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home > local hauntings > Stoney Creek's Battlefield House Museum

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Stoney Creek's Battlefield House Museum
77 King Street West, Stoney Creek, Ontario
by Stephanie Lechniak-Cumerlato

Originally Published on December 18, 2002

"Jolted from eternal slumber by a fire that destroyed the church in which she lay, the determined pioneer woman seems to have returned to Battlefield House, the home she settled some 200 years ago."

The year was 1790 when Mary Jones Gage, along with her two children James Jr. and Elizabeth immigrated to Upper Canada from New York State. Mrs. Gage's husband, Mr. James Gage Sr. died in the American Revolutionary War while defending Fort Clinton against the British so the family packed up their belongings and made the journey to Stoney Creek. They accepted a land grant of two hundred acres in Saltfleet Township in exchange for their sworn allegiance to the British Monarchy.

 

From House to Home
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It was on those several hundred acres of land that the family built a shabby, traditional log home which was later replaced by a larger, storey-and-a-half home in 1786. The Georgian style home was built symmetrically with an even number of windows and doors and had a large verandah, steep roof and large chimneys.

Jame Gage
James Gage Jr.
Mary Davis Gage

The Gage family had plenty of time to settle into their new surroundings. In 1796, James Jr. married Mary Davis, a woman who's family came from a plantation in North Carolina and settled on Mud Street in a home called "Harmony Hall."

After they wed, they moved back into the Gage homestead with Mrs. Mary Gage Sr. and eventually had ten children. In that same year, Mrs. Gage Sr.'s daughter Elizabeth married Major John Westbrook. They made their home in Brant County and had 16 children (two of whom died in early childhood).

 

Experiencing the War First Hand
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When the War of 1812 broke out, anyone living within a reasonable distance from the United States/Canada border were deeply affected. It was families like the Gage's who experienced first hand what the war was like.

On June 5th of 1813, some 3,500 invading American troops under the command of General John Chandler and General William Winder stormed the Gage house in plans of using it as their headquarters due to its strategic location and great perimeter visibility. They settled in for the night and imprisoned Mrs. Gage Sr. and her children in the basement and thus followed the Battle of Stoney Creek on June 6th of 1813.

At this time, British troops had been retreated to Burlington Heights, where the Hamilton Cemetery and Dundurn Castle are now located. A young, 19 year-old civilian named Billy Green caught wind of the American troops that had stormed Stoney Creek and quickly headed to Burlington Heights to warn the British. The British planned a spectacular night attack led by Billy Green as scout since he knew the area and forests so well.

There were about 700 British troops under the command of Lieutenant - Colonel John Harvey who managed to stop the American advance with their surprise attack which lasted about 40 minutes. The land and house were recaptured by British troops with the help of loyal Native forces and the Gage family was subsequently released.

Hundreds of soldiers died on the battlefield fighting for what they believed in. The British had also captured the two American Generals forcing the Americans to retreat to Forty Mile Creek in Grimsby and then to Fort George in Niagara-on-the-Lake.

 

The House Becomes a Museum
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James Gage Jr. went into business and had become a prosperous entrepreneur. He worked as a bank director, shipbuilder, merchant and mill owner. In 1830, significant changes were made to the Gage house under the direction of James Jr. including building an entire new floor to make the home a full two story house.

Five years later, in 1835, Mary Jones Gage sold the house and property and moved the family to the ever-growing Hamilton, most likely initiated by James Jr. so he could thrive in the "ambitious city."

Throughout the years following this, the house had landed into the hands of several people and various parts of the land began to sell off. By 1899 the house had fallen into such a bad state of repair that it was ready to be knocked down.

 

Luckily, Sara Calder, one of the granddaughters of James and Mary Jones Gage, saw the significance and recognize the historical value of the property and purchased the house and four-and-a-half acres of land around it. Later this property was transferred to the Women's Wentworth Historical Society of which she was president and became known as the Battlefield House Museum. On October 23, 1899, the museum was officially opened by Lady Aberdeen and was one of the first public parks owned by a Historical Society in Canada.

On the centennial of the Battle of Stoney Creek, June 6, 1913, the Battlefield Monument was unveiled by Queen Mary in London, by means of a transatlantic cable. The monument was to commemorate the fallen soldiers of the Battle of Stoney Creek and 100 years of peace with the United States. School children were given a half-day off school and 15,000 people were in attendance, including local military forces.

In 1962 the Women's Wentworth Historical Society was unable to keep up the house and grounds. Battlefield House and Park were taken over by the Niagara Parks Commission and during the 1970's, the house was restored to it's 1835 period. The City of Stoney Creek then took over the house in 1988 retain all aspects of the museum's history including period furnishings from the late 1700s to 1835 and the original stenciling work in the front hallway.

Mary Gage's Mischief
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To date, strange and interesting reports have circulated about the ghost that is said to linger and reside in the Battlefield House. While no one has seen an actual apparition, it is said that Mary Jones Gage makes her presence felt at the Stoney Creek landmark in more dignified ways.

Reports include antique pieces, ones that Mrs. Gage Sr. would have used, disappearing from a room, only to be found days later in a completely different area of the house.

It is also said that Mr. Gage likes to fiddle around with the electrical currents, the vacuum cleaner, and the computers. One incident even had an old musket which works fine normally, suddenly jam up and not work. Of course, it could only be the handywork of a kid who has come to visit the museum for the day, as staff members unconvincingly speculate.

Why could Mary Jones Gage still be living within the walls at Battlefield House? One reason stands most prominent.

Currently, Mrs. Gage's whereabouts is a mystery. Her remains were said to have been interred in a lead-lined casket in the First United Church that burned down in 1969 (location is where the current First Place building now stands). This fire destroyed what was meant to be her final resting place when she died in 1841, and her remains, along with those of several other early settlers, were to have been relocated to the Woodland Cemetery in Burlington, where a plaque in their memory was erected. Mary Jones Gage and her headstone disappeared and never made it to Burlington.

Most say that her lost soul found it's way back to her home at the Battlefield House.

A clairvoyant toured the house a few years back and was disturbed by a pervasive aura of violence in a front bedroom. The psychic also sensed a benevolent spirit with a strong personality and said the house had some connection to children. This would make perfect sense since the house saw 10 of James Jr.'s kids and 16 of Elizabeth's.

There is also said to be a high energy on the battlefield itself as we have received several reports from people who have actually been witness to ghostly, misty soldiers walking across the field, as if they were marching to battle. As with most other haunted battlefields, the sounds of cannon's firing can sometimes be heard.

by Stephanie Lechniak-Cumerlato

 

To learn more about Stoney Creek's Battlefield House Museum and the events they hold regularly, visit their great website located at: www.battlefieldhouse.ca

 

Map & Directions
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Take Centennial Parkway (Highway #20) south from the QEW. Battlefield House Museum is at the foot of the Niagara Escarpment, just east of the intersection of Centennial Parkway and King Street.

 

Resources
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Battlefield House Museum Website, http://www.battlefieldhouse.ca/

Cultural Landmarks of Hamilton-Wentworth - Battlefield House
Special Collections Department, Hamilton Public Library
http://www.hpl.ca/Collections/landmark/battle.shtml

Nolan, Mary K. "Mary Gage's mischief." The Hamilton Spectator.

 

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