114 Spooky Stories: Haunted Histories From Above and Beyond
The 114 Stories / 114 Storeys exhibit showcases our city’s diverse cultures and communities through stories and images of famous Toronto sites, visible from the CN Tower's observation levels. In the spirit of Halloween, the CN Tower and The Haunted Walk of Toronto partnered to share some of the city’s spookiest stories, set against the backdrop of some of Toronto’s best-known haunts.
The Fairmont Royal York
The Canadian Pacific Railway had big dreams when it opened the Fairmont Royal York Hotel in 1929. The luxury hotel was the tallest building in the British Commonwealth, and aimed to attract the rich and famous for a stay.
One guest in recent years, a writer, chose the hotel as the subject for his book. The research involved living in the hotel for a year. Over his time there, he came to realize he may not have been the only resident. One night, he woke up to the sound of children laughing and running up and down the hallway. When he looked to see what was going on, the hallway was empty.
When he told the doorman this story, he learned that unseen children were a common story from guests of the hotel. He also learned that they weren’t the only ghosts in the building. Another regularly reported spirit is seen "floating around" the hotel. Those who have seen him say they only see the upper body, and that the apparition has no legs. The top floors of the hotel, where he is often seen, house only electrical equipment and maintenance rooms. There is no public access to this area, and it is under video surveillance. Workers near the staircase leading up to the roof have heard footsteps and screaming, but security videos showed no sign of anyone else in the area.
The Canadian National Exhibition (or CNE) has been around since 1879, but the grounds themselves have a longer and more bloody history. The eastern part of the site was a battlefield that saw action when Americans attacked York in 1813.
While the soldiers who fought there are long gone, some say their spirits are not, and they’re in good company. The General Services building is known to be haunted by a few spirits. A woman in a long dress and a big hat has been spotted by numerous employees, accompanied by a giggling little girl. The giggles echo throughout the hallways. The other ghost is thought to be that of a long-departed security guard who may be continuing his patrol, checking doors and turning off lights as he wanders.
Historic photos of the CNE from Digital Archive Ontario
Toronto Islands – The Gibraltar Point Lighthouse
In the early 1800s, the Toronto waterfront looked different than it does today. The Toronto Islands were a peninsula, connected to the mainland. Soldiers from Fort York would often walk over from their blockhouse on the mainland to the Gibraltar Point Lighthouse, which still stands on Ward’s Island.
The first lighthouse keeper was a man named John Paul Radelmüller, who quickly became well-known among soldiers for his bootleg beer. Local legend has it that one night in 1815, Radelmüller was visited by two men. There are different stories about what took place when these two men knocked on Radelmüller's door, but one thing is certain, the keeper was attacked and killed. They were arrested but never convicted because Radelmüller’s body was never found.
Stories began to circulate of a ghost-like man seen walking up the long staircase to the beacon of the lighthouse or desperately searching around outside the building. Many believed it was Radelmüller searching for his lost body parts. In the late 1800s, the new lighthouse keeper, George Durnan, uncovered a jawbone. The mystery of his murder may have been solved, but reports continue that the spirit of Radelmüller can still be seen late at night patrolling the grounds of the lighthouse.
Historic photos of the Gibraltar Point lighthouse from Digital Archive Ontario
This CBC recording from 1958 tells the story of Mr. Radelmüller.
The Gooderham and Worts Distillery began in 1837 when English emigrant James Worts and his brother-in-law William Gooderham expanded their flour mill near Toronto’s waterfront to include a distillery. James Worts unfortunately didn't live to see the boom years of his business. Only three years after arriving, his wife and child died in childbirth. One morning not long after, Worts' body was found at the bottom of a well which once stood on the site. No one knows for sure what happened, but since his tragic death, many believe that Worts never left the business he started.
Over the years, there have been numerous sightings of a spirit on the streets of the Distillery District. When the site was undergoing renovations to open to the public, the workers would often report seeing the shadowy figure of a man wandering the grounds as they worked up on the roofs. These sightings were usually very early in the morning when there were few people around. Numerous businesses throughout the area have told tales of employees noticing a man standing at the window of their shops in old-fashioned clothing. Whenever they would look again, no one was there. Perhaps the spirit is that of James Worts, continuing to oversee work in his distillery even after his death. The site has produced so many ghost stories over the years that there is now a Haunted Walk tour focusing solely on the spirits of the Distillery District.
Historic photos of the Gooderham and Worts Distillery from Digital Archive Ontario
The Royal Ontario Museum (ROM)
The Royal Ontario Museum opened in March of 1914. The first curator was Charles Currelly, an archaeologist in the Middle East. He loved his work at the museum, and was known to work late into the night, long after everyone else went home. He always turned on his radio to keep him company in the empty museum. He even kept a cot in his office so that he could simply change into a nightshirt instead of bothering to go home for the evening. He carried on this tradition until his retirement in 1946.
Following his death ten years later, other employees of the Royal Ontario Museum began to suspect that Currelly may have returned to haunt his favourite place. Many people have spotted the figure of a man wandering the hallways, often seen in an old nightshirt. Those who have seen him say he looks just like pictures of Currelly. Staff working late at night in their offices have reported the sound of vintage music, from the 1920s or 1930s, playing off in the distance. When they wander out into the dark halls of the museum to find the source, they find the music has stopped, and they are alone.
Historic photos of the ROM from Digital Archive Ontario
Fort York was among the first British settlements in what was then known as Muddy York, and many of its buildings date to 1793. During the War of 1812, the Americans attacked York. Without the men or means to defeat the oncoming troops, the soldiers at Fort York fled the fort, but before leaving they ignited the gun powder magazine. This huge explosion injured and killed many Americans in its wake. A mass grave is believed to have been used to bury the bodies, although it has never been found. With such a bloody battle in the fort's history, it may not come as a surprise that some visitors and members of the staff have said they believe the fort may be haunted.
A staff member was closing up one night when he noticed lights on in the Officer's Quarters. When he went to investigate, he said he could see figures in the building gathered around the dining table, seemingly holding a dinner party. The closer he got to the building, the dimmer the lights became and the fainter the apparitions appeared. Finally, he reached the building, and all signs of the dinner party had vanished right before his eyes. He could find no explanation for what he had seen that night.
Historic photos of Fort York from Digital Archive Ontario
The Elgin and Winter Garden Theatre
The Elgin and Winter Garden was built in 1913 and is the last operating double-decker theatre in the world. Vaudeville productions were common at the Winter Garden, until its decline in popularity forced its closure in 1928. In 1981, the Ontario Heritage Trust purchased and restored the site. To keep it as true as possible to the original, seats were bought from its sister theatre in Chicago. One seat was upholstered in a different colour. This was the last seat that John Dillinger, the famous gangster, sat in before he was shot down outside the theatre. The reupholstered seat is still in the Winter Garden.
Ghost stories have been common since the Winter Garden was re-opened after over 60 dormant years. There have been numerous reports of the faint sound of a trombone playing when no one is around. A group of volunteers believed this could be the ghost of a man named Sam, who was a trombone player in the band in 1918. Legend has it that he fell to his death in the orchestra pit, and perhaps continues to play his music in the theatre to this day.
Historic photos of the Elgin Theatre from Digital Archive Ontario
Ghost Ships of Lake Ontario
The Great Lakes are beautiful, but at times their waters can be perilous. There are many stories of shipwrecks and ghost ships. Our own Lake Ontario has many such ghostly vessels that are said to foreshadow bad luck for those who see their phantom sails. During the War of 1812, an American fleet was stationed just across the lake, while the British fleet was just north of them. The winds died down on the lake and both sides had to wait overnight before being able to get underway. Early the next day, as both fleets lay calmly on the lake, a violent squall took them by surprise. Tragically, the Scourge, and another American schooner, the Hamilton, both capsized and sank, drowning over 50 sailors. A surviving sailor described that men were trapped where they slept, and nothing could be done as the rain came pouring down and lightning lit up the sky. The tragedy was all but over in a matter of minutes.
Many old sailors have since shared the tale that two ghost ships will emerge from the thick fog on cold dark nights. Mariners say that they have seen men standing on the decks but not moving as the boats shudder and then disappear below the waves. Seeing them was always said to be a bad omen. In 1942, the crewmen of a steamer called the Cayuga claimed to see these two ghost ships just before sunset. An old steward on board warned the men that something bad would happen but few believed him. The next morning, the steward himself was found dead.
Construction on Osgoode Hall began in 1829, although there have been many additions to the building since that time. It was named for William Osgoode, who was the first Chief Justice of Upper Canada. The building has always been used by the Law Society of Upper Canada, but also housed the Osgoode Hall Law School from 1889 to 1968. The building is surrounded by a cast-iron fence.
The building’s reputation for being haunted stretches back at least 50 years. One evening, the superintendent of the Law Society was doing his rounds. As he got closer to Convocation Hall, he heard the sound of a crowd. When he entered the room, he was very surprised to find it was completely empty. The sound abruptly stopped. Other visitors to Osgoode Hall have since reported their own encounters with these phantom crowd noises emanating from this otherwise empty room. The caretakers of the building have no explanation for these strange occurrences.
Historic photos of Osgoode Hall from Digital Archive Ontario
Old City Hall
Toronto’s former City Hall was opened in 1899. It was used by the City’s administration until the current City Hall was constructed on the other side of Bay Street. The building also served as the courthouse for York County. The architect of the original building was E.J. Lennox, most well-known for his design of Casa Loma. Today Old City Hall is the home of the Ontario Court of Justice.
The first person to report a ghostly experience in the building was one of the judges, who said he heard footsteps walking behind him in the rear staircase and felt someone tugging at his robe when there was no one there. A different judge then reported the same experience, followed by many others. Many also say they have heard sounds of moaning coming from the cells, where York County prisoners would have been held as they awaited their fates.
The room said to be the most haunted is Courtroom 33. This was the place where the final two men to be hanged in Canada, Ronald Turpin and Arthur Lucas, were sentenced to die for killing a police officer.
Historic photos of Old City Hall from Digital Archive Ontario
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