The 2016 reboot of Ghostbusters made headlines for its gender-swapped cast of spectral researchers, but nearly two decades ago the first all-female paranormal investigation team was bustin’ ghosts here in the real world and changing reality television forever. Meet the Girly Ghosthunters.
It’s hard to believe there was ever a time when making a ghost hunting television show wasn’t a safe bet. There’s a paranormal series on nearly every network, from Animal Planet to the Weather Channel, and over the last ten years, we’ve seen ghost hunting shows dedicated to plumbers, rednecks, college kids, and even miners. Just last year, Destination America broke new ground by premiering Ghost Brothers, the first all-black paranormal reality series.
These days, a ghost hunter without a television show is like a cryptozoologist without a silly hat.
There was a time, though, when wading into the murky waters of supernatural reality television was a frightening aspect for networks. Scariest Places on Earth and MTV’s FEAR flirted with the concept in a game show format, but it wasn’t until 2002 when networks began to dip their toes into weekly series that revolved around single teams of paranormal investigators. One of these shows was the infamous Most Haunted, the other was Magnificent Obsessions, a series you’ve probably never heard of, but had far-reaching implications for the future of television
In the spring of 2002, Magnificent Obsessions, a documentary series that followed the fascinating adventures of people with strange hobbies, aired “The Girly Ghostbusters”, a 21-minute episode that followed the world’s first all-female paranormal investigation team as they researched the legends of the haunted Gibraltar Point Lighthouse.
The episode was so well-received that just days after it aired, the team were already fielding development opportunities with half a dozen production companies who had zeroed in on a group of attractive young women chasing supernatural entities.
Even today, Dana Matthews, who founded the Girly Ghosthunters in early 2000, swears that the all-girl angle wasn’t a gimmick.
“I never thought about it, actually,” she says. “When I started the group, it was called the Kitchener Waterloo Paranormal Research Society. It didn’t even cross our minds that we were the first all-girl ghost hunting group until a year or so into our investigations. We were just friends who started chasing mysteries together.”
One evening in the late-90s, Dana and her sister Corrie, along with their cousin Jen Kieswetter and best friend Nicole Dobie, sat in a circle in Dana’s bedroom and attempted to contact the dead. Four girls with their hands hovering over a Ouija board wasn’t an uncommon sight back then, but for these girls, it was just the beginning of a wild ride into the other side.
“We were just a bunch of typical girls who watched a lot of Buffy and wore out our VHS copy of The Craft,” Dana recalls. “We were nerds who were too old for summer camp and too young to do anything else, so we started doing what lots of teenage girls do – we started playing with spirit boards, pendulums, and reading books about magick, but it was ghosts that really interested us.”
When their repeated Ouija sessions began to contact the same spirit over and over again, Dana began to take the paranormal seriously, discovering books by Hans Holzer and Ed and Lorraine Warren, pouring over research in her local library, and hunting down tales of ghostly activity in her hometown of Kitchener, Ontario.
The Girly Ghostbusters: Corrie, Nicole, Dana, and Jen in the Kitchener Record 
In 2000, Dana officially formed the Kitchener-Waterloo Paranormal Research Society, and they conducted their first investigation at the Pioneer Memorial Tower and Cemetery. The evidence they collected, a ghostly voice whispering “I don’t know what to say” on a micro-cassette recorder, was all they needed to fuel their search.
“That was our first EVP, and it blew our minds. It was our first indication that ghosts were real and were interacting with us, it was a revelation. I was on the phone the next day calling everyone in town asking permission to search their buildings for ghosts.”
Over the next two years, the KWPRS sought out Ontario’s bumps in the night, gathering evidence of the otherworldly and sharing it with the world via their geocities page. But while coaxing spirits to give signs of their existence was already a difficult task, the girls faced an even-tougher challenge: their peers.
“People were so mean to us,” Dana recalls. “There were a few psychics and paranormal researchers in the area who held events, and we were asked to do one, and got so excited. We made a big poster board, gathered up our best evidence – stuff we were really proud of. It was the only event we ever did because other investigators twice our age openly mocked us to our faces, said we were better suited for a girl band than ghost hunting, and called our evidence fake without even looking at it.”
The Kitchener Waterloo Paranormal Research Society 
“Looking back, I realize now, more than ever, how terrible it is for adults to actively attempt to extinguish the fascination and excitement of kids the way these people did. We were only sixteen, eighteen, nineteen at the time, doing something we were passionate about, and we didn’t have an Amy Bruni or a Katrina Weidman or an Amy Allen to look up to. We were figuring it out as we went, but people tried to discourage us at every turn.”
“It takes a special kind of awful for a 30-year-old man to call a group of teenage girls ‘attention whores’ for no other reason than being young, female, and hunting ghosts. That actually happened. People are scarier than any supernatural monster.”
A paranormal investigation group comprised of teenage girls might have been a target for trolls, but fortunately for Dana and her friends, it was also a beacon for television producers in a pre-paranormal reality world. Just two years after forming the KWPRS, the girls were chasing ghosts on Magnificent Obsessions.
After Magnificent Obsessions aired, the team of supernatural sleuths signed a development deal with Toronto-based Buck Productions, and in January 2005, The Girly Ghosthunters premiered on Canada’s SPACE Network. It was Buck’s first television show.
The series was a pretty huge deal, especially considering that at the time, paranormal reality television was a largely untested genre. Ghost Hunters had been in development at the Sci-Fi Channel, SPACE’s United States equivalent, the same time as Girly Ghosthunters and premiered just two months before, far too soon for anyone to know that ghost hunting television would be a smash success. The production of Girly Ghosthunters was even more impressive considering it was an untested format coming from Canada, where budgets are slashed to a fraction of Los Angeles-based productions and only “sure things” are green lit.
To emphasize just how big of a deal this series was, consider this: not only was Girly Ghosthunters SPACE’s first original reality series, a full season of the show was created for roughly 1/6 of what a single episode of Paranormal State cost to produce. Mention those numbers to any producer in the business and they’ll laugh you out of the office.
Despite its small budget, a nervous network, and the untested format of ghost hunting television, The Girly Ghosthunters was a surprise hit, gaining a warm reception from Canadian audiences and establishing Buck Productions as one of Canada’s most successful television creators.
Publicity still for SPACE Network’s The Girly Ghosthunters 
Over twelve episodes, The Girly Ghosthunters investigated haunted islands, historical forts, and even nightclubs, capturing some compelling evidence of the afterlife along the way. The team made use of equipment that would become standard television fare, such as thermal cameras, night vision, and electromagnetic frequency meters, but also put traditional divination tools to use. Dowsing rods, pendulums, and Ouija boards weren’t uncommon pieces of equipment in the series.
Girly Ghosthunters ended with their most frightening episode, an overnight paranormal investigation at Ancaster, Ontario’s The Hermitage, where both the team and the crew were driven off the land by a pack of animalistic, humanoid figures that appeared “as static” in the night air.
Despite the show’s popularity and international syndication that sees it broadcast all over the world in seven different languages to this day, Buck Productions declined to produce a second season of the show, which was slated to move to Canada’s W Network. But while The Girly Ghosthunters might have ended in 2005, it caused a ripple effect that’s still felt in the same ghost hunting reality shows we watch today.
For those in Canada, the influence of The Girly Ghosthunters goes without saying. They weren’t just one of the first Canadian reality shows, they were the first Canadian ghost hunting show, period. Every Canadian-produced paranormal reality show to come after it, from the excellent series The Other Side to the not-so-excellent Paranormal Home Inspectors, is a direct result of Girly Ghosthunters. Rescue Mediums, in particular, was green lit to fill the gap left when Girly Ghosthunters didn’t return for a second season.
Nicole Dobie and Dana Matthews filming Magnificent Obsessions 
The series’ wider-reaching effects might not be so obvious, but at the time of its release, The Girly Ghosthunters was the first straight-up ghost hunting show produced in North America. No cash prizes, no dramatic docu-soap elements between team members, and no client review at the end of the episode. Their premise was simple: a small group of friends locking themselves into a haunted building at night looking for ghosts. If that sounds familiar, that’s because Ghost Adventures made the format popular in 2008.
If you enjoyed the POV camera angles from shows like Haunted Highway, The Girly Ghosthunters were the first to use it long before the days when GoPro made it easy. In fact, they had to develop a brand new camera with a Toronto-based company in order to make the shots possible.
“We actually argued for having no camera people,” Dana told me. “We met in the middle, and they said if we would accept one camera operator, we could shoot the rest with body cameras, but since the cameras had to be custom made, they were really expensive, and we could only afford two.”
Corrie and Dana Matthews wearing custom camera rigs during The Girly Ghosthunters 
“The camera was huge, and they strapped it to our heads with what was basically a big rubber band. It had a long cable that ran into a backpack which was loaded with a recorder that had actual tapes which needed to be changed every few hours. After wearing the thing, you had massive migraines and sore shoulders.. GoPros would have been amazing.”
While the series has influenced paranormal television in lots of subtle ways, there’s also a lot of things The Girly Ghosthunters did that no one has ever been able to repeat. Not only were they the first all-female paranormal investigation team, they’re still the only ghost hunting television series that featured an all-women cast. They’re also the only paranormal series to never have a story producer (if you ever see “story producer” in the credits, its a tell-tale sign that the show you’re watching contains scripted elements), and they’re the only team that’s ever been allowed to investigate the Ottowa Jail & Hostel on television.
Dana, Corrie, Jen, and Nicole continued to hunt phantoms around Canada after the series, and while The Girly Ghosthunters never officially dissolved, the girls moved on and settled into spending a lot more time interacting with the living. Well, all of them except Dana.
Over the last ten years, Dana Matthews has continued to seek out the strange, broadening her quest to include everything from Bigfoot, to UFOs, to psychic phenomena, and her writing about these adventures has appeared everywhere from io9 to Roadtrippers to Week in Weird, which she co-founded in 2008.
Dana Matthews investigating paranormal activity near California’s Mt. Shasta 
Since 2012, she’s been a key figure in the development and implementation of dozens of groundbreaking experiments which could very well change our perceptions of the paranormal, from how we view the alien abduction phenomena to the way ghost hunters attempt to communicate with spirits. The details of these experiments are intentionally shrouded in secrecy, but she hopes their results will be public very soon.
“We don’t have a set date to debut the experiments because we keep coming up with opportunities to make them even better,” she says. “We want to make sure everything is perfect, that we’ve established repeatability, and that we have a good medium to share them. I have no doubt people will look at the paranormal differently when we’re done.”
In 2013, she co-founded the Traveling Museum of the Paranormal & Occult, the world’s only mobile museum dedicated to haunted objects that people can actually hold and investigate for themselves. The museum is a regular addition to events on Paranormal Lockdown‘s Nick Groff Tour and Amy Bruni’s Strange Escapes, and is constantly criss-crossing the country to bring supernatural artifacts to crowds in some of the world’s most haunted places.
While the reruns of Girly Ghosthunters are still airing around the world, Dana has continued to lend her supernatural expertise to television shows. In March, she was recruited by Finding Bigfoot for a 2-hour special in search of supernatural Sasquatch sightings in the California mountains, and later this year, she’s slated to make guest appearances on a number of new paranormal series.
In today’s world where seemingly every ghost hunting team has a television show, most might not remember The Girly Ghosthunters or their impact on the world of the paranormal, but for Dana, the series was a life-changing experience that allowed her to turn her hobby into a career.
“I’ve spent my whole life poking into dark corners and looking into things people tell us we should be afraid of,” she says. “It’s what I know, it’s who I am. Girly Ghosthunters might not have been the biggest, longest-running, or most successful television show, but it was a defining moment in my childhood. I’m lucky enough to have made paranormal research a full-time gig, and without Girly Ghosthunters, that wouldn’t have been possible.”
The Girly Ghosthunters had a lot of cards stacked against them. They were young, they had a silly name, and their show was made by a first-time Canadian television production company with a five person crew and miniscule budget. They were insulted by peers twice their age, underestimated because of their gender, and largely excluded from the paranormal community due to both of those things. In the end, though, none of that mattered, because they still made history in spite of their challenges.
The Girly Ghosthunters deserve to be remembered not just because they were the first all-female paranormal investigation group, but because they were a voice for young ghost hunters dismissed by middle-aged cynics, a case for chasing phantoms for the sake of adventure, and a positive symbol for paranormal girl power over a decade before Ghostbusters got the hint.
They may not get the respect or reverence afforded to long-running shows like Ghost Hunters, but four girls from the Canadian suburbs left their mark on the paranormal world, helping usher in a curious society that’s more accepting of the supernatural – and all-female ghost hunting teams – than ever before.
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