REWIND: Haunted Toronto

- October 30th, 2012

UPDATE: Here’s the third of three Halloween blog posts I wrote in October 2009.

 

Toronto is full of haunted places — both public buildings and private homes.

Now I personally don’t believe in ghosts — yet I’ve seen two of them.

I know that sounds contradictory, but reality is contradictory.

I don’t believe in ghosts because I have yet to see a satisfactory explanation of how they can exist. But just because I don’t understand something doesn’t mean I dismiss it or that it doesn’t exist: The universe is big and complicated; I am small and simple. Many things can exist between those two co-axials.

The first ghost I saw was long ago, when I was a child, and I don’t remember the specifics. But I remember clearly and deeply in my soul that I saw a presence in my immediate vicinity that didn’t exist in the physical world.

The second ghost I saw was about a decade ago in the last house I lived in  a house I once lived in (I won’t mention the address because I’m not sure the current owners know they have a co-habitant — or would want to deal with the knowledge).

I had finished a late shift at work and was watching television in the basement TV room about 3-4 a.m.

I felt a presence to my left and looked over. By the laundry/furnace room door there was the very thin, wispy white image of an older woman hovering about a foot off the floor and looking at me — not staring, not glaring, just looking.

We made eye contact for 2-3 seconds and then, like a cat breaking interaction with a human, she scudded up the stairs and out of sight.

She was a very benign ghost, not territorial or threatening or even wanting to make her presence known. I felt rather like we had just stumbled across each other by accident, acknowledged each other’s presence and gone our separate ways.

That house was built in the 1920s and I know its history (as I know the history of every house I’ve lived in — I think that’s spiritually important, but that’s just me. I don’t think I’d ever like to live in a new house unless I built it myself) — and I know at least two women died in that house.

To balance that, I have to tell you I saw a cow wandering down Pharmacy Avenue this summer. When I got closer, it turned out to be a fat cyclist on a bicycle with saddle bags.

So I don’t know. The ghost I saw a decade ago may have been a tired, overworked brain connecting the dots between ciphers of dust in the air. I will accept that as a possibility. But I will also accept as a possibility that I saw a ghost I can’t explain. I’m old enough and humble enough to accept that I may not know every secret of the universe before I die.

(By the way, I don’t understand CDs — or even Edison’s wax-cylinder sound recordings — either, so just because I don’t understand something is no evidence it doesn’t exist.)

Back to haunted Toronto, I’m going to tell you about a few of the more prominent haunted public places around the city.

Then I’ll give you the online address of a very good site that tracks both public and private haunting locales throughout this big city.

So here we go:

Gibraltar Point Lighthouse
Hanlon’s Point, Toronto Islands

Personally, this is the place I get the spookiest vibes from in all of Toronto (although I haven’t been inside the old Don Jail —the much-ballyhooed tours this summer were shut down before they got started. A pity).

The lighthouse was built 1803-09 at the entrance to Toronto Harbour, across the water from Fort York. It is taller now than the original structure and stands inland, but only because the forces of nature have built up the land around it; originally the lighthouse was on the water’s edge.

The original lighthouse keeper was Johan Rademuller (or Radan Muller), German by birth and a former member of the royal Hanoverian (German) household in England before he emigrated to Canada to start a German school in Toronto.

The school failed (most of the German settlers — and there were a lot of them in the early 1800s, far more than English — were living up around Markham and Holland Marsh but Johan wouldn’t move out of T.O., the silly sod). Because of his royal connection, the self-impoverished Johan was appointed lighthouse keeper.

Since the lighthouse only required attending at night, Johan spent his days brewing beer and selling it to the troops stationed at Fort York, a short paddle across the harbour mouth.

Just after the New Year in 1815, that led to the death of Johan Rademuller (or Radan Muller).

Johan was murdered on Jan. 2, 1815, by three drunken soldiers from the Fort York garrison. The three were charged with murder but not convicted — because Johan’s body was never found.

I could never understand what caused the murder until a month ago — when I learned Rademuller (or Radan Muller) was watering his beer: The soldiers’ tankards developed a crust of ice in the January cold and they realized they were being shortchanged.

So enraged, drunken soldiers murdered the lighthouse keeper. They either chopped up his body and buried the pieces or threw it into the raging winter lake. I favour the latter theory.

In any case, the lighthouse keeper’s body was never found and there have been continuous reports over the last two centuries of an apparition wandering around the lighthouse, supposedly the chopped-up Rademuller ( Radan Muller) looking for his lost limbs. That’s what the official plaque on the lighthouse says (in more diplomatic language) anyway.

I’ve never seen the ghost, but in the times I’ve been around the lighthouse in recent years, I’ve been uncomfortable and only too willing to move away.

 

Keg Mansion (Now called Mansion Keg)

515 Jarvis St. at Wellesley

The Mansion has been a Toronto steak house since the 1960s, and part of The Keg restaurant chain since the 1970s, but long before that it was the fabled residence of Hart Massey, scion of the Massey-Harris/Ferguson farm implement empire and one of the richest men in Canada.

From the late 1800s to the mid 1900s, Massey Ferguson was the largest employer in Toronto, and Hart Massey was a major benefactor of the city, paying for everything from Massey Hall to the Fred Victor Mission to Hart House at U of T.

But the Massey family had many personal tragedies and many of them happened at Hart’s Jarvis Street mansion — including the death of daughter Lillian in a second-floor bedroom of the mansion. Her ghost is sometimes encountered in the second-floor women’s washroom of the Keg Mansion.

There are also reports of children’s footsteps heard running up and down stairs, but the creepiest apparition of all is the Hanging Maid. The appearance of the maid’s body is supposedly sometimes seen in the central foyer of the mansion.

She apparently committed suicide by hanging herself out of grief either because of the death of Lillian or because she was impregnated by one of the Massey boys and could not bear the shame. The latter seems more likely to me, but it’s all legend anyway.

Mackenzie House
82 Bond St.

When journalist/revolutionary William Lyon Mackenzie was allowed to return from exile in the U.S. after his failed Upper Canada Rebellion of 1837, his followers bought him a house on Toronto’s Bond Street in which to live out his final years.

Mackenzie died in 1861 of an apoplectic fit (it was a stroke, but I much prefer the “apoplectic fit” designation of the time. I want my obituary to read “apoplectic fit” not “stroke”).

Now his final home is a museum and includes one of his printing presses. Legend has it that the press is heard clattering at odd times of day and night. A piano in the parlour is also heard playing on occasion.

But a guy I knew in high school (Don Mills Collegiate, Class of 1969) was terrified of Mackenzie House because of a childhood incident. On an elementary school trip to the museum, the kid encountered a snarling, enraged female spectre on a staircase that sent him fleeing.

Granted, I was told this story in the period of the late ‘60s-early ‘70s when pharmacological enhancements often distorted reality. So it was a good stoner story, but the guy was clearly still deeply traumatized by an incident that had occurred long before he encountered mind-altering drugs.

Winter Garden/Elgin Theatre
Yonge Street north of Queen Street

The beautifully restored Winter Garden Theatre is said to be the home of a wandering spirit named Sam, once a saxophonist in the house band of the 1920s who accidentally fell into the orchestra pit and died. Sam still wanders the Winter Garden at odd hours and plays his sax … supposedly. I’ve never met anyone who actually encountered Sam and it sounds to me like a made-up story.

Old City Hall
Queen Street at Bay

I know ghosts walk the halls of the Old City Hall courthouse. I’ve heard too many stories from reporters who had to wait there alone late into the night for jury decisions.

Once the real city hall, Old City Hall has been a courthouse for more than half a century.

The stories include moans from the basement holding cells, the sound of footsteps in hallways where no one could possibly be, to strange doings in Court Room 33 (hmmm, 33 x 2 = 66) where the last two men executed in Canada were condemned to death.

There are dozens and dozens more haunted sites throughout Toronto.

One of the best ways to pursue this line of inquiry is through the Toronto and Ontario Ghosts and Hauntings Research Society website . (NOTE: This website has changed a bit since I wrote this piece but it is still a good gateway to information on spooky, creepy and unexplained things in Toronto and vicinity.)

Go to the left sidebar of their home page and call up “The City of Toronto.” You will then be able to delve into local areas with listings for both public and private haunted sites.

Good luck and good hunting. And Happy Halloween.

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