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Second Annual Halloween Ghost Walk



This Halloween, I decided to go on the Ghosts, Greasepaint & Gallows Walk with Tasty Tours as I really enjoyed my experience last year on the Phantoms, Players & Pundits Walk. This time around, bakerybard was brave enough to accept my invitation and met me at Eglinton Station so we could travel to St. Lawrence Market together. As I hadn’t had supper yet, I grabbed a slice of pizza and a bottle of Diet Coke from a fast food vendor inside the South Market. Then I happily munched on the pizza slice as bakerybard and I stood outside waiting for our tour to start. When our guide Shirley arrived, she was in her usual Halloween costume consisting of a Victorian gown, hat, and wig. Once role call was over and everyone was registered, Shirley led us inside the South Market for pastry and a bottle of water (items included with the cost of the tour). When I saw how large all the pastries were, I told bakerybard that I probably could have skipped the pizza, but she assured me that I’d need the extra carbs for the ghost walk.

We had barely sat down when Shirley announced that we were heading down to the basement and would have to eat our pastries on the go. She suggested that we try not to talk as we walked down the stairs and pay close attention to the brickwork of the walls in the basement. Of course, people continued to chatter, though I don’t think I was likely to have picked up on any sensations. I did notice that the basement brickwork was very old – in Toronto terms. As we climbed another set of stairs to leave the basement, I didn’t feel anything, though one woman on the tour said she’d felt anxious. Shirley explained that many people, including herself, have experienced a sense of fear or trepidation when climbing those stairs. She believes this is because there used to be jail cells in the basement of the South Market in the early nineteenth century (Hence the old brickwork) and prisoners would be led up a flight of stairs to face the stocks, the pillory, or the noose.

St. James’ Cathedral
The next stop on our tour was St. James’ Cathedral. As I have an uncle who attends that church and holds the title of Head Sidesperson, I was really curious to know what hauntings might be associated with the place. As we were about to go through St. James’ Park, Shirley asked us to consider a riddle, which I’ll paraphrase because I can’t remember her exact wording: What kind of home doesn’t have windows or doors? I heard a couple of people discussing the riddle as we walked, but no one seemed to be coming up with a plausible answer.

As we gathered on the south porch of the cathedral, Shirley told us a bit of the history of the place. [1] Apparently, most of Toronto’s past elite are buried in the cathedral’s crypt, [2] and members of the Royal Family visit St. George’s Chapel whenever they’re in Toronto. [3] Of course, it wouldn’t be a ghost walk without a ghost story or two. Shirley told us about a group of volunteers who had gathered to ring the twelve change-ringing bells that had been installed for the cathedral’s bicentenary. Before they got started, they heard what sounded like someone running up a set of wooden stairs to the bell tower. However, the staircase leading up to the bell tower is metal, and the volunteers believed the footfalls stopped before anyone could have reached the bell tower. After conducting some research, Shirley came up with a theory. St. James’ Cathedral was burnt down in the great fire of 1849, so the stairs in the older bell tower might have been wooden. In addition, the steeple from the previous version of the cathedral wasn’t as tall as the steeple we know today, so a spirit wouldn’t have to run as far to reach the bell tower.

Stephen Jarvis’ tombstone
Shirley drew our attention to the tombstones on the walls of the south porch and accused us of being typically Canadian because we hadn’t asked about them sooner. Then she asked what impressions people had of St. James’ Park, and one person said that she’d found it creepy. I thought it was quite pretty, so I kept quiet. I realized that my radar was really off when a man on the tour correctly guessed that St. James’ Park used to be a cemetery (Hence the home without doors or windows). Shirley revealed to us that the tombstones on the walls on either side of us used to belong to that cemetery, and the bodies had been moved to places such as Mount Pleasant in 1850. I can’t remember if Shirley also covered this as well, but I read that St. James’ Park still contains Cholera pits from the nineteenth century and it’s estimated that more than 5,000 bodies are buried at its north end. [4] In any case, while I had seen tombstones on the walls of places like Westminster Abbey, it was still a little bizarre to see them on the walls of a Toronto cathedral, especially when Shirley pointed out the tombstone with the name Sarah Polley – a name that is shared by a Canadian actress who is still very much alive. Shirley also showed us Stephen Jarvis’ and John Rideout’s tombstones, explaining how ironic it was for them to be on walls facing each other as John Rideout was killed in a duel with Samuel Jarvis and, to this day, the Jarvis and Rideout families refuse to have anything to do with each other and always insist on sitting in separate pews when attending services at the cathedral.

Outside Court Square





Next we headed for Court Square. Gathering on a walkway outside the square, we listened to Shirley tell us some stories about people’s experiences on previous tours. On one Halloween walk, a young woman was standing in a particular spot listening to Shirley. Then, she suddenly jumped and ran to join her friends, who were standing some feet away. The woman had felt someone tap her on the shoulder and was understandably shaken up. However, what’s funny is that she and her friends decided to go on the same walk in late April, and the woman ended up standing in the same spot again. Shirley kept quiet, wondering what might happen and, sure enough, the woman felt someone tap her shoulder and had the exact same reaction. Shirley wonders if the timing of the walks had something to do with the woman’s experiences: the veil between the living and the dead is thinnest on Halloween/Samhain and Beltane (April 30th/May 1st). Shirley’s other anecdote involved a couple who had their picture taken in the area where we had gathered. When they looked at the picture afterwards, they could see a figure standing between them. It wasn’t anyone on the tour because the figure had nineteenth century style boots and corduroy trousers, but nothing else: no upper torso and no head.

What used to be the York
County Courthouse and is now a
nightclub called "The Courthouse"
Before we left to explore Court Square, Shirley said that anyone who didn’t want to go in could remain in the walkway with her. While I already had my suspicions on what stage of the walk we had reached, Shirley's offer made me sure I was right. Maybe that’s why I felt a slight wave of nervousness as I walked into Court Square and took pictures of the Courthouse and a couple of other buildings. Once we were outside Court Square, Shirley informed us that Court Square used to be a hanging square. The Courthouse Lounge used to be the York County Courthouse and there was once a prison where a CIBC now stands beside the walkway. Shirley described a strange incident in which two women on a past tour rose up on their tiptoes and swung back and forth. As this wasn’t normal behaviour for them, they couldn’t figure out why they would do that. It wasn’t until Shirley was at the Santa Claus parade with her niece and nephew that she realized what had happened. As she saw parade goers standing on their tiptoes to see past the people in front of them, she knew that spectators at a hanging would probably do the same thing. While nothing that strange happened to me, I did have what could be described as my first olfactory paranormal experience. I was aware of some scent I couldn’t place about 20 seconds before Shirley told us that some people had been able to smell burnt wood in the area of the hanging square. As scaffolds were constructed on site, this was one possible explanation for the phenomenon. As I’m often congested and have a hard time distinguishing subtle smells, it seemed really strange that I was also picking up on the scent of burnt wood…

Outside Court Square and where
I’m sure I smelled burnt wood
My memory is failing me, but I think we next headed to Grand Opera Lane and the Scotia Plaza. As we walked down Grand Opera Lane, Shirley suggested that we take pictures as people on previous tours had managed to pick up orbs. In fact, a cop managed to capture a rather impressive red orb. My pictures of Grand Opera Lane didn’t turn out very well, so I haven’t posted them. Of course, if there had been orbs, I would have swallowed my pride and gladly included them with this report. However, I did have a strange experience inside the Scotia Plaza.

Maybe it was because I was tired and stepping from an outdoor environment to an indoor one, but as soon as I entered the building, I felt this heaviness press down on me. It almost felt like an effort to lift my feet as I walked. When I wasn’t feeling weighed down, I felt almost light-headed. I don’t think it was my imagination, but I can’t be sure, of course. I just know that I was happy to leave the building and felt some of the heaviness lift as I stepped outside again. Considering the history of the spot we were in, it may not be a big surprise.

The Grand Opera House once stood in the same spot as the Scotia Plaza. Opened in 1874, it was considered to be Toronto’s premier concert hall during the late nineteenth century. The Grand Opera House experienced a number of fires, including one in 1879 that killed a stage-carpenter, his wife, and infant daughter. Shirley told us that the fire is believed to have started after a performance of the “Scottish Play” when embers in the three witches’ cauldron continued to smoulder. A witness saw a woman (presumably the stage-carpenter’s wife) in a window screaming for help. She informed the witness that her husband and daughter were also inside, and the witness tried to climb to the window to rescue the family. Unfortunately, flames shot out of the window and the witness was forced to give up. Shirley wonders if that strange red orb the cop saw on that one tour actually represented these flames and if the cop saw them because it’s a police officer’s job to help people.

Another sinister event connected to the Grand Opera House is the disappearance of Ambrose Small. Small was a theatre magnate who owned several theatres, including the Grand Opera House. Small had a reputation as a gambler and a man who booked less reputable but more titillating shows in his theatres. He even kept a secret sex room in the Grand Opera House. Perhaps, then, it’s not surprising that Small would become the victim of foul play.

On December 1, 1919, Ambrose Small sold all of his theatrical holdings and deposited over a million dollars in a Toronto bank. Then, on December 2, 1919, he left his office at the Grand Opera House and was never seen again. The last person to see Small was his lawyer F.W.M. Flock, who left Small’s office at 5:30 pm. No one reported seeing him leave his office or travel through the Adelaide and Yonge Street area. Small didn’t appear to have any motive for disappearing as the money remained untouched. There wasn’t even a ransom note or evidence of a kidnapping. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was even approached to solve the case, but he chose not to pursue it. Small’s wife supposedly made a deathbed confession about killing him and cremating his body in the London, Ontario Grand Opera Theatre, but this story has never been substantiated.

Haunted condo
I could be mistaken, but I believe our next destination was Victoria and Richmond, where we stood across the street from a condo that is allegedly haunted. Shirley told us one story about an occupant who woke up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom and saw a woman carrying books. The mysterious woman asked the occupant if she could hold her books for her and then disappeared. People who have taken photographs of the condo have had orbs appear in their pictures, especially around the area of the first and second floors. As you can see by my own photo, nothing like that happened to me. In fact, the most bizarre experience for all of us was to see two guys dressed as cavemen who hollered at us from across the street.

Next up on the ghost walk was the Elgin and Winter Garden Theatre, which is a “double decker” theatre. The bottom theatre, which was originally called “Loew’s Yonge Street Theatre,” was opened on December 15th, 1913 and had the capacity to seat 2,149 people. The upper theatre, the Winter Garden, opened on February 16th, 1914 and could seat 1,410 people. The architect was American Thomas Lamb and the building was designed as the flagship of Marcus Loew’s chain of vaudeville theatres. The principle behind the design was to incorporate two theatres in the amount of real estate a single theatre would normally occupy. Both theatres were eventually shut down, but the Ontario Heritage Foundation bought the building twenty years ago and re-opened it on December 15th, 1989.

As we stood outside this historic building, Shirley asked if any of us had ever been inside the Elgin and Winter Garden Theatre, and one woman said that she used to be an usher there and was often spooked out by both the upper and lower theatres. Shirley told us that the women’s washroom is supposedly very haunted – possibly because it’s where the smoking room used to be. In vaudeville theatres, the smoking room is where shady deals were sometimes made with gangsters and hitmen. Shirley also said that seats are sometimes seen folded down, as if spirits were sitting in them. In the 1980s, volunteers decided to conduct a séance after witnessing a number of strange occurrences. During the séance, they managed to contact a man named Sam, who claimed to be a trombone player who had gotten drunk and broken his neck after falling off the stage and into the orchestra pit. After doing some research, the volunteers discovered that the story was true.

From the Elgin and Winter Theatre, we walked to St. Michael’s Catholic Cathedral. I’m assuming Shirley chose this location as it would be more pleasant than standing outside St. Michael’s Hospital, the subject of her next set of stories. Most of these stories featured the ghost of a Sister Vincenza, who is most closely associated with room 7b and has insisted on continuing to work even after death. Sister Vincenza has pulled blankets higher or lower on patients, depending on their needs, and was even sighted after someone died of a coronary, as if she was there to administer last rites. People who have witnessed her ghost have had the terrifying experience of seeing a woman in white habit with only a black void for a face.

Mackenzie House
We didn’t have to go far to reach Mackenzie House, the home of Toronto’s first mayor, William Lyon Mackenzie. Mackenzie was a hot-tempered Scotsman, who started his career as a journalist. Mackenzie was a passionate advocate for social reform and often made verbal attacks on what he called the “Family Compact” (Toronto’s elite). In 1834, Mackenzie was elected mayor of Toronto and led a rebellion against the wealthy owners of crown reserves in 1837. While some of his compatriots were hanged, Mackenzie managed to escape to the States and remained there until 1849 when he was granted amnesty. The ghost of William Lyon Mackenzie has been seen at Mackenzie House by several witnesses. In fact, there have been a number of strange phenomena. People have heard the printing press start up on its own (when it’s not electric) and have heard the piano playing in the parlour. However, what might be most frightening is a certain female ghost.

In the 1970s, the city decided to hire a couple to live in Mackenzie House as custodians. One night, the couple saw a woman standing between the wall and the headboard of their bed. Not content with looming over the couple, the spirit began poking the wife. Then she pinched the wife. The final straw was when she punched the wife in the eye. The couple quit after that. The city tried hiring another couple to act as custodians and this couple was also forced to leave after having a similar experience with this female spirit. This ghost is described as wearing Victorian clothing, so one has to wonder if it might be William Lyon Mackenzie’s wife, Isabel Mackenzie.



Church of the Holy Trinity


Our last stop on the tour was the Church of the Holy Trinity and Henry Scadding's House – both of which are located in Trinity Square beside the Eaton Centre. Surprisingly, I can’t recall ever being in Trinity Square before, which is a shame because the Church of the Holy Trinity and Henry Scadding’s House are both incredible. The Church of the Holy Trinity was built in 1847 and is a good example of Gothic Revival architecture. The first rector of the Church of the Holy Trinity was Henry Scadding, who was both a clergyman and a writer. Henry Scadding is believed to haunt his old home, as people have heard the sound of a quill pen scratching away inside the building.



Henry Scadding’s House


Some of you might be wondering if I managed to catch any ghosts on my camera? Well, the honest answer to that question is that I’m not sure. In four pictures, I can see what might be faces. Unfortunately, they’re not easy to make out and it’s quite possible that I’m just seeing what I want to see. However, I’ll include them below and let you be the judge.

Ironically, the first face I discovered is actually the hardest one to see. In fact, I’m able to see it much better when I view the picture on my cell phone and almost couldn’t find it when I downloaded my pictures. I’m not even sure if my sister will be able to see it now when she was also able to make it out on my cell phone. I’ve tried a couple of tricks in Paint Shop Pro, but I won’t be surprised if no one can see the face considering how faint it is. For those of you keeping track, the photo was taken at St. James’ Cathedral:





The second face I found was in a picture I took at Mackenzie House. I had stood on my tiptoes to snap a shot of the gaslight over the fence because Shirley had said that people had managed to capture orbs circling around it before. As I was looking for orbs, I didn’t see it at first. When I did spot it, I was seriously creeped out. Can anyone else see a woman’s face or am I imagining it?:





The last two faces I found were in approximately the same spot in pictures I took of the Church of the Holy Trinity. If these are spirit faces, I believe it may be the same ghost in both pictures:







Ah, ghost walks. You’ve gotta love ’em…or at least humour those people who do… *g*



[1] Uncle G told me that St. James' was the original garrison church for the City of York. It's quite possible that Shirley told us this as well and I simply forgot. I'm getting old. It happens.

[2]
According to Uncle G, only four people are now buried in the crypt: Bishop Strachan, Dean Grassett and his wife, and Walter Gilling, Dean and Rector of St. James' Cathedral from 1961 to 1973.

[3]
In the same email, Uncle G also informed me that St. James' Cathedral is considered the Royal Church and the Royal Family attend services in the cathedral proper. Prince Edward was there in September.

[4]
Uncle G ROCKS! Check out the additional information he gave me: "Most of the remaining bodies are believed to be under the parking lot but some are also in St. James' Park. A number of the bodies were re-buried in St. James' Cemetary on Parliament Street although some went to Mount Pleasant Cemetary. St. James' is the oldest cemetary in Toronto and has a beautiful Victorian baroque chapel which is called St. James - The - Less."

Tags: canadian history, ghost walks, halloween, toronto
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