For once, I actually did something on Halloween instead of just sitting at home stuffing my face with chocolate. No, this year I planned ahead and booked spots for my friend A and I on the Tasty Tours Phantoms, Players & Pundits Walk!
After grabbing a quick meal at the Eaton Centre, I met A in front of Old City Hall around 6:15. She kindly lent me the first season of Heroes and a container of cookies she had made in her baking class. As I have no shame or control, I immediately dug inside this treasure trove and pulled out a cookie. A informed me that the cookie I was wolfing down was her least favourite. As I thought the cookie was delicious, I could only imagine how yummy its brothers and sisters would be. Fortunately, our guide, Shirley, showed up before I could find out. She was wearing a Victorian gown, complete with gloves, a lace-trimmed hat, and ringlets. As we were beginning our walk at a building that was constructed in the 19th century, it somehow seemed appropriate.
Shirley started off the tour by sharing some fascinating facts about Old City Hall. Among the grotesques on the main entrance's centre arch, there are two faces that shouldn't be there: those of the architect, Edward James Lennox, and his wife. As Lennox wasn't allowed to leave his name on the cornerstone, he decided to find another way to immortalize himself. Lennox even inscribed his name, profession, and the date (E.J. LENNOX ARCHITECT A.D. 1898) on the corbels below the roof. Of course that's not the only interesting thing about Old City Hall. Apparently, one of the court rooms on the third floor is haunted, and security guards have heard moans from the old holding cells in the basement. However, one of the most disturbing parts of the building is probably the courtyard, which was once used as a hanging square.
It could have been my imagination, or the fact that I was heading to a place where public executions were held, but I felt a little apprehensive as I walked through the gates to the courtyard. However, as soon as you enter the courtyard, your eyes go straight to this beautiful stained glass window. At least A's eyes did, as she drew my attention to it immediately. As we all stood gawking at the courtyard, one of the cops on duty asked if we were on a ghost tour and made some sarcastic comment I can't remember. Shirley later said that he was probably new and would be singing a different tune when he had his first ghostly experience. Still, he was nice enough to let us stay in the courtyard, even though they were about to transport a criminal inside the building. In fact, the security van with the prisoner was sitting in the courtyard at the time, so we got even more bang for our loonie as we got to see a demonstration of how the steel gates come down to enclose the security van while they transport criminals to their hearings. While this was pretty cool, it was a little creepy as we would be trapped in the courtyard until the gates opened again. Luckily, Shirley had more than enough stories to keep us entertained.
Through one of the windows, we could see the railing of a wooden spiral staircase that is the favourite haunt of a mischievous spirit that likes the tug on the robes of new judges as they pass. Apparently, people on other tours have managed to capture certain things on film, so Shirley suggested that it was a good subject for digital cameras. I don't currently own a camera, but A brought hers, so it will be interesting to see if anything turns up in the pictures she snapped during the ghost walk.
When we had finished with stories and pictures, and the gates had opened, we left the courtyard. I didn't mention this to Shirley until after the tour, but I had felt kind of anxious inside the courtyard. Again, this could be attributed to the fact that I was trapped in an area where people used to be hanged, though I did feel a little relieved (and even lighter, as if a heaviness had been lifted) when we crossed at Bay and stood on the spot where Shea's Hippodrome used to be. What is now an underground parking garage was once Canada's largest theatre -- and one of the largest vaudeville theatres in the world. Unfortunately, it was demolished in 1957 in favour of the new City Hall, but its pipe organ now stands in Casa Loma. I don't think Shirley had any ghost stories about the place, but she pointed out that most theatres are haunted and speculated that the spirits of past performers might visit the place where they spent so many happy hours on the stage.
From the parking garage, we walked across Nathan Phillips Square to Osgoode Hall. On the other side of Nathan Phillips Square was this cobbled area where there used to be houses. Shirley told us that on one tour, the whole group had smelled pipe smoke, even though they could find no one around who was smoking a pipe. This led to one of the members of our own tour confessing that he thought he could smell pipe smoke in the Old City Hall courtyard. As none of the cops had been taking a cigarette break at the time (not that they would have been smoking a pipe), this was something none of us could explain. However, when Shirley offered us the choice between entering Osgoode Hall via the regular gate or the famous cow gate, we had no trouble reaching a consensus. As the famous cow gate sounded much more interesting than the boring regular gate, it seemed like a no brainer to us.
I had been looking forward to covering Osgoode Hall on the ghost walk because I used to do research in the Great Library on a regular basis when I still worked downtown. After entering through the famous cow gate, we soon found ourselves standing in front of this wonderful old mahogany door that I couldn't remember seeing before -- probably because I usually entered Osgoode Hall through the main doors after going through the regular gate. Anyway, apparently Charles Dickens himself would have seen this mahogany door because he visited Osgoode Hall when he was in Toronto. Shirley had also chosen an interesting place for us to stand because someone on a previous ghost tour had taken a picture of the lantern behind us, and this large red orb could be seen shooting out from it. On another tour, Shirley had been with three Wiccan women, and they had all felt this energy go straight through them. One of the two guys on the tour (the one who smelt pipe smoke) said that he once felt something go through him when he was in a cemetery in Southern France. However, this energy had made him feel warm and had moved very slowly. Then, the other guy on the tour suggested that it was like a "pee shiver" and his friend nodded and laughed. The rest of us stared at them because a) we couldn't believe he had just said that and b) we didn't really get the reference as it was obviously a male thing. Shirley asked the guy to repeat the phrase and then declined any further explanation. By this point we were all killing ourselves laughing, and "pee shiver" became a running joke through the rest of the ghost walk.
The most interesting Osgoode Hall story for me was the one that took place in the Great Library because I'd been there and could picture exactly what Shirley was talking about. In this particular tale, the library was closing and the staff was trying to herd everyone out. One librarian saw a young man standing in front of the World War One Memorial. When she went to approach him, he walked through both the memorial and the wall then disappeared. Shirley said there used to be a corridor behind the memorial. She also wonders if this might have been the spirit of a former student who was killed in WWI. In another ghostly experience, some security guards were standing outside Osgoode Hall drinking coffee when the apparitions of soldiers appeared, pointing rifles at them. Shirley thinks these might have been the ghosts of soldiers from Fort York, who had been posted at Osgoode Hall as a precaution during the Upper Canada Rebellion.
Our next stop was Campbell House, which has had its fair share of hauntings despite the fact that it was moved from its original location on Adelaide Street East to Queen and University. The curator was working late one night in her office on the top floor of the building. She left the office briefly, leaving the window open. However, when she returned, the window had been shut and locked. Shirley thinks it could have been the spirit of a servant who would have gone around the house securing the windows. This servant might have even slept in the room the curator was using as an office and was closing the window before going to bed. Shirley had her own paranormal experience at Campbell House. It was during another Halloween walk, and her group was made up mostly of little boys, as it was a birthday party. She and all the boys felt an energy pass through them. The boys screamed and took off, but Shirley managed to outrun them despite her long skirt and train.
I think we were all tempted to bolt when this guy wearing a monk's robe, and some kind of skeletal creature on his shoulder, appeared and stood there, leering at us. Shirley, who has probably had to deal with all kinds of weirdos during her walks, told him calmly, but forcefully, that this was a private ghost tour, and the guy thankfully left.
Speaking of costumes, we next visited Malabar's, a famous costume store. Despite the hour, it seemed strange to see a costume store closed on Halloween. However, it was the back of the store that Shirley wanted to speak about, so, after receiving a warning about rats the size of cats, we headed down this dark alley to hear another story. This one involved a tragic accident from the fifties. An employee was killed when the cable of the freight elevator snapped and the elevator plummeted to the basement. Many employees apparently refuse to use this elevator because they believe it's cursed and have even felt a presence inside. Ironically, while Shirley was telling this story, a Malabar's employee walked through the back door to take out the garbage. Shirley asked her if she ever used the freight elevator, and the woman said that she did. When Shirley asked her if she ever felt anything weird when she was inside the elevator, the woman said no and went back inside. Nevertheless, Shirley informed us that people have gotten a weird vibe off Malabar's and have even identified the place where they felt it (e.g. the part of the building holding the freight elevator) before Shirley told them the story. I know the building creeped me out, but I think that had more to do with the fact that it contained a death trap than anything else. And, yes, bakerybard (if you're reading this), I know I shouldn't talk considering the elevators in my own building. *g*
As Shirley could see that we were all half-frozen, she took us to a Second Cup to warm up and partake of some refreshments. As part of the tour package, we each received a very welcome hot chocolate (with or without whipped cream) and a rather large and delicious cookie. I'm not sure how we managed it, but A and I ended up at the front of the line, so we got served first and were happily sitting in the back while other people were still lining up. We were soon joined by a woman who had come on her own. I had started talking to her in the alley behind Malabar's because I felt bad seeing her all alone. As it turns out, she had gone on Shirley's Yorkville walk the night before and was thinking of trying one of the food tours next.
I believe our next major stop on the tour was the Mink Nightclub. Before we got there, Shirley asked if anyone remembered Studebakers, and we all stared at her blankly. She then lamented that she was really showing her age and informed us that the Mink Nightclub used to be called Studebakers because there was a Studebaker inside that everyone danced around. However, when we arrived, the nightclub was a film set. I don't know what they were filming, but they had an emergency task force van and actors dressed in special ops uniforms. I think if I had been the tour guide, I would have been tempted to turn back, but Shirley talked to a member of the crew, and we were allowed to go through as they hadn't started filming yet.
Earlier, we had heard about a ghost who appeared in the nightclub during its seventies retro period. As the ghost was wearing seventies clothes himself, he had blended in, though the bouncers had heard him say that the place was different now. When they went to escort this man out of the nightclub (as it was closing time), he had completely disappeared and they couldn't find him anywhere. In the bright lights of the film set, Shirley talked about the Royal Alexandra Theatre as we were standing behind it. I'm ashamed to confess that I must have been so wowed by the film set, that I've forgotten what her story was. I know that the windows you can see on the outside aren't visible from the inside because false walls have been erected to block them, so there's that interesting piece of trivia if nothing else.
I thought it was strange when Shirley announced that we would be visiting Tim Horton's next, but then she told us that it hadn't always been a Tim Horton's, and that we should probably think about what really goes into Timbits. As I first heard that joke years ago (with Tim Horton himself being the answer), I tried not to roll my eyes. However, I was taken by surprise when I saw the historical plaque and read that the building used to be the site of Toronto General Hospital, the first hospital built in the city back in 1817. Because of its age and original purpose, Shirley was convinced that there were probably some spirits attached to the building. She said that wounded soldiers would have been dropped off there as it was en route to Fort York.
Another building on the road to Fort York is the Duke of Argyle Pub, another old site that is definitely haunted. Shirley knows a woman who fled from the washroom because she had felt a presence, despite being completely alone. The pee shiver guy had been to the pub before, but he hadn't had any paranormal experiences -- just really good food and beer.
After taking a short cut through the Sheraton Centre, we ended up back at Old City Hall. Before we disbanded, Shirley asked if anyone would be travelling north on the Yonge line. A, that lone woman, and I all raised our hands. Shirley then told this story about TTC workers hearing strange chanting when they were working in the tunnels at York Mills Station. One of the workers, who was part Iroquois, recognized the chant as a Native death ritual. York Mills Station is in the Hogs Hollow area and probably saw battles between different tribes, not to mention flooding that would have washed away graves and disturbed bodies. Poor A was the only one of us going that far north, though I pass through the station when I go to and from work every day. However, I didn't hear chanting of any kind the following morning.
After everyone else left, A, our new friend, and I stayed behind for a bit to talk to Shirley. We discussed the tour with her and said how much we'd enjoyed it. A admitted to Shirley that it had been her first ghost walk, so she hadn't been sure what to expect. However, she hadn't been disappointed. I had spoken to A earlier, and she had been impressed by how many new things she was learning about Toronto and its history. A did regret the fact that she hadn't sensed anything, but Shirley explained that everyone experiences these things in different ways and not everyone picks up the same things at the same time. I still don't know if the anxiety I felt in the hanging square was due to spirits, or my own fears about being in a haunted location where people were executed. I suspect it was probably the latter.
Eventually, Shirley removed her gown, and the rest of the Victorian apparel, to reveal modern clothes. She had a long bicycle ride ahead of her and wasn't prepared to do it in a long skirt. So, as Shirley shed the last vestiges of another age, the three of us parted from our tour guide and walked to Queen Station to catch the subway home.
Halloween Ghost Walk Photo Album