My heart beat against my chest as I rushed up the stairs, my sweaty palms grabbing for the doorknob. I rushed frantically through the bright walls of the narrow hall until I reached my intended destination. But my fear wasn’t resolved yet.
With the desperation of a person being chased, I rapped my knuckles against the wooden door. My first small, shy tap descended into a series of loud bangs that not even a dead person could ignore.
“We’re going to be late!” I called.
I was picking up my friend so we could attend “Campus Secrets and Spectres,” a ghost tour of UTSG offered by the organization The Haunted Walk. In the spirit of Halloween, the tour promised to tell us about U of T’s “spooky history” and “ghostly tales.”
Once we got to the event’s meeting place outside the Royal Ontario Museum, we easily spotted our tour guide. She wore a gothic black cloak and was in the midst of a heated debate with two tour guests about an electric lantern.
As we waited for our event to start, more guests arrived in trickles of couples and trios. To my dismay, my extremely outgoing friend nudged my arm and whispered, “You should interview people for your article.”
Normally, I’d vehemently avoid doing something so social, but I decided that, in the name of journalism, it was a necessary, even if character-breaking, action to take.
“Only if you come with me,” I whispered back. Almost instantaneously, my friend dragged me to introduce myself to every person in the vicinity.
One of the groups we talked to — or, rather, that my friend talked to as I attempted to take notes on my phone using half-frozen fingers that I could no longer feel — appeared to be a family of three. They were experienced ghost tourists who recommended the Pioneer Village’s ghost tour to us. Although they’ve never seen any spirits, they told us that these tours are a fun way to learn about different cities’ histories.
We also talked to a pair of participants who had chosen UTSG’s ghost tour because they enjoyed the “campus-y” vibe of U of T. Although they revealed themselves to be supernatural skeptics, they shared many entertaining ghost stories with my friend and I.
Shortly before our tour began, our guide gave us a rundown of what to expect. She told us that all the stories we’d be told were verified by The Haunted Walk’s archives and included personal accounts taken from interviews with various people who claimed to have seen ghosts. The guide also went over the tour’s rules, such as following the group and not getting hit by a streetcar.
The most impressive aspect of this tour was its natural ambience. As we walked along the road, a subway train passed underneath us, causing the ground to rumble. My friend and I both felt that it matched the frightening atmosphere of the ghost story that we were listening to.
“That tree looks creepy,” my friend commented, pointing at a tree that we were passing. At first glimpse, the tree looked normal to me; however, in an attempt to get into the spirit of the ghost tour, I looked closer to see if I could find what my friend had noticed. I realized that the tree’s branches looked like skeleton hands extending towards the bright pink light shining outside The Royal Conservatory of Music.
It quickly became clear that perspective was important to experience this ghost tour in its entirety. Once I began to actively search for eeriness in my surroundings, even everyday objects such as brightly lit paths could be interpreted as spooky. Even the streetlights created long shadows that lurked at every corner.
An interesting aspect I noted as we walked around was the contrast between the gothic architecture of some of UTSG’s structures and their modern-looking surroundings. The brightly lit field in front of us contrasted with the ivory columns behind us. Towering skyscrapers lit up the darkened shadows cast by decaying buildings. I wondered, are UTSG’s oldest buildings inherently spooky?
The most enjoyable part of the experience was undeniably the interactive section of the tour. I won’t spoil it, but it involved inspecting a gash on the door of University College that was allegedly created by an axe.
Though The Haunted Walk’s ghost tour wasn’t as “haunting” as it promised to be, it helped me appreciate the frightening aspects of my surroundings. It was only when I was promised the possibility of seeing ghosts that I began to let my guard down and let myself become scared. So if you’re seeking some terror this Halloween, throw on a costume, head outside, and watch the shadows — all it takes to fuel fear is the right perspective.