Although the elegant facade of Mackenzie Hall, exposed and in direct contrast to it’s modern surroundings reveals she is from days gone by, it’s as if her beauty by design captivates and mesmerizes you in an attempt to conceal her dark, macabre past.
Located in one of the oldest European settlements in Ontario, Old Sandwich town (now part of the City of Windsor), Mackenzie Hall holds municipal and national historical significance. Designed in mid-Victorian Classical architecture with hints of Palladian style accents, this lime/sand stone building was built by Alexander Mackenzie in 1855 – 1856, long before he was to serve as Canada’s 2nd Prime Minister (1873).
The 4th structure built at this location to serve as the Essex County courthouse and jail until 1963, this magnificent display of engineering was doomed and destined for demolition until it was purchased by the city of Windsor in 1982, restored and renamed Mackenzie Hall after her builder’s.
And as grand and graceful as she may appear, she is forever linked to her brutal past. Queue creepy ass music. Considered the most haunted building in Windsor, Mackenzie Hall served as the area’s gallows from the first public hanging on August 2, 1862 of an escaped slave sentenced for the murder of his wife, to the last shielded hangings of two Detroit men in 1943 convicted of killing a Windsor Cafe owner.
This landmark and area have seen their fair share of demise, immersed in the deaths of criminals (rapists, murderers and thieves all met their fate within the grounds), a jail governor murdered by prisoners during a jail break and of “Patriot” soldiers, captured then shot by Colonel Prince during the Battle of Windsor in 1838.
The history of the area is memorized and effortlessly recited by Mackenzie’s tour host, Joey. After 18 years with the Hall, he has many tales of “things that go bump in the night” that are only heightened and heavily weighed by the building’s sordid past. I won’t ruin the anticipation, but lets just say between the accounts of handprints appearing in windows, objects moving on their own and the touch of an unseen assailant, the hairs on the back of my neck stood up more than once during our tour.
One particular story which took place in what is called the Macdonald room named after the last presiding judge of the courthouse, marries the horrid acts of the past with the paranormal now. A young boy, well read and not one to fabricate stories, witnessed a floating apparition facing the painting of Judge Stewart, nicknamed the “bloody judge” because he hung everyone who came across him. Was this a disenchanted ghost searching the eyes of his executioner? Do these stories confirm the souls of the lives taken are forever bound to the limestone walls of Mackenzie, searching for absolution?
Although you can do a self-guided tour, for answers to the questions above and to hear more tales from the gallows make an appointment. An excellent tour guide, Joey will send your mind into a tale spin recounting MacKenzie’s ghastly history and accounts of the possibility of what may be. And like us, record your visit. Unheard at the time, a man’s moan was clearly audible on our recorder when reviewing our interview later. I guess we were not alone – muahahahahahaha!
Thank you to Joey and Mackenzie Hall for a spooky experience.
~True North Nomad
Do you have any spooky ghost stories? Do you believe in things that go bump in the night?
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