It’s that time of year again… the leaves have fallen, pumpkin spice lattes are gracing the hands of basic Torontonians everywhere and most of us have already started our annual trolling of Pinterest for Halloween costume ideas.
Not to mention, it’s Friday the 13th today (eerie) and for the horror movie buffs like myself, you can expect to enjoy countless marathons of Halloween, Nightmare on Elm Street, Freddy vs. Jason, The Seed of Chucky and more. Basically, it’s the season for embracing all that is truly terrifying (aside from looking through bar photos from that night you drank way too much vodka).
And with the approach of Halloween, comes the onslaught of haunted activities. Legends of Horror at Casa Loma, late night tours through High Park, Fearfest… there is something for everyone (offering varying degrees of scare). But for the true aficionados of horror and hauntings, what does Toronto have to offer? After all, in a city as big and notable as ours, there has to be some seriously scary spots awaiting a visit from those who aren’t of the faint of heart.
1. Old City Hall
Considering this building dates back to the turn of the 20th century, I suppose it comes as no surprise that it’s rumoured to be one of the most haunted places in Toronto. Mysterious footsteps heard in deserted hallways, moans from empty holding cells in the basement, Judge’s robes being pulled — those are just some of the unexplained occurrences reportedly happening within this old, creepy building. The last two men sentenced to capital punishment in Toronto in 1962, Robert Turpin and Arthur Lucas (they were both convicted, separately, of murder but their lawyer believed they were innocent), are presumed to be the proprietors of the haunted activity. Want to see for yourself? Check out a local tour, like this one.
2. The Guild Inn
Even the name sounds creepy, doesn’t it? Like a bed and breakfast you definitely don’t want to stay in unless you’re okay with perhaps, never checking out…
The Inn was built on the top of the Scarborough Bluffs initially in 1914 to act as a summer home for Colonel Harold Bickford, but it was later transformed into a missionary college, museum, military hospital, a hotel and now remains abandoned. Loud noises at night, severe temperature drops, doors rattling, shadowed figures and sightings of a little boy (a young soldier with two different coloured eyes) are among the reports of paranormal activity frequently experienced at the Inn.
3. The Don Jail
This infamous jail was in operation from 1864 to 1977; although it’s initial construction was reportedly plagued with countless, suspicious setbacks, including the death of head architect William Thomas in 1860 and a fire in 1862 that required re-building the almost-completed jail. The fire remained unexplained, with theories ranging from arson to some workman who’d been careless during the construction. Once in operation, the jail eventually established a reputation of being a truly miserable place, largely due to severe overcrowding and subsequent dismal conditions. Prisoners were subject to mice and cockroach infestations, buckets (used in lieu of a bathroom) that were rarely emptied and cells that only measured 3 metres tall, 2.5 metres deep and 1 metre wide. At one point, the prison was said to house 691 prisoners (and only 275 jail cells) — almost three times capacity.
Further, during construction in 2007, skeletons of 15 inmates were discovered in the yard of the jail (15 of the 34 inmates that were hanged in the gallows before 1962). With all this history, it’s no surprise that countless ghost stories have been reported within the depths of the jail, which is now preserved by Bridgepoint Active Healthcare. There have been frequent sightings of an angry female inmate roaming the halls, who supposedly hanged herself in her cell one night and has haunted the jail ever since. Other (seemingly disgruntled) ghosts, cold spots and unexplained anxiety experienced by visitors are just a few of the haunted elements you can expect to experience if you’re brave enough to check out the Don Jail for yourself.
4. Colborne Lodge
This home-turned-museum and paranormal hot-spot was built back in 1836 by John and Jemima Howard. The story goes as follows: “John Howard brought in a number of doctors and nurses to care for his ailing wife. She had a lesion on her breast that ruptured. In his diaries, you can see the indication that things aren’t quite right (with Jemima). He says she spilled her milk and broke her glass on one of his paintings. He notes she’d run away on two different occasions and he had a difficult time finding her. Howard tried to have his wife committed to the “best” ward of the Provincial Lunatic Asylum, which he designed, at 999 Queen Street W., where CAMH (Centre for Addiction and Mental Health) now stands, but she wasn’t accepted. So, for her own safety, he decided to lock her in her bedroom and hired two live-in nurses to care for her. She was prescribed heavy, morphine-based medication.”
Jemima later died in that room, and rumour has it her presence has never left.
Visitors to the lodge or the surrounding grounds often recall the feeling of being watched or touched by an unseen force, the sighting of ghostly apparitions, curtains moving without a breeze (and more). The museum co-ordinator has gone on record saying, “It’s my understanding that hauntings are often associated with people who have had a difficult life or death or some sort of difficulty in their lives. Unresolved issues – that might be where this all started.” Ready for your own run-in with Jemima? Consider braving the High Park ghost walks set to begin October 19th.
5. Humber College Lakeshore Campus
Did you really think I wouldn’t include a former asylum on this list? Inspiring my own comparisons to (one of my favourite horror movies) Grave Encounters, the Lakeshore Campus grounds were previously home to the Mimico Insane Asylum. This asylum was built as a result of overcrowding at the Provincial Lunatic Asylum (now CAMH, and where John tried to send Jemima in the story above) and was soon known for barbaric practices, affairs and forcing patients to work for free and bury each other’s bodies in the hospital cemetery.
Apparently, ghosts have been seen in the underground tunnels across campus, including sounds of wailing and moaning heard by students. A construction worker even recounted a story about seeing a woman in a nursing outfit roaming the tunnels late at night. She had her back turned, and when he called out to her she turned around, revealing a blank mist where her face should have been.
6. The Keg Mansion
This one is pretty well-known, because what pairs better with steak and a glass of red than a ghost siting? According to local lore, the Keg Mansion was originally the Massey mansion built in 1867 (one of Canada’s most prominent families), where one of the family’s servants hanged herself in the front foyer. The frightening event took place after the Massey’s only daughter, Lillian, passed away. It’s believed that the maid hanged herself not just out of grief, but because Lillian Massey was actually protecting her from a dark secret getting out (the rumour is she was having an affair with one of the Massey men).
Dinner guests frequently report feeling as though they are being watched, hearing sounds of children’s footsteps upstairs where their rooms used to be and the stall doors in the women’s bathroom reportedly unlock by themselves.