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Visiting a ghost in Cobalt for a paranormal back roads experience

This week Back Roads Bill recalls a recent ghostly encounter, part of our Northern Ontario Heritage

It is probably not the question to ask Village Media readers, first thing in 2022, 'Do you believe in ghosts?' Fair enough question?

You may have had a time when you feel a sudden chill caress the back of your neck or what seems like a swoosh of wind when it is not windy or the sounds of someone lurking when there is no one around.

But it’s also true that if you already believe in ghosts, or are told a place is haunted, you are more likely to interpret events as paranormal.

The terms spirit and ghost are related and even interchangeable in some cultures the word ghost in English tends to refer to the soul or spirit of a deceased person that can appear to the living.

It was recently during the time of the year when we may have read out loud or recalled the 1843 Dickens’ classic Christmas Carol a seasonal ghost story. Dickens wrote the novella during a period when Brits were evaluating past Christmas traditions, including carols and newer customs such as Christmas trees and greeting cards. So this is nothing new, really to start you believing.

The Experience

It was a few weeks back before Christmas, a Saturday, there was snow on the ground and we had walked into the Devil’s Rock near North Cobalt a back roads favourite destination. You should go.

Daughter Ali Windy had mentioned the Crystal Vault a store in nearby Cobalt, it’s an upscale sort of artisan boutique located in a refurbished store dating back to the early beginnings of the Silver City.

She was convincing the owner Jessica Clement to display and sell her custom jewellery there.

The store is as it was back when the silver rush struck in 1905. It has that olden days feel and smell. You walk back in time when you step onto the hardwood floors. It could have been the first gripping sign but I wasn’t paying enough attention, then.

With time on my hands, I meandered around the store but there was an attraction to the full-sized bank vault, in the back left-hand corner next to the ornate staircase railing accessing the second floor.

It was the kind of gigantic safe you see in the movies, intriguing alright. The heavy door was ajar and being a snoop I pulled it open.

It was then I felt the presence of someone or something. It is best described when you know someone is looking at you. I knew I had intruded or walked into a field of energy. It was a little mesmerizing. Somewhat startled or frightened I gingerly closed the door and retreated. I wasn’t wandering anymore, I was wondering.

I had a similar experience with spirits when I connected the fighter jet pilot and his son by visiting a remote crash site. Standing there on the wing of the bomber surrounded by dense taiga I felt the wind-like spirit pass by on the stillest of days. It became not a Cold War story but an exhaustive search for a young boy who had lost a father. I felt as if I were a conduit through which they had to be joined.

There is also some spiritual connection with Bill Barilko through this story not quite sure about this yet, as we still have to get there to the crash site.

The funny thing is that I asked Jessica before I knew any of what comes next, “Is there a ghost here?”

There was a pause, a little bit of a shocked look on her face and then she revealed there is a ghost. This is more than a coincidence then.

Crystal Vault – its past

Jessica explained.

(In) my experiences with Hermie the ghost, I didn’t name this presence.

This would go back to a previous business that was located here on 7 Prospect Avenue prior to our boutique opening.

Another significant encounter would be the one during the pandemic closure.

I was sitting down in the front of the store on my cell phone taking a break, and a crystal fell off the shelf.

I put it back in its place.

When you deal with encounters such as these on an almost daily basis, it becomes sort of normal.

She believes there is an ongoing connectivity with this spirit.

At times, she thinks that there may be more than one ghost residing in this old building.

"I do sometimes feel a trickster presence and at other times the sounds or things that continue to fall send shivers all over my body.”

Jessica is the new local store owner since September 2020.

I can say that the activity started then for myself but dates back much farther for others.

I’m very aware and very diligent in placing and organizing my shop. I remember leaving the store one evening and everything was put in its place. When I came back the next morning I noticed a book had fallen from its high bookcase, opened, and on the ground. 

It was the local history book on ghosts in Cobalt!

I definitely blamed it on Hermie and thought to myself, maybe this is a book I should read.

The Book

The book Jessica notes is Silver and Ghosts – Creepy Cobalt and Region by Andrew Hind. Contact had to be made.

He has written 28 books.

Most of my periodical feature and book writing is in the realm of history, travel, and lifestyle, but I have indeed written my share of paranormal titles.

I like and am intrigued by a good ghost story as much as the next person.

I also enjoy the fact that most good ghost stories have a historic foundation, so ghost stories offer the chance to both entertain and educate - a source of pride is seeing youngsters reading and enjoying my ghost books, as they are bound to absorb some historical information.

There are many ghost stories in and around Cobalt. 

Telling the stories of these ghosts – as well as the other paranormal traditions that are part of the area’s identity.

I learned about 7 Prospect Street (Crystal Vault) many years ago during one of my visits to Cobalt.

At the time, I didn't have any concept I would one day write a ghost book about the community - that was far into the future - but was directed to the building as I was writing a travel piece about the community and, at the time, it was operated as the Silverland Inn.

I heard about Hermie, the resident ghost, and filed it away.

When I decided to write a book about Cobalt's haunted heritage, I recalled the stories I had been told - Hermie was so famous that you really couldn't do a book of that nature without including the building.

He said when asked about his presence there, “No, I've not had an experience there, beyond merely feeling the weight of history when you cross the threshold."

The Setting

Cobalt has one of the earliest colonial histories of settlement in Northern Ontario.

Maggie Wilson is the Chair of the Cobalt Historical Society, I had interviewed her previously for this story. on the difficulties of preserving heritage.

She commented on Cobalt’s heritage.

Most, if not all of the original buildings have been refurbished to some degree both inside and out. The renovations were required to meet present-day building codes and to suit modern tastes.

Remnants of the original construction remain - higher ceilings and original lights, wooden floorboards, stone fireplaces, and long, steep staircases.

Below are the wonkiest cellars you have ever seen. In those days, foundations were built directly on the rock outcrop.

Cement basement floors have rocks protruding from them. Some cellars have a cascade feature that floods every spring. 

You will see this when you enter the Crystal Vault.

The Silverland Inn began its existence, not as a place of hospitality, but as a bank in 1906/07.

On Aug. 9, 1913, a fire destroyed everything except the bank vault. It soon became the new brick Bank of Ottawa with the now restored ornate interior features, one of the finest buildings within the community.

It would later become the Bank of Nova Scotia and, in 1945, it was the new beginning of a series of mining tenants including Agnico-Eagle Mines.

It became a historic building and its ownership was transferred to the municipality in 1999. Then in 2001 along came Nina Chitaroni (Chamillard) and then the next chapter of refurbishment and repurposing.

Her grandfather arrived in Cobalt in 1907, she has extensive roots in the community.

Hind quotes her in Silver and Ghosts as saying, “The renovation didn’t bring original glory but also quite literally restored its spirit. When the ceiling tiles were pulled down the ageing drywall ripped away, it seemingly released a ghost.”

Affectionately called Hermie by her family the spectre is thought to be a former miner who died in one of the many underground mines that caved in during the peak of the silver rush.

She says the ghost is a “mischievous soul” who has resorted to playing pranks. These include “moving items, nudging people awake from a deep sleep (there are accommodations in the building) and walking across the floor in the middle of the night.”

Occurrences continued on for quite some time.

“Things would move on their own, strange sounds would be heard, and at times the rooms upstairs would inexplicitly grow creepy, even ominous.”

The ultimate was a photo opportunity for a hockey team posing for a portrait on the staircase, (beside the vault I mentioned).

“To everyone’s surprise, one of the resulting photos revealed dozens of orbs darting in and among the players!”

You will have to read the book for other examples, including a 2006 spine-tingling event when a tin cup, twice over, “…was flung by some unseen force in her direction.”

She feels the spirit is “becoming more restless, more assertive.”

Back to Jessica, she says the spiritual presence within her store has become a regular conversation piece with unknown customers who have had similar encounters as did this writer.

Contemporary surveys indicate a significant portion of the population believes in ghosts, leading some scholars to conclude that we are witnessing a revival of paranormal beliefs in Western society.

There is the emotional motivation of believing as we don’t like the idea of our own mortality. Even though we may find the idea of ghosts and spirits akin to Ghost Busters they provide evidence for the survival of the soul.

I am going back to see if I can connect with Hermie. 

Go and see for yourself. It’s just another experience on the back roads.

Here is how to get to the Crystal Vault in Cobalt.


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Bill Steer

About the Author: Bill Steer

Back Roads Bill Steer is an avid outdoorsman and is founder of the Canadian Ecology Centre
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