Bars, ghost hunters and small towns: Revisiting family roots

Graphic by @sundaeghost

When you’re a kid, you hear the tales as you sit around the campfire; when you’re hiding in an attic during a game of hide and seek; as you lay in your friend’s bed in the middle of the night. Tales of ghosts, spirits, otherworldly creatures who exist seemingly only in fables… Or do they?

A few weeks ago, I spent the afternoon in the small town of Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, where I lived out my high school years. Or, as I like to call it, PTSD-ville. It’s a tiny place, everyone knows each other (if you could see me right now, I would be air-vomiting). My family owns half of the businesses on the main street in the old part of town. Unsurprising, then, that each and every time I swing by, I bump into someone I know. Think Stars Hollow, but French and obsessed with craft beer.

On this particular day, I was showing my lover around town with my cousin and her boyfriend. Over lunch, she casually mentioned how there were “ghost hunters” coming to hunt the ghosts at one of our family’s businesses: a bar in a three-storey building that used to be a bank–the basement full of old vaults and stairways to nowhere. The third floor, where half of the furniture I inherited is stored, looks, smells and feels like something out of a Saw movie.


This isn’t the first time something utterly ridiculous was taking place at one of our bars without my knowledge–once, Patrick Dempsey was there to film a scene from The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair. Yes, you read that correctly. Dr. McDreamy himself.

I was fuming. But at least this time, I happened to be in town. Ghosts definitely aren’t as cool as McDreamy, but I’ll take what I can get.

When the ghost hunters arrived, I made my way over to the bar. They were in the basement in one of the vaults when I got there. They had knickknacks and doodads and whatsits galore–your standard flashlights, a few blinky things that are supposed to light up when a spirit presents itself, a machine that was, I think, supposed to shriek in the event of detecting energy, and a radio.

My boyfriend and I stared as they asked the spirit they were talking to–supposedly, a woman who kept the bank back in the 1930s–if she wanted us to leave the basement. The flashlight flicked on. We swiftly packed up and went upstairs.

We moved from floor to floor. The flashlights lit up most consistently. When they did, the hunters would ask the ghosts to step away from the light–to follow their voices to turn it back off. They hesitated sometimes, but seemingly always did. Other times, we managed to pick up a voice, or two, or three on the radio. The hunters wanted them to answer what I thought were pretty elaborate questions for the dead, such as “Did you work in the first bank that was here, or the bank that was here after that, or the bar?” Unfortunately, interdimensional signal was not superb, so it was hard to tell what they were saying, but there did seem to be voices.

My uncle, who works at the bar several nights per week, organized this whole affair. Given his personality, none of us were surprised. His wife died on Christmas Day back when my cousins and I were little kids, and his sister–my mom–died on Christmas Eve when we were all teenagers. Both of them spent a lot of time at the bars during their time on earth, which is probably what drew me to this whole ghost-hunting affair, outside of how cool it sounded.

Retrospectively, I have no idea what I was thinking in those moments, as the flashlights flickered on and off seemingly in response to questions the hunters asked. Surely, a quick Google search could debunk all of this bologna.

But whatever part of me believes in spirits hoped that if my mom were around, she’d let it be known. This was especially true when the hunters set up shop on the third floor–all of the knickknacks during that “session,” if you will, sat on her old furniture that I have yet to collect.

But of course she didn’t give me a sign.

I don’t know what I heard that night. I don’t know what I saw that night. I don’t even really know what I felt that night. All I know is for someone who can’t sleep after watching ghost movies, I wasn’t freaked out… and that my mom sure as heck was not in the building.

If spirits on earth are real and my mom is around, that bar is the last place I think she’d be spending her version of time. Well, maybe not the last place, but definitely not the first. My best guess is her cottage–a little shack in the woods in the mountains that my brother and I inherited but failed miserably to maintain. The perfect hangout for a cool mom angel.

But I’m definitely not judging where the dead choose to hang out, and if any ghosts are reading this, I REALLY LIKE YOUR OUTFIT.


Graphics by @sundaeghost

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