With a name like Salem Road, one immediately thinks of the Salem Witch Trials of 1692, or the popular Stephen King novel, “Salem’s Lot”. Naturally, the Salem Road in Ajax-Pickering has acquired a “haunted” status. But are the ghost stories fact or fiction? You be the judge.
“Salem’s Lot” refers to a wooded area between Rossland and Taunton Roads, east of Salem Road. This was the site of a fire, in which a grist mill burned down and several people died. In the 1980s and 1990s, outdoor enthusiasts discovered the remains of a large dam built in the 1930s, an old bridge, and the stone foundation of an old house with a decaying chimney. Unfortunately, a housing development has taken over much of the area. Nevertheless, ghost stories continue to circulate about Salem’s Lot. The most popular of these stories concerns a pack of “phantom hounds” that race through the cornfields. Note that there are several “real” guard dogs in the area.
Much has been written about the hauntings at Salem’s Corners, a small farming community at Salem Road and Highway 7. The Salem Wesleyan Methodist Church was built as a wooden structure in 1849, on land donated by John Adamson, a carpenter. Brick veneering from Adamson’s brickyard was added to the church in 1880. The church closed in 1890 because there were three other Methodist churches nearby. Historian Milton Pegg writes: “There was some bitterness over the closing of this church since some of its members loved it dearly. One old gentleman came to the Church regularly for some time after it closed, and sat in his old pew on Sundays and worshipped his God alone and in silence.” Some say that the spirit of this man continues to visit the now-abandoned church.
Prior to the construction of the church, Salem Cemetery was established on Adamson’s property. William Brown was appointed caretaker in 1831. The cemetery was expanded in 1888, 1914 and 1939; it now covers both sides of Salem Road. There are many unsettling stories associated with Salem Cemetery. One purports that William Brown haunts the grounds, accompanied by his faithful dogs. (This is an interesting comparison point to the “phantom hounds” of Salem’s Lot.) The most disturbing of all: In 1876, the body of a man was found in the field west of the cemetery.
The final stop on our tour is the Mount Zion Schoolhouse, located at 4230 Salem Road. Built in 1875, it now serves as a community centre. The building and grounds are said to be haunted by a former caretaker (much like the cemetery), as well as several children who attended the school. During World War I, many fathers and brothers were overseas, and it has been suggested that the caretaker became a father figure for the children, even after his death.
For further reading, I suggest the following:
Colombo, John Robert. Mysteries of Ontario. Toronto: Hounslow Press, 1999.
Pegg, Milton. “Salem.” Greenwood Through the Years. Ed. Beatrice and Mrs. Irven McLean. Greenwood Farm Forum, 1960. 13-15. Available at Pickering-Ajax Digital Archive.
Smith, Barbara. Ontario Ghost Stories. Edmonton: Lone Pine Publishing, 1998.