Tips and Frequently Asked Questions
How do I find information on ghost towns?
Most people start their search with a particular town or location in mind, usually because of a personal connection or general interest in the local area history.
Start with old maps and compare them to current ones. Pay careful attention to the road alignments which can change.
There are a number of publications available such as the Ron Brown books on Ontario ghost towns and others. Information can also be found on sites such as this and others.
What ghost town books are available?
Publications go in and out of print quite regularly. Check our link to Amazon.ca. They can also do a search for any 'out of print' publications.
How do I plan a ghost town search?
Concentrate your search on a small area. You'll be on the backroads, often on dirt roads, where travel is slow. Try to get a hold of aerial maps that show the location of any existing buildings. These can usually be purchased for a nominal fee from the provincial government.
How should I prepare?
When preparing, err on the side of caution. Remember, you could be in the backwoods, well off the beaten trails. Things can go wrong and you could find yourself in the unfortunate position of being stranded.
Be sure and check the weather reports before you set off. Unless you're a lover of inclement weather, ghosttowning in the rain or snow can be pretty yucky.
File a 'flight plan' and leave it with your family or friends. Even if you have a cell phone, keep in mind the coverage may not extend to remote areas. If something goes wrong, as least they'll know where to send the search party.
Pack up the car for emergencies. These items should include, flashlight, flares, waterproof matches, compass, a shovel in case you get stuck and a blanket. Above all, invest in some detailed road maps.
Dress appropriately! Wear long pants, good sturdy walking shoes or steel plated boots, particularly if you're poking around old industrial sites. Rubber boots can also come in very handy. Keep a set of rain gear and extra socks in the car.
Carry a first aid kit and take note of the nearest town with medical facilities. Remember, those Massassauga rattlers in southern Ontario are venomous. And don't forget the insect repellent.
Be sure to include extra snacks, water and batteries for your camera or videocam.
Take special note of the gas guage especially when you see one of those 'last chance' gas signs. They're generally put up by the government and they aren't joking around.
DO NOT TRESPASS, especially in derelict buildings. Those signs are often put up because the building is structurally unsound.
Who owns the buildings?
Just because a building is abandoned or derelict doesn't mean it's unowned. The owner could be anyone from an absentee owner, a lender in the case of a foreclosure, or the local township in the case of tax arrears.
Can I move in to one of the buildings?
Not without the owner's permission.
How do I buy a building in a ghost town?
If you see a building you like, the first step is to try and find the owner. Make inquiries. Talk to surrounding property owners; do a search at the local land registry or tax office.
If you find the property has been seized for tax arrears, you may be in luck. If the owner doesn't pay up, it will likely be auctioned off by the township often for the amount of arrears. Speak to the township and arrange to get on the notification list for the upcoming auctions.
Also, don't forget local real estate agents. Properties being sold under 'power of sale' or that have been seized under foreclosure are generally turned over to realtors. They also know their community and may know of properties that are coming up for listing soon.
How do I find a particular town?
There are a number of online sources available that can make the job much easier. Archivianet (National Archives) contains a very detailed list of all the post offices that ever existed. Since, the majority of communities, even tiny rural hamlets, all had post offices at one time, you'll be able to find the county or township where your town was located.
Next try Geonames, another excellent government tool. This site will generate maps and listings of other communities within a specific radius.
Check Google Earth for high resolution satellite images of the area.
If your first searches don't produce results, don't give up. Read the search tips carefully and try different options.
Can I take souvenirs?
If you take anything from private property, you're stealing - simple as that.
Why do ghost towns become ghost towns?
In most cases, they lose their reason for being. Many of these communities were single industry towns. When the industry or sector that sustained them, moves, closes their doors or is no longer viable in that form, people eventually leave. Other reasons can include changes in transportation patterns, environmental or ecological changes or a planned temporary community, such as a mining camp.
Why is there so little on Northwest Ontario?
Ontario is huge and the amount of time we can spent there is limited. Our northern Ontario section is slowly growing. Be patient!
I am trying to find an ancestor who lived in a particular town ...
We don't do genealogy searches. Genealogists are great sleuths and many of the sources we use come from the genealogy sites. We urge you to check them out. They have super resources.
Have you ever seen a ghost?
We get asked this all the time. We have never seen any supernatural phenomena. If we do, we'll be the first to let you know.