It wasn’t until I worked at the Perth hospital kitchen in the 1970s, that I began hearing stories about the ghosts that haunted their halls at night.
Although I was born in the Great War Memorial Hospital, and years later would attend high school just a block away, no one had ever mentioned the legends surrounding the original owners of the building, or how that family had been cursed.
Curious to find out more, I began to ask around town. Being a small town where everyone knew someone, who knew something; it didn’t take long before I spoke with someone, who knew someone else, who’d seen something unusual at the old hospital. I began to write down some of the stories about the building on Drummond Street that I thought, had always been a hospital. I discovered that it hadn’t started out as a hospital at all.
The story begins with a Judge John Malloch, a prominent citizen of the early days in Perth, who decided in 1858 to build an opulent stone house on Drummond Street. His home had all of the bells and whistles. There were 17 rooms, along with two large halls that were each ten feet wide. There was a solid walnut staircase, a large library, and a fine polished marble mantelpiece. In those days, it was considered by many, to be one of the finest homes in all of Eastern Ontario. The Judge named the home Victoria Hall, for the reigning Queen at that time.
Description of Judge Malloch’s home, Victoria Hall, ‘The Perth Courier’, May 9, 1984, p.21
Judge Malloch had ordered many luxurious materials and finishes for his home, some from a distance, and he often became impatient because his building supplies didn’t arrive on time. One of his suppliers had promised delivery on a certain date and the materials did not arrive when needed. This caused a critical delay in construction. Workers were not able to proceed, and the setback cost the Judge a great deal of money. When the material finally arrived, the Judge was so annoyed that he refused to pay.
The supplier became extremely agitated, because even though he admitted that he was very late, he stressed to the Judge that he had delivered the supplies as agreed, so he felt that he should be paid. The supplier argued at length with the Judge, but Malloch stood firm and refused to pay. In the heat of the argument the supplier cursed the Judge. He went on to say that the Judge’s entire family would be cursed for as long as they lived in that house.
“The Perth Courier”, Nov. 10, 1982, p. 26
Years later, some would say that it was the curse, and some said that it was merely coincidence, that caused the Malloch family members to suffer ill health. Some even succumbed to death prematurely. The old Judge watched as they passed one by one, and he was left all alone in the large stately house.
Home of Judge John Glass Malloch, photo: Perth Remembered
Fifteen years after the house was built, the old Judge died, and the once elegant Victoria Hall was left vacant.
“The Perth Courier”, Dec. 12, 1873.
The only time the house was occupied was when distant family members would open the home for the summer season, stay briefly, then leave the house empty and dark for the remainder of the year.
It was during this time, when the house was left vacant, that locals passing by at night often noticed figures walking the halls or staring out the windows. Victoria Hall became known as the Haunted House of Perth.
Some said they saw what looked like a thin, sickly. old woman, standing at the window, staring down at Drummond Street below. Others claimed that they saw the ghost of the old white-haired judge, walking up and down the long halls, as if he was searching for something or someone.
Grave of Judge John Malloch, Elmwood Cemetery, Perth, Ontario
The Perth hospital, in the former Victoria Hall, opened in 1923. On Armistice Day in 1924 the town of Perth dedicated the hospital as a tribute to the men and women who served in World War I, and proclaimed that it would be known as the Great War Memorial Hospital.
“The Perth Courier”, May 9, 1984, p. 21
By the time I was hired to work part-time in the hospital kitchen in 1976, there had been many additions, although by that time, the number of beds had been reduced. The provincial Ministry of Health imposed bed closures in the obstetrics ward in 1973 and local mothers had to travel to Smiths Falls to have their babies.
I recall that this was a heated issue at the time, and three years later, when I worked in the kitchen, it was still a topic of great discussion. The other topic, which I overheard many times discussed by the staff, were the ghosts that walked the halls at night.
Being a fairly level-headed person, I was inclined to take the ghost stories with a grain of salt, and went about my usual tasks. I’d been hired part-time to work in the evenings, to deliver trays of food to the patients, after school, and on weekend mornings, to help out with the breakfast preparations.
I recall the first day of work, when I went inside the hospital, and asked one of the staff in the lobby if they could tell me how to get to the kitchen. I got directions, and headed down the elevator to the lower level. When I arrived one of the other part time girls, Darlene Dowdall, took me on a tour of the kitchen, and introduced me to the staff. Dorothy Erwin was the kitchen supervisor. She said she’d be happy to answer any questions, and welcomed me to the kitchen. A few years later, Dorothy’s daughter Ruth, married my brother Roger, but that’s another story.
Next, Darlene brought me over to meet the cook. His name was Wayne Clapp, and he had a quick smile, and was joking around with Leonard ‘Lenny’ Parsons, the dishwasher. Wayne was preparing a beef stew, and he showed me the walk-in refrigerators. I couldn’t believe the size of those things. They were huge.
The next person I met in the kitchen was the baker, and her name was Gladys Thomas. She had a warm personality and very kind eyes. The day I met her she was busy making some vanilla pudding. She had a double-decker bake-oven, mounted on the wall behind her, and an enormous mixer for puddings and cakes.
Leonard Parsons, who I’d met earlier, came breezing by and asked if I’d like to start work by helping him wash some of the pots and pans. Darlene said she’d catch up with me later, and I followed Leonard into the dish-washing room.
Mike, the evening dishwasher, poked his head in the door and with a nervous look on his face, told Leonard that ‘Miss Bosch’ was coming. Leonard explained that Miss Gabriela Bosch was the head of the kitchen, the ‘big’ boss, and she would often drop by for a surprise inspection to make sure that everything was done just so.
He had barely finished his sentence when a very tall, dark-haired lady, wearing a white lab coat, poked her head into the doorway, said hello, and asked how everything was going. She was taller than average, and seemed very serious, and I wondered if that’s why the two men had seemed so nervous.
One of the other part time girls Heather Bell, came in and asked me if I could help her fill up the pop machine in the cafeteria. I recognized Heather from school. There were two Heather Bells, one with dark hair, but this was the blonde one, and she went by Heather ‘N.’ Bell so people would know which was which. Heather had a quick sense of humour, and she was a lot of fun to work with that evening. We joked around as we carted in the cases of pop and slotted them into the machine.
I spotted Bill Farrell coming into the cafeteria from the kitchen and he was holding a mop and pushing a bucket on wheels. He was tall and lanky and had a big smile for everyone. I recognized him from Perth High School, and he came over and introduced himself. He and Heather began joking around about some of the good time they’d had with the kitchen gang since they’d started working there and I knew for sure that there would be some fun times ahead.
Another girl from school Joy Hurren, worked behind the counter in the cafeteria, and she asked me if I’d like to help her fill some dishes with pudding. We spent about an hour doing that, and when we finished, we began to shut everything down for the night.
As we turned off the lights in the cafeteria, I heard an odd sound like someone moaning coming from inside the kitchen, but when I pushed the door open there was no one there. Joy just shook her head and seemed to think nothing of it; so, neither did I.
On my second night I worked with Joy’s younger sister Jennifer Hurren. She and I had been assigned the job of delivering supper to all of the patients. There were huge metal racks on wheels called carriers and every six inches or so there was a slot that held a tray of food.
The trays were already set with the evening meals. The dinner plates each had a metal cover to keep the food hot, and some of the trays had pots of tea or glasses of tomato juice or apple juice. Ethel Scott was working that evening putting the meals together. I recognized her because I went to school with her daughters, Judy, Thelma, and Patsy. Ethel was checking to make sure that the meals on the trays matched what the patient had checked off on their order slip.
Once we’d loaded the trays on the carrier, Jennifer and I rode up in the elevator, and stopped on the first floor. The big metal carrier was on wheels, so we pushed it along the hallway and stopped by each room. We made sure to check the slip of paper and match the name with the nameplate on the bed and then we set the tray down. Some of the patients were sleeping, but most were awake and happy to see us, and we chatted for a couple of minutes and then went onto the next room. There was one lady at the end of the hall who didn’t get a tray that night. Her room number wasn’t on the list. I thought to myself that she must have already eaten her supper earlier in the evening.
As the months passed by, I realized that the staff members in the hospital kitchen were a great bunch to work with. There were many jokes shared and stories told while we worked, and every so often someone would mention the ghosts that had been seen in the halls over the years. Well, I’d been up and down those halls many, many, months, and the only folks that I’d seen other than the nurses, were from the Hospital Auxiliary.
The ladies of the Hospital Auxiliary were a dedicated group and sometimes we’d see them in the halls. They’d be upstairs on the floors late at night delivering evening snacks to the patients. They called it the ‘Tea and Toast Brigade’ and brought around hot buttered toast with jam or jelly, and tea or juice to the patients, to provide a little late-night nourishment. Along with offering some cheer and a snack these ladies raised a tremendous amount of money for the hospital. They ran a little gift shop on site, and were also in charge of the Candy Stripers – young girls who volunteered to help out with small jobs around the hospital.
I saw quite a few of the ladies from the Hospital Auxiliary like Miss N. Burke, Mrs. Vi Wilson, Mrs. L. Crothers, Mrs. B Watson, Mrs. K. Frizell, Mrs. S. Folkard, Mrs. E. Rilley, Primrose Paruboczy, Harriet Halliday, and Mary McDougall. They were tireless workers, and it was very clear that they really cared about the patients and the hospital.
I also saw many of the local doctors while delivering the trays of food each evening. Many of them looked exhausted as they made their rounds, but they were always friendly and had a few kind words for us as we wheeled our food carrier down the halls. I remember Dr. Holmes and Dr. David Craig tending to their patients; and also Dr. J.A. Kidd, Dr. R. McLean and Dr. Tweedie.
Doctor James Tweedie, 1930-2014
We walked those halls on each floor of the hospital two or three nights each week, wheeling our meal carrier up and down, unloading the trays, chatting with the patients and the hard-working nurses. We dropped the trays off, came back later, picked up the empty trays, and brought them down to the kitchen.
I worked evenings in the hospital kitchen for almost two years. I heard many accounts during my time of staff members seeing apparitions. I thought that they must be imagining things, because I’d walked those halls at night countless times, I never encountered any ghosts at the GWM Hospital.
After graduating from PDCI, I worked two more months at the hospital kitchen, then headed off to college. I treasured the friendships formed there, and the building itself was impressive; particularly the original section of Victoria Hall, which at that time was used for administration. Being a keen student of history, it was interesting to learn about the early days, and also the many expansions and transitions that had taken place over the years.
On my last shift, there was a little gathering in the kitchen, and everyone wished me good luck in college. We loaded the trays in the carrier one last time, and headed into the elevator, and up to the second floor to deliver the evening meals. As we made our way to the end of the floor and emptied the carrier, a nurse walked by, and I stopped her, and asked a question that had been on my mind since I started working there.
“Sorry to bother you, but I’ve always wondered why the lady in the last room on the right never eats her supper at the same time as the other patients?”
The nurse gave me a puzzled look and said, “That’s just a utility room. We use it for storage. There hasn’t been a patient in there for years.”
I felt the blood drain from my face and a shiver ran down my spine, as I looked at her in disbelief, and then looked back down the hall toward the room. Was it possible that I had imagined the pale, slender lady with the snow-white hair, in the faded blue robe? Maybe she was from one of the other rooms …but why did she stand in front of the room at the end of the hall each evening?
The girl I was working with said, “Come on! We’ve got two more floors of meals to deliver tonight.”
The nurse had already started walking back to her station, and my co-worker was pulling the carrier down the hall toward the elevator. I finished my shift that evening, and hung up my smock in the change room for the last time.
I left out the side door that last night as usual, and headed up the curved pathway. Once I reached the sidewalk on Drummond Street, I looked back at the building where I’d worked the past two years. Suddenly it looked different, almost eerie, and I recalled what the nurse had said that night.
Who was that small, frail lady with the snow-white hair that I’d seen so many times? She never ate supper with the others. We never brought her a dinner tray. Was it my imagination? Was it just a coincidence?
Or, perhaps, this really was the ‘Haunted House of Perth’.
(This story is an excerpt from “Ghosts and Gastronomy in Perth”, from “Lanark County Chronicle: Double-Back to the Third Line” ISBN 978-0-987-702623)