By: Lauren Charley
When most people think of Toronto, they think of a culturally diverse and fast-paced metropolis filled with chaotic city traffic, lively entertainment, prosperous economic development, and a rich passion for arts and culture. Despite all the characteristics Toronto shares with other large cities, this world-renowned urban centre is also the site of a lesser-known, unique and haunted past. The dark secrets this place keeps disclosed are waiting to be shared with you by The Haunted Walk of Toronto.
What You Don’t Know About Toronto….
Toronto is the most populous city in Canada and the country’s cultural, entertainment and financial capital. Its reputation as one of the world’s most cosmopolitan hubs of activity has made it an attractive place for visitors, businesspeople, and residents. However, many of Toronto’s guests and locals are oblivious to the fact that they are in a place with a unique and haunted past. Its violent history and abnormal sightings of the unknown have led paranormal experts to believe that some of the city’s most active areas are the site of an abundance of supernatural activity.
The History of York and the City of Toronto
York was what the original name of “Old Toronto” used to be called since it was established by Governor John Graves Simcoe in 1793, until being given its current name, Toronto, in 1834. From the time of its recognition as Upper Canada’s capital, the city has endured participation in historical battles, revolutionary political scandals, and numerous instances of bloodthirsty murder; all of which have warranted suspicion that this tourist hot spot may in fact be haunted. The town began as an undeveloped area with unpaved roads and unsanitary living conditions where citizens often engaged in vulgar displays of public behaviour. All contributions considered, York was not a very salubrious place to live nor visit, and safety and security conditions at home and work were less than adequate.
The Upper Canada parliament buildings were burned to the ground by American soldiers during the War of 1812, who did a lot of looting, pillaging, and of course, killing during their invasion of the area. Additionally, Toronto later became the site of its own political turmoil during the “Rebellion of 1837”, when William Lyon Mackenzie led a group of reformers to march down Yonge Street with intent to attack the city. Many executions took place at the Don Jail over the course of its history, including the double hanging of Ronald Turpin and Arthur Lucas in 1962; the last before capital punishment was abolished in Canada. During an archaeological assessment in 2007, human remains were even found around the property.
[box type=”shadow” ]Don Jail
The Don Jail was one of Toronto’s former penitentiaries, situated East of the Don River in the Riverdale neighbourhood. The facility opened 1864, and features Italianate architecture and vermiculated columns, which create a sense of awe; it is one of the oldest pre-Confederation structures in Toronto that still remains in good condition. The architectural masterpiece closed in 1977 as an incarceration facility, and reopened in 2013 as the administrative building for the new Bridgepoint Hospital.
The building was once the site of many tragedies leading to a strong belief that the new hospital location is a hub for paranormal activity. There are many reported ghost sightings on the property, including the ghost of a prisoner who committed suicide in her cell and now wanders the halls, haunting those who innocently come to the infamous lockup. These supernatural incidents are unlikely to be reduced with the facility’s transformation, as about 20 percent of its heritage interior was preserved by the hospital. [/box]
The Tour Guides
The Haunted Walk tour guides are carefully selected from the best of Toronto’s roster of talented actors, story tellers, and amateur historians. The chosen candidates are mentored to become the perfect hosts, each delivering the passion and enthusiasm necessary to tell the tales of the haunted city centre. These dedicated hosts will provide the highest-quality service for guests seeking to enjoy an extraordinary excursion which is both educational and frightening, and are happy to elaborate and answer questions on the creepy stories…should you be brave enough to ask them!
The Haunted Walk was established in 1995 by the current owner, Glen Shackleton, one of the most renowned “ghost historians” in Canada. According to the Haunted Walk website, Glen started the company “with the intention of creating a job for himself where he could study local history, meet interesting people and convince total strangers to listen to all of the great stories he had gathered over the years.” Glen is the author of two books about ghost stories and paranormal activity; Ghosts of Kingston: From the Files of the Haunted Walk and Ghosts of Ottawa: From the Files of the Haunted Walk.
Types of Tours
Haunted Walk of Toronto operates two different tours, with special Halloween versions offered during the month of October until November 1st. All walks deliver an exciting presentation, revealing many surprises about the history and legends of the city’s haunted past.
Toronto’s Haunted Walk
The Toronto’s Haunted Walk tour is offered throughout the season until early October. For 90 minutes, participants are escorted along a surprisingly spooky walk in the downtown area of Toronto. Departing from the Hockey Hall of Fame the Haunted Walk guides narrate a history of the city from when it was the old military town of York to the urban centre it is today. The stories of Toronto’s haunted past are sure to shock those on the tour, as they hear the secrets of haunted theatres, public hangings, and encounters which have occurred in many of the city’s beautiful buildings, including the infamous Mackenzie House. After this experience, guests will have an entirely different outlook on the city they didn’t know was haunted!
Ghosts and Spirits of Old Town
If you’re looking for a different kind of thrill this autumn, Haunted Walk of Toronto offers their “Ghosts and Spirits of Old Town” tour up until late November. The 90 minute tour departs from the old Distillery Historic District, which was once a massive industrial site and eventually became the largest concentration of distilling in the world. Its history as a dangerous and unregulated production facility have led to many stories of unnerving accidents in the past and questionable supernatural instances which are still frequent today! “Stepping into the Distillery is like traveling back to another time and place. That is why it is so often used as a set by major film productions. The historical feel of the Distillery is the perfect complement for the darker history and spine-tingling tales we share every evening on the tours. There are twists, turns and surprises around every corner – just like the stories we love sharing,” says Jim Dean, Creative Director of Haunted Walk Inc.
Halloween Walks and Events
During the month of October, Haunted Walk of Toronto delivers two special versions of their regular tours. One is the “Fact or Fiction” Ghost and Spirits of Old Town tour, where in addition to the usual stories, the guides will throw in one fictional story and participants are asked to guess which is fake for a chance to win special prizes. The second is the “Mackenzie House Visit”, which is the usual Toronto’s Haunted Walk, with a chance to explore more thoroughly this notorious paranormal site.
[box type=”shadow” ]The Distillery Historic District
The Distillery Historic District is home to industrial buildings which comprise the largest and most well preserved collection of Victorian architecture in the city of Toronto. It was formerly the site of the Gooderham & Worts Distillery, which opened first as a small grist mill and began producing whiskey in 1837. Shortly after its inauguration, one of the owners, James Worts, endured a horrific personal loss when his wife and baby died during child birth in 1834. Heartbroken by the tragedy, Worts was rumoured to have committed suicide when his body was found two weeks later having drowned in the property’s well. Numerous reports have sighted what is thought to be his ghost wandering miserably through the property, pining in search of his lost family. Due to the hazardous working conditions of industrial workplaces during the majority of the facility’s operation, many souls were lost in terrible accidents, contributing to the belief that there is more than just Worts’ spirit who haunt the grounds. [/box]
Due to the high volume of interest in these unique events, the company recommends purchasing tickets in advance online at www.hauntedwalk.com/torontotours.php, or at their box office through the Segway of Ontario, located at 30 Gristmill Lane, Toronto, ON M5A 3C4.