Ghost Stories

The following is an adaptation from a piece I wrote for “Ghost Stories,” a Summer Storytelling Event recently presented by Dundas Little Theatre:

Tett House has a strange pull, and people who visit tend to have a strong emotional response to it. Two parts spooky and one part beautiful, I knew from the first time I saw it, that it was a special, magical place.

In fact, I first saw it in a dream many years ago, but… we’ll get to that later.

If you’ve been following this blog since the beginning, you already know the serendipitous story of how my husband Trevor and I discovered Tett House at the same time in completely different ways:  He found it while driving through the area in South Frontenac – a real life ghost town. I saw a listing for it on the internet not long afterwards. It took us several weeks to realize it was the same house.

But I knew it was mine right away. I knew that even if I never actually owned it or lived in it, it was My House. 

It’s a Victorian-era country home, tall and pointy, with yellow painted clapboard siding. It sits like a stately chatelaine on a cliff of Canadian Shield, overlooking a gothic stone mill like something out of a Brontë novel. The wind around it actually wuthers. The house itself is entirely surrounded by forest and lakes, with a view of trees and water from every window. There is even a waterfall beside the mill. It’s where you’d expect Rapunzel to live, or perhaps a witch that eats children. 

When we bought it, Tett House hadn’t been lived in for many years. It was neglected and needed a lot of work. I could feel its sadness. With the exception of a few rooms, the interior was raw and worn, with lacy cobwebs and dusty chandeliers. The porch was barely hanging on to the side of the house. It looked like the proverbial haunted mansion. 

But, as we worked on our initial renovations, I couldn’t shake the feeling that the house – or someone in it – was grateful to us. I felt certain it was a woman; I distinctly felt a female energy, a sense of gladness. Someone was happy that Tett House was going to be lived in and taken care of once more. Before officially moving in, I would wander the empty, high-ceilinged rooms and talk to the place, or sometimes even sing a song. I wasn’t sure why I was doing this, but I felt like I had to introduce myself somehow.

Over time, I’ve learned more about the history of Tett House, and the first woman who lived there. Her name was Charlotte, and the home was built in the late 1880s by her new husband as a wedding present. At 17 years her senior, Benjamin Tett Jr. was a prominent local businessman, and she had started out as the governess of his brother’s children. Even in small-town 19th-century Ontario, wealthy men of status didn’t marry governesses, so “hats off” to Charlotte. They were together for at least 25 years. According to his obituary in the Montreal Gazette, Benjamin Jr. died at home at Tett House in 1915 of heart failure, after dinner with this family. It was clearly either the very best or absolute worst meal he’d ever had. 

Benjamin Tett Jr. and Charlotte Tett (neé Kilner)

In the months following our move, as we slowly began to unpack and settle in, I was acutely aware of Charlotte’s presence… not necessarily as a spirit or a ghost, but her energy. Increasingly, I could sense how happy she was that we were making her house a home. I could feel that she had been grieved and disappointed by the way it had been treated before. One day, I unpacked my grandmother’s Royal Albert china in the kitchen, with its old-fashioned pink roses and 22-karat gold trim and I thought Charlotte was going to burst with delight. I know she was watching me carefully uncover each teacup and dinner plate from their paper wrappings and her joy mounted with every stacked dish. Her energy and excitement were palpable. 

For the first little while after we moved in, we still had a number of tradespeople coming to the house: plumbers, painters, electricians. Slowly, as smaller projects were completed, this steady stream of contractors began to taper off, and one day in early September, all was finally well and Tett House was quiet at last. I remember my husband took the opportunity to do some work in the backyard. I was tidying up our bedroom at the front of the house and stopped to enjoy the view from the second story window. As I looked, I suddenly saw a tall man all in grey walking across the front lawn. I was surprised… no contractors were expected that day, and although I couldn’t see the face clearly, I knew it wasn’t Trevor. He walked out of my range of sight, so I went to the next window where I expected him to appear, but he was gone. He had completely disappeared within an instant.

I went downstairs and outside to see if it was someone local dropping by, but no one was there. I went behind the house and saw Trevor trimming weeds at the furthest corner of the backyard. I asked him if he had seen anyone, or if he had just been walking around the front of the house, and he said no. I told him what I saw and said, “Don’t laugh, but I think it was a ghost. He just vanished.” Trevor said, “Next time ask him if he does yard work.” 

Trevor does not find cutting the grass a supernatural experience.

In the almost four years since we’ve lived at Tett House, I have seen this grey man, the “Outside Ghost,” as I call him, at least half a dozen times. Sometimes he walks up the driveway beside the house, along the fence-line, other times, he walks across the grass. It’s always a fleeting moment, and he is always near the lilac bush on the front lawn. Each time, he just fades into the air.

There has been some discussion as to whether or not this is Charlotte’s husband, Benjamin Tett Jr., or another former resident, Bill Boss. Bill Boss was the celebrated Canadian war correspondent who made Tett House his summer home for decades from the early ‘80s until he died in the early aughts. Bill Boss entertained a lot; his parties were legendary. I met his friend, Mahinda, who told me the lilac tree was a gathering spot for their guests and that their dog was buried beneath it. When I described to him the tall, grey “Outside Ghost,” he was amazed and said it sounded an awful lot like Bill. 

Bill Boss, 1917 – 2007

Although I connect with Charlotte’s presence, I have not witnessed anything supernatural inside our home. But… I have had other experiences. Occasionally I can hear piano music playing faintly in another room, even though we do not own a piano. (Someone once told me their grandmother went into labour back in the day while playing piano during a visit to Tett House, so maybe there’s some connection there!) At times, I distinctly smell cigarette smoke, which may or may not be the Ghost of Shindigs Past. By the way, I should mention that Charlotte has made it very clear to me that she did not approve of Bill Boss and his parties! Evidently, bourgeois Victorian principles endure beyond the grave… 

Charlotte has no time for your shenanigans.

And so… back to my dream.

I’ve always been highly sensitive, intuitive, and connected, experiencing vivid dreams that often come true, or are prophetic of future events. I was always drawn to the mysticism of the natural world and alternative spirituality. I’ve also been a Tarot card reader for over 30 years. For a long time, I kept these things to myself out of concern for what certain people might think, downplaying my dreams and intuition, or writing it all off as “coincidental.” As I’ve gotten older, I am no longer interested in hiding this very important part of me and realized I needed to give it more space in my life.  

Many years ago, I dreamt of seeing an antiquated and neglected Victorian house. In this dream, newer, more modern homes were available, but I decided instantly I had to live in this crumbling old one. At the time, I believed the dream was a symbol of my personal destiny in taking “the road less traveled.” But one day shortly after we came to Tett House, the dream suddenly came back to me and I recognized immediately this was the house that I’d envisioned. It had been waiting for me the whole time.

With its mysterious beauty and wild natural setting, I knew Tett House was a place where I could actively explore my “witchy-ness” and commit to living a fuller, more magical life. Plus, I always wanted to live in a romantic old house that had a name, like Anne of Green Gables or Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm. We should always feel like we’re the heroine in the novel of our own life, right? A friend of mine once said, “Oooh… you’re going to be Dana of Tett House,” and I got goosebumps!

It has been such an interesting and rewarding time. Many people have reached out to me to share stories and local history, or to learn more about the house. This includes a paranormal investigator who contacted me this year, and whom I hope to have visit the house someday soon. 

At Tett House, we feel less like owners and more like caretakers of the property, but I’m quite happy to share the place with Charlotte and the Outside Ghost. Every day is a new day, and I look forward to discovering all the secrets this unique and mysterious place has to offer. 

For more information on the Tett Family and Bedford Mills, click here.

For more information on the incredible Bill Boss, click here.

Finding Tett House, Part 8 – Closing Day Chaos

A plume of steam rose up from the kitchen sink where I was running hot water. It smelled strongly of gasoline. I rinsed my cleaning rag, wiped the counter, and it left a greasy film. My hands were oily and smelled like I’d been filling up my car at the local Esso.

“Don’t drink the water!” I called out to my husband and son. “Something’s not right.”

It was just after 9:00 pm on the Friday before Victoria Day long weekend last year. We got the key to Tett House that very day, and had been in the house for less than an hour.

Our realtor had been reluctant for us to close on a Friday, in case anything went wrong, but Trevor & I were confident that we had done our due diligence.

We sold our old house quickly at the height of a booming market. We were grateful and relieved. We had a month between closing dates, so that we could do the upgrades and repairs necessary to make Tett House livable. It had been inspected. The well-water had been tested. The septic system had been pumped and assessed. Our plumbing technician had joined us on our final visit to the house, two weeks before we got the key. Electrical, insulation, and HVAC contractors were lined up to start work. Financing was confirmed with the bank and our lawyer was ready to go.

We really should have taken the advice from our realtor about the Friday thing. Everything went wrong that day. I mean: Every. Damn. Thing.

Official Timeline of Closing Day Chaos:

1)  That morning, our bank messed up the paperwork for the transfer of funds. It took the service manager over two hours to correct her mistake. Since we had to drive 4-1/2 hours from the GTA to Smiths Falls and pick up the key before 5:00 pm – and drop off a trailer full of furniture at Tett House – this put us precariously behind.

2)  En route along the 401, our lawyer called. The bank had transferred the wrong amount of money and we were $10,000 short of the purchase price. The banking officer said we had “violated our contract,” but refused to elaborate. We were shocked and embarrassed, but no one had any answers for us. It’s a long story, but in the end our bank confirmed they had made another mistake that apparently no one had the authority to investigate or correct at the time.

It was 3:15 pm when we got to Tett House. We had 1 hour and 45 minutes to come up with $10,000 before the end of that business day.

3)  We hurriedly dropped off our trailer at Tett House. Our realtor met us there and confirmed that the previous owners had not cleared out the 2-storey carriage house, as per the purchase agreement. I just want to remind you what the carriage house looked like inside:

A few weeks before, we’d met with our lawyer about this issue. Having already experienced what the previous owners were like (see Part 5) Trevor and I weren’t confident they were going to honour their legal obligation to empty the space. If it wasn’t cleared out, our lawyer said, we should call him right away, and he would hold back several thousand dollars from the purchase price to cover the cost of having it professionally dealt with.

Our realtor immediately called the lawyer to inform him of the violation of contract.

4)  The lawyer didn’t hold back the money.

While driving to the lawyer’s office, Trevor made arrangements on the phone with another bank to front the missing $10,000, while I endured urgently apologetic calls from our mortgage broker who admitted they fucked up, big time. We picked up a cashier’s cheque at Scotiabank, who totally saved our butts (and where Trevor hugged the banking manager) and then piled back in the car. We got to our lawyer’s office with minutes to spare.

I’ll say it again:  our lawyer didn’t hold back the money.

And we didn’t find this out until later, but he also miscalculated the property taxes, making us responsible for several hundred unpaid dollars left outstanding by the previous owners.

We really, really should have taken the advice from our realtor about the Friday thing.

Following this staggering series of set-backs, we rushed to our insurance broker’s office to submit some final signed documents, but they had already closed. Our realtor, Trevor, Oliver and I sat down on the steps of the insurance office, exhausted and shaky. We hadn’t eaten since about 7:00 am and not one thing had gone the way it was supposed to. I thought of our old life, and the uncertainty of our new one. “God, I hope this is going to be worth it,” I said with a smile, and then burst into tears. People walking by on the sidewalk cast sympathetic glances.  I felt utterly demoralized. But at least, we had the key. Tett House was finally ours. The worst was over, we thought.

We had dinner, and then went back to the house where we intended to spend the weekend. It was almost 8:30. We unpacked the trailer and assembled some basic articles of furniture we brought with us:  our bed, a table, some chairs. I decided to wipe down the kitchen cupboards and put away the few dishes we’d brought.

I ran the hot water. It was laced with oil and smelled like gasoline. Our bad day wasn’t over; it had just begun.

Click here for Part 9.

(To start our story at the beginning, click here for Part 1)

Finding Tett House – Part 1

It was the mill that first caught our eye. Well… Trevor’s eye.

It was August of 2015. I was sleeping in the car when we first drove by the mill on our way down to Kingston, because sleeping in the car is what I do. But Trevor, who is super thoughtful in this way, made a note to remember it as a place worth exploring in the future, and maybe taking a few good photographs.

We had been visiting friends and really enjoyed Kingston and its surrounding villages. Even though we had no plans to move at that time, I started randomly looking at houses in the area, purely out of curiosity. In September, I sent Trevor a link to the listing of a home I thought was incredible. This was the listing photo.

He replied that it was “very cute.” I thought it was one of the most gorgeous homes I’d ever seen in my life. Unfinished, yes. But gorgeous. I couldn’t stop thinking about it.

You can still view the video tour here.

About 10 days later, I emailed him the link again, just because I get obsessed that way.

A couple of months later, we were in the area once more and Trevor said, “I want to show you something.” He drove us out to see the old mill he had first noticed back in August. It was in a little pocket of South Frontenac called “Bedford Mills,” with a few cabins, a quaint church, and not much else that we could see. At the foot of a tumbling waterfall, this steadfast, stone mill stood guard over a quiet pond, like something out of a gothic novel. Even in the stark greyness of a November afternoon, it was beautiful.

As the road cuts right through the property, we did not immediately realize the mill was a private residence (whoops.) We rambled and exclaimed and took pictures until our son Oliver sighed with ennui. Finally, we noticed a “Private Sale” sign that indicated the property was on the market, and I jotted down the email address.

Then we looked up.

High on the hill, across the water, was an old yellow house with a big old verandah, peering down between windswept pines. It was the kind of house I’ve wanted to live in all my life. I’m pretty sure it winked at me.

“Look at that house,” I said, pointing. “Imagine living there.” And in a heartbeat, I did imagine it. I considered what it would be like to look out the windows through those trees at the mill, and to hear the rush of that waterfall every single day. It was an intoxicating idea.

On a whim, we drove up the steep driveway to the house, which actually sits atop a craggy limestone cliff of Canadian Shield. It was vacant and even more charming up close. It also had an old carriage house and a bell on the property that rang with a satisfyingly loud gong.

A bell!  I was smitten.

We took some more photos, then went back to the car, and drove onward.

I had no idea this was the same house to which I had sent Trevor the link just eight weeks before.

(Read Part 2)