Based on legend alone, Toronto is a city possessed. In honour of Halloween, we recruited local psychic medium Carolyn Molnar to put a few of our ghostly landmarks to the test: are they all speculation or all specter? She wasn't told in advance which sites were on our phantom scavenger hunt. With some otherworldly help, she separated the tricks from the paranormal treats.
High Park (Colborne Lodge and Grenadier Pond)
Ghost Stories: The 1836 home of engineer and architect, John George Howard, is thought to be haunted by his wife Jemima Howard. Phantom soldiers have also been spotted in the area to the east of Grenadier Pond.
The Medium's Message: Ms. Molnar immediately sensed a strong, female spirit that took great pride in the old brick home, which is now a historical museum. "I'm seeing her with an apron," Ms. Molnar said. "It's almost like she's got a whole bunch of stuff harvested and is going into the house with it." According to Ms. Molnar, the ghost is happy in her former home, but critical of the downsizing of her onetime vegetable garden, located on the eastside of the property.
Later, along the leafy shore of Grenadier Pond, Ms. Molnar was overcome with a nervous energy, and the image of two men, wearing dark pants and red tunics, diligently walking the path. "It's almost like they are patrolling . . . like there was a war on and they were keeping the area safe."
Later, at Fort York, we learn that High Park would have been along the road to Niagara Falls during the War of 1812, and could have conceivably been patrolled by troops.
Spook Factor: Ms. Molnar's impressions matched up with Colborne's ghostly tales of Jemima, including a sixth sense that the phantom woman is occasionally seen in windows. The medium was only off the mark on the ghost's name, which she felt was Harriet.
As for Grenadier Pond, Ms. Molnar had a warning for pedestrians using the path. "I have a feeling that, when people walk down here, they might get a feeling of being pushed out of the way" by the eternal foot soldiers.
Ghost Stories: A phantom Redcoat has been spotted near both the barracks and the front entrance. In the 1970s, a member of the naval reserve was jogging along the fort's outer wall, and reported being pulled off by an unseen force. A ghostly woman has also been spotted in the Officer's Quarters.
The Medium's Message: Ms. Molnar felt a powerful supernatural presence in the parking lot and on the small grassy ravine that leads up to Fort York's main entrance facing Lake Ontario. Once inside she found out why.
"Most of the Americans that died would be roughly where that parking lot is," said Fort York program officer David Juliusson. When the British abandoned the fort during the Battle of York, they set the powder magazine to explode, which killed and maimed hundreds of U.S. troops.
While touring the historic buildings, Ms. Molnar was immediately drawn to the fort's inner wall. She claimed to hear multiple spirit voices around a cannon just east of the fort's entrance. Mr. Juliusson said an artillery unit would have operated the two-tonne cannon during battle.
According to Ms. Molnar, the chattiest cannon spirit was a blond 16-year-old named Daniel, wearing a standard red British uniform with a white cross. He told her he died at the fort, but not during the battle.
Spook Factor: Ms. Molnar didn't mention a phantom woman in the Officer's Quarters, but could Daniel be the soldier sighted at various locations? At the very end of her visit, she came across a long list of the fallen. Near the bottom was the name Daniel Murray, cited for having "died of wounds" in April, 1813.
The Distillery District
Ghost Stories: The former Gooderham and Worts Distillery, which started as a grist mill in 1831, helped shape the economic fortunes of the city, but its co-founder James Worts met an untimely end. Consumed by grief over the loss of his wife during childbirth, James Worts drowned himself in a well on the property in 1834. Tales of unexplained phenomena have dogged the site throughout its history – including lights going on and off, and doors opening and closing, of their own accord.
The Medium's Message: This was the only location Ms. Molnar had visited before, but she felt no otherworldly visitors. On a beautiful, sunny, fall day, surrounded by shoppers and restaurant patio patrons, the location simply felt sanitized. "There is not a lot of icky stuff that went on here," Ms. Molnar said after a walkabout on the premises. "Not a lot of death. Not a lot of destruction."
Spook Factor: Worts' spirit is no longer present – if it ever was. These days, the only thing going bump in the night in the Distillery District are frosty mugs of beer at The Mill St. Brew Pub.
Elgin and Winter Garden Theatres
Ghost Stories: There are two famous phantoms associated with the building, according to marketing and communications manager Ellen Flowers. The Lavender Lady is most commonly seen around the grand staircase and the old dressing rooms, and her presence is often accompanied by the perfumed scent of lavender. Sam is a trombone player who fell to his death in the orchestra pit of the Winter Garden, where people have heard inexplicable music.
The Medium's Message: In the Elgin, Ms. Molnar picked up the spirit of an egotistical female singer from the theatre's vaudeville era. She then detected a devoted "Flyman" haunting the backstage, reluctant to leave his post. He would have operated the stage's old ropes and pulleys, flying in set pieces. She also sensed a pair of spirits in the middle box on the left balcony – onetime, prominent patrons still protective of their seats from beyond the grave: "It's almost like status. This is my box and don't mess with me."
Spook Factor: No trombonist and no Lavender Lady. The spirits Ms. Molnar sensed were largely former crewmembers still "looking after" the theatres they were dedicated to in life. The Winter Garden was closed in 1928 and essentially sealed off, unaltered, for 60 years. This timelessness made it an attractive haunt. By their very nature, spirits are linked to the past. "They were enjoying it," Ms. Molnar said. "They weren't being intruded on. It was their space."
The Elgin and Winter Garden Theatre Centre is hosting a Ghost Tour on Oct. 28 at 7 p.m.