Story and photos courtesy of Ron Duquette
Paranormal activity? Belief in the supernatural or the existence of an afterworld? I must confess, I’m a sceptic. Although movies like “The Shining” and that 1999 low budget independent blockbuster “The Blair Witch Project” both scared the bejeezus out of me. But that’s Hollywood.
In real life, I’ve only had two experiences that might qualify as paranormal activity. “Cherry Hill” was one of them.
When Joseph Silverthorn, a United Empire Loyalist, built this palatial family home in 1822 at what is now Dundas & Cawthra Road, the area was nothing but rugged wilderness. He was one of the first residents of what is now Canada’s sixth largest city. Cherry Hill remains the oldest homestead in Peel County. Much has passed through the doors of this historic house including the mystery of the missing groom which was recorded in the media of the time. Joseph and wife Jane would have twelve children here, nine daughters and three sons. He called the home “Cherry Hill” for the cherry tree orchard he planted that stretched for a mile behind the house. The home was a colonial style, designed much like the New England homes where he had been born.
The S.O.P.S. (Southern Ontario Paranormal Society) have christened “Cherry Hill” as one of Canada’s top haunted landmarks, and for good reason.
The first-born Silverthorn son, George, and his bride Louise Leonard were married in the small (still-existing) Dixie Union Chapel across the street in June, 1852. The wedding party later gathered in the home to celebrate. While guests were enjoying a feast prepared in the enormous kitchen, a knock came to the front door and George was summoned to talk with the unknown gentleman caller. He left to converse on the verandah. George and the caller were never seen again. The woods were searched and a nearby swamp dragged but no trace of the missing groom was ever found. Was this unusual exit a case of “cold feet” or the beginning of a multitude of strange phenomenon that would become part of the lore of this magnificent home?
When I first became associated with the Cherry Hill House in the early ‘70s it was owned by local developer Bruce McLaughlin who I worked for at the time. The city was planning a road re-alignment at this very corner and the land had been expropriated for that purpose. The plans had the new road running right through the living room of Cherry Hill. Many local historians mourned the potential loss of the stately property and searched desperately without success for ways and means to save it. Bruce McLaughlin was quick to acknowledge the home’s importance and asked me to coordinate an assessment of the project. In July 1973, Cherry Hill was moved on a flatbed truck some 400 yards north of its original site to the corner of Silvercreek Blvd. and Lolita Gardens. This is when the “haunted” rumours began to surface. While under refurbishing, locals talked of seeing a young girl peering from the upstairs windows. Construction workers refused to work after dark after experiencing completed electrical work found un-done the next day, unexplained knocking sounds, and tools being moved. An overnight security guard was chased from the property by an apparent apparition in the early hours of the morning, dressed in a white cape and riding a white palomino. He refused to return to the project.
The rumour mill caught the attention of the media. Local reporter, the late Ron Lenyk, working for the Mississauga News at the time, came to me with an interesting proposition: “Why don’t we hold a séance and see if these reports might have any truth to them,” he explained. Thinking that the project could use some positive publicity, I agreed. Arrangements were hastily made - a professional medium was selected along with three other participants, one being a young female reporter, and myself as an observer. It was agreed that I would sit away from the small table located in the centre of the large upper room of the home and observe the process. It was a cool early fall evening when we assembled at midnight. The room was in total darkness save for three candles and a tray of biscuits in the centre of the table. The medium explained the process, asked that they all hold hands, close their eyes and through her psychic abilities summoned any descendants of the Silverthorn family to commune and move amongst them. Then, total silence. You could hear the candles flicker. Thirty minutes into the trance-like proceedings passed. Footsteps could be heard on the stairs leading up to the room, but no one appeared at the doorway. Again, silence, until another fifteen minutes went by when the young female reporter began to perspire heavily. She then started moaning and shaking at which time the medium asked that she communicate with the others. What happened next was as bizarre as it gets. Still panting, this petite young woman began to speak in the heavy, deep brogue dialect of a Scottish male soldier who claimed to have been injured fighting in the Boer War and was seeking medical attention. He declared his name was Hamish MacKenzie. Sensing losing control and a potentially dangerous outcome, the medium then curtailed the séance by breaking the circle of hands, extinguished the candles and ended the session. The reporter had no recollection of the incident and I was told later spent the next few days in bed with severe headaches. Who was this mysterious soldier? Research later never uncovered any relationship with the family and this historic conflict.
After the refurbishing had been completed, “Cherry Hill” opened as a fine dining restaurant with an Irish pub located in the basement. Throughout the years, the owners and wait staff would often talk of a paranormal presence including lights dimming and getting brighter; tables and glasses tipping over; doors opening and closing; wisps of air passing by unexpectedly; and equipment being placed in a location only to be moved when you turned around. It became an accepted fact that the home was indeed haunted and that they and the spirits could live and work in total harmony...thank you!
In preparation for this article, I talked to Penny McCabe, who just recently opened “Penny’s Favorites” in Cherry Hill, a unique dining experience where you select your menu items and reserve your seating prior to arriving. Asked if she has enjoyed the ghost experience, she commented: “they don’t seem to like my choice in music. Every once in a while, the player shuts off until I select something different. A few times, lights that I know I turned off have suddenly been turned on. Nothing much else yet. I’m looking forward to more unusual activity,” she claims.
Back to my original question…Who are these ghosts of Cherry Hill? I’m betting on George Silverthorn’s bride, Louise Leonard. She’s remained all these years searching for that S.O.B. who mysteriously disappeared on her wedding day. Being an adventurous thinker, I’m surmising that George headed to parts unknown with his lover (the mysterious male caller) and both lived happily ever after.
Until my next paranormal experience...