followed the advice and shot the black goose in the wing. Shortly after, the family saw the old woman with her arm in a sling. These actions apparently prompted the end of the strange occurrences but the exactly line between fact and fiction has become somewhat blurred over the years.
Exactly what brought such an abrupt end to the strange incidents is an alluring part of this mystery. Whether the story about the curse is true or not, the incidents at the Macdonald farm did stop. Talk about the strange events in Baldoon quieted by the mid 1830s and the farm was no longer a destination for the paranormally curious. After three years of living in terror, the family could finally enjoy their property. Curious onlookers continued to periodically stop by, but there was nothing more to see.
Ironically, the haunted house did eventually burn to the ground in 1930.
The Baldoon mystery remains one of the most well-known historic Canadian mysteries of all time. For nearly 200 years, people have been entranced by the story of flying objects, spontaneous fires, and forceful cradle rocking. However, separating the truth from the lore can be difficult. The story has been retold so many times that it’s tough to tell fact from fiction.
Although the story was told in newspapers at the time, they were intentionally sparse on details and instead encouraged people to travel to see it for themselves. The main source of the story we know today comes from eye witness accounts gathered by Neil Macdonald, a son of John, who was 5 years old at the time of the incidents. His extensive account matches many of the newspaper versions from the 1830s. However, later storytellers have used his account to develop fantastical versions of the tale to further spook the public. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, as interest in the paranormal grew, there was re-invigorated interest in the Baldoon mystery and that is when certain fictional elements likely entered the story.
However, even if you discount the more sensationalized reporting, there was clearly something going on in Baldoon in the early 1830s. There were too many witnesses, documented accounts, strange incidents and attempted deconstructions by skeptics to simply discount the stories as pure imagination. While we will never know exactly what caused the paranormal events in Baldoon so long ago, we know that the mystery will continue to interest Canadians for decades to come.
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Brittney Anne Bos, PhD Haunted Walk Tour Guide & Host