“You can tell yourself they’re only stories.”
This is the ominous warning that Richard Fiennes-Clinton, founder of Muddy York Walking Tours, provides at the first stop of a tour called “The Haunted Streets of Toronto.” All of the ghost stories he will relate during the tour, he claims, are backed up by substantial evidence, including frequent sightings.
“[U of T is] a perfect setting: academic by day, spooky by night.”
Fiennes-Clinton informs the group that has gathered in order to check out some of the city’s spookiest spaces that Toronto is home to a rich phantom population that resides in both obscure corners of the city and major tourist destinations. It is, according to Fiennes-Clinton, a diverse population, including everything from creepy little girls in white dresses, to important historical figures and unbridled psychopaths.
Students at U of T can be particularly proud (or terrified depending on your perspective) of our campus, which is an especially haunted corner of the city. Most visitors to the St. George campus have probably thought that its buildings look a little like Hogwarts, and it turns out that like that fictional wizard school, our hallowed halls are home to a multitude of unique ghosts. So much of U of T is haunted that Richard designed a tour specifically for the campus. “It’s a perfect setting: academic by day, spooky by night.”
Early on in the tour, which begins on campus, Richard comments that the University of Toronto used to be a residential neighbourhood, where many of U of T’s ghosts lived before they met an unfortunate end. Other spirits are connected to the history of the university itself.
The ghosts’ reasons for haunting the living vary from malicious to rather innocent, with some spirits desiring to inflict the pain of their death on passers-by, while others merely wish to enjoy a playful prank at the expense of the living.
Among the haunted destinations at U of T is Trinity College. Trinity was founded by John Strachan, Toronto’s very wealthy first Anglican bishop, who died on November 1, 1867. Many have claimed to see Strachan returning to the college he founded around the anniversary of his death, clad in his bishop robes. Strachan had a reputation for being somewhat overbearing while he was still alive, and many suspect that he returns from the dead in order to check on the progress of the college.
University College is home to the most notorious ghost story on campus, a famous legend familiar to many students. The story centers around the tragic life of Ivan Reznikoff, the namesake of the café in Morrison Hall. Ivan was a stonemason who worked on the reconstruction of the building and he fell in love with a young woman. He followed her one night, and found her with another man. Infuriated, and obviously a bit more of a bad-ass than his girlfriend realized, Ivan grabbed an axe and went after his girlfriend’s lover, but the man dodged Ivan and stabbed him to death with a knife. Ivan was buried under the stones on the construction site where he worked, and ever since, UC students have claimed to see Ivan sadly moping around campus, eager to share the story of his betrayal.
Closer to Victoria College is the Christie Mansion, now Regis College, and once home to famous Canadian baker William Christie of Mr. Christie’s Cookies. Christie’s son, Robert, inherited the house, constructed a secret chamber, and trapped his mistress inside it. Robert visited her frequently, but then began to get bored with her and saw her less and less. The woman ultimately committed suicide by using the bed frame to hang herself. Later, when the house served as a woman’s dormitory at U of T, students studying in the room where the chamber was said to have been were reportedly overcome by an eerie feeling, and some would find themselves unable to open the door. Many speculate that this was the ghost of Robert’s mistress, inflicting her experience on the living. Considerably more terrifying is the theory that the room is haunted by the ghost of Robert Christie, who is trying to trap more women.
Other haunted destinations on campus include the Soldiers’ Tower at Hart House Circle, the Royal Ontario Museum, and the statue of Edward VII in Queen’s Park. As Richard guides the tour group to each of these locations, he claims to frequently receive reports about campus ghost sightings from students, staff, and sometimes even the people who attend his tours. To skeptics, he offers this warning: “While there may be no reason to be afraid of the dark, there may be every reason to be afraid of what’s hiding behind the dark.”
More information about Muddy York Walking Tours, “The Haunted Streets of Toronto,” and other walking tours can be found at www.muddyyorktours.com.