You may not know it, but the next time you enter a Toronto tourist attraction, you might be seeing more than gift shops and artifacts. Greg Hudson checks out the city’s top spooky locales where ghosts and ghouls make regular appearances.
Toronto is rich with haunting history. The city is like the crazy neighbour you don’t really know: it seems quiet and normal, but lurking under the surface is something supernatural.
In the most mundane places, you can find stories that are sure to give you goosebumps.
There are dead people out there and they’re still haunting places. In preparation for the ‘Ghoultide’ we recommend students explore these haunted places around the city. After all, they are everywhere.
If tourists can’t resist visiting North America’s premier castle, then surely ghosts are dying to stay there, too.
Of course the famous castle, sitting at 1 Austin Terrace, just off Spadina Avenue, would be haunted. What good would a castle majestically rising over the trees which surround it, made from stone as if it were hewn out of a mountain, be if it did not house spirits? Only so many X-Men movies can be filmed there.
Trudy Parrish, an operations co-ordinator, verifies there are indeed a number of spirits and unfathomable shenanigans around the castle. She talks of her experience with the hauntings like a person might share a great recipe. It’s exciting, but it isn’t as if it’s unique.
“I have seen the ghost,” she declares. “We’ve all seen those kinds of things. At some point, everybody has seen or felt something.”
While she was climbing some stairs, opening the castle for the morning before anyone else was there, a man in a fedora and a sepia coloured trench coat walked by her.
“He was probably from the hotel era,” Parrish says, sounding unfazed by the supernatural encounter.
Though Parrish is replete with spooky occurrences and Bill Genova, a local tour guide, claims with the authority of a historian that there is a Lady in White roaming the halls, this is a place that the Toronto Ghost and Haunting Research Society refuses to describe as haunted.
But, as it ever will be, haunting is in the eye of the beholder.
The Keg Mansion
Open the heavy doors of the Keg Mansion on Jarvis and Wellesley Streets. and you are hit by the smell of steaks and history in equal measure. The restaurant has the surreal feeling that comes from putting your dinner table in the living room. Old pictures are everywhere, bookcases are filled with ancient texts, mirrors and art hang from the newly-painted walls. Stairs and floorboards creek and groan under the busy weight of the wait staff.
There is more to this restaurant than sirloins and special sauce, however.
“People would come in and be super concerned,” says Leah Sobkowiczz, a former employee. “They would tell us we had some children just sitting on the ledge of the second story outside. But of course, there was no one there.”
In the early 1900s, the mansion was home to the Massey family, founders of Massey Hall. During that time, Lillian Massey died in a second floor room. Then, stricken with grief, one of the maids hanged herself in the oval vestibule above the main foyer.
Reports involve seeing that woman still hanging or hearing children run up and down the old staircase.
Sobkowicz says there is a binder full of ghost stories and weird occurrences kept in the staff room. Patrons and staff need only ask to see it.
Other staff members are more skeptical“My experience is most ghost stories happen late at night and involve alcohol,” says Jason Lambert, the host for the evening. But he concedes that it doesn’t mean they aren’t true.
Tucked behind Ryerson’s campus, between small businesses and apartments, is a relic some consider the most haunted place in the city.
The Mackenzie House on 82 Bond St., was donated to Toronto’s first mayor, the feisty William Lyon Mackenzie. He died in his third floor room.
The ghostly tales really began in the 1960s, when the proprietors of the mansion reported strange events to the Toronto Telegram. They each made sworn affidavits that these events were true, says Rita Russell, Mackenzie House’s program officer.
As she tells the story, she admits she “gives herself gooseflesh.”
One night, while one of the housekeepers was asleep, she felt tresses of hair caress her face. She awoke to a young woman staring down at her, floating above her bed. When this happened again, the spectre was more violent – the ghost slapped her, and her face was bruised in the morning.
Other stories involve a short, balding man, fitting Mackenzie’s description.
“As a museum professional, my opinion is that the house is not haunted,” says Russell, but she admits it’s creepy.
Leaving the house, with its grey stone walls, streaked with age, surrounded by a sparse lawn and a gas street light, the house looks haunted. And that’s half the fun.
The Elgin/Winter Garden Theatres
You feel wealth when you walk into this double-decker theatre at 189 Yonge St., one of the last of its type in the world. You swim in gold and scarlet red with every step. The Ontario Heritage Foundation has expended great effort in restoring this theatre to its Edwardian grandeur.
Fortunately, the ghosts have weathered the renovations and restorations just fine.
The paranormal incidents reported here vary. Some claim there is a ghost of a woman murdered on the fifth floor who, every now and then, relives her final moments, stumbling toward the elevator, ringing it for help, only to die before help could arrive. Many ushers are directed to the fifth floor, only to find it empty. They will then, out of respect, take the spirit to the first floor.
Many of the supposed supernatural events centre on the elevators, which require someone to run them. But that hasn’t stopped them from moving up and down, opening and closing their heavy doors, all on their own.
Joanna Lee, a volunteer at the theatre, attributes most of the ghostly presence to admiration for the arts.
“They just love the theatre so much,” she says. “They don’t want to leave.”
This would explain, though not to the skeptics, the times when witnesses swore they saw rows of chairs fold down, as if being sat in.
Genova says the most famous ghost, the Lady in Lavender, passes through the lobby. And sometimes, a woman dressed in intricate Edwardian clothes, breifly appears before performances.
With its strong white pillars holding up its solid brick foundation, Campbell House makes its presence known between evergreen and maple trees.
A museum by day, the house belonged to chief justice of the Upper Canada Superior Court, Sir William Campbell. It was the last remaining Town of York house, before it was moved to the corner of University Avenue and Queen Street West in 1972.
The house has been plagued with poltergeists since Campbell’s death in 1834. Shortly after the move, Marion McCrae, an architect and member of the restoration committee, returned to the house’s old location to examine the site at dusk while the sun was setting.
“She claimed to see an apparition of an elderly man wearing 19th century gentleman’s clothing, staring into the empty hole where the basement had been,” says curator Elka Weinstein.
Minus the odd bump noise and eerie rustling, the reports stopped after the 1991 renovations, when the last intact area of the house was modernized.
Halloween affords students the chance to find cheap thrills by exploring the spooky side of Toronto – the side that somehow seems more present around this time of year. Take a tour through the haunted streets of downtown Toronto. Visit Muddyyorktours.com/haunted.html.
Other fright sites
Ryerson Theatre School
This may be old news, but the place is haunted. It used to be a pharmacy college, where cadavers were used, says Production Manager Peter Fleming. Janitors have heard pianos played by no one, and others have reported smelling formaldehyde in the building.
Lower Bay subway station
This unused station, directly under the Bay station, was constructed in 1966, but has been out of service for decades. Some workers admit rumours of ghost sightings along the abandoned tracks are true, but others advise you call Ghostbusters for more information.
Authorities deny any hauntings in this Cabbagetown graveyard at 200 Winchester St., which is really too bad since the name, when translated from Greek, literally means “City of the Dead.” With its gothic chapel, sparse yet epic plots, and proximity to Riverdale Farm, this place should be haunted. Plus, in an eerie tidbit of trivia, William Lyon Mackenzie was buried here.
Pioneers and haunting go hand in hand at 100 Garrison Rd. Wherever soldiers battled and are buried, someone will claim they saw something.
This almost forgotten cemetery, at Wellington and Portland Streets is a bural ground not only for fallen soldiers, but their horses. People have reported hearing hooves and nays.