Haunted Toronto: The 10 spookiest places in the city

From its evil Victorian roots, grotesque architecture and creepy historical figures, Toronto's haunted past is the stuff of legend

Starting from the Prince Edward Viaduct in the east to the Gothic Soldiers’ Memorial on the campus of the University of Toronto in the west – and trippy sites in between – we’ve put together a walk of the city’s haunted places.

The entire walk will take a couple of hours on foot and a little less if you’re riding, but the sites are grouped within comfortable walking distance of each other so you can do a few at a time if you’re not able to take the entire trip at once.

You can also listen to an audio version of our Haunted Toronto Walk narrated by Andrea Subissati and Alexandra West, the hosts of the monthly Faculty Of Horror podcast, here, here and here. Enjoy – and keep an ear out for the hoot of the owl to guide you. Listen to the audio walk below and see a map of all the locations at the end of this story.

Nick Lachance

Prince Edward Viaduct: Cursed causeway

Bloor east of Castle Frank

The bridge built to “graft Toronto on the American continent,” would prove to be a marvel of civil engineering. Spanning 494 metres and rising 40 metres above the Don it also seemed cursed from the start – and not just because its namesake would scandalize proper society by abdicating the throne to marry an American divorcée. 

Plans for the Prince Edward Viaduct were shelved three times in the face of community opposition. When it was finally approved by city council in February 1914, Toronto was hit the next day by 5.2 magnitude earthquake originating southwest of Ottawa. Was it an omen? 

The shock was enough to give supporters of the bridge second thoughts. But public works commissioner R.C. Harris was a determined sort. Still, at its official opening in October 1918, ceremonies had to be cut short as the Spanish flu pandemic raged and a city ordnance restricted public gatherings. 

The causeway would go on to fulfill its promise of bridging a growing city and write a miraculous chapter or two along the way, including the story of a boy who climbed the rail in 1957 and would be saved by the mud below.

Geoffrey James

Prince Edward Viaduct, City of Toronto Archives.

But it would also become the stuff of murderous lore, including in Michael Ondaatje’s award-winning novel In The Skin Of A Lion, which recounts the true stories of the migrant workers who built it – and the nun who plummeted to her death during the bridge’s construction

It was a blustery evening and the sun was setting in the distance as she was walking with other nuns along the as-yet completed bridge when suddenly “the wind jerked her sideways, scraping her along the concrete and right off the edge of the bridge. She disappeared into the night by the third abutment….” Another 18 people working on the bridge would fall to their deaths during construction. 

By the time Bruce Cockburn would pen his ode to the viaduct, the darkly titled, Anything Can Happen, the structure was well on its way to becoming the second deadliest magnet for suicides on the planet – one every 22 days – behind San Francisco’s Golden Gate bridge. A luminous veil constructed in 2003 would stanch the bleeding, but even today it’s hard not to be shaken by the roar of traffic and the feeling of vertigo from the tops of the trees rising above the guardrail – not to mention, the memory of the dead souls leaping back up from the valley below.

Nick Lachance

Toronto Don Jail: The hangman’s graveyard

550 Gerrard East

The commemorative plaque outside Toronto’s Don jail says it embodied progressive ideas of penal reform when it was built in 1859. Back then it was known as the Don Gaol and included two wings – one for men and another for women – as well as a farm located at present-day Riverdale Park that was worked by the prisoners. Compared to other prisons of the era, which restricted inmates to their cells, the Don was considered progressive. Indeed, the Don was modelled after Pentonville prison in England for its reformist reputation. 

But even it’s architecture seemed designed to intimidate. The face of Father Time glares down from over the portico. Inside the main rotunda, cast-iron brackets fashioned into the shape of griffins and serpents hold up the balconies outside the cells, some of which were no more than 1 by 3 metres in size. 

Prisoners were not just sent to the Don to do time. They were sent there to die. Some 70 executions would be carried out on the Don’s gallows, including the last one in Canada on December 11, 1962. 

Prior to 1905, the executions took place outside and Torontonians would huddle beyond the wall that used to surround the property to take in the spectacle. 

Don Jail, City of Toronto Archives.

On one such occasion on March 10, 1905, 22-year-old Alexander Martin, who was condemned to die for drowning his newborn, protested his innocence as the hangman’s noose was lowered over his head. According to an account of the execution published in the Globe, Martin swore at the protestors but had earlier confessed to the murder. 

His story, however, wouldn’t end there. His bones would be among the remains of 15 men discovered on the property in 2007 during the redevelopment of the site by Bridgepoint Health rehabilitation hospital. The bodies were reburied in unmarked graves in the Rosedale Valley. 

The discovery unearthed other horrifying secrets that up until that point had been kept behind the Don’s walls, including the legend of a blond-haired ghost that true believers say is the spirit of a woman who hanged herself in her cell. 

The jail was closed in 1977 and a new wing was constructed. Today, the original Don has been retrofitted to house Bridgepoint’s administrative offices. Some of the windows are still barred.

But in a macabre twist, the street on which the former jail sits has been renamed after the late Jack Layton the former Toronto councillor and Ontario NDP’s Leader who by most accounts was a prison reformer. Thankfully, plans to name the greenspace outside “Gallows Park” was ultimately shelved. 

Nick Lachance

Necropolis Cemetery: City of the dead

200 Winchester

Behind the fence overlooking the stone dedication to Toronto Necropolis Cemetery’s 50,000 dead, a hollowed-out staff carved in the shape of a ghost – at once playful and mocking – greets passersby.

Pathways lead here and there past hidden vales and weeping willows. But it’s the slow, steady din of traffic from the Don Valley that takes you away to the edge of the cemetery where a brook once roared and the dancing beams of light from an early morning sun make faces on the tombstones of granite and rock. 

Welcome to the “city of the dead” – fave wandering ground of historians and haunted Halloween walks and Toronto’s spookiest resting place. 

Toronto’s second non-sectarian cemetery is home to some of Canada’s most pre-eminent figures – churchmen, physicians, philosophers, political reformers and fathers of Confederation. 

Nick Lachance
Nick Lachance

But the chapel, crematorium and foreboding Gothic Revival archway that marks the entranceway also recalls a treacherous time in Victorian-era Toronto when infants under the age of one accounted for 40 per cent of all deaths in the city. Most died from diphtheria, whooping cough, polio and scarlet fever. 

Back then, Cabbagetown – which took its name from the poor Irish immigrants who used to plant cabbage in their front yard – was not the stately enclave of Empire homes and well-appointed cottages it is today. It was a rather creepy place. “The largest Anglo-Saxon slum in North America,” as author Hugh Garner would later describe it, was also home to body snatchers and grave robbers who earned their keep selling newly buried corpses to medical schools in the area. 

Samuel Engelking

St. Lawrence Market: Old Toronto’s Salem

93 Front East

Before Toronto was incorporated in 1834, the St. Lawrence Market area, known then as the Market Block, formed the epicentre of the Town of York. 

It was the hub of commerce as well as the cultural centre of the town. It was also a mostly inhospitable and foreboding place. They didn’t call it Muddy York just because the streets would turn into a muddy mess after a hard rain. 

Early settlers looking to earn their keep mixed with the merchants from out of town eager to sell their wares and vagabonds brought by ship into Toronto Harbour from places unknown. Drinking and public nuisances were common. And the local authorities gave no quarter. 

The market was where public floggings took place. There was no constabulary to speak of so public shaming and ridicule were how the authorities kept law and order. You could just as easily be pilloried for the simple act of “being a nuisance” as well as sedition. It was Salem, only with a decidedly different kind of witch hunt that didn’t involve burnings at the stake. 

City of Toronto Archives
Micklethwaite Photography
Toronto Markets engraving by Henry Sandham, 1871.

But it was the Great Toronto Fire that would eventually burn down the original wood structure built in 1820 that housed St. Lawrence Market. It would be replaced with a brick structure that, beginning in 1845 housed the city’s first city hall, police station and jailhouse. Metal anchors held prisoners chained to the walls of the sub-basement, and it is said that their screams could be heard on the street. Their spirits still linger today, according to local historian Bruce Bell. Once while taking a group on a tour of the former prison, he was asked about ghosts by one of the participants when the camera she was holding incomprehensibly flew out of her hand. The lights started to flicker and a loud bang was heard from behind a bricked-in doorway.

Bank of Montreal, City of Toronto Archives.

Hockey Hall of Fame: The ghost of Dorothea Mae Elliott

30 Yonge

Before it became the home of Canada’s favourite pastime, the Hockey Hall of Fame building at Yonge and Front was a bank. For a time it functioned as the main branch of the Bank of Montreal. It’s also one of the city’s architectural gems.

Opened in 1886, its design exemplified the ostentatiousness of the time. It’s location also made it an easy target of bank robbers. One robbery attempt sometime in the early 1900s ended with a teller reportedly being shot and killed. She died near the vault where her apparition is said to appear.

Bank security back then isn’t what it is today. A pistol would be stashed behind the counter for tellers to protect themselves against would-be assailants.

Samuel Engelking

But Torontoghosts founder and director Matthew Didier, who trained as a teller for the Bank of Montreal in a previous life, relates a slightly different story. The teller in question didn’t actually die during a robbery. She died by the bank’s own pistol, shooting herself on an upper floor in the 1950s over a love affair gone bad. Her ghost – known as “Dorothy” and appearing in “old-fashioned” dress – haunts the hall to this day.

Toronto musician Joanna Jordan, who played an event in the bank’s Great Hall a few years before the venue opened as the HHOF, told the Star in 2009 how she “vividly” remembered seeing Dorothy’s ghost looking down on her from the ceiling.

The Star would go on to reveal that “Dorothy” did exist – she was Dorothea Mae Elliott, 19. She shot herself at the bank on the morning of Wednesday, March 11, 1953. She died 22 hours later at St. Michael’s Hospital. The Toronto Telegram reported that the “attractive young brunette may have been despondent over a love affair.”

St. Michael’s Hospital, City of Toronto Archives, 1972.

St. Michael’s Hospital: Angel versus dragons of death

30 Bond

When it opened at its original location on Bond Street in 1892, St. Michael’s hospital was located in a Baptist Church that had been converted into a boarding house.

It was run by the Sisters of St. Joseph, the Catholic order of nuns founded in ancient France in the 17th-century. It started with 26 beds.

By 1910, the hospital would formally become affiliated with the University of Toronto. And many medical “firsts” would follow, including the first successful blood transfusion and heart transplant in North America.

The nuns that used to act as nurses are no longer a fixture, but their tradition continues in the story of Sister Vincenza. “Vinnie,” as she was known by the staff, died sometime in the 1950s. But she is still seen occasionally making her rounds, typically with a black chasm where her face should be.

Samuel Engelking

In the New Testament Book of Revelation, Michael, the archangel from which the hospital gets it name, leads his angels against the dragon (“the Devil and Satan”) during the war in heaven. Perhaps Sister Vinnie is not a ghost but a divine messenger sent to continue God’s work and slay the dragons of death. To be sure, Unity Health, the current administrators of St. Michael’s, tweets about the #urbanlegend every Halloween.

Old City Hall circa 1920, City of Toronto Archives.

Old City Hall: A grotesque & inauspicious history

60 Queen West

Architect E.J. Lennox designed some of Toronto’s signature landmarks – Casa Loma, the Bank of Toronto and the King Edward Hotel among them. But it’s Old City Hall that rates as the freakiest. 

Lennox was a fan of the Romanesque Revival architectural stylings made famous by Henry Hobson Richardson, the American designer who’s most known for the Buffalo State Asylum for the Insane. It’s a ghoulish place.

Lennox would take Richardson’s dark detailing a step further with Old City Hall, which would serve as both the seat of the city government and courthouse. 

But delays and cost overruns would slow the construction of Old City Hall from the get-go. Starting in 1889, the project would take 12 long years to complete. And city officials would refuse to pay Lennox after the project went over budget. He responded by enlisting Masons working on the site to carve grotesque caricatures of the city councillors over the pillars on either side of the main entranceway. (The secret society’s square and compass symbol can be seen inscribed into the stone under the first row of windows.)

Lennox continued the vulgarity atop the clock tower, where giant winged gargoyles were added. One decided to take flight in the 1930s, crashing through the roof. That led to the decision to remove them in 1945, along with two grotesques and antique lampposts at the base of the grand staircase inside. Perhaps they didn’t give off the right air. 

Old City Hall, circa 1898.

The gargoyles would also be replaced with lighter weight replicas in 1999 to mark the building’s centenary. By then, Old City Hall had long outgrown its usefulness as the city’s municipal offices. Plans to begin construction of the Eaton Centre across the street in 1965 called for the building to be demolished and replaced with a retail complex. Public outcry would eventually halt those plans but Old City Hall would continue to carve out an inauspicious history for itself as the city’s main courthouse. 

In 1962, petty criminals Robert Turpin and Arthur Lucas, the last two men sentenced to hang in Canada, would be condemned to death at Old City Hall, despite lingering questions about their guilt. John Robert Colombo’s Haunted Toronto tells of “cool fogs” and “weird noises” that haunt the courtroom where they were sentenced. 

Lennox, meanwhile, would never get paid for his work. But a plaque commemorating his efforts would finally be erected on the site in the 1970s. He would have the last laugh, albeit in his grave, when Old City Hall was declared a national historic site in 1984. 

Samuel Engelking

Whitney Block Tower: Abandoned masterpiece

90 Wellesley West

The white plastic covering that’s been wrapped around Queen’s Park’s Whitney Block for months as it undergoes a massive restoration is mostly gone now, revealing a newly polished (and ghostly) limestone exterior.

Still, the story behind how the Whitney Block tower – one of Queen’s Park’s most celebrated Gothic-art deco landmarks – ended up being uninhabitable and had to be abandoned in the 1960s over fire and safety regulations remains shrouded in mystery – until now.

The complex was designed by Francis Heakes, the chief architect of the province’s public works department, who also designed Government House, the official residence of the Lieutenant Governor.

But he was officially retired by 1926 when the complex was completed and died in 1930, two years before the tower would be added. Legend has it that it’s his ghost that inhabits the structure and the tunnel connecting the complex to Queen’s Park.

Samuel Engelking

If so, it may have to do with Heakes rolling in his grave from the abomination his successor George White would make of the project, including the addition of a bowling alley and a section for live domestic and farm animals. The province’s veterinary services were located on the sixth floor of the tower, which was only outfitted with one staircase and a hand-cranked elevator that reportedly failed to work most of the time.

Unlike Heakes, who served as the province’s chief architect for three decades, White’s tenure as chief architect would be short-lived until 1942 (a handful of those as “acting” chief). He would return to his native Scotland. His only projects of note would include the Administration Building at the Ontario Agricultural College in Guelph and the special hospital and home at Callander, Ontario built to accommodate the Dionne quintuplets.

Samuel Engelking

William Mellis Christie Mansion: House of horrors

25 Queen’s Park West

William Mellis Christie, of Christie cookies fame, rose from humble roots to amass a huge fortune. But life itself wasn’t so sweet for the cookie magnate.

In 1868, at the height of his fame, tragedy would strike. Only eight months after the birth of Christie’s second son, William “Willie” Christie, an illness would claim the boy as well as his 8-year-old brother James.

That left a third son, Robert Jaffray Christie, to inherit the business after William died suddenly from cancer in 1900. Robert Jaffray also inherited the prestigious mansion built at the corner of Queen’s Park Crescent and Wellesley only two decades earlier.

In 1910, he had the house completely rebuilt. Perhaps it was to exorcise the ghosts of tragedies past. Not much is known about Robert Jaffray. The short obituary published in the New York Times after his death sheds little light. 

William Mellis Christie Mansion, City of Toronto Archives.

By most accounts, he was a devoted husband. He had three children of his own. But he also reportedly kept a lover in a secret apartment of his redesigned manse. The affair would go on for some years, until either out of neglect or insanity his lover hanged herself. Her body was spirited under cover of night and buried somewhere on the grounds of Queen’s Park, or so the story goes.

By that time, Robert Jaffray had built a spotty legacy in business, slowly selling off the assets of his father’s empire.

Robert Jaffray Christie died in his home on June 13, 1926 of an unidentifiable illness described in an article in the Financial Times of Canada as “extending over several months” – although one account says it was throat cancer like his father. He was 57. Perhaps it was guilt or being haunted by a forsaken lover.

Nick Lachance

Soldiers’ Memorial: For whom the bell tolls

Hart House Circle

More than 5,600 University of Toronto alumni left to serve in the Great War. Some 628 did not return.

In 1924, a bell tower was erected on the campus in their honour and their names were inscribed in Indiana limestone at the base of the tower. The names of those who died in the Second World War would be added later.

Fifty-one bells make up the carillon at the top of the tower, the largest of which weighs four tonnes. The stairwell to the carillon is 111 steps. Whether that was intentional – in the Bible, the number 111 has a relationship with Jesus’s Second Coming – is disputable. As is the story of the repairman who allegedly fell 43 metres to his death while polishing the bells sometime in the 1930s.

While there is some doubt about that, other hauntings on the campus, like the unearthing of an unidentified body at nearby University College in 1890, are a matter of public record.

Whether the remains are that of a spurned lover who reportedly fell from the unfinished college during a dispute with another suitor (or the aforementioned repairman) is a mystery.

What is known is that the tower’s architect, Toronto-born Henry Sproatt, favoured neo-Gothic design. And that several of his other notable works, including the Royal York Hotel, have been haunted by tragic occurrences. A report on the Toronto Ghosts and Hauntings Research Society website mentions the ghost of a former employee of the hotel who hanged himself in the staircase leading to the roof.

As for the flashes of light sometimes seen through the Soldiers’ Memorial stain glass window, it may be a message of thanks from those who never came back from the war.

Soldiers’ Memorial, City of Toronto Archives.

Here’s a map of all 10 haunted Toronto locations:

Haunted Toronto map
Nikki Ernst

Read more Hidden Toronto stories here


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One response to “Haunted Toronto: The 10 spookiest places in the city”

  1. I really enjoy reading about the ghostly unknown, especially at Halloween.

    I have long been an interested believer in the extradimensional phenomenon of spirits, enough so to write a few ghost stories (not formally published, but posted on my blog). My fandom was unabashedly amplified by the fairly new TV series Paranormal Caught on Camera. When watching the various captured footages of this particularly interesting form of the unexplainable, I, nonetheless always with a critical eye, apply strings-attached (or translucent fishing-line) theories or explanations.

    When you have so much completely automated security surveillance, etcetera, camera footage submitted by different sources catching the most astonishing images, it is unreasonably difficult (at least for me) to discount the phenomenon in its entirety.

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