Tag Archives: Hauntings

6 Toronto Urban Legends for Halloween

Since most of the people who read this site don’t live in Toronto and Halloween is my favourite holiday of the year by far, this seemed like the perfect time to share some of our spooky local urban legends.

Blurry photo taken of a moving subway trainThe Lady in Red

Lower Bay subway station was built in 1966 and shut down six months later because the Toronto Transit Commission realized that any delays at that stop would shut down our entire subway system.

A new subway station was built on top of it, and the original one is only rarely available for public viewing.

Legend has it that a woman wearing a red dress wanders around Lower Bay station, but no one knows who she is

. There are no records of accidents that might explain why this spirit spooks TTC employees and the occasional film crew that wander around down there.

We do know that this patch of land was once a Potter’s Field whose coffins were partially cleared out when the city wanted space for public transit, so she might be the ghost of someone who either had no next of kin when she died or who was abandoned by them.

The Underwater UFO Base in Lake Ontario

Multiple people have reported seeing lights shimmering over, plunging into, or leaping out of Lake Ontario. These sightings have given rise to the legend that there is an underwater UFO base located in the bottom of this lake.

Perhaps the aliens come from an aquatic planet and wouldn’t do well out here on dry land?

Nessie Lives in Lake Ontario

You’ve heard of the Loch Ness monster, right?

The Seneca First Nations tribe were the first people to record sightings of our own sea monster. As early as the 1850s, white settlers claimed to see something much bigger than the average fish swimming around in Lake Ontario as well. They described it as a blue-grey serpent that was about 50 feet long.

A Haunting at Old Finch Road

There are many different versions of this tale. They all tend agree that a girl was murdered on Old Finch Road, possibly near a bridge.

Many versions say she died on her birthday and will appear to you if you sing Happy Birthday to her because the person who murdered her wrote “Happy Birthday, Susie” on a nearby rock after killing her. (Although the victim’s name changes quite a bit depending on which version of the story you hear).

Some people have also claimed to hear screams and moans when travelling along this road.

Gibraltar Point Lighthouse on Toronto Island

gibraltar point lighthouse on Toronto Island in Toronto, Ontario
Gibraltar Point Lighthouse

Mr. John Paul Rademuller was the first lighthouse keeper on this little island back when it was still a peninsula. In order to make some extra money, he was a brewer and bootlegger as well.

Legend has it that two drunken sailors came to visit him one day to buy some of his beer. When Rademuller refused to sell it to them, they killed him, dismembered his body, and buried pieces of it around the island.

In some versions of this tale, it is said that parts of him were eventually found but that his head was never recovered at all. Other versions say his ghost still continues to wander the island because his killers were never punished for their crime and not because parts of his skeleton might still be waiting to be found.

Allegedly, there were some bones found near the lighthouse in 1893, but investigators didn’t yet have the scientific tools to tell if they belonged to Mr. Rademuller or not.

Mrs. Jemima Howard’s Last Days

The unique thing about Mrs. Howard is that we have many historical records that document her life. She was the wife of John G. Howard, and they both gave the land that would later become High Park to the city of Toronto after their deaths.

Mr. and Mrs. Howard lived happily in Colborne Lodge for many years. They never had children, but they doted on their nieces and nephews who temporarily came to live with them while  finishing their educations.

Sadly, Jemima Howard was diagnosed with breast cancer long before we had any treatments for it other than morphine and laudanum for her pain. She died at home in her own bed surrounded by loved ones. If she looked out her window, she could see the spot where she (and later her husband) would be buried.

Their headstone is the only one allowed in High Park, and it’s a beautiful, peaceful spot a short distance from their home.

Some visitors to Colborne Lodge have reported seeing a woman peering out of the second story bedroom where Jemima spent her last days. Others have reported cold spots and poltergeist activity.

Maybe Jemima never left home after all.

What is your favourite urban legend from your city, town, or community?

House of Secrets: A Review of The Others

Film poster for The Others. Image on poster is of Nicole Kidman holding a lantern and looking frightened

The Others is a 2001 gothic paranormal suspense film written, directed, and scored by Alejandro Amenábar about a woman named Grace who was raising her two young children alone in a crumbling, old mansion in Jersey while her husband was away fighting in World War II.

After all of her servants mysteriously disappeared, she slowly realized that their beloved home may be haunted by something truly dangerous.

Both Anne and Nicholas suffered from a rare inherited illness called xeroderma pigmentosum that caused severe photosensitivity. That is to say, neither of them were medically able to be exposed to any amount of sunlight without suffering serious and possibly permanent side effects from it.

This family lived in a house shrouded in darkness not only emotionally but physically as well. Grace covered all of the windows with thick, light blocking curtains to ensure that not a single ray of sunlight damaged their small, fragile bodies.

I strongly recommend sticking to spoiler-free content like this before watching this film. There are major spoilers about it floating elsewhere on the web that can ruin the ending if you’re not careful.

The one exception to this is for viewers who are sensitive to sad stories about children. If this is you, please research this thoroughly or ask me about it privately before diving into it. That’s all I can say publicly without wandering into spoiler territory.

One final note in this introduction: I decided to review The Others now because as of a few months ago there is a remake of it currently in production that is slated for release in 2022. My hope is to review the remake a few years from now and compare it to the original.

Characters

Nicole Kidman as Grace
Nicole Kidman as Grace

Grace was an overwhelmed mother who was raising two medically fragile children alone during wartime. She was a devout Catholic whose desire to protect her children was only surpassed by her determination to raise them to share her beliefs no matter what.

Alakina Mann as Anne
Alakina Mann as Anne

Anne was Grace’s oldest child, an inquisitive and bright little girl. At approximately eight years old when this story occurred, she has just begun to reach the age when she was beginning to question her mother’s point of view.

James Bentley as Nicholas
James Bentley as Nicholas

Nicholas was Grace’s youngest child. He loved fairy tales and legends of all sorts, the more imaginative the better. At approximately five years old, he still had a concrete understanding of how the world worked and what his place in it should be. He believed everything his mother said without question and sometimes clashed with Anne when she talked back.

Fionnula Flanagan as Mrs. Mills
Fionnula Flanagan as Mrs. Mills

Mrs. Bertha Mills was the nanny and housekeeper hired by Grace after all of the previous servants in their home mysteriously and simultaneously disappeared. While she had a few old-fashioned notions about child rearing, she deeply cared about her charges and did everything she could to make their lives easier.

Eric Sykes as Mr. Tuttle. Elaine Cassidy as Lydia
Eric Sykes (left) as Mr. Tuttle and Elaine Cassidy (centre) as Lydia.

Mr. Edmund Tuttle was the no-nonsense gardener and handyman who was hired by Grace. He preferred solving physical problems like repairing broken household items to tackling emotional issues.

Lydia was the hard-working, stoic maid. She was mute and unusually socially withdrawn. Mrs. Mills knew her best and would sometimes interpret what Lydia was attempting to communicate with her body language.

My Review

This is one of those timeless films that gets better with every rewatch. I have nothing but complimentary things to say about it!

Grace, her children, and Mrs. Mills were the characters who took up most of the screen time. I was initially surprised to see such a small cast, especially since two of them were children who knew little out of the outside world and weren’t old enough to do too much investigating on their own.

While this was a little unusual for the paranormal genre, it turned out to work perfectly for a plot about a family that was quite socially and physically isolated from the surrounding community for reasons that can only be partially explained in this review.

Given the current pandemic and all of the lockdowns it has prompted, I don’t think I need to explain to any of my readers how difficult it is to be cut off from other people for a long period of time. We all know that feeling far too well even if the vast majority of us aren’t actually living in haunted estates in rural France at the moment.

Anne was my favourite character. She was old enough to realize something had seriously gone wrong in her home, but she was still young enough to talk about things that the adults in her life were desperately trying to hush up. I loved seeing how her strong sense of justice was developing and how she reacted to the thought of shying away from the truth that was slowly being unveiled in her home no matter how many attempts there were to run away from it!

The relationships between all of the characters were complex. I must be careful about how I talk about them to avoid spoiler territory, but I had a wonderful time seeing the various sides of their personalities that were drawn out of every character depending on who they were interacting with at the time. These ever-changing circumstances made Grace and Anne feel especially well-rounded because of how often the audience was able to get to know them in completely new ways as their story was revealed.

Without diving too deeply into the plot, it was also thrilling to meet characters who elicited so many different emotions in me. Sometimes Grace’s behaviour enraged me. In other scenes, I had an overwhelming sense of compassion for this emotionally fragile woman who had been thrown into circumstances that were far beyond her capabilities to handle.

This pattern was repeated with every main character. Just like us, they were complicated individuals whose personalities and characters were filled with every shade of grey imaginable. What not to like about that?

Finally, one of the things I adored the most about this film in general involved how many clues were given about what was really going on. Honestly, I missed many of them the first time I watched The Others, but they were sitting in plain sight during my next viewing. Yes, many of them were subtle, so I won’t blame any of you for overlooking them as well. The fact that they existed only made me love this story even more. There’s something amazing about thinking you’ve figured out a plot only to truly grok it the second or third time around.

I could gush about The Others for another thousand words. Do yourselves a favour and give this film a try if even a single sentence of this review piqued your interest!

The Others is available on Apple TV.

Autumn Worlds I’d Like to Visit

I’ve written about the winterspring, and summer worlds I’d like to visit, so today I’ll wrap up this series by talking about the autumn worlds I’d spend some time exploring if I could.

Some of these settings weren’t necessarily the safest places to visit, but I’m going to use my authority as the author of this post to decide I’d somehow be protected while I was there.  Let’s say I had a protection spell on me to ward off anyone or anything that had bad intentions.

Hill House

Anyone who has read The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson or seen the Netflix series based on it knows why I needed that protection spell. This property was filled with malevolent spirits!

The architecture of the house would be what I’d like to see, though. I’ve loved old, stately homes for as long as I can remember, especially the ones that were built during or close to the nineteenth century.

Unlike the clean, sleek styles of most modern architecture, large homes from this era are filled with small details that are easy to miss. There might be carvings around a door frame or a gothic-like spire reaching for the heavens.

Yes, meeting the friendly ghosts would be cool, too, but discovering all of the hidden details of this mansion would be even more interesting.

St. Cloud’s Orphanage

This orphanage was where the main character of The Cider House Rules by John Irving was born and raised in the first half of the twentieth century. Life was hard for many folks then, but it was especially rough for children who didn’t have parents.

There was never enough money, time, or attention to go around…and yet the doctor who ran this orphanage did an excellent job of looking after the children in his care given the standards of his time.

He was passionate about finding homes for his charges as soon as he possibly could. When a home couldn’t be found for a child, he made their lives as comfortable as he could. I’d love to take a tour of this orphanage and see how things were run in that fictional universe a century ago.

Hundreds Hall

If you haven’t already noticed the pattern in this post, that is about to change. Hundreds Hall was the crumbling mansion that the main character in The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters visited in order to provide medical care for the people who lived there. Click here to read my review of the film based on it.

The cool thing about Hundreds Hall was that people were still living there. Yes, it was in need of a lot of repair work, but anyone who visited there would have heat, water, and even some basic food if they went into the kitchen and asked nicely for a snack.

I don’t know about you, but I’d rather have access to those things while on a ghost hunt than go somewhere that doesn’t have them. My goal while visiting this estate would not only involve admiring the architecture but hopefully catching a glimpse of the ghost that may have lived there, too.

Somehow seeing one ghost who may or may not even exist is a million more times exciting than seeing dozens of them hanging around everywhere like one would at Hill House.

Plumfield

There’s something about this boys school in Little Men by Louisa May Alcott that appeals to me quite a bit. Despite being set in a time and place when women and LGBT+ people had far fewer rights than we tend to have today, it would also probably be the safest place on this list for me to visit.

My fingers would be crossed that Jo would be an accepting host. I’d like to think we could bond over our shared love of writing and literature.

It would be amazing to see what life was really like in her home. Her school was not always the most structured learning environment, but her students did have a great deal of fun between – and sometimes right dab in the middle of – their chores and lessons.

So many of my favourite memories of this book happened during the autumn, so I can’t help but to think of it as an autumn story.

If there were a way to tell her about the future without disrupting the natural unfolding of historical events, I’d also love to give Jo a glimpse of what life was like nearly 200 years after her time.

What autumn worlds would you like to visit?

How to Survive a Paranormal Storyline

 

“Cara Mujer” by Cesar Tort.

Congratulations on your new home, job, vacation spot, construction project, antique gift, or other plot device that has invited a restless spirit into your formerly-peaceftul storyline!

While most of the characters who take the time to look up what to expect in a haunting are the protagonists, I’d like to give a special shout-out to all of the supporting characters who were attentive enough to realize that something was seriously wrong with this new development in your lives. The fact that you figured this out so soon speaks well of your chances of making it to the end.

On the topic of the changes you’ve noticed, you’re not hallucinating, exaggerating, or imagining anything. Those noises you’ve been hearing late at night when no else is around are real, and the spirits are only going to amplify their attempts to grab your attention if you don’t act now.

Unlike post-apocalyptic storylines, secondary characters aren’t doomed to die in these tales, and not every protagonist is guaranteed to survive either. Sometimes everyone lives. In other cases, everyone dies. Every haunting is unique in this regard.

So much depends on what sort of spirit you’re dealing with, how quickly you figure out that they are a threat, and how intelligently you respond to the escalation in their behaviour after that.

All characters regardless of their role in the plot should follow these rules if they want to survive:

  1. Escape through one of the rare and usually obscurely-marked exit doors. If you happen to notice what is really going on before the end of the first scene and the spirits have shown themselves capable of any violent behaviour at all, this is by far your best chance for survival. This technique generally doesn’t work, though, which leads me to the rest of this list…
  2. Research the history of the haunted item or location. Visit your local historical society, library, senior centre, nursing home, or any similar place that may have first-hand accounts of how your ghost died and what he or she may needs in order to move on to the next world. If the first hints of a haunting happen when these places aren’t open to the public, looking up any information you may already have online is an acceptable substitute as long as you follow up on any leads you found first thing in the morning.
  3. Don’t tolerate any distractions until you’ve completed the previous assignment. Any character who attempts to downplay your concerns or delay your research for any reason at all is a threat to your survival. They almost certainly will not be doing this on purpose, but this doesn’t make them any less dangerous. Avoid them as much as possible until after the climax has ended (assuming they survive that long).
  4. Look for discrepancies. Sometimes newspaper articles, diaries, eyewitness testimonies, and other pieces of evidence are incomplete, accidentally inaccurate, or even purposefully fabricated for any number of reasons. If the various accounts of the spirit’s life and death are contradictory, keep digging until you’ve found more clues about what really happened. Do not discount any records immediately, but also avoid assuming that you know the whole story this early on in the plot. You almost certainly do not.
  5. Never split up the group in a haunted building. Does this even need to be said anymore? No matter how tempted you may be to speed up your exploration of the grounds, we all know that this never ends well for ghost-hunting groups that attempt it. Stick together and stay alive.
  6. Call in a psychic. Yes, I know that they aren’t always helpful in these sorts of plots. Some of them act like they’ve never met a vengeful spirit before, and others honestly don’t seem that psychically sensitive at all! I’m not saying you should take everything they say as the unvarnished truth, but they may be able to provide pieces of the puzzle that no one knew about at the time of the victim’s violent or sudden death.
  7. Listen to the psychic’s recommendations. If they tell you the spirit is violent and dangerously uncooperative, follow their instructions on how best to deal with such an entity without delay. This includes moving away from your dream home or giving up on that desperately-needed trip if that’s what they recommend. Nothing is worth risking your life over.
  8. Don’t bother throwing away or destroying haunted objects. As thrilling as it might be for readers who are brand new to this genre to see the horrified look on your face when that doll or other item magically ends up right back in your home in pristine condition, everyone else know that this is nothing but a waste of time. Call in a second psychic instead if you really insist on dragging out the rising action or climax.
  9. Burn the bones. If there’s one thing that Supernatural has taught me, it’s that the fastest way to permanently get rid of a ghost is by finding their grave and burning their remains. Make this a priority if appeasing the spirit in other ways doesn’t work the first time you attempt it.
  10. Double-check your work. Just because you think you’ve found the right grave or performed the correct ritual doesn’t mean there are no loose ends flapping around out there in this part of the plot. Don’t let down your guard until you’ve made sure that you’ve destroyed everything that’s tying the ghost to this realm and you really have reached the conclusion after all.

Final Thoughts

A few of you are probably wondering if you’re actually in one of those rare paranormal stories that involves a completely harmless spirit. The fact that you read this far means this is extremely unlikely to be true. Even the most mischievous ghost who had a truly friendly nature would stop immediately and reveal their identity if they frightened someone. It’s only a joke if everyone is laughing along!

The fact that you’re worried enough about your haunting to read this essay means that you’re not dealing with one of those rare spirits that is only rattling your dishes or opening your kitchen cabinets as a lighthearted attempt to grab your attention.

Listen to your intuition. If you do that and follow the steps listed above, you still stand an excellent chance of living long enough to either see the ghost move onto the next world or transferring to a safer place to live yourself.

Previous posts in this series: 

How to Survive a Post-Apocalyptic Storyline.