Review - Muddy York Tours: The Haunted Streets of Downtown Toronto - The Intrepid

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Review - Muddy York Tours: The Haunted Streets of Downtown Toronto

At night, ROM employees have often reported hearing the faint sounds of an old radio, but when they peer down the darkened halls nothing can be seen, and the sound fades. These mysterious noises are believed to be the work of Charles Trick Currelly, the first director of the Royal Ontario Museum. Currelly devoted his life to the museum. He often spent so much time at the museum that he slept on a small cot in his office. During these lonely dark nights, his only companion was the radio he listened to as he worked. In 1957, Currelly died. But, night watchmen and employees still say that they can occasionally hear the sounds from Currelly’s radio wafting through the museum.

This is the first tale on Richard Fiennes-Clinton’s walking tour. In total, the tour features several locales including the ROM, Queen's Park, Old City Hall, Osgoode Hall, the AGO, the Elgin and Winter Garden Theater, and Mackenzie House, among a few others. If you want to be scared half to death, this might not be for you. But, what the tour lacks in spookiness, it makes up for in historical detail and enthusiasm. In fact, one might accuse Fiennes of giving a historical tour under the guise of a ghost tour.

While the tour is consistent throughout, its highlights are at the beginning and the end. The second stop on the tour is the old Planetarium. Here, Fiennes introduces the group to Celeste. Celeste is a poltergeist that many have claimed haunts the old Planetarium. Those who have seen her, describe her as young child dressed in white 19th century dress with her done up in ringlets. While the Planetarium was still in operation, she was often said to sit in the seats after hours and when staff members would approach she would disappear before their eyes. Planetarium staff, in case you haven’t guessed, gave her the name Celeste.

Her actual name and origin is unknown. Fiennes suggests that she is most likely a child from the 1880s who died of cholera in one of the former houses that stood where the planetarium sits today.

In the 90s, the Planetarium was turned into the Children’s Museum, but today it’s only used as a storage area. However, Fiennes still says that the museum staff see strange things to this day. “Celeste likes to have fun,” explains Fiennes. “In the stories I’m told she doesn’t tend to be haunting so much as causing mischief.”

What makes this tale so captivating is the personal touch that Fiennes adds at the end. “One time I had a tour here,” Fiennes told my tour group. “And a young lady put up her hand. ‘Don’t think I’m crazy,’ she said. ‘But, I can see Celeste. She’s standing on the steps beside me. I think she’s happy we’re here.’”

One almost feels sorry for Celeste. Gone are the days when playful school children came through the building. It must be lonely to haunt a storage area.

The second highlight of the tour is the final destination: Mackenzie House. The old Georgian style 19th century house lies on a darkened part of Bond Street and only gaslights illuminate parts of the interior and exterior of the building. The effect is quite creepy.

William Lyon Mackenzie, the famous leader of the 1837 Rebellion in Upper Canada, occupied the house between 1850 and 1861. Mackenzie died in the house in 1861 and according to stories, continues to haunt the house to this day. Staff members and visitors have often said to see Mackenzie working at his printing press.

If Mackenzie does indeed haunt the house, his ghost seems very violent. One of the tales told by Fiennes is of the old couple that use to room in the house before it was bought by the city and transformed into a museum. Apparently, the wife once awoke to Mackenzie hovering above her bed. Enraged, Mackenzie began to strangle her and slapped her repeatedly across the face. If Mackenzie’s ghost is ever discovered, he’s likely to be put in jail for assault and battery.

All of Fiennes stories are told with the same vivid style. While the tour isn’t that spooky, Fiennes knows his stuff, and ultimately provides a fascinating look at the nooks and crannies of Toronto.

More information about Muddy York Tours: The Haunted Streets of Downtown Toronto can be found here.