Have you ever been alone somewhere, feeling that someone was watching you? I am not talking about a Jewish tourist to Gaza, perhaps something a little more supernatural. Using the time to study, I grabbed a series of overnight security shifts back during my undergrad years. While I did manage to pump out a couple of assignments and essays, I used some of that time to check out local history, giving me clues to describe the weird phenomenon that I experienced.
I think that most people have stories of their own, seeing things that are either difficult to describe or impossible to comprehend. We live in a massively scientific world where empirical evidence is the only way to satisfy skeptics. Even if there are pictures (or other media examples), these people will cling onto any “likely” reason, even if it is farfetched.
Is It Reasonable To Believe In Ghosts?
We all understand human tragedy, with it often carrying on into future generations. One example of this is the residential school program, where Indigenous youngsters were taken from their families and forced to assimilate into the mainstream European culture. Unfortunately, many children died in the process, creating echoes that continue until today. Furthermore, many Jews suffer from the brutality of the Holocaust, with the pain lingering on in the “blood” or “consciousness”. While this is not the type of haunting that I will discuss in this article, ghosts tend to serve as a reminder for future generations, forcing them to confront something that people wish would go away.
Old City Hall
At the time of construction, this was the largest civic building in North America. Edward James Lennox originally designed it as a City Hall, which also served as the administrative centre for York (later moved north to Newmarket). As some know, Canada had the death penalty up until the early 1960’s when two criminals were executed in Toronto. Robert Turpin and Arthur Lucas. Both trials were fast, with it taking less than a year to face the noose, side by side.
Salvation Army Chaplain Cyril Everitt tried to save both of their lives but was unsuccessful. Serving the spiritual needs of the condemned, he offered both of them Last Rites and Absolution. Upon coming home from the Don Jail, his 22 year old son noticed his blood-stained clothing.
This was not normal for a hanging, at least not as presented by the media. Hanging is purported to be a clinical death, nothing gruesome or macabre. This was due to a miscalculation of the drop, with Arthus Lucas’s head disconnecting (save for some connective tissue). While this may be grounds for a haunting it is not the main reason. Lucas was an African-American man, facing a series of circumstantial evidence. While he denied killing the victims, he admitted to a series of other crimes, offenses that he felt “added up” and “warranted” his execution. However, just because he resigned himself to death does not mean that his spirit was at peace with his fate. One could only imagine being stuck somewhere for all eternity, seeing the world move on without you.
Imagine locking up all of the doors, doing a perimeter check every hour (on the hour). Sitting down to read a textbook, I constantly heard footsteps and moaning. I was not ignorant about the building’s history, being fully cognisant that I may not be doing my shift “alone”. While difficult to convey, I felt a presence that came and went without rhyme or reason. While living in Vancouver I worked at St. Paul’s Hospital, a major trauma centre serving some of the cities most vulnerable. This included doing morgue access, allowing funeral homes to take possession of people after they have passed. We used to refer to this place as the “silent hotel”-or SH for Short-as to avoid scaring people who heard our transmissions. While this took some getting used to, It was not nearly as “active” as the Old Toronto Courthouse. This may be due to the hospital trying to save their lives as opposed to condemning them.
The Don Jail
While the article discusses only one place, we must take this story “all the way” to its final conclusion. The prison is named after the Don River, which travels north to around the 401 (same fame as the Don Valley Parkway; DVP). Completed in 1864, the jail has been partially demolished and partially renovated, now hosting a medical complex.
Once seen as one of the worst jails in the country, prisoners faced small living conditions and violence from guards and fellow inmates alike. While it was once considered the “palace for prisoners”, this reputation was short-lived as the facility became dilapidated and overcrowded. While Casa Loma had modern interior plumbing, inmates had to remove their refuse using a bucket.
Capital Punishment in Canada
Upon excavating, workers found a large number of human remains. Historians claim that they belong to executed inmates, giving inspiration for the documentary “the Hangman’s Graveyard”. The graves were multilayered, with some hosting up to three bodies. Locals have long felt that something eerie was emanating from this institution, with Frank Drea (former Minister of Corrections) insisting on having the gallows permanently destroyed. I am not sure if this is enough to “spiritually-cleanse” a property, especially not after all of the pain and suffering that transpired here.
With perfect acoustics, everyone could hear everything. With so many people crowded together, it is impossible to keep secrets. Imagine hundreds of prisoners sitting quietly, waiting for the loud thud of the trapdoor. What would your nerves be like? What if this was your fate, facing the exact same treatment in the coming weeks? Now imagine you are ACTUALLY innocent?
Oy vey indeed!
You can visit the hospital anytime, with the old cells being open for visitation (between 9-5 daily). They have managed to preserve it as best as they can, giving you a glimpse into Toronto’s past. Furthermore, they open up more of the property during their “doors open” event. While I cannot guarantee that you will see a ghost, I can promise you that these two places are the most haunted in all of Toronto.
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