Take a local history lesson on Friday the 13th

Haunted Mississauga is the annual tradition from Heritage Mississauga that began in 2002 with a special lecture featuring author Terry Boyle. Due to its popularity, it gradually transformed into tours featuring actors in costume portraying people and events from the past.

Haunted Mississauga takes place one evening mid-October at a different location each year, and is usually held outdoors. Matthew Wilkinson is the staff historian who started the event, and also guest lectures at University of Toronto, and York University.

He refers to it as his brainchild, and has organized every one of them, missing only one. The crew of 25 people carrying out the event consists of high school teachers, museum interpreters, interested volunteers, church volunteers and a 12-year-old girl who asked to join.

It all started on a lark, according to Wilkinson, who wanted to bring something different to the organization after joining in 2001. Working with author Terry Boyle, who passed away since, to do a book of ghost stories in 2005 called Haunted Mississauga, led to eventually creating the event.

He says the actual name is used more for marketing purposes, and the experience they offer is more of a heritage tour than a haunted tour.

It is up to the actors portraying them to deliver the history lesson. “We have actors portray people in character (and in costume) from the past who are either buried in the cemetery, or associated in some way with the site. We provide them with a story outline, and we basically asked the actors to ad lib and become those characters for the evening, interacting with each other and interacting with the audience,” says Wilkinson.

In 16 years they covered 16 different stories in different locations with some occasionally repeated locations, but never sequentially.

“Each time we go we do a different story … I’ve always said this from day one and I believe it wholeheartedly. I want people to get a history lesson without knowing they’ve had one,” he says.

His goal is to bring an interactive and entertaining experience that captures the imagination and curiosity of the group with the performances given by the actors.

“They’re not historians, they’re passionate advocates of the event and they have fun with it. What they are presenting at the end of the day may not be 100 per cent accurate, but we ask them as volunteers to do the best they can to become a person from the past,” says Wilkinson.

Wilkinson tries to have fun with the story line created for them, while keeping it respectful and “based on history, based on actual people, based on how best we can determine who they were and what their biographies might be, but what the actors do with that is up to them.”

Their research process rarely includes Google searches, and taps mainly into local archives, repositories, newspapers and the massive records at Heritage Mississauga.

“It really is a research project unto itself to come up with story lines, to come up with the people. Having done this for 16 years, we’ve got quite a roster of stories and individuals to draw on, but every year I try to make it a new story,” says Wilkinson.

The event is taking place on Friday the 13th for the first time in the 16 years it has been running.

“It was completely accidental, it was not a part of the evening and just where the calendar fell or the event fell,” explains Wilkinson.

Mississauga is home to 14 graveyards that are operated by the city and church run cemeteries that leave a lot of options for the group to work with.

“The cemetery we’re in was founded in 1867, gives us a site that has a 1867 focus. The theme this year is going to be focused on a debate around Confederation, of whether or not it’s a good thing and being true to the spirit of this community that supported a reform candidate who ran on an anti-confederation platform,” says Wilkinson.

The actors wander about the cemetery, so if you take a different turn you could have four different experiences.

IF YOU GO:
Haunted Mississauga
Friday, October 13, 2017
at Trinity Anglican Cemetery in Port Credit (26 Stavebank Road).

Tours at 7:00pm, 7:20pm, 7:40pm, 8:00pm, 8:20pm, 8:40 & 9:00pn. Tours are approximately 45 minutes in length. Tickets are $3 for youth and seniors, $5 for adults.

For information and tickets: tinyurl.com/HauntedMississauga

Photo: Cast and crew of Haunted Mississauga 2016

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