A woman and her daughter try to flee an abusive patriarch. He catches up with his daughter in a dark tunnel and sets the girl on fire. Her screams, as she tries to make it through the stone passage, echo, long after her death, and can be heard by those who walk the tunnel, more than a century later.
No, wait. Here's the real story:
A mentally unbalanced woman, an unfortunate soul married to a soulless man, would walk into the tunnel at night and scream her laments against him. Decades later, those brave enough to visit the tunnel can hear her spirit, screaming still.
Oh, it is a terrible tale. A group of vile men chased down a teenage girl and assaulted her in the tunnel. They set her body on fire to destroy the evidence. Her mournful cries can be heard in the tunnel to this very day.
No: no evil man, after all. A farmhouse was burning down, the cause unknown. The woman fled but the fire had caught her clothing and she died, horribly, in the stone tunnel. To this day, we hear her death-cries.
Okay, wait, wait. There was a woman who wore a blue dress. She lived in the small village that once stood on the far side of the tunnel....
Thorold, Ontario is a small city on the Welland Canal in the Niagara Escarpment. It sits close to Niagara Falls, Niagara-on-the-Lake, and St. Catharines. Niagara boasts, of course, the celebrated Falls, and a hundred tacky tourist traps. Niagara-on-the-Lake features a drama festival dedicated to George Bernard Shaw and a main street filled with tourist shops and eateries. St. Catharines features an historic merry-go-round; Japanese tourists traveling from Toronto to the Falls sometimes stop by to see a "typical" Canadian town.
Thorold lacks the name recognition of its sister cities, but it does feature a number of historic sites.
And then there's the Screaming Tunnel.
It's not the highway tunnel under the Welland, the one that bears the official name of Thorold Tunnel, that is haunted. The Screaming Tunnel is nearby, however. It passes through a disused railway embankment off rural Warner Road.
This Thorold Tunnel is certainly creepy. Built in the early twentieth century, the tunnel serves as both pedestrian walkway and rain drainage. About five meters (16 feet) high and thirty-some metres long, it leads from Warner Road to nowhere in particular, a wooded area that once featured at least one house, and where, at one time, livestock sometimes grazed. You can also use it to access the Bruce Trail. The tunnel's floor is muddy and wet and at times covered in shallow water. The century-old stone construction crumbles in places like blue cheese. Teens have been daring each other for decades to enter alone, at night, and light a single match. The ghost they say will scream and blow the fire out.
David Cronenberg filmed a brief scene there for his 1982 adaptation of Stephen King's The Dead Zone. An independent horror film, Limestone Burning (2012), also used the tunnel as a location. The indie film's poster features a lurid ghost hovering in front of, unmistakably, the Screaming Tunnel. Niagara Falls' numerous tourist traps include, at present, the "Screaming Tunnels Haunted Playground" on Victoria Street. The signage clearly references the tunnel in Thorold.
To further confuse matters, yet another haunted tunnel runs under yet another nearby embankment. The Grand Trunk Railway Tunnel / Merritton Tunnel / Blue Ghost Tunnel, built in 1876, was sealed off after an appearance on the TV series Creepy Canada increased the traffic flow to a point where the property owners became concerned and annoyed. The names and lore concerning both tunnels have become confused due to processes familiar to anyone who has studied folklore and religion.1
Since no source confirms any of the multiple stories about the Screaming Tunnel, I'll tell my own.
I visited the site in July 2016, when I realized it was fifteen minutes from where I was staying. The ride there proved suitably gothic: an overcast day with storm clouds looming in the sky, and a rural property with an empty swing, swaying in the breeze. A crow circled overhead. One property standing on the same side as the tunnel featured a dying tree to which people had nailed old shoes and boots, for reasons that elude me.
Warner dead-ends in a loop, just past the tunnel. It's obvious the owners of the rural properties have grown to expect paranormal tourists and thrill-seekers, and don't particularly welcome them. The place directly across the street featured prominent signs warning against trespassing on their land and advertising the presence of a dog.
The tunnel's ground was wet and muddy. The stones showed their age. Graffiti from past visitors covered the walls. The light at the far end glowed in an unearthly fashion.
I entered the tunnel.
Midway through, the screaming started.
I suspect it was just distorted bird calls, but it sounded chilling, even in the late morning. I can imagine the effect a similar noise would have during a late night visit. Add to that the effect of campfire tales on human imagination, and the fact that a single match wouldn't stay lit long, and voila: haunted tunnel!
I held up my cell phone and recorded my walk through, veering in on anything that looked remotely interesting, half-lit stones and cryptic messages. I thought as I walked about how those screams could also be examined more closely on the recording.
Stupidly, I did not check my footage until later. Only the start and end of my walk recorded, as two separate, too-short stretches of imagery. It's even more disappointing than the average found footage horror movie. Owing to my skepticism regarding vocal dead people, I'm going to assume that I fumbled and turned the camera off and on. I really am not good with cell phone cameras.
Next time I'll bring a camcorder.
1. Sue Demeter, a self-identified paranormal researcher, argues that the Grand Bank Tunnel had only the most local and dubious of supernatural associations until the late 1990s, when a fellow traveler trying to find the Screaming Tunnel got lost, and confused the two tunnels. He captured some dubious spectral footage in this other location and, she argues, originated the separate legend of the Blue Ghost Tunnel. Her account is entirely consistent with the facts, or, at least, with such facts that can be established.
John Robert Colombo, Mysterious Canada. Toronto: Doubleday Canada, 1988. 183–184.
Daniel Cumerlato. "The Screaming Tunnel." The Ghost Walk News. Ghost Walks and Dark History Tours. HH Paranormal Inc. http://www.ghostwalks.com/screamingtunnel-hauntedniagara.htm.
Sue Demeter. "The Blue Ghost Tunnel." Parareserachers of Ontario. http://www.pararesearchers.org/index.php?/20080806555/Ghosts-Hauntings/The-Blue-Ghost-Tunnel.html
Graham Smith. "For Japanese, the sun rises on unlikely St. Catharines." The Globe and Mail. December 12, 2002.
Matthew Van Dongen. "Farewell to the Blue Ghost Tunnel." Hamilton Paranormal. http://hamiltonparanormal.com/bgt1.html.
Sherman Zavitz. "Terrifying Tales of Niagara." The Niagara Regional. October 29, 2012.
A bunch of anonymous people online. The Absolutely True Story Behind the Screaming in the Tunnel, no, seriously, guys, this is what I heard....