Beautiful and Haunted: Toronto’s Ghost Stories III.

In our third installment of haunted places in Toronto, we delve into the more public buildings in the city that have stood tall and proud despite having some very gruesome roots. Let's dig right in by taking you back in time through history to the War of 1812 ...

Fort York (100 Garrison Road)

This is an historic site of military fortifications and buildings that were constructed by the British Army and Canadian militia troops in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. The site was primarily used to defend the settlement and new capital of the Upper Canada region of York, namely from the newly independent United States. Fort York was first designated a National Historic Site of Canada in 1923 and then named a Heritage Conservation District by the City of Toronto in nineteen eighty-five.

fort york 1
Fort York in Winter

The Fort was destroyed in the Battle of York (1813). On April twenty-seventh, the combined U.S. army and naval forces attacked York from Lake Ontario, overrunning the entire fortification. After the resolution of the War of 1812, the Canadian Royal Engineers rebuilt Fort York. Although the site's original buildings had been made entirely from wood, the new structures were built from a mixture of both wood and brick.

Fort York was used as a military establishment until 1880 and again during both World Wars. The site is currently operated by the City of Toronto as a museum that welcomes locals, tourists, and small and large groups throughout the entire year. As far as ghostly sightings go, a woman is often seen walking around the officers' quarters as well as a red-coated guard who is seen both in the barracks and near the Fort's entrance.

"People fought and died on the very grounds we are at, some of these poor unfortunate souls met very untimely and very disturbing ends,"

says Ewan Wardle, a program officer at the Fort York National Historic Site.

Old City Hall (60 Queen Street West)

This massive Romanesque Revival structure was designed by famed Canadian architect Edward James (E.J.) Lennox and opened in eighteen ninety-nine. It was originally home to Toronto's city council from 1899 to 1966 and was designated a National Historic Site of Canada in nineteen eighty-four. Upon its opening, it was considered to be the largest civic building in North America and it took longer than ten years to build at a significant cost of more than $2.5 million. The site became a dedicated courthouse in the 1960s once a new, larger, more modern city hall was erected just across the street.

old city hall
Looking north on Bay Street 1929 by William James

The building's rear staircase is the supposed dwelling place of a ghost that is said to playfully grab onto the robes of unsuspecting judges who are passing through its hallways. The ghost also walks the staircase at all hours of the day and night, frightening visitors by the loud sounds of its footsteps. The building's cellar was originally used as a holding area for prisoners and their moaning can still be heard to this day if you're standing within the vicinity of that room. Also, the Northwest attic is said to contain a ghostly presence but no one is sure who or what it is. People who have been in the attic claim they are often suddenly overcome with a peculiar 'feeling.'

Perhaps the most active room in Old City Hall is Courtroom 33 which is believed to be haunted by the spirits of the last men condemned to hang in Canada. Because this is said to be the most haunted room in the building, many paranormal researchers and journalists have attempted to spend the night in this room every Halloween, as a tradition, of course! According to John Robert Colombo's Haunted Toronto, one group of reporters managed to make it through the night only to abandon their mission prematurely at 4:00 AM claiming they witnessed "cool fogs" and heard weird noises that left them "glued to the floor."

Toronto Old City Hall Lights
Toronto Old City Hall Lights by Toronto History

The Old Don Jail (550 Gerrard Street East)

Officially known as the Toronto Jail, construction on this building was completed in 1864 and was used to house remanded offenders. It has since been renovated to serve as the administrative sector of Bridgepoint Health, a rehabilitation hospital located next to the jail. Designed by William Thomas in 1852 it is one of the oldest pre-Confederation structures that remain intact in Toronto. A modern east wing was constructed in 1958 to house an additional two hundred and seventy-six prisoners. By the end of its service, the jail's average prisoner load was a whopping six hundred and twenty! The jail justifiably developed a reputation for overcrowding and was closed in nineteen seventy-seven.

don jail
Don Jail in the 1860's

Before capital punishment was abolished in Canada, the jail was the site of quite a number of hangings with the building's first execution taking place in January nineteen hundred and eight. The jail's most famous ghost is that of a former female prisoner who hanged herself in her tiny cell. She is said to float around the building's main rotunda and is believed to be a very angry spirit due to her frequent outbursts and screams. Visitors have claimed to have experienced heightened emotional feelings within the confines of the jail that are otherwise completely unlike them. Many of these visitors have either completely shut down emotionally whilst in the building or have burst into tears for no apparent reason at all.

National Museum of Crime and Punishmen  Hangman Rope from Don Jail 1915 2869481808
National Museum of Crime and Punishment  Hangman Rope from Don Jail 1915 by David

In 2007, during an archaeological assessment, human remains were found on the jail's grounds.

"Five bodies were found in the parking lot behind the Don Jail [...] I was at the jail the day after the graves were covered up,"

reveals an anonymous reader submission at The Toronto & Ontario Ghosts and Hauntings Research Society.

"I don't know if the discovery of the graves stirred things up but I tend to agree that such an emotionally-charged building would somehow contain some of that energy. I have never had such a strong emotional feeling come over me as happened at the jail."

The Guild Inn (201 Guildwood Parkway)

This charming Arts & Crafts-style manor house sits atop the picturesque Scarborough Bluffs and was originally built for Colonel Harold Bickford back in nineteen fourteen. Only a few years later, in 1921, the property was sold to the Roman Catholic Church's Foreign Mission Society and was renamed the China Mission College. That particular reincarnation of the home didn't last long and in 1932 the home was sold to Rosa Breithaupt Hewetson who was very passionate about the Arts. Hewetson turned her new home into a museum of sorts and the building then became known as The Guild Of All Arts. World War Two struck soon after the manor was re-christened for the second time and it was generously made available to the military by the Hewetson family. The Guild was used as a training facility for the women's Naval Service and as a hospital for disabled veterans.

Guild Inn

Decades later, by the mid-1960s, the Guild was transformed into a bustling, popular resort for locals and tourists alike. It became so popular, in fact, that in 1965 a one hundred-room extension was added onto the original structure as well as a brand new swimming pool. As Scarborough developed into a more urban area, The Guild Inn's popularity declined and the hotel was eventually forced to shut down in two thousand and one. Twelve years later, in 2013, the lands and park surrounding the building began to show visible signs of decay and neglect.

guild inn 2

As far as paranormal activity goes, The Guild Inn has developed a curious reputation for being one of the most haunted buildings in Ontario. Researchers and journalists who have deigned to stay overnight at the shuttered hotel have reported hearing loud noises followed by a series of vibrations that can be felt along the walls and underfoot, on the floor. Temperature fluctuations that occur from one room to another have also been widely reported. Finally, a ghostly figure has been seen in the basement of the Inn, hunched over in one of its corners. It then rights itself, walks away, and disappears into the basement hallway.

"This will remain one of the most disturbing abandoned places I have ever visited,"

says Jonathan Castellino, writer for blogTO who spent one chill-inducing night at The Guild Inn.

"My one night stand with The Guild Inn solidifies in my mind precisely why these places are so intriguing and mysterious."

The Royal York Hotel (100 Front Street West)

Also known as the Fairmont Royal York, this prestigious hotel first opened in June 1929, was designed by Ross + Macdonald and was built by the Canadian Pacific Railway across from the city's bustling Union Station. Before the Royal York was built, there were two previous hotels that sat upon this site in downtown Toronto.

Queens Hotel Front Street Toronto
Queens Hotel Front Street Toronto

At the time of the hotel's opening, it was hailed as a state-of-the-art hotel featuring ten elevators, a radio in each room, and a private bath for each of its guests. The structure was eventually made bigger between 1956 and 1957, and once construction was complete, the Royal York boasted 1,600 rooms earning the title of biggest hotel in the Commonwealth. It is worth noting that when Her Majesty the Queen and/or members of her family come to Toronto, they choose to reside at the Royal York. An entire floor of the hotel is reserved especially for them and the Queen occupies what is known as the Royal Suite.

In his book Mysteries of Ontario, author John Robert Colombo says that the spirit of an older gentleman with grey hair haunts the eighth floor of the hotel. He roams the halls at night often scaring guests and staff. Also, it is believed that a former employee who hung himself there haunts one of the staircases leading up to the roof of the building. Members of the hotel's maintenance staff have said that they heard someone screaming in that area as well as loud footsteps echoing through the halls. When they had gone to investigate, they never found anyone there.

fairmont royal york
Fairmont Royal York by David Huang

The immense Crystal Ballroom is housed in the hotel's penthouse but it's been closed for years due to its not meeting fire code regulations. The building's service elevator is said to make frequent trips to the ballroom despite anyone actually pressing the button for that particular floor. Chandeliers in the ballroom have been known to shake on their own and guests of the hotel who reside in the suites directly below complain of hearing loud music playing and boisterous talking coming out of that space.

"I've stayed at the Royal York a couple of times in the past and each time I've been there I've witnessed something peculiar,"

relates Sonia, a mother of two young girls.

"I definitely saw something that resembled a ghost in the hallway as I was making my way to my room one evening but didn't think much of it until the next morning when one of my work colleagues told me the hotel was supposedly haunted! Can you imagine how scared I was?! I'm not one to believe in ghosts, but I'm sure I spotted something that night."

And there you have it! Another frightful installment of our Haunted Toronto series. If you're especially brave and curious, it may be worth your while to check out one – or all – of the places we profiled in this post and let us know if these tales of ghostly hauntings ring true. Let us know in the comments section down below if you have any stories of your own that you might like to share with us! We love a good ghost story!

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One comment on “Beautiful and Haunted: Toronto’s Ghost Stories III.

  1. This reminds me of an Aberdeen ghost, known as Captain Beaton of the Gordon Highlanders, who hanged himself in 1915 from the south turret in the King Street bus depot, then known as the King Street Militia Barracks. A remnant of the rope with which he hanged himself can still be seen suspended from the roof inside the turret, and his ghost continues to haunt the building. The full story can be found in “The Haunted North” by Graeme Milne.

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