For this year’s annual Halloween ghost walk, I decided to go solo and not drag any friends along. I also decided to book with Muddy York Walking Tours instead of Tasty Tours because I had already gone on the ghost walk Shirley was offering a couple of years ago. And, while I knew I might be covering some of the same ground I had covered before, I thought Muddy York’s The Haunted Streets of Downtown Toronto should still be interesting.
This year’s ghost walk got off to a bit of a rocky start. Apparently, most of us gathered in the wrong spot, though, in our defence, we were exactly where we were told to be on the website. While sitting on the front steps of the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM), I had wondered why I’d seen a man in complete Victorian dress (Muddy York’s founder and main tour guide) walk past the large group that had started accumulating. Fortunately, he came back and directed us to the proper meeting place that was several feet away and in front of the McLaughlin Planetarium. Considering how many people were wearing costumes, I’m guessing we weren’t a hard bunch to miss. My personal favourite was the woman who dressed up as Charlie Chaplin’s Tramp. She had the hat, cane, little moustache, and even a puppy dog in tow. I chickened out of asking her for a picture, but I did take one of the puppy. Sadly, I never did catch his name.
Once names had been checked off and money had been collected, we were ready to go. Well…one group was ready to go. As some members of the tour were still waiting for absent friends, the second group had a delayed start. I’m happy to say that I was in the first group, so there was no waiting for me. In fact, as the McLaughlin Planetarium was our first stop, I didn’t have far to go to hear my first ghost story.
Our guide, Christine, began by telling us about a spirit that is said to haunt the ROM. Many people have seen the ghost of a man in a nightshirt walking the halls of the museum. This man is believed to be Charles T. Currelly, a past director of the ROM who was instrumental in forming the museum’s collection, especially many of the Egyptian acquisitions. Currelly was so dedicated to his job that he often worked into the wee hours of the night, going so far as to sleep in a cot in his office. Current museum staff members have sometimes heard music from the twenties or thirties while working late in their offices. However, when they step out of their offices to try to locate the music, they can no longer hear it. As Currelly was known to turn on the radio when he was working late, some have speculated that it’s his way of keeping other night owls company.
but I thought it looked really cool against that dark gothic sky
Although this might sound strange, the McLaughlin Planetarium is haunted as well. When the building still functioned as a planetarium, staff would see a little girl looking lost and confused. Thinking that she had been separated from her family or a school group, planetarium employees would immediately approach her to help. This is when the little girl would giggle and disappear…completely. When McLaughlin Planetarium became the Children’s Own Museum in the 1990s, the little girl wasn’t seen anymore. However, people knew she was still there because when staff would arrive in the morning, they would find toys scattered on the floor, as if someone had been playing with them during the night. In later years, the spirit of the little girl went through what our guide described as an “adolescent phase”. She would engage in such activities as ripping up papers. One woman, who used to keep her purse locked in her desk drawer, discovered one day that all of her credit cards had been cut up. While the Children’s Own Museum has closed, and the building isn't being used for anything at the moment, people apparently still see a little girl standing outside, as if beckoning people to go in.
From McLaughlin Planetarium, we proceeded to Queen’s Park, gathering by the statue of Edward VII. We learned that Edward VII opened Queen’s Park in 1860 when he was still the Prince of Wales. This led to a story about Lord Dufferin, the third Governor General of Canada. According to Christine, Lord Dufferin had a vision one night that would later save his life. He looked out his bedroom window and saw a man walking the long driveway leading to his house. This man was dragging what appeared to be a large coffin attached to a chain. Dufferin shouted for his servants and had the grounds searched, but no sign of the man could be found. Later, when Dufferin was the British Ambassador for France, he was in the Grand Hotel in Paris and had just entered the elevator with his assistant. Then, Dufferin suddenly grabbed his assistant by the arm and hauled him out of the elevator. The elevator ascended to the top floor before the cable snapped and it fell, killing all of the occupants inside. The shaken assistant asked Dufferin how he knew to get out of the elevator, and Dufferin explained that he recognized the elevator operator from his vision. He was the man who had been dragging the coffin, though obviously it wasn’t a coffin but an elevator being pulled by its broken cable.
I should probably point out that the story is purely urban legend according to Wikipedia and some of its sources. Still…it makes a great story!
After a short walk within Queen’s Park, we found ourselves looking at a large house across the street from where we were standing. Our guide informed us that this was Christie Mansion, once home to William Christie, founder of Mr. Christie Cookies. However, Christine’s story dealt with William Christie’s son, Robert, who later took over the business. Robert invited his mistress to live in the mansion, under the same roof as he and his wife. However, what the mistress didn’t realize was that she would never be able to leave. While she was given her own bedroom and bathroom, she was kept locked up, relying on the butler for meals. And, as Robert grew tired of his mistress, she was forced to spend more and more time completely alone. Eventually, she went mad, and one morning the butler found her hanging by the rafters in her bedroom. While no one is sure what happened to the mistress’ body, it is rumoured that Robert and the butler buried her somewhere in Queen’s Park.
Christie Mansion is now owned by St. Joseph’s College and serves as a women’s residence. From what Christine told us, some residents have found themselves trapped in what is believed to be the mistress’ bedroom. Then, just as mysteriously, the door can be opened again and the resident in question realizes that it was never locked in the first place. Christine used to believe that it was the ghost of the mistress who was responsible, but then someone pointed out that it could be the ghost of Robert Christie attempting to capture another lover.
At the Ontario Legislative Building, we heard a couple more spooky tales. We learned that the Ontario Legislative Building stands on the same spot where a women’s insane asylum once stood and was even been built using some of the same bricks. It is believed that two female ghosts seen on the grounds of the Ontario Legislative Building could have been previous inmates of the asylum. The first spirit has been witnessed in some detail and, yet, no one has been able to see her face. Whenever she is spotted, she thrusts her face into the crook of her arm and runs off, sobbing. The second spirit is often known as the grey lady and looks angry and stern, as if she resents being locked away in an asylum. However, even more frightening is the apparition that has been seen in the tunnel that runs from the Ontario Legislative Building to a block of government buildings across the street.
Christine explained to us that some ghosts choose to appear as they looked in the moment of death, which is what makes the tunnel apparition particularly scary. I’ve actually heard two versions of this story. In one, the ghost is hanging by the neck. In Christine’s version, the ghost is hanging against the wall, dripping with blood. What is particularly horrifying is that she won’t disappear if you close your eyes and open them again. You have to physically walk past her before she will fade. In the story about the hanging ghost, a woman who saw the apparition screamed, threw up the papers she was carrying, and ran back the way she had come, refusing to ever use the tunnel again. Christine told us about a woman on one of her tours who had been a page when she was in grade eight. This woman had to use the tunnel constantly, as she was expected to deliver things back and forth. On her first visit to the tunnel, she saw the ghost in question. After that, she would run down the tunnels, shielding her eyes with both hands, and would often bump into people, including government officials.
a picture because the name of the restaurant amused me
Here’s where my memory is a little hazy. I believe it was at this point that Christine informed us that we would have a 10-minute walk before we reached our next destination. I know we walked down McCaul, passing the Ontario College of Art & Design (OCAD) and a restaurant called Sin & Redemption. I was walking behind Charlie Chaplin and her friend most of the time and noticed that the puppy had to be carried during this stretch of the tour. I found myself gazing up at the CN Tower, as it kept changing colour with all of its different light displays. I was seriously tempted to take a picture, but it seemed like a silly thing to do considering that I wasn’t a tourist. *g* Anywaaaaaay, I believe our next location was Malabar (a.k.a. Malabar Limited, Theatrical Costume House & Dancewear Supplier).
that is supposedly haunted
Malabar is supposedly haunted by two ghosts. One is believed to be the spirit of a girl who used to attend the dance studio that once existed in the building. In what is now a storage room, the costumes hanging on racks have moved on their own, as if someone was walking among them. According to The Toronto and Ontario Ghosts and Hauntings Research Society, this ghost is a “white” lady that flits among the costumes. Her identity remains unknown whoever she is. Malabar’s second ghost is known as he was an employee who died in a tragic accident. This man was killed in the fifties when he stuck his head in the elevator shaft to see where the freight elevator was. The elevator came down on him unexpectedly and he was decapitated. Apparently, some people have seen the ghost of this man as he was after the accident, but it’s more common for people to experience fear and apprehension when inside or around the elevator. I visited Malabar on my 2007 Halloween ghost walk, though my group went to the back alley and saw the portion of the building where the freight elevator is located. Malabar certainly looked spooky from the back, though being in a dark alley that contained rats might have contributed to the creep factor.
It seems fitting that we walked past OCAD during our stroll down McCaul Street as the next ghost story was linked to the college. Two couples were hoping to find accommodation close to OCAD (or OCA as it would have been known then) and were delighted to find an apartment that was within such close walking distance of the college. However, it wasn’t long before strange and sinister things began to happen. One day, in the kitchen, Kathleen was about to take a sip of water when she heard a voice whisper, “Poison!” Worse still, there were times when Kathleen would be in the bathroom and what she saw in the mirror would change. The walls behind her would be splattered with blood, and there would be a deep gash across her throat. Whenever Kathleen reached up to touch her throat, she couldn’t find any sign of it being cut. When she would close and then open her eyes, the bathroom would have returned to its usual state. Kathleen wondered if the stress of school was starting to get to her or if she might be going mad. She confided to Patti about her fears, and, afterwards, Patti took Kathleen’s hands and told her that she had been having similar experiences herself. She had also heard a voice whisper in her ear when she had been in the kitchen. At night, she had felt a presence in her bedroom and was convinced that, if she opened her eyes, she would find someone only inches from her face. When this would happen, Patti would keep her eyes squeezed shut and wouldn’t sleep a wink for the rest of the night. When Murray came home that evening, Kathleen and Patti shared their stories with him, and then Murray confessed that he’d seen the spirit of a man standing by the bedroom window. In an attempt to get rid of him, Murray would shake the curtains, and the ghost would disappear. However, as soon as Murray got back into bed, the ghost would reappear.
By the time Bruce got home, he found himself being confronted by the others, who eagerly told him what had been happening to them. Although Bruce hadn’t experienced anything himself, he believed everyone’s stories. He could tell they weren't lying, and he’d seen the dog acting strangely in the front hall, barking at thin air. There and then, they all decided that they would move out of the apartment.
The neighbours told them that they would be sorry to see them go, and Murray asked them if they knew anything about the previous tenants. The neighbours said that the apartment had been previously rented by a sweet newlywed couple. They seemed to be getting on well in their new home, but, then, a few weeks after they moved in, the neighbours began to hear raised voices coming from the apartment. They would also see the husband out on the back deck, yelling and waving his arms as if he were fighting with someone, but there was no one there. As for the wife, the neighbours would see her glancing nervously over her shoulder when she left the apartment in the morning, making shooing motions as if someone were following closely behind her. Then, one day, the couple just vanished. No one saw them move out and no one knew what became of them.
Years later, Murray McLauchlan would write about the haunted apartment in his autobiography. Bruce Cockburn would also reminisce about their experiences, saying that no one should live behind The Queen Mother!
After standing in that dark alley, gazing at that freaky apartment, I was relieved to find myself at Osgoode Hall and on familiar ground. I had been to Osgoode Hall many times as I used to do research in the library for work. I had even been there on a ghost walk before, as it was something Shirley covered on our 2007 Halloween tour. All the same, Christine had a couple of stories I hadn’t heard before. She told us of the role Osgoode Hall played as a temporary barracks after the Rebellion of 1837. Although the Law Society of Upper Canada had their building returned to them (in more worse shape than when they’d left it), Osgoode Hall never entirely lost its military presence. People have seen the ghost of a soldier, with a grey uniform and brass buttons, walking the grounds with a young lady on his arm. Some have also claimed to hear the sound of marching boots on the cobblestones outside Osgoode Hall. I have to admit that I was more interested to learn that the cobblestones themselves had originally come from London, England and had been used as ballast on immigrant ships.
While I had heard about a ghost appearing by the library’s war memorial, I don’t remember hearing about any poltergeist activity. Apparently, books have been seen flying off the shelves. I’m guessing this must be something that happens at night. I know I never saw anything like that when I was in the library.
I should probably warn anyone who's squeamish that the next story is pretty gruesome, for, as we stood in front of the entrance of Old City Hall, Christine told us about the botched execution of Arthur Lucas, who, along with Ronald Turpin, was one of the last two men to be executed in Canada. Arthur Lucas had killed an undercover narcotics agent from Detroit and was tried at Old City Hall, along with Ronald Turpin, who had committed a separate murder. Both men were sentenced to hang as hanging was the only form of capital punishment ever used in Canada.
A person who was to be hanged was weighed and measured when entering the prison to determine the length of rope that would be required, etc. Unfortunately, Lucas had gained weight by the time of his execution, as he had been receiving three square meals a day. When the trapdoor fell, Lucas’ head was almost torn completely off his body, leaving Lucas essentially hanging by his spinal cord. Not surprisingly, this little detail was left off the death certificate, but the truth came out in 1986 when Cyrill Everitt published his autobiography. Everitt was the chaplain who administered the last rites and had witnessed the double execution in the Don Jail on December 11, 1962. What he saw that day haunted him for the rest of his life.
While Arthur Lucas and Ronald Turpin may not have been executed at Old City Hall, they were condemned to death in Courtroom 33. Perhaps it is for this reason that Courtroom 33 has experienced paranormal activity over the years. In the 1980s, Kathleen Kenna, a Toronto Star reporter and skeptic, decided that she would debunk the ghost stories by spending an entire night in Courtroom 33. Kenna had just set up her sleeping bag, and was about to turn out the lights, when she saw white mist forming in the corner of the room. She left Old City Hall immediately and wrote a sensational story about Courtroom 33 in The Star. With Kenna’s story and the information that was revealed through Everitt’s autobiography, Courtroom 33 became even more popular than ever. It became so popular, in fact, that the numbers of all the courtrooms had to be switched around so that no one would be able to find Courtroom 33 again.
Our last stop on the tour was Mackenzie House, one of the most haunted locations in Toronto. As we walked there from Old City Hall, I felt a mixture of nervousness and excitement. On last year's ghost walk, this was the same place where I had managed to catch what appears to be a ghost on camera...
As Christine told basically the same story as Shirley, I'm going to reproduce what I wrote about Mackenzie House last year. Uh, this has nothing to do with me being tired or lazy. No, not at all:
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.
Okay, I'll admit that while Christine was repeating this story, I was busy snapping pictures, hoping to catch something else paranormal on film. However, it just wasn't meant to be.
After Christine had wrapped up her final ghost story, she suggested that we spend some time looking at Mackenzie House and take some pictures (or more pictures in my case). Then we all thanked her for conducting such a great tour and headed off to our various subway stations, etc. Although I didn't have any personal experiences, or take any ghost pictures, I still had fun. Besides, the most important part of a ghost walk is the stories, and Christine certainly told some chilling tales!